SA returns to the international legal stage
Publish date: 08 July 2019
Issue Number: 831
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Most states today have denounced torture as a means of punishing people. It is prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is also specifically proscribed by the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). To date, 166 states have ratified CAT, including SA. In an examination on the Daily Maverick site, Advocate Anton Katz SC and Advocate Eshed Cohen add that in 2002, the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Opcat), as it was convinced that further measures were necessary to achieve the purposes of CAT. Opcat established a special sub-committee – comprising international human rights experts – which must be allowed unrestricted access to inspect places where people are detained. It further obliges states to maintain, designate or establish one or several independent national preventive mechanisms to prevent torture. The authors note that in March 2019, Parliament ratified Opcat and deposited its ratification with the UN in June 2019. ‘This means that in two weeks’ time – on 20 July 2019 – SA will be bound by Opcat and the duties it imposes. To this end, SA has already adopted a multiple-body national preventative mechanism, with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in a lead role. The HRC will be assisted by other institutions with a monitoring mandate, such as the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services.’ Katz and Cohen state that SA’s ratification of Opcat should be celebrated and welcomed. ‘First, SA prisons are notorious for being rife with torture and degrading treatment. Second, the ratification of Opcat signals to South Africans and the international community that the current SA Government respects its international legal duties and is willing to assume further international legal duties.’ The authors hope the government will ‘prioritise its international duties, ensure compliance with international law and be a key role-player in the international legal community’.