Justice system must be welcoming and accommodating to GBV victims, Public Protector tells international conference
Public Protector Adv. Mkhwebane on Thursday evening urged her peers across the globe to take the initiative – where the laws of the respective countries permit – to straighten out the criminal justice value chain in order to ensure that victims of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) do not suffer secondary victimisation.
Addressing the 12th International Conference of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) on the plight of victims of GBV and discrimination, Adv. Mkhwebane said this would go a long way in helping victims to have faith in the criminal justice system and report the culprits.
She added that in countries such as South Africa, where GBV has reached scourge proportions, victims were unlikely to voluntarily turn their tormenters in for various reasons such as their socioeconomic dependency on the perpetrators or a loss of confidence in the system.
While physical and sexual violence were criminal matters for law enforcement and therefore out of the jurisdiction of Public Protector-type institutions, that did not necessarily mean such institutions have no part to play in the fight against GBV, Adv. Mkhwebane said during the last session of the three-day virtual conference.
“The difference between us and the criminal justice system is that while they chase after the criminals, we focus on the system itself. We focus on officialdom, whose acts and/or omissions give rise to a situation where victims suffer secondary victimisation,” she said.
“We are all about impacting the criminal justice value chain and ensuring redress for victims of system failure. In this regard, we aim to bring the victims of system failure as close as possible to where they would have been had it not been for maladministration while at the same time plugging the gaps in the system, which would have given rise to victims suffering secondary abuse.”
She advised that, in dealing with such cases, institutions such as her office should show some degree of empathy and compassion for the victim while remaining fair and being seen to be fair to all the parties, lest they come across as bias thereby jeopardising their intervention.
“It is always incumbent upon us to stay true to the sacrosanct and non-negotiable principles of impartiality and independence, so that we are able to carry out our duties and exercise our powers without fear, favour or prejudice,” she explained.
The Public Protector’s office has over the years dealt with a number of GBV-related matters. These include the case of a gang-rape victim, who had to endure 48 postponements of proceedings in her attackers’ trial.
The office has also dealt with the case of Cheryl Zondi, who complained about the rigidity, disruptiveness of and lack of sympathy by the Witness Protection Programme in relation to her being a key witness in a criminal case Pastor Timothy Omotoso, who is facing 48 charges of human trafficking, rape and abuse of young girls. She interacted with Witness Protection after police informed her a price had been put on her head as a result of her testimony in the Omotoso trial.
Recently the office dealt with the case of Altecia Kortje who was killed along with her 7-year-old daughter, Raynecia, allegedly by her partner, days after she had visited the Bellville Magistrates Court in Cape Town to apply for a protection order against the alleged assailant. The investigation revealed that Ms. Kortje did not complete the application process as she found it to be cumbersome.
“We have now launched a systemic investigation on the challenges faced by women in the various Magistrates Offices accords the country when reporting on matters relating to child maintenance, another problematic area, and GBV,” Adv. Mkhwebane said, referring to a new investigation inspired by Ms. Kortje’s case.
She added that, on bringing their attackers to book, victims of abuse must be confident that the system will be welcoming and accommodating and that they will not be subjected to further suffering.
Meanwhile, Adv. Mkhwebane was on Tuesday elected ex-officio member of the IOI Board of Directors during the institute’s virtual General Assembly, which took place on the side lines of the conference.
Already entrusted with the Presidency of the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association and Board Chairpersonship of the African Ombudsman Research Centre, Adv. Mkhwebane was also drafted into the IOI’s United Nations Working Group during the Assembly.
“I am humbled by my colleagues’ confidence in my abilities. It is an honour to serve and contribute to the global growth of the institution of the ombudsman, which has a largely untapped potential to help resolve some of the world’s challenges, particularly in areas of access to justice, just administrative action, good governance, respect for the rule of law and the upholding of human rights,” she said.
The IOI is a global organisation for the cooperation of more than 200 independent Ombudsman institutions from more than 100 countries worldwide. With six regional chapters in Africa, Asia, Australasia and Pacific, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America and North America, the IOI supports its members in the areas of training, research and subsidies for projects as part of its promotion of good governance and capacity building.
Its conference, which is themed “Giving Voice to the Voiceless”, discussed more issues that continue to bedevil the world. These include asylum and immigration, minority ethnic groups, poverty and social inclusion, older persons, persons with mental health issues, homelessness and people with physical disabilities.
Thursday, May 27, 2021