The move reduces or eliminates GBV acts which have been accelerating in various parts of Unguja and Pemba in recent years.
The court was established in early February, this year after the Zanzibar President; Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi realized that women and child abuse cases are on the increase in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Zanzibar High Court Registrar Muhammed Ali Muhammed said 160 cases were filed with the court in both Unguja and Pemba in a period of one month; two of which have been decided upon and the rest were still pending.
He said 94 cases were opened at the Vuga Court in Unguja, 26 at Mahonda Court in North Unguja, 21 at Mwera Court in South Unguja, 10 at Chake Chake Court in North Pemba, and two at Wete Court in North Pemba.
He said among challenges faced by the Zanzibar the special court was the shortage of magistrates but added that the government has already given a goal ahead to employ new magistrates to help in the courts’ operations.
“Any time from now we will have the magistrates whose work will be dealing with abuse-related cases and they will not deal with other cases,” he said.
Currently, there are about 15 magistrates dealing with GBV cases in Unguja and Pemba courts.He said cases of abuse were numerous and were being heard and there is a need to have a large number of magistrates dispense justice to the GBV victims as soon as possible.
“As per procedure, those cases shouldn’t take more than 90 days, hence increasing the number of juries would facilitate the performance and delivery of justice,” he said.
The official also cited a shortage of buildings as one of the challenges facing the judiciary in Zanzibar as many court buildings are dilapidated.
“Getting evidence is another challenge facing GVB cases as many people are reluctant when it comes to testifying against the accused in court and some fail to appear in courts and this is caused by what we call ‘culture of secrecy,” he said.
He added that having a special sexual offences court will help to address the challenge as the court have the power to penalize someone who denies providing evidence in court, urging the community to cooperate when they are required to give evidence so that the cases can be given due verdict because without evidence the suspects in those cases will not be convicted.
“The penalty will also include magistrate who won’t be in court without justified reasons. I encourage magistrates to understand that they have a responsibility to appear in court early and I warn that those who fail to do so will face disciplinary action.”
According to the registrar, the increase of GBV cases has been fueled by moral decay, misuse of social media, greed for children, and poor upbringing in some families.
He advised the agencies dealing with such cases to meet regularly to find appropriate ways to deal with this problem and urged judges to use the law as directed in sentencing and not to close their eyes or shake their hands in the use of their pens.
“By doing so; the community will be able to restore trust in the courts and the government and eventually find a mediator in cases of abuse, including child rape.”
Head of research and advisory unit in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Ramadhan Abdalla Nassib said his office is gearing up to handle cases of abuse in a special court. The program includes training lawyers and hiring new lawyers to handle such cases.
Nassib said of the 10 newly hired lawyers, six will work in Unguja and four in Pemba, noting that GBV cases need space, so it is good to find buildings that will have a friendly environment for people to feel free and not shy when giving evidence.
Deputy Director of Criminal Investigations at Zanzibar Police Headquarters, Hamad Khamis Hamad also said in response to the harassment, they have put in place guidelines that will help identify officers who are accused of destroying such cases.
He said there are police officers who already have taken to task including being fired and some being warned.
Abdallah Mnubi Abasi, Secretary of the ethics committee of the Zanzibar’s Council and Islamic Institutions, expressed his hope that the court would be the catalyst for an end to such acts. “Let’s stop the culture of secrecy when dealing with GBV cases if we’re to end these acts.”
Amani Ayoub Makame of Mwanakwerekwe urged religious leaders to instill in their believers the fear of God and those leaders to provide humiliating education in houses of worship and various gatherings of believers.
He applauded the government's move to establish a special sexual offences court and decided to punish those who refused to testify in court.
Zanzibar-based activist, Fatma Juma Jabu said it was important to ensure that everyone caught in connection with the abuse was legally held accountable and given a fair punishment to end such acts.
Dr Mzuri Issa, director of the Tanzania Media Women’s Association in Zanzibar (TAMWA-Zanzibar) described the establishment of special courts as a positive step in combating such acts, noting that the move would facilitate the hearing of cases and victims of such acts to get their due.
“It’s not pleasant at all when you see the perpetrator of such acts on the street. That makes the victims of such acts vulnerable and sometimes discouraged to pursue such cases,” he said.