Ethiopia: Women’s group denounces compensation for a rape victim

The compensation awarded for a rape victim is decried as “outrageous” by the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA).

The association is criticizing the recent decision by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the case of Woineshet Zebene Negash.

Woineshet, then 13 years old, was twice abducted and raped in 2001 by a man who wanted to marry her with the help of his friends. Though the rapist and his accomplices were convicted and sentenced in 2003, they were later released.

The appeal court reasoned she could not have been raped because no one would want to rape a girl who is not a virgin. Likewise, the prosecutor reportedly said that Woineshet would have to prove she was a virgin before the rape, according to the international rights group Equality Now.

In the early 2000s, Equality Now and EWLA used Woineshet’s case to lobby for better legal protections in the Criminal Law which was being revised at the time and enacted in 2004.

Woineshet’s case, however, was taken to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2007. Last week, she was awarded USD 150,000 compensation.

According to Faiza Jama Mohamed, Nairobi Director of Equality Now Nairobi office:

Since her perpetrators could not be re-tried within their own country and because all other local avenues to justice were exhausted, we decided to take the case further and pursue the entire Ethiopian government, which had violated numerous counts of both national and international law.

In 2007, we filed a complaint with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Woineshet, calling on the Ethiopian government to ensure that justice prevailed for her.

Nine years later – and fifteen years since Woineshet was raped, some form of justice has finally been achieved. The African Commission found that Ethiopia did not protect her from violence and also failed to provide a “decent system of justice”. It ruled that she should be compensated with $150,000 and that Ethiopia should implement “escalated and targeted measures” to deal with “marriage” by abduction and rape.

However, the verdict was not to the liking of EWLA. In fact, it distanced itself from the case by issuing a strong statement decrying the verdict.

In a press statement released today EWLA claimed, “[we] would like all to know that [EWLA] never involved in communicating the case to the African Human Rights Court and had no information until now over the process by the court.”

The statement went on to say:

EWLA also believes the decision is outrageous since the case is one big instance which confirms the government’s commitment to protect the human rights of women/girls.

EWLA is a witness to this commitment where the Ethiopian Government took responsibility in 2007 to remedy the lack of justice the victim faced in the hands of the local courts through paying compensation in the form of a house (worth millions of ETB) and taking disciplinary measures against the judge and prosecutor who erred in their decision over the case.

The statement accused Woinshet saying, “the victim chose to disturb the delivery of the house by migrating out of the country and refusing to assign an agent”.

Woinshet, who preferred to peruse the case at the African Commission, had long terminated her relationship with EWLA in writing. However, EWLA, however, continued lobbying the African Commission and Equality Now insisting the victim was compensated enough.

In a strange admission of its role in lobbying against a rape victim, EWLA said:

EWLA has been satisfied with the actions the Ethiopian Government has taken and it has communicated its satisfaction and appreciation of the effort to the African Human Rights Commission and the Ethiopian Government in 2011. It has also informed its satisfaction to the Equality Now and has notified the organization that it will not engage in further follow up of the case.

In any case since EWLA works in a constructive manner for the protection of women’s rights in collaboration with the Government, it is always appreciative of the government’s commitment in meeting its responsibilities in this regard and its efforts in designing strategic macro level interventions.


Daniel Berhane

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