Gang rape in Vanuatu sparks heated debate
The recent alleged gang rape of a woman in Vanuatu has sparked heated debate after a push for customary punishment to replace court charges they were facing.
The recent gang rape of a woman in Vanuatu has sparked heated debate over how charges of sexual assault are handled.
Six men have been charged with the rape of a woman from Tanna.
The 28 year old woman, alongside her chief, walked into the prosecutors' office last week with two letters asking for charges to be dropped.
The chief argued the men did not deserve to be punished twice after already performing a customary ceremony to pardon their offence.
Indira Moala reports.
Vanuatu's state prosecution says it will not drop charges against the six alleged gang rapists just because they have performed a customary settlement.Prosecutors are saying it's one of the most serious cases they've dealt with.
Richard Nanua, a journalist from the Vanuatu Independent, says many other similar cases had been destroyed after victims had been coerced into asking for charges to be withdrawn.
RICHARD NANUA: We need everybody to understand the law and bring the offenders to justice. I think there's lack of knowledge and people do not know how the law is working. So that's how some cases are to be dealt with in customs. The chiefs, they have their own punishment in communities. The chiefs think that with two large pigs and ten stamps of kava - it's enough. That practice is common here and it is used widely in Tanna.
The chief's letter to the court reveals the six men performed a ceremony where it was determined a fine of two cows, two pigs, VT150,000 in cash, four big kava stamps, a mat, a basket and four bolts of calico, was appropriate. The former President of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, Manina Pakete, says that's not enough.
MANINA PAKETE: No it is not enough! This kind of situation is all about her integrity, her reputation and how her family see her, her friends...is she going to live a normal life again? What about her future? It is against the human rights of this girl. I believe she was pressured by the family. She's confused. She has to go to the discipline court for the judge to decide. And as far as I am concerned, there's a law of crimes inside Vanuatu. We have to enforce the law to punish the guys who practise the rape. So they have no excuse at all. They have to go and face the judges.
The officer in charge of state prosecution, Gray Buke, says customary settlements can help reduce sentencing terms but charges in such a serious case won't be dropped.
GRAY BUKE: It's one of these issues that has been brought up over the last years and that's why we have that section in the Criminal Procedures that states clearly that customary settlements will be taken into consideration only, but not to make a decision that the case will be dropped, no. For example, if a person is given eight year sentence for imprisonment, due to the custom ceremony then the likelihood is it will be given a six year sentence.
Smithy Obed, one of the prosecutors involved with the Tanna rape case, says they are trying to find a way to put an end to the ongoing interferences with the judiciary system.
SMITHY OBED: It's one of the most serious criminal charges in the laws of Vanuatu so it is a very serious offence. We will still consider it, but not at this stage. We always keep our stand. We cannot entertain this to happen. We don't want to entertain it to continue.
Mr Obed says if the case was a minor offence they would consider customary settlements and withdraw charges, as they have done in the past.
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