Judgement in Josina Machel domestic violence matter retrogressive and sets bad precedent

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MenEngage Africa (MEA) and Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) are disappointed and concerned with Mozambique’s Higher Appeals Court’s decision to overturn the conviction of Rufino Licuco in an appeal case against the Maputo City Court ruling which found him guilty of domestic violence against Josina Machel.

In 2017, businessman Rufino Licuco was found guilty of beating Josina Machel, daughter of Mozambique’s first president, Samora Machel to the point that she lost sight in her right eye. Licuco was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, which was suspended for five years on condition he pays her about 200 million meticais (R66-million). He instead took the case to the Appeals Court which last week overturned the conviction on the basis that there were no witnesses and, therefore, no proof Machel was assaulted.

This was despite the irrefutable evidence by experts that showed that indeed Machel had been a victim of violence which led to the loss of sight in one of her eyes and the confession message that Rufico Licuco subsequently sent to Josina Machel asking for forgiveness.

The latest ruling also disregarded the fact that it was common cause that when the domestic violence incident occurred, there was no other person other than Machel and Licuco. Abusive men often assault their victims behind closed doors – away from witnesses – as much as it is also common to act out their abuse in public spaces.

For an Appeals Court to dismiss the case on the basis that there were no witnesses despite all other forms of evidence presented before it which corroborated Josina Machel’s story is extremely problematic as it seems to imply that domestic violence will only be recognised if it happens where there are witnesses. Such an expectation is not only frivolous and ridiculous but also very retrogressive and gives room for impunity for those who perpetrate domestic violence as it gives the impression that abusive men can do whatever they want to their partners (often women) as long as no one else sees them.

The decision by Mozambique’s Higher Appeals Court not only flies in the face of justice, but is a threat to the progress made in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV) and it also sends a wrong message of impunity to would be offenders. GBV is a global pandemic, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating that lifetime prevalence of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner is 36.6% among African women.

This judgement is also a clear demonstration of the systematic and institutional entrenchment of patriarchy within the justice system. It would appear to have been much easier for the male judges at the Appeals Court to turn a blind eye to the insurmountable evidence presented before them by Machel’s team than convict another man for a crime that he should be rightfully paying for.

Considering that this miscarriage of justice happened to someone of a high social standing in society like Josina Machel, it can only be a glimpse of what ordinary women in society with little or no means to fight for justice go through.

Further, this being a decision from a higher court, it does not only negatively affect Josina Machel but stands to impact on all Mozambican women and girls facing threat from abusive husbands and boyfriends as a negative precedent stands to be set by this judgement.

MEA and Sonke call on the justice system in Mozambique to take GBV and domestic violence seriously and to also afford victims of such violence the justice they deserve. Failure to do so is a serious miscarriage of justice which should have no place in our societies, particularly if there is any commitment to attain sustainable development.

Mozambique ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol, which among other things mandate member states to take necessary measures to combat discrimination against women through appropriate legislative, institutional and other measures.

The justice system in Mozambique, therefore, needs to be seen to be just in the fight against violence and discrimination of women through the way it tackles cases such as those of a domestic and gender-based violence nature. It needs to send a clear message that such violence cannot be accommodated or tolerated in society.

We commend the Machel family for remaining resolute in seeking justice. We commit to continue supporting Josina Machel and others who are dealt unjustly by the criminal justice system. We will join with other civil society organisations to continue calling for justice in this case. The ruling must be challenged – and toxic masculinities must be held accountable.

For media queries and interviews contact:

  1. Mpiwa Mangwiro: Campaigns & Advocacy Specialist, MenEngage Africa – Email: mpiwa@genderjustice.org.za, Cell: +27-82-480-2223
  2. Bafana Khumalo: Co-Executive Director, Sonke Gender Justice – Email: bafana@genderjustice.org.za, Cell: +27-82-578-4479