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South Africa must fully comply with international obligations to prevent torture, experts urge after first country visit

13 March 2023

GENEVA (13 March 2023) - UN torture prevention experts today called on South Africa to expedite its legislative measures for setting up a national torture prevention watchdog to regularly examine prisons, detention centres and other facilities.

The call came at the end of the first visit to South Africa by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), which took place from 26 February to 9 March. South Africa ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture in 2019.

“There is an urgent need for South Africa to fully establish a national preventive mechanism, according to the commitment it made four years ago and in full compliance with the Optional Protocol,” said Abdallah Ounnir, Head of the delegation. “Its national preventive mechanism should be a fully independent monitoring body empowered to visit all places of detention, which is key to prevent torture and ill-treatment in the country,” he added.

“During our visit, the delegation noted the overuse of liberty deprivation across sectors, such as prisons, police stations, immigration facilities, mental health facilities, and drug treatment centres. This reflects a de facto punitive rather than a rehabilitative approach to crime and other social issues,” stated the Head of the delegation.

“The high number of remand detainees and overcrowding in detention places reflect deficiencies in the criminal justice system and the judiciary. The delegation received allegations of corruption within facilities. We also observed entrenched inhuman practices, ill-treatment, and poor detention conditions,” Ounnir said, emphasising that “this must change.”

The SPT visited public and private penitentiaries, police stations, military detention barracks, youth care centres, psychiatric hospitals, drug rehabilitation institutions, and a migrant detention camp, where they conducted confidential interviews with staff members and people held in these institutions.

During its visit, the delegation met with government officials of the executive branch, representatives of civil society, and held discussions with the South African Human Rights Commission and related bodies.

Following the visit, the SPT will submit a confidential report to the Government of South Africa with observations and recommendations to prevent torture and ill-treatment of people deprived of their liberty.

The SPT delegation was composed of Abdallah Ounnir, Head of the delegation (Morocco), Vasiliki Artinopoulou (Greece), Shujune Muhammad (Maldives), and Elīna Šteinerte (Latvia).


The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture monitors States parties’ adherence to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which to date has been ratified by 92 countries. The Subcommittee is made up of 25 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Subcommittee has a mandate to visit States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, during the course of which it may visit any place where persons may be deprived of their liberty and assist those States in preventing torture and ill-treatment. The Subcommittee communicates its observations and recommendations to States through confidential reports, which it encourages countries to make public.

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