South Africa recognises only assault and grievous bodily harm

Torture is a criminal offence, prohibited under various international treaties—but not under South African law, which only allows victims to lay charges of assault and grievous body harm.

The South African No Torture Consortium (SANToC) is lobbying for change, saying that the current law does not fully cover torture-related trauma or power relations between victims and perpetrators.

Although South Africa has signed regional and international treaties, Amnesty International cited reports of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of police, prison warders and private security guards in a memorandum to President Jacob Zuma in August 2009.

Amnesty’s corroborated cases quote the use of electric shock and suffocation, as well as prolonged assaults with batons, fists and booted feet. In some cases police interrogators and prison warders attempted to conceal evidence relating to the cause of death among detainees. Amnesty called on Zuma to take action against such human rights violations, many of which occurred in the “war against crime”.

In 2008 the police oversight body, the Independent Complaints Directorate, reported that it was investigating 20 reports of torture and 739 complaints of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Some of these cases fall within the definition of torture under the United Nations Convention against Torture, as they involve the “intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering by, or with, the consent of public officials for the purposes of obtaining information or a confession”.—SANToC, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Amnesty International.

View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here.

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