DNA Backlogs: Case delays due to forensic neglect are human rights violation – Action Society

Liezel de Jager, Mia Botha, Cleo Diko, Chevonne Rusch and Alfredo April’s murderers all occurred more than 200 days ago and in all of their cases, forensic neglect caused the wheels of justice to stall. Action Society has now followed up with the Office of the Public Service Commission (OPSC) about their investigation into the ongoing DNA backlog crisis that continues to hinder many cases, leaving victims and their families going years without justice.

“More than 80 murders are recorded in South Africa every day, but only 14,5% of them are solved. One of the reasons that the conviction rate is so shockingly low, is because of massive DNA processing backlogs,” says Ian Cameron, Director of Community Safety at Action Society.

Liezel de Jager was murdered more than 775 days ago. Mia Botha was found dead 496 days ago. Cleo Diko died 370 days ago and Chevonne Rusch was killed more than 631 days ago. Alfredo April more than 217 days ago. In many of these cases, forensic neglect is making an arrest impossible. In others, the backlogs cause delay upon delay in court. In some cases the forensic evidence is so poorly handled or tested, that it is useless and no perpetrators can be identified.

“DNA evidence is by far the most effective crime fighting tool, but despite the president proclaiming war against GBV on many occasions, the government and especially the SAPS are not taking any real action in sorting out the DNA backlog. Thousands of victims of rape and violent crime, as well as families of murder victims, are not getting their day in court. Action Society believes this has become a human rights violation which undermines South Africans’ constitutionally entrenched rights to equality, fair administrative action, as well as access to courts.”

Background on Action Society’s complaint at the OPP:
Despite all the work to ensure the formation of a DNA database against which new samples could be compared, all DNA testing at the FSL ground to a halt in 2020 because Bheki Cele failed to pay the agreed fees for the PCEM system in June 2020, causing the subsequent shut down of the system. This caused a backlog in forensic testing in over 125 000 cases, of which 92% were sexual assault kits. In November 2020, Cele admitted that the DNA backlog was a whopping 117 738 cases. By December, this figure had grown to 142 504. In March 2021, the FSL head, Major General Edward Ngokha, confirmed that the backlog stood at 172 787 and that nothing had been processed for in January or February. Action Society learned through a PAIA application that the backlog stood at 241 152 in April 2021. By July 2021, a backlog of more than 300 000 cases led to Action Society’s complaint with the PP in October 2021.

Is there justice in SA?

At Action Society, we often see delays in the justice system. What do you think? Have you experienced this too?

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