Detention Justice Forum Statement on Recent Reports of Torture at St. Alban’s

We have been shocked to read media accounts of torture at St. Alban’s Medium B Prison, as reported by The Star on 13 March 2014.

The incident – where more than 200 inmates of the Port Elizabeth prison were allegedly subjected to mass-beatings, electric shock and torture during a midnight search for cell phones and contraband – is a gross violation of human rights and South Africa’s constitution. It is also in violation of the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Act, passed last year.

During the search at St Alban’s, conducted by staff of the Department of Correctional Services on 2 March 2014, inmates say they were forced to lie naked on the floor in a long human chain with their noses in the anus of the inmate in front of them. They have also reported being electro-shocked and beaten.

These allegations strongly echo a previous case of mass torture at St Albans, in 2005. In that case, where inmates were subjected to the same degradations and pains as those contained in the current allegation, a complaint was lodged with the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) alleging gross human rights abuses by State officials. After ignoring five requests by the UNHRC to respond to the allegations, South Africa was found guilty of human rights violations. The official investigation by the South African authorities into the 2005 case is still unfinished.

It is deeply distressing and disheartening to hear of the new incident, as it shows a lack of culpability and a wide-spread culture of impunity.

We call on the government, the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services and the South African Human Rights Commission, to conduct a swift and thorough investigation, to have a transparent reporting mechanism and to ensure that anyone complicit and guilty of such crimes be held accountable.

In addition, the passing of the Combating of Torture Act creates a criminal offence for acts of torture, thus placing an obligation on law enforcement authorities to investigate such allegations. Moreover, the investigative process itself and its outcomes must be monitored by independent legal and torture experts.

Signed and endorsed by the following organizations:

1.      Association for the Prevention of Torture

2.      Centre for Applied Legal Studies

3.      Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

4.      Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative

5.      Egon A. Oswald Attorneys at Law

6.      Footballers for Life

7.      Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit, University of Cape Town

8.      Hope Prison Ministry

9.      Jonathan Cohen and Associates

10.   Just Detention International

11.   Lawyers for Human Rights

12.   National Institute For Crime Prevention And The Reintegration Of Offenders (NICRO)

13.   Phoenix Zululand

14.   Prison Fellowship South Africa

15.   Restorative Justice Centre

16.   Section27

17.   Sonke Gender Justice

18.   The AIDS Consortium

19.   Treatment Action Campaign

20.   Wits Justice Project

The Detention Justice Forum (DJF) is a civil-society membership organization comprising NGOs and CBOs which seek to ensure that the rights and well-being of detainees are respected and upheld, as enshrined under the South African Constitution, the country’s laws, and international human rights principles.

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