Statistics obtained by The New Times indicate that the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) received a total of 3,662 child defilement cases involving 3,667 suspects (3,531 male and 136 female) between July 2020 and March 2021. Among them 2,072 cases were processed through courts, 1,396 have been closed, according to the statistics. Rape Meanwhile, prosecution received 718 rape cases involving 762 suspects (748 male and 14 female). Among them 287 cases were filed with courts, 399 closed and 32 are still pending. During the same time, prosecution also received 2,096 cases involving 2,097 suspects (1,984 male and 113 female) concerning harassment of a spouse. Closed files explained In a telephone interview with The New Times, the NPPA Spokesperson Faustin Nkusi said that closing cases before they go to court is a normal legal practice especially when there isn’t sufficient evidence to present in court. “Not every case that comes to us goes to court because we are required to have a solid case before we go before a judge. When a file comes to us, we review it and determine whether the case goes to court or whether even after investigation, there isn’t enough evidence and we close it,” he said. Outdated law The Senior Legal Aid Attorney with the Legal Aid Forum (LAF) Marie-Louise Mukashema told The New Times that the war against Gender Based Violence (GBV) can only be won if challenges related to public knowledge and understanding of the law, outdated laws and difficulties in accessing legal counsel are addressed. LAF is a non-governmental organisation bringing together more than 36 national and international organizations that provide or support legal aid services to the country’s poor and vulnerable population. For instance, Mukashema explained that although laws like the ones on criminal procedure and the penal code have been revised several times to align them with the constant changing times, the law governing the collection of evidence has not been revised since 2004. Mukashema says that this means that the courts of law are using an old law to collect evidence but a new one to punish it. “In our line of work, we continue to find fighting GBV using this as one of the laws challenging as it contributes to some of the suspects getting away with their crimes,” she said. Mukashema said that a total of 128,735 people had reached out to LAF seeking information related to GBV between January and October last year. She said that the numbers peaked during the national lockdown imposed to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 between mid-March and June. She also touched on the ‘culture of silence’ which she said plays a big role in protecting a suspect instead of the victim. She called for the law to swing into action and hold those who are silent when cases related to GBV are being committed accountable. “If people knew that being aware of a crime and keeping silent that is punishable by the law, they would reach out. Perpetrators of these crimes should be produced in court together with those who knew that this crime was being committed and kept silent. This will stop this culture of silence,” she said. Mind-set challenges The Chairperson of the Women Parliamentary Forum; Beline Uwineza told The New Times that while laws are easy to change, the biggest challenge when it comes to fighting GBV is the mind-set. She explained that some perpetrators take advantage of their victims and their families’ poverty and ignorance and pledge to provide support, forcing them not to report the crimes. “There are times when people used to say that the punishments should be made heavier and we would say but life imprisonment is the heaviest but the issue is not punishment. It is attitude and mind-set,” she said. Uwineza explained that there are other people who still fear stigma or being alienated by their communities and choose silence instead of thinking of the long term effects these crimes have on the mental and physical health of the victims. Worrying trend In July last year, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) Secretary General, Col Jeannot Ruhunga said that there was need for an intensive and all-inclusive sensitisation programme to highlight to society the value of fighting defilement. At the time, Ruhanga announced that a total of 2,157 defilement cases had been filed with Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) in the first half of 2020. The number has raised concerns after official statistics revealed that the whole of 2018, a total of 3,152 cases were reported and in 2019, a total of 3,623 were filed.