, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 14 – Woineshet Zebene Negash was 13 in March 2001, when Aberew Jemma Negussie and a group of accomplices broke into her house late at night, carried her away and raped her.
After her teachers reported the incident to the police, Woineshet was rescued and her rapist arrested.
However, some weeks later, her story was to get even more complicated and distressing.
- In July 2003, Negussie was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment without parole for abduction and rape.
- Four accomplices were also sentenced to eight years each.
- Later that year, the sentence was overturned by an appeals court and all five perpetrators were released.
Having been released by police on bail, Negussie abducted her again and hid her in his brother’s house.
She was held there until she managed to escape more than a month later, but only after she was forced to scrawl her name on a piece of paper – a document which would later be used against her in court as a supposed “marriage contract”.
In parts of Ethiopia, abduction has been used to force a girl or woman into marriage.
The girl is commonly abducted by a group of men and then raped by the man who wants to marry her.
He usually cannot afford her dowry or ‘bride price’.
The next day, the elders from the man’s village “apologise” to the family of the girl and ask them to agree to the marriage.
The family is forced to “consent” as a girl who has lost her virginity would be considered to be tarnished.
In July 2003, Negussie was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment without parole for abduction and rape.
Four accomplices were also sentenced to eight years each.
This was the first Ethiopian case in which accomplices were also charged and convicted for abduction.
Justice was finally served – or so Equality Now thought.
Later that year, the sentence was overturned by an appeals court and all five perpetrators were released.
According to reports, the court said that she could not have been raped.
“No one” would want to rape a girl who is not a virgin. The case was dismissed.
Incredibly, the reports further indicated that the prosecutor in the case ignored the law by saying she would have to prove she was a virgin before the rape – otherwise the perpetrators should be set free.
Under pressure from the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association and international human rights organisation, Equality Now, citing Woineshet’s case as an example of clear injustice, the Ethiopian state moved to change its Penal Code in 2004.
It had previously exempted rapists from punishment if they married their victims.
Stiffer penalties for rape were also introduced at the same time.
This was one of Equality Now’s first ever cases under its ‘Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defence Fund’.
Since her perpetrators could not be re-tried within their own country and because all other local avenues to justice were exhausted, Equality Now decided to take the case further and pursued the entire Ethiopian government, which had violated numerous counts of both national and international law.
In 2007, the organisation 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 15 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,” Equality Now stated.
It ruled that she should be compensated with Sh15,000,000 and that Ethiopia should implement “escalated and targeted measures” to deal with “marriage” by abduction and rape.
Woineshet is now in her late twenties, living in relative safety and pursuing her education.
The ruling means that she can finally complete this horrific chapter in her life and move on in the knowledge that she has helped to make lives better for future generations of Ethiopian women and girls.
Faiza Mohamed, Africa Office Director, Equality Now, hopes that the message the unprecedented ruling sends will have a ripple effect at all levels of society.
“It has taken a decade and a half to obtain justice in a case, which should have been very straightforward. The ‘disposability’ of girls in Ethiopia and around the world needs to end. We cannot be free until every sexist Penal Code is changed and every single girl is protected from violence.”
Recently, Capital FM News narrated the ordeal of 19 year-old Daisy Karimi, who recounted her endless suffering in the hands of two administration police officers who allegedly raped her when she was only 16.
Because of the move to push for her justice in court, the alleged rapists turned her life into hell.
One of the alleged rapists embossed his name on her thigh and stomach using a sharp knife. She recounted that she has been kidnapped, raped and physically assaulted by the alleged rapists
At the time of the interview, Daisy had given up. She wanted to share her story for the world to see the suffering brought to her life because of reporting a rape case
Though Daisy’s journey to justice has been thorny, there is hope to see other survivors of rape like Ethiopia’s Negash get justice despite the long wait.