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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Africa Pretrial Detention Day 2017

24th April 2017

Attention: Editors and Reporters

The 25th of April 2017 marks the 2nd anniversary of Africa Pretrial Detention Day, commemorated annually to raise awareness of the plight of thousands of people who are held in detention in police cells and prisons across Africa for prolonged periods without trial. The 25th April was chosen to coincide with the adoption by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights of new Guidelines on Arrest, Police Custody and Pretrial Detention ('the Luanda Guidelines'). The new Guidelines provide a blueprint for States to strengthen national systems and practices in relation to arrest, police custody and pretrial detention. The Luanda Guidelines reinforce the importance of a criminal justice system built on core human rights principles. "The guidelines reflect the collective aspirations of our states, national human rights institutions and civil society organisations in promoting a rights-based approach to this critical area of criminal justice,” said Commissioner Med S.K. Kaggwa, African Commission Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa.
Across Africa, approximately 43 percent of the total prison population comprises of pretrial detainees. In South Africa alone, there are almost ±45,000 people who are still waiting in detention for their trials.
For many of these pretrial detainees, the right to a fair and speedy trial is illusive. The lack of affordable legal representation - often combined with unaffordable bail conditions - means that detainees can wait for years before a court adjudicates their matters. Sometimes detention follows arrest and custody for minor or petty offences and the detention of people who do not pose a risk to society. For every day that a person spends in pretrial detention, they lose the opportunity to work, study, care for their families, and are exposed to conditions of detention that pose a serious risk to their lives and health. Addressing pretrial justice will support the development goals as, across Africa, arbitrary and prolonged pretrial detention has the most impact on the poor and marginalized.

The arbitrary use of pretrial detention and police custody are major contributing factors to prison overcrowding. Prolonged and arbitrary detention also feeds corruption, exposes detainees to the risk of serious human rights violations such as torture and ill treatment, and has a significant socio-economic impact on detainees, their families and communities.
An important part of the Commission’s mandate is to monitor the observance of human rights including in detention facilities in South Africa. This is one reason the High Court ordered, in the case of the South African Human Rights Commission v Minister of Home Affairs, Case No. 41571/12, that the Commission should be granted access to the Lindela Repatriation Centre, where foreign nationals awaiting deportation are detained. Undocumented migrants are among the most vulnerable constituencies in South Africa because the default reaction is to arrest and detain them while their status is being checked and when they are being prepared for deportation.   

There is also concern with regard to detention in other facilities in South Africa. In 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee review on South Africa expressed concern about the lack of independent and sustained monitoring of places of deprivation of liberty other than prisons. The Committee was also concerned about the number of reported cases of violence, including sexual violence, excessive use of force, torture and other forms of ill treatment against detainees, as well as deaths resulting from actions of the police and prison officials. It was also noted with concern that few investigations into such reported cases have led to prosecutions resulting in the punishment of those responsible.

On Africa Pretrial Detention Day 2017, the South African Human Rights Commission calls upon the government to strengthen efforts to improve conditions of detention and effectively implement the Constitutional guarantee to each detainee to have his or her trial begin and conclude without unreasonable delay.  

Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission.
Gail Smith – Spokesperson Tel: 0609883792 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Gushwell Brooks – Communications Co-ordinator Tel: 082 645 8573 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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About us

The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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