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The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of South Africa on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or

01 May 2019

Introducing the report, John Jeffery, Deputy Minister at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development of South Africa, recalled that the horror of torture was embedded in South Africa’s history and that its past bore memories of widespread and institutionalized torture, which for the apartheid security forces had been a matter of routine.  South Africa had enacted the Prevention and Combatting of Torture of Person Act in 2013, while the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act had removed the previous 20-year statute of limitation in respect of torture.  The principle of non-refoulement had been firmly codified in the Anti-Torture Act and the Refugees Act.  The Independent Police Investigative Directorate had become operational in 2012, and worked to ensure accountability and transparency of the police, including through investigating cases of death in police custody as a result of police actions and complaints of torture or assault filed against a police officer.  In March 2019, Parliament had approved the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  A number of bodies with an oversight mandate over places of detention - the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Service, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the Military Ombud, the Health Ombud - would play an important role in the national prevention mechanism under the auspices of the South African Human Rights Commission.  Various initiatives had been implemented to reduce pre-trial detention, Mr. Jeffery said, and the Judicial Case Flow Management Committees had been set up at national, regional and local levels to ensure speedier investigation and finalization of cases, address blockages, and improve overcrowding in prisons in relation to un-sentenced and pre-trial detainees.

Committee Experts remarked that the anti-torture law failed to stipulate minimum sentence for acts of torture, thus opening up the space for a suspended sentence to be given to perpetrators of this most serious crime, and its implementation was a problem too as to date no public official had been prosecuted under this law.  The Experts raised concern about the announced withdrawal of South Africa from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and in particular about the International Crimes Bill, which would effectively provide for immunity of certain persons for international crimes, thus making the prohibition of the crime of torture not absolute.  The Committee stressed the critical importance of ensuring adequate funding, transparent selection of members, and the full independence and impartiality of the South African Human Rights Commission, particularly in its upcoming role as coordinator of the national prevention mechanism.  There was an increase in arbitrary detention for minor offences such as common assault, failure to provide proof of identity, or petty theft, as well as an increasing reliance on life imprisonment, which had recorded an 818 per cent growth since the turn of the millennium.  In addition, most persons deprived of their liberty seemed to be young, marginalized, and vulnerable persons, usually under the age of 25, and 80 per cent were non-whites; almost half were held in pre-trial detention, with male non-whites more likely to be detained prior to trial.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Jeffery said that over the past 25 years, the new democratic government had removed old apartheid laws and institutions, built new democratic institutions and initiated laws based on constitutional rights and freedoms.  It had taken a collective responsibility to eradicate torture, including through the ratification of the Optional Protocol under which the national prevention mechanism would be created.

Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, in his concluding remarks, said that the question of intersectionality was being heavily debated during the treaty bodies review process.  All treaty bodies aimed to avoid unnecessary duplication but the question was what was unnecessary duplication and what were the intersecting areas.  He underlined that torture could be committed against women, children, or persons with disabilities, and it must be acceptable for the Committee against Torture to address those issues in the dialogue.

The delegation of South Africa consisted of representatives of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Department of Home Affairs, Independent Police Investigative Directorate, Department of Correctional Services, Department of Women, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Department of Social Development, Office of the Chief State Law Adviser, South African Police Service, as well as the representatives of the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of South Africa at the end of its sixty-sixth session on 17 May.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 2 May, to review the third periodic report of Benin (CAT/C/BEN/3).

Source: UNOG

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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