By: Hilma Tuukondjele
Justice minister Yvonne Dausab says that the newly opened gender-based violence (GBV) victim-friendly court is designed to prevent victims from further suffering secondary trauma during proceedings.
Dausab said this during the opening the courtroom at the Katutura Magistrate’s Court in Windhoek on Thursday.
According to her, the victims would be physically separate from their abusers. She said this is to assist the victims in freely and openly testifying without intimidation.
Dausab expressed that GBV is a pervasive issue in Namibian that continues to perpetuate inequality and power imbalance between men and women.
“The courtroom facility we are unveiling today is a continuation of that initiative to protect victims and to empower them to come forward,” she said.
She added that the courtroom facility would also make it comfortable for children testifying against those who have abused them.
“The courtroom creates a safer space for victims. The initiative seeks to ensure that those who have been wronged have access to justice.”
Dausab explained that during testimony, an intermediary support person is present to help the witness understand the process and answer the questions posed by counsel or the presiding officer.
“This can be of particular importance if the victim is a child. Overall, these special arrangements aim to make the process of going to court, which can be emotionally draining and quite intimidating to anyone, easier for victims who have already suffered enough trauma.”
She stressed that a court system victimises survivors of domestic violence, adding that survivors might not be unwilling to come forth.
“The ongoing amendments of the domestic violence and sexual violence legislation are also intended to provide safeguards such as counselling and increased victim support to deal with the post-court proceeding trauma,” said Dausab.
The combatting of domestic violence and combatting of rape amendment bills are currently being debated in the National Assembly.
At the same event, chief justice Peter Shivute said gender-based violence infringes on the rights of every person to feel safe.
He explained that conducting the trial in an alternative venue would be less formal and less intimidating than a courtroom.
“Rearranging the furniture to accommodate special circumstances, having systems in place to allow a witness to testify behind a one-way screen or using a virtual testimony, allowing a support person to accompany the witness during their testimony,” he adds.
Shivute urged all the new facility users to put it to good use and keep it in good condition.
“I am informed that this court has not had a conducive victim-friendly courtroom for use in gender-based violence-related matters. Further, virtual hearings had been a challenge. I am pleased to note that these challenges have been addressed with the provision of modern amenities at the court,” said.
He also cautions that the legislative and institutional frameworks do not guarantee and protect the entrenched civil liberties of vulnerable witnesses.
“It is thus essential that judicial officers, prosecutors, investigators, social workers and all those involved in the wheels of the criminal justice system are adequately equipped to deal with cases of this nature.”