Prosecutors handling Sexual and Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases must balance the imperative of victims and act quickly. The remark was made by Deputy Chief Justice Prof. Sam Rugege yesterday at a workshop to revisit the guidelines for various players in the judiciary and law enforcement, with an aim of raising awareness on GBV within the sector.
Rugege however underscored that the focus on conviction does not always serve the best interest of the victim and challenged them to be cautious while handling these cases.
The workshop which was organised by the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD) was attended by representatives from the National Police, Prosecutors and judges to strengthen the collaboration of public institutions involved in the war against GBV.
“Our courts have received instructions from the Supreme Court to give priority to rape and other gender based cases implying that the perpetrators of violence will be caught and punished,” Rugege said.
According to available statistics, last year 1,348 rape cases were completed in different courts and 1,012 of the suspects were found guilty while in the previous year out of 1181 cases received, 868 convicted perpetrators were punished.
Rugege said that this shows an increased vigilance in the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of these crimes.
“Our wish is to continue taking swift and effective action against perpetrators of violence and redress the wrong done to victims of violence though much remains to be done,” he emphasized.
Prof. Susan Kreston, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Psychology & Law at the University of the Free State, advised on the strategies of how best to handle cases of GBV.
She said that there should be cooperation between the judges, prosecutors and police and each jurisdiction may have additional specialists who should be incorporated into the team.
“Victims often face further mistreatment from their abusers when they directly participate in criminal proceedings against the suspects…this calls for introduction of intermediaries,” Kreston advised.
She added: “Enlist social workers or personnel from civil society organizations, if available, to work with the police to question victims.”
Dr Roelf H Haveman, the Vice Rector of ILPD advised that during the hearings, and in rulings, judges must protect and respect victims and their families, ensure due process to defendants, and impose effective sanctions against guilty parties.
He underscored the need to promote community education and zero tolerance to violence against women.