Cabinet approves bill criminalizing torture

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Cabinet has approved the Prevention and Combatting of Torture Bill, after it was submitted in March. It has been sent to the Speaker of the National Assembly to be tabled.

The bill gives effect to South Africa’s international obligations in terms of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The Bill, which will be referred to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, will criminalise torture. At present, torture is not a specific crime and is treated as assault.

Torture relates to physical and mental pain or suffering intentionally inflicted to obtain information or a confession, punish a person for an act the person has committed or is suspected of committing, or intimidate or coerce him or her or a third person to do, or refrain from doing, anything.

The penalty provided in the draft Bill is imprisonment only, with no option of a fine.

Independent Complaints Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said that, “Torture was never a crime and we never had statistics on how bad the scourge was. Now we will know exactly what is happening.”

Debbie Schafer, the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Deputy Minister of Justice & Constitutional Development, said that, in light of on-going allegations of torture in the South African Police Service (SAPS), Correctional Services and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), it is clear that South Africa needs stronger regulations on this issue.

She noted that The Sunday Times reported that “predator” police officers are “pushing the boundaries leaving hordes of physically and mentally tortured victims in their wake”. This is in addition to allegations of torture involving 14 members of the Hawks reported last month.
“The DA cautiously notes, however, that legislation is only as effective as the ability to implement it. While torture will be criminalised, a free, efficient, independent criminal justice system is required to detect crimes and prosecute them without undue influence.
“Recent events, including the Mdluli saga and the proposed judicial review, cast serious doubts on this, and we trust that it will not affect the efficient implementation of this important legislation,” Schafer said in a statement.
“The DA eagerly anticipates the imminent tabling of the Bill by the Speaker so that we may pass it as speedily as possible to ensure that the increasing scourge of torture by law enforcement officers can be effectively dealt with.”