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26 Jun 2014 15:49
The South African police are regularly accused of torture in court. (Gallo)
Freedom from torture is the one human right
on which there can be no limitation. There are just no circumstances that allow
any person to subject another human being to any acts of torture; to cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
This is the one right that can be
given effect with so much ease.
South Africa has recently passed
legislation, the Prevention of Torture Act 2013, yet in our democratic, non-racial,
non-sexist South Africa, torture continues.
The Independent Policing Investigative
Directorate (IPID) is specifically charged with the investigation of torture by
law enforcement officials. Two general responses are heard today: one, that
torture belongs to the apartheid era and two, that should it occur today, it is
justified against criminals who have no respect for the law.
I page through Elaine Bing’s book Unmaking of the Torturer (better called,
in the Afrikaans edition,
Ek Het Gemartel
– I Have Tortured). A lot has been
said about the victims of torture, but here it is about torturers themselves:
three torturers from the South African police. One person even speaks of how he
enjoyed the torturing. Others suffer guilt, shame and serious relationship
problems. There is nothing about “I had to follow orders”. It was as
if they knew what was expected of them. To be white was to be the boss, to be
That was then. What about now? What
motivates the torturers in post-1994 South Africa? I spoke to a law professor
who also deals with cases of victims of torture. He said he could take me, on a
Thursday evening or a Friday any one of three or four police stations where the
torture continues. At one station, they do the “roast chicken”: your
legs are pulled up, your arms over your legs and a broomstick put between your
arms and legs. Your hands are then tied up and then they do with you what they
want. At another station, it is the “sausage method”, where you are rolled up
in a carpet or blanket …
And so the law professor continued, talking
about the different torture methods he has pointed out in court already. He spoke
about a forensic pathologist with a special camera to take pictures of the
inner ear: you see the marks of the pliers on the ears of the victims where
electrical shocks have been administered.
It is not a matter, any more, of “I
have tortured” – it is “I am torturing”. The professor showed me
the medical evidence he has presented to the court and gave me contact numbers
of the specialists who can testify on this. The professor’s latest case was in
State attorneys are also a valuable source
of information. They have to deal with the civil claims on torture. I went to
see the head of a well-known investigative institution. He feels we need to achieve
balance in our society. The police are completely demoralised by all the focus
on individual rights. What about the police’s rights? What about the protest
actions that are so violent? What about the responsibilities of communities?
And then he switches over to the corruption
and criminality, also in the police. I know of attorneys who are paid with
cocaine, he says. I cringe. It is about the ebbing away of our country’s
values. “The bad guys are winning,” he says. And it is in this
context that the police must do their work.
May we still speak of human rights to the police? Yes, we must.
Dr Danny Titus is a commissioner at the South
African Human Rights Commission, responsible for torture and police brutality
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