/ 24 October 2007

Commission calls for SA to review its crime strategy

South Africa needs to review its crime-prevention strategy, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has recommended.

”In addition, policies and legislation should be revisited to improve integration, coordination and cooperation across the criminal justice system in order to ensure a more holistic approach to crime prevention,” it said in a report on its crime conference in March.

It has suggested the establishment of a body — similar to the South African National Aids Council (Sanac) — which will effectively organise and coordinate attempts to deal with crime.

It has also advised that, like the Sanac, the body be run by the office of the deputy president.

This would show not only the significance with which the government viewed the problem, but enable a government response to differences between departments in their fight against crime, SAHRC chairperson Jody Kollapen said in releasing the report on Wednesday.

The idea was not to create more work, but ensure that the work that was done was integrated, he said.

It would enable all role-players to see their work within the bigger picture of what others were doing while retaining their autonomy.

The two-day conference on crime and its impact on human rights followed a series of community discussions about crime and involved the government, business and civil society.

Crime permeated every detail of life, not only causing tangible damage but impacting in the long-term on the moral fibre of the nation, the SAHRC said in its report.

”Crime is a threat to national security, and therefore a threat to South Africa’s young democracy,” it said.

Kollapen stressed that there was ”a dangerous over-reliance” on laws to solve problems.

Apart from weak regulatory systems, he said it was also important to take into account socio-economic circumstances that affected people’s treatment within the criminal justice system; people’s attitudes to and experiences of crime; and facilitating factors such as drugs, alcohol, gangs, firearms and poor urban design.

Among others, the report recommended the improvement of empowerment programmes for victims, many of whom felt the law favoured the rights of perpetrators at their expense, a perception that had led to the loss of confidence in the criminal justice system.

It also recommended improving police effectiveness and efficiency through training, skills and resources, improving access to the courts and reviewing community policing forums to allow for the country’s diversity.

The SAHRC said the recommendations would be submitted to President Thabo Mbeki and ministers ”with the hope of starting dialogue”.

The commission had itself appointed a crime and human rights coordinator to spearhead its work around crime, said CEO Tseliso Thipanyane.

He said crime was the biggest threat to the country and had to be fought by all South Africans.

”We believe we can defeat crime if we all work together and not just leave it as a government issue,” he said. — Sapa