Torture thrives in Africa

Picture: Tracy Lee Stark.

Medieval torture techniques such as fingernail pulling and electric shocks continue to be freely employed against men, women and children in South Africa.

A report by Amnesty International found that various forms of torture also continued to be applied throughout the African continent.

The report found that torture was routinely used as a means of extracting “confessions” in prisons and detention centres, and saw detainees beaten, tied in painful positions and suspended from ceilings.

A high-level probe had resulted at the Mangaung’s high-security prison in Bloemfontein last year, following media reports that the prison was allegedly forcibly injecting inmates with antipsychotic medicine and using electroshock treatment to subdue prisoners.

Amnesty International research and advocacy director for Africa, Netsanet Belay, said only 10 African nations had adopted domestic legislation outlawing torture, despite the fact that the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights – approved by all but one African Union state – expressly prohibited the practice.

“African governments have yet to acknowledge the problem, let alone begin to rectify it,’ said Belay.

“The lack of strong national laws prohibiting torture in the majority of African countries allows torture not just to survive, but to thrive.”

Speaking at the Institute for Security Studies’ fourth international conference last year, Amanda Dissel, from the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), said people were more vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment within the first few hours of arrest and detention.

“About 1.6 million people were arrested in the 2011/2012 period in South Africa. Within this period, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate received 232 notifications of deaths in police custody. Of the 232 deaths, 34% were due to injuries sustained in custody,” said Dissel.

This was evident last year when Mozambican national Mido Macia died of head injuries and internal bleeding after being dragged by police down a road in Daveyton on the East Rand. Amnesty International called on all African governments to criminalise torture.

“Thirty years ago, Amnesty International led the campaign for a worldwide commitment to combat torture, resulting in the UN’s Convention against torture. It is disheartening that, despite ratifying this treaty, only 10 African nations have criminalised torture and ill-treatment,” said Belay.

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