Human Rights Commission welcomes ratification of UN torture agreement

2019-03-05 08:40
Illustration of torture supplied by Human Rights Watch.

Illustration of torture supplied by Human Rights Watch.

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The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) welcomed the Cabinet decision of February 28, to refer the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) to Parliament. 

"The Commission would like to commend the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Honourable John Jeffery for his role and support in this regard," SAHRC spokesperson Gail Smith said in a statement. 

The OPCAT was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2002 and came into force in 2006, the statement read. 

"South Africa signed OPCAT in September 2006; however, it is yet to ratify the protocol. The OPCAT is unique among international conventions and protocols in that it does not promote any new norm, instead, it strengthens national implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT)."

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According to the SAHRC, the OPCAT establishes international and domestic mechanisms for torture prevention through a system of regular visits to places of detention, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment. 

States are obliged to establish a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to monitor places of deprivation of liberty on an announced or unannounced basis.

"The SAHRC will be the coordinating body for the NPM in South Africa, in accordance with Article 17 of the OPCAT, which allows for the establishment of institutions to serve as the NPM.

"The OPCAT is not prescriptive on the structure for the NPM; however, it has been noted that South Africa has a number of existing oversight bodies which includes the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and other such bodies.

"As such, the Commission will play a coordinating function for these and other involved institutions. The NPM is established to prevent torture and protect the rights of those deprived of their liberty through regular visits to places of detention.

"The NPM is required to consult regularly with the Subcomittee on the Prevention of Torture; make recommendations to applicable authorities to strengthen the prevention of torture; and to comment on proposed legislation or polices regarding places of detention."

Through the NPM’s systemic analysis before, during and after monitoring visits (as well as follow-up visits), the NPM is able to identify trends, improvement or deterioration of the conditions of detention and provide recommendations to reinforce/implement protective measures as underscored by international and domestic human rights law. This creates credibility regionally and internationally as well as legitimacy in respect of independence – envisaged in respect of detained persons.

The commission notes that Parliament will ratify OPCAT as per the approved Cabinet memo before Parliament rises in April 2019, the SAHRC said. 

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