During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.
Dangers faced by female journalists
N was born in the Congo. She was married and lived with her family there. In 2009 she was working as a journalist, covering a story about General Bosco Ntaganda, the notorious Congolese leader who was nicknamed “The Terminator”. She gave her employers information about a story that she was developing around allegations that General Ntaganda was deliberately infecting women with HIV. She was arrested and tortured for two days before being released. However, after her release, rebel soldiers came to her house and raped her in front of her parents and husband. Her mother was also raped. The soldiers told her that “this was her last warning” and she decided to flee the Congo for South Africa.
When N applied for asylum in South Africa in 2012, General Ntaganda was wanted for crimes against humanity. Amongst his charges are recruiting child soldiers, rape, murder, persecution based on ethnic grounds and the deliberate targeting of civilians. He finally surrendered in March 2013.
The Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO) who interviewed N rejected her application. The reason for the RSDOs decision was that N had “no well-founded fear” and that because she was released after two days of torture, the RSDO felt that the rebels were “not interested in killing/harming [her]”. The officer accused her of not telling him of the “dirt things that were done by officers” (sic). The officer felt that she had not demonstrated that she was subjected to persecution, or that she was targeted.
In early 2014, media watchdogs, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists released their report on media freedom. The report notes that militias in countries like Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo name journalists as “enemies” of their respective causes. The 2012 Media Sustainability Index shows that, “Congolese journalists work under a cloud of fear, and resort to self-censorship to protect themselves in a country still plagued by corruption.” Considering that the grounds for asylum in South Africa’s Refugee Act include persecution based on race, tribe, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, N’s claim for asylum should not have been rejected.