The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development briefed the Committee on the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. He stated that the Protocol aims to strengthen efforts and measures by state parties to United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) to prevent torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment by exposing places of detention to public scrutiny and to make the entire system in which police, security and intelligence officials operate more transparent and accountable to external monitoring.
He further stated that the unique features in the Protocol included the creation of a subcommittee of international experts charged with the responsibility to undertake visits to State parties to examine conditions of detention and treatment of detainees and at a domestic level the setting up of National Preventive Mechanisms.
The SA Human Rights Comission stated that it had met with the relevant institutional stakeholders to set up the structure to implement the Optional Protocol and budgetary allocations had been done. The Department asked the Committee to ratify the Protocol.
Members did not have many questions and ratified the Protocol.
The Chairperson welcomed the committee members, Mr. John Jeffery, the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and Mr Chris Nissen, a Commissioner at the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
Briefing by Department
Deputy Minister Jeffery informed the Committee that the SAHRC will implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). South Africa signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) in 1993 and ratified it in 1998. Further, South Africa signed the Optional Protocol to the UNCAT in 2006. As at 21 February 2019, 89 States had signed and ratified the OPCAT and 14 states had signed but were yet to ratify. The Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Act 13 of 2013 paved way for South Africa to take the necessary steps towards the ratification of OPCAT.
Deputy Minister Jeffery stated that OPCAT aims to strengthen efforts and measures by state parties to UNCAT to prevent torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment by exposing places of detention to public scrutiny and to make the entire system in which police, security and intelligence officials operate more transparent and accountable to external monitoring. OPCAT created a subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) comprising 25 independent and impartial experts from different backgrounds and from various regions to undertake visits to State parties to examine conditions of detention and treatment of detainees. OPCAT also requires each State to set up one or several visiting bodies and its own National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM). The national visiting mechanisms includes regular and unannounced visits to places of detention for example prisons, police cells, refugee centers, social care institutions and closed psychiatric facilities to prevent torture and ill-treatment and thereafter provide a report to Parliament.
Deputy Minister further stated that the key institutions responsible for monitoring, investigating and preventing torture include the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) and the SAHRC. The SAHRC had conducted a study tour to establish international best practices against torture, had interacted with the various other institutions involved and had a budget to set up the structures required in the Optional Protocol.
He stated that the reason why Parliament should prioritize the ratification is because a presentation of the progress of ratification was scheduled in Geneva at the end of April 2019 and also to avoid unnecessary delay with the new Parliament. The relevant National Assembly Portfolio Committee had supported the ratification last week.
Mr Nissen stated that the SAHRC had met with the relevant institutional stakeholders to set up the structure to implement the Optional Protocol. The Commission had also partnered with African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum to roll out the pilot project in police cells. He added that a budget of R1.6 million had been provided.
The Chairperson invited members to comment or ask a question.
Ms B Engelbretch (DA; Gauteng) asked why it had taken long to ratify the protocol yet it was signed in 2006. Further, she sought clarity on what specific issues had been provided in the Optional Protocol and whether the treatment of detained illegal immigrants had been considered.
Deputy Minister Jeffery replied that the Optional Protocol provided two unique aspects that is the International Subcommittee on prevention of torture and the establishment of the National Preventive Mechanisms. The ratification had taken long because government had to wait for the Preventive and Combating of Torture of Persons Act 13 of 2013 to be passed, the engagements with the SAHRC took time and that generally ratification is a long process. He noted that after ratification, there was need to have legislative structure on the same.
The Chairperson asked Mr Nissen whether the Memorandum of Understanding entered with SAPS had any legal backing considering the huge number of court cases involving the police.
Mr Nissen replied that SAHRC had a technical committee that was engaging SAPS. He added that SAHRC and the Department of Home Affairs was catering to the issue of the detention of illegal immigrants.
Mr D Ximbi (ANC; Western Cape) moved to ratify the Optional Protocol.
The motion was seconded and the Protocol was approved.
Committee Report on Optional Protocol
The Chairperson then invited the members to consider the Report on the Optional Protocol to be tabled before Parliament.
Ms Engelbretch followed up on her question about immigrants illegally being held in detention areas and whether the same had been included in the report. She sought clarification on whether the illegal immigrants’ detention areas had been included in the report.
The Chairperson stated that it was covered under the paragraph that dealt with 'the universal term that centers or the places where people are held against their will'.
All the Committee members adopted the report.
The Committee also adopted the minutes of the meeting held on 6th March 2019.
The Chairperson concluded the meeting by thanking the members for their cooperation.
- DOJCD - Ratification of Optional Protocol to UN Convention Against Torture & Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- Annexure A - Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- Committee report on Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment