South Africa: Vulnerable Persons and Groups in a Vulnerable Democracy — Can Forensic Medical Services Help to Ensure Justice in Critical Times?
ABSTRACT: The role and contribution of an objective and professional medicolegal death investigation service should be valued and strengthened, especially in countries and communities where institutional and governmental corruption, incompetence, and abuse of power may exist, and where there are weak civil watchdog agencies such as a free press. South Africa is a fledgling democracy and is now at a critical juncture from a sociopolitical perspective. A number of incidents and historical perspectives are presented, all of which have specific relevance to the forensic medical community and which serve to illustrate the importance of ensuring the protection of the rights of vulnerable groups and persons who may easily suffer from disregard and abuse by state agencies and their representatives and which may ultimately impact very negatively on the broader society. Strengthening the organizational and legislative framework within which forensic pathologists can function is vital to ensure effective investigation in matters such as deaths in custody and of institutionalized persons/patients as well as deaths associated with police action and mob killings, to name but a few.