Congo-Brazzaville: Will an abused woman’s poverty deny her justice? (by John Ndinga-Ngoma, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| November 25, 2013

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Until December 17, 2010, Flore Barros Tchicaya made her living by working in a hair salon. On that day, the 30-year-old hairdresser and seamstress from Pointe-Noire was attacked by the owner of the building she worked in.

Hassan Hodjeij attacked Ms. Tchicaya with an electric stun gun. The single mother remembers the experience vividly. She says, “I was paralyzed by the man, because he was disgruntled that I had rejected his declarations of love.”

Ms. Tchicaya took her case to the High Court of Pointe-Noire, but it was dismissed for lack of evidence. Dissatisfied with the decision, she appealed. But her fight for justice was frustrated by a lack of finances. It would have cost her 70,000 Central African francs (CFA), about $140 US, to launch her court appeal. She remembers, “I was no longer working, I had no more money. I had no option but to drop the charges.”

Well-wishers gave Ms. Tchicaya the funds and the appeal process began. On May 16, 2011, the prosecutors got the court to give Mr. Hodjeij a 15-year prison sentence and a fine of 350 million CFA for “assault and battery causing physical disabilities.” But three days later, Mr. Hodjeij appealed that decision et his request for an appeal is accepted. Supreme Court canceled the verdict, arguing that the case was not properly judged. The case has been turned over to the appeals court in Dolisie.

Dolisie is 170 kilometres inland from Pointe-Noire, and Ms. Tchicaya simply couldn’t afford the travel costs. She says: “In order to get to Dolisie, I would have to spend 7,000 francs ($14 US) on each journey. You can imagine how much I would spend if I had to go there several times … I’d have to spend a fortune on a hotel and food if I stayed in a town where I have no family.”

Ms. Tchicaya worried that she would not be able to attend the hearings. She says: “I had become independent. I could afford to live through my two trades, hairdressing and sewing. But now I am no longer able to work because of [the injuries I received] through saying ‘no’ to a man.” On top of this, Ms. Tchicaya and her child had recently been thrown out of their apartment by her landlord.

Faced with these difficulties, Ms. Tchicaya is worried she will not be able to attend the hearings. The case has been tied up in legal proceedings for several years now. Ms. Tchicaya says she’s counting on civil society organizations to come to her rescue.

Sylvie Viviane Messo is a journalist at a private television station, and also runs an NGO called Association de la Jeune Fille et Femme Démunies et Désœuvrées du Congo. The organization helps abandoned women and young homeless girls rediscover their dignity and independence.

In Congo-Brazzaville, women who are victims of violence frequently abandon legal proceedings because of the expenses required to get cases to court. Ms. Messo explains: “For example, we have two cases of women who were beaten by their husbands. We tried to get these cases into the judicial system but they were discouraged because they felt that they were unable to afford the fees of lawyers and bailiffs.” Ms. Messo says the women asked the organization to withdraw the complaints, and so they did.

Ms. Tchicaya wants the authorities to take the socio-economic status of her and other litigants into account. She ​​is urging lawmakers to review the laws to ensure that justice is available for those with limited means.