MOZAMBIQUE – After years of fighting to get justice in the case of the man who allegedly beat her and left her blind in one eye, Josina Machel was dealt a further blow when his conviction was overturned.
A disappointed Machel has slammed this as an insult to women and an example of how the justice system lets down gender-based violence victims.
Machel, daughter of the late Mozambican president Samora Machel and his wife Graça, lost her case when the country’s Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) overturned Rufino Licuco’s conviction. Licuco allegedly assaulted Machel on Graça’s birthday in 2015.
“The sentence delivered a week ago by the (Mozambican) SCA, declaring my aggressor Rufino Licuco innocent is a blow to the struggle by women against gender-based violence, a men’s war against women. It is a blow to millions of Mozambican, South African, African and women around the world. Paraphrasing from my father Samora Machel, she said: “I have lost a battle, but we have not lost the war.”
Machel said she felt let down by the justice system. “I presented irrefutable evidence (including a confession from Rofino Licuco) and testimony from recognised experts, who have gave their professional testament to the origin of my injury, which is now the scar I carry in my face, the loss of an eye.
“Our judges also know. But we live in a country, in a continent and a world where it is easier and more palatable to the men who rule us to believe one of their own. Never a woman. Because no one was around, the only logical conclusion is that I am lying,” said Machel.
Licuco was found guilty in the Maputo City Court in 2017 of domestic violence. He was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, suspended for five years on condition he pay her about R66-million (200 million meticais). He instead took the case to the Appeals Court which last week overturned the conviction because there were no witnesses and therefore no proof Machel was assaulted.
Machel emphasised the court decision was a heavy blow to women and the fight against gender-based violence.
“I was assaulted in Mozambique in October 2015. I immediately spoke out. Two weeks later I was (told) I will be blind in my right eye forever. I took the case to court and when he realised this he started intimidating me,” Machel said on Sunday.
She said as a result of the intimidation, she approached the Randburg Magistrate’s Court for a protection order in 2016.
“I went to Randburg because I live here with my children. The magistrate could not give me a protection order in South Africa because the incidents happened in Mozambique” she said.
Licuco and his defence team used the court not granting her a protection order against her. “Six months later when I got my day in court in Mozambique the defence used that issue, they manipulated it and acted like the case was tried.
“It is an insult that the Mozambican criminal justice system has decided to interpret what is primarily a protection order and look at it as if it was a trial and therefore deny me justice,” she said.
She is currently in consultation with her lawyers on whether to take the case to the Supreme Court.
“They gave us a sentence that might have been pertinent in 1920 and not 2020. Gender-based violence occurs behind closed doors. How are victims supposed to prove that? The precedence that this case puts doesn’t even start at the court.
“It starts in the lives of women. There will be many women that will decide to not take this to court because how will they prove abuse. It also emboldens abusers. And this case will also have an effect on how sentences will be laid out after this,” Machel said.
The 44-year-old said her cry for help had not been answered.
“When I first screamed and told the health and police agents what had just happened to me, I was alone, terrified, screaming for my life, for help, any help. Screaming for the truth without ever thinking that I would be told that I am lying. But more importantly, without knowing that my horrible experience would only serve to confirm the experience of millions of women around the world. The abuse, not only by those they trust, but by the justice system that purports to represent them.”
She said despite the court decision, she will not stop her fight against gender-based violence.
“In the last couple of years I have become a vocal advocate of gender-based violence. As an activist of gender-based violence this sentence is an insult to women. It is an insult to the progress against the struggle of gender-based violence globally. This is taking back 10 to 15 years of progress.
“In their judgment they have questioned in it proof and evidence that gender-based violence has occurred. They to put aside evidence and proof that it has happened and stick to ridiculous and insulting arguments such as that it happened between closed doors and there is no witness. To paraphrase Samora this is a lost battle but it’s not the loss of the war,” Machel said.