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OPCAT Ratification: The Implications for South Africa


Monday, October 18, 2010

On 22 September 2010, the South African Human Rights Commission in collaboration with the Association for the Prevention of Torture hosted a workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 'Ratifying the OPCAT: Exploring the Implications for South Africa'. The overall purpose of the workshop was to facilitate discussion on the ratification of OPCAT and the obligations flowing from there to establish a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to prevent torture.

On 22 September 2010, the South African Human Rights Commission in collaboration with the Association for the Prevention of Torture hosted a workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, on ‘Ratifying the OPCAT: Exploring the Implications for South Africa’. The workshop included participants from various government departments such as, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Department of Home Affairs, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Department of Police and the Department of Correctional Services. Members of the SAHRC’s Section 5 Committee on Torture were in attendance including representatives from the civil society torture prevention sector.

The overall purpose of the workshop was to facilitate discussion on the ratification of OPCAT and the obligations flowing from there to establish a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to prevent torture. The workshop focused on discussing the international requirements for the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism in South Africa; the sharing of experiences from other countries which have established NPMs; and discussing lessons learnt from these international experiences. The workshop presenters included Jean-Baptiste Niyizurugero and Barbara Bernath of APT who shared international experiences from around the world; and, Jessica Ngatai of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission who shared the experience of a national human rights institution as a central coordinating structure of a multiple-body National Preventive Mechanism.

By the end of the workshop there was general agreement that South Africa should ratify the OPCAT.  In addition, it was agreed that there is a need for greater collaboration between government departments on the OPCAT and the establishment of a NPM.  Furthermore, that much work has been done by both government and the SAHRC’s section 5 Committee on Torture. Since all parties share a common objective and there ought to be greater information sharing; a move away from working in parallel silos and further consultation is needed.

Government department officials were urged to brief their senior heads and thereafter cabinet members on the need for South Africa to comply with its international and regional obligations concerning torture prevention.

The SAHRC and APT encourage the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to continue in its efforts to ratify the OPCAT and the establishment of a NPM without delay. In this regard, the Department is urged to further enhance inter-departmental cooperation; finalize a concept document and share with the Commission’s section 5 Torture Committee its plans and timeframes for achieving these objectives. There is a further need for the Department to take the lead in identifying places where persons are deprived of their liberty; begin developing NPM options that can be discussed in order to determine a suitable model for South Africa; and fast track the Combating of Torture Bill.

The SAHRC will release a full report by the end of October 2010 on the Workshop and its outcomes.

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