Finding justice in Mozambique can take you on a long and winding path, with many snares and pitfalls lurking along the way. For most Mozambicans, the legal system is complex to navigate, expensive and in many cases not capable of producing the fair outcomes that reflect the needs of citizens. One particularly serious case that AMAC had been handling ended recently, with a seemingly positive result. The defendant was handed a prison sentence and ordered to pay compensation to our client. However, a survey of the challenges experienced along the way creates a different impression. Below are just some of the experiences from this one case that provoke reflection on whether justice has indeed been done:
- Three different police stations visited before the complaint progressed at all.
- On no occasion was the accused, who lived in the victim’s neighbourhood, held on remand, leaving the victim in fear of reprisal and further abuse.
- Multiple court adjournments, usually due to the non-attendance of the defendant. Each time the matter was adjourned, the victim and her family had to spend more time and money travelling to attend court.
- Several occasions on which the victim, a child, had to speak in front of her alleged attacker during trial, or witness him speaking from a just few feet away.
- Four years taken from the initial complaint at the police station to judgment in court.
- Two years imprisonment for the offender, a seemingly lenient sentence for a serious crime committed against a child.
It is challenges such as these that lead most Mozambicans to tread other paths searching for justice, resorting to church leaders, imams, traditional leaders and even witch doctors to help them resolve injustices. At times, mobs of local people choose to take justice into their own hands, leading to a grisly end for criminals caught in the act and even for innocents found in the wrong place at the wrong time. At present, the formal legal system is marginal to the experience of justice in Mozambique. It is clear that this journey in pursuit of justice had a considerable cost for our client, in terms of emotional distress, economic cost, and lost time. Having reached the destination, was it worth it? The victim’s mother responded candidly, “We ran to justice. But as a mother, I do not think justice was done. I did not want to gain any money. I do not want their money, but to prevent the accused not to abuse other girls in our society.”
The challenges to access to justice are many and it is easy to feel downtrodden and disheartened. However, AMAC does experience a lot of positive outcomes, and many of the cases handled are resolved in a fair and timely manner. In particular, AMAC’s lawyers have experienced significant success in securing maintenance payments for mothers and children, and in compensating employees who have been unjustly treated at work. Yet even in difficult, serious cases like the one above, we can see God at work and some victories emerging from the chaos. The client was able to receive support from AMAC, and to know that someone was willing to advocate for her when no one else would. AMAC referred her to a professional counsellor who was able to help her process her experience. On the day of the trial she spoke confidently, with conviction, despite the presence of her attacker. Ultimately, the accused was found guilty, which reinforced the message that his crime cannot be committed with impunity. Despite the challenges and disappointments she expressed a desire to become a lawyer, to help provide justice for other people. We hope that both she, and AMAC, can provide effective assistance to survivors of violence, challenge the unfair status quo and be a voice for the voiceless.