Comment and Analysis

Human rights: More vigilance required as torture escalates

Mabedle Lawrence Mushwana

African human right's groups need to ramp up their role in monitoring and preventing abuse.

A crime scene expert at the site of the Marikana massacre. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The South African Human Rights Commission is honoured that the ­Network of African National Human Rights Institutions and the Association for the Prevention of Torture chose it to host vital ­training in investigating allegations of torture.

It could not come at a more crucial time. As a country, we are experiencing torture, ill-treatment and police brutality of a magnitude we have not experienced since we became a democracy.

The tragic killing of 34 miners by the police at Marikana, where two policemen were also killed, sent shock waves through South Africa and the world.

It followed the killing of Andries Tatane by the police during a protest march by the Ficksburg community. Mido Macia, a Mozambican taxi driver, died after he was dragged behind a police ­vehicle in Daveyton, in full view of members of the public. 

We commend the South African government for establishing a commission of inquiry into the Marikana deaths and for the fact that, in the other matters, the policemen concerned were charged and appeared before our courts. Nonetheless, these incidents have tarnished the image of the South African police so much, it will take a long time to restore it.

As a commission, we are participating in the Marikana inquiry, and we investigated the Tatane killing, making a finding against the police. The minister of police is now appealing our finding. The acquittal of the accused in the Tatane case is a source of concern. 

Grim picture
Just days ago, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights found the Zimbabwe government responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of Gabriel Shumba, a well-known human-rights advocate and lawyer.

In Mali, two ethnic-Tuareg men who had been arrested on February 15 2013 and tortured by Malian soldiers in the town of Léré, in the Timbuktu region, died in detention at Bamako Central Prison.

These incidents and many that go unreported every day paint a grim picture of the daunting challenges ahead of us as investigators of ­allegations of torture in Africa.

The Rabat conference of our organisations in 2011 called for the strengthening of the role of African human-rights institutes in the prevention of torture. 

It called on all states in Africa to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

It was resolved that organisations such as ours should monitor places of detention, mainly police cells, investigate allegations and pursue the prosecution of perpetrators of torture and related intolerances.

I am pleased that after a protracted period of time the South African government last year placed before its National Assembly the Prevention of Torture Bill for passage into law, which will make torture and related treatment a crime. 

The commission will continue to put pressure on the government to accede to the Optional Protocol. 

This is an edited excerpt from the opening speech at a conference on the prevention and ­investigation of torture. Advocate Mabedle ­Lawrence Mushwana is chairperson of the SAHRC and the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions

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