By Moses Magadza
WINDHOEK, APRIL 24 – Renewed calls have been made for victims of gender based violence (GBV) to be empowered to report it and for coordinated action to stop the scourge which Namibia’s Attorney-General, Dr. Albert Kawana, says has reached “embarrassing” proportions in the country.
Kawana made the call last week in Windhoek when he delivered a keynote address at the premiering of a documentary that seeks to embolden victims of GBV to report the crime and to encourage criminal justice system officials to handle reported cases with due sensitivity.
Speaking at the same occasion, Namibia’s Prosecutor General Martha Imalwa
said one in three women in Namibia was in a violent relationship, but tended to be quiet about it.
“They don’t report the violence,” she said and attributed the phenomenon to lack of faith in the system and fear of reprisals should they be sent back into the same abusive environment.
“(As) the practitioners in the criminal justice system, we are ready to face the challenge. We are determined to do more with less. Women withdraw cases because they have no hope within the criminal justice system. We want to bring that to an end,” Imalwa said.
With support from the united Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the office of the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Justice, the Namibian Police (Nampol) and social workers within the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare produced the documentary, which seeks to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.
The Inspector General of the Namibian Police, Lieutenant-General Sebastian Ndeitunga, called for all hands on deck in the war against GBV.
“(GBV) leaves many families mourning – robbed of their loved ones who in most cases are in their prime,” Ndeitunga said.
He was optimistic that the documentary, which depicts the good and the ugly of GBV victims’ interaction with the criminal justice system, would offer lessons on good practice.
In a speech read on his behalf by his deputy, Ndeitunga said: “The lessons will assist law enforcement and the administration of the criminal justice system to adopt the right attitudes and tools in their interactions with victims and perpetrators of GBV. Our magistrates, prosecutors, police officers and social workers should always be at the forefront of demonstrating that GBV is unacceptable.”
He announced that the Namibian Police Force had finalised a Draft National Integrated Crime Combating Strategy and called for a formalised coordinated effort to combat crime.
“It is high time that we as a nation adopt a National Integrated Crime Combating Strategy. The government alone cannot deal with crime and the ongoing law enforcement and criminal justice responses are inadequate.”
Ndeitunga advocated for more public education on crime.
“Our society is experiencing a higher intensity in violence and brutal crimes with women being subjected to rape, murder and assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm.”
He said Nampol would deploy all of its resources to deal with GBV.
Kawana said he was criticised for “interfering in the bedrooms of our citizens” when he motivated a law against GBV in 2003 when he was Minister of Justice, but still hoped that judicial intervention would end GBV.
“On the contrary, it is increasing on a daily basis. Following events in our country which are also linked to GBV, I feel embarrassed as a man but I am proud to be part of a collective initiative by our government to address this scourge,” the AG said.
Noting that the Namibia Constitution guarantees equality of all persons and their dignity, Kawana said GBV must be eradicated because it violates victims’ fundamental rights.
He said the Government of Namibia had taken steps to address GBV. He gave the example of national conferences, the national day of prayers against GBV, awareness campaigns and capacity building initiatives for stakeholders.
Additionally, President Hage Geingob and First Lady Monica Geingos had spoken against GBV.
“Lately, the judiciary has taken steps to ensure that GBV is addressed and addressed speedily. Stiff sentences are being meted out to discourage would-be perpetrators,” the AG said.
He said giving up was not an option.
“We can’t give up now. Communities must be encouraged to report these crimes. Those who put pressure on victims to disregard the crimes committed against them must be made to face the full wrath of the law.”
He called for victim-friendly courts so that victims can testify in a safe environment.
Turning to the documentary, he said: “It should help us improve services to victims of GBV and to educate members of the public on the dangers of forcing victims to withdraw serious cases. Victims should be educated on the protection available for them within the justice system so that they could not fear to give their testimonies, particularly during trials.”
The Deputy Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Ms Lucia Witbooi, said the support from UNODC was timely given that Namibia aims to reduce GBV cases from 33% to 20% by the end of 2025.
“We have developed the National Plan of Action on GBV and the plan of action has five priority areas,” she said, adding that the key priority was to protect the rights of survivors of GBV.
“We prioritised care, protection and dignity.”
She outlined various legal instruments to combat GBV in Namibia and called for implementation.
UNODC Regional Representative for Southern Africa, Ms Zhuleyz Akisheva, flagged up cultural practices such as inequality and patriarchy that continue to keep women in subordinate social positions while making them vulnerable to GBV.
She cited a survey conducted in 2012 by the Legal Assistance Centre indicating high incidence of inter-personal violence against many women and children in Namibia.
“It seems the situation has not yet improved,” Akisheva said.
She said the documentary highlights many contextual challenges experienced by most victims of GBV. These include structural violence, stigma, harmful patriarchal gender norms, lack of power and a plethora of detrimental customs.
“Some people don’t report abuse due to stereotypes, cultural and religious beliefs that say they should not report their husbands for abuse.”
Akisheva said GBV was endemic in the SADC Region. She hailed SADC Member States for developing and approving the SADC Regional Gender-Based Strategy and Action Plan on addressing GBV.
UNODC has supported one-stop centres and a ChildLine hotline in Namibia so that there is a proper referral system for victims of GBV towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5 and 16.
The mock trial depicted in the documentary is a first for Namibia. The actors and actresses are real criminal justice officials who include a magistrate, a prosecutor, police officers and social workers who deal with GBV cases in Namibia.
– Moses Magadza is Communications Officer at UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa.