26 June – International Day In Support of Victims of Torture
The 26 June is twice over a critical date for the observance of human rights in South Africa. 26 June is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. In terms of our nation, the Congress of the People in Kliptown adopted the Freedom Charter on 26 June 1955, a founding pillar of our democratic society. Declaring that All Shall Be Equal before the Law, the Freedom Charter proclaims: “no one shall be imprisoned, deported or restricted without a fair trial; imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance; the police force and army … shall be the helpers and protectors of the people.”
Today, on the 26 June 2020, therefore, we in South Africa should look at how our nation ensures that government does not use brutality and torture against our people. Specifically we ask: how is our nation responding to the Khosa case and other unlawful acts by security forces during the COVID lockdown? Have we dismantled the culture of impunity within of the security forces entrenched during apartheid? What steps are we taking to ensure that we live up to the commitment of NEVER AGAIN for torture, police brutality, detention and death at the hands of our security forces?
Post-apartheid South Africa has signed on to international agreements on torture: South Africa signed and ratified the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), and the additional optional protocol to this written in 2006 and ratified by SA in 2019. UNCAT has 25 experts who inspect facilities and ensure compliance around the world. Under the optional protocol ratified in March 2019, South Africa is also expected to establish its own National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) to monitor our country’s progress in preventing torture, cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment by exposing places of detention to public scrutiny and accountable to external monitoring.
The South African government has assigned national monitoring to a group of “in-house” government structures, including the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) and the Independent Police Investigative Directive (IPID) with oversight from the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). Does SAHRC, working with JICS and IPID, comprise the right body to monitor this, considering that government will in effect be investigating their own functions? And there are further doubts about whether government will provide these structures with the resources needed to do this effectively. We note with concern that the Collins Khosa court judgement last month states emphatically that IPID and SANDF ombuds are not appropriate to monitor state security forces action. International experience indicates that civil society plays a critical role in monitoring any government’s use of force.
We also raise concerns about whether our democratic government has acted firmly to end the culture of torture that remains entrenched in state security forces which urgently needs to be dismantled. This is clear in the security forces response to the Covid-19 state of disaster: they use brutality and torture to enforce the lockdown rather than education, compassion, and respect for human rights. As a result, people who remember the brutality and repression during apartheid states of emergency are retraumatised by the deployment of the military and police in our townships, fuelling resentment and resistance to health measures intended to save lives, not damage them.
As civil society organisations working in the field of transitional justice and human rights, the SACTJ asks of government structures tasked with carrying out international commitments on torture and brutality, to engage with our people and our communities at all levels to ensure that these measures are fully and effectively carried out.
This will go a long way towards honouring the history and commitments to human rights and dignity that are commemorated on 26 June.
– Issued by the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice (SACTJ)