The intersession did not witness any significant development in the situation of torture on the continent. Disturbing reports of torture and other forms of ill treatment continued to dominate the news especially in countries experiencing civil strife or conflict. Widespread ignorance by the general public on their rights and of officials of the law, their responsibilities, lack of training and information, impunity, discrimination, dysfunctional judicial systems, lack of monitoring and advisory mechanisms, corruption and deficiencies in governance and the rule of law, amongst others, are challenges that continue to impede efforts to fight the scourge of torture on the African continent.
In the face of these challenges, the Committee for the Prevention Torture in Africa (CPTA) has remained steadfast in its resolve to relentlessly battle against this ill by continuously engaging States Parties on their obligations under the African Charter and building synergies with other stakeholders in the fight against torture. In this regard, the CPTA has continued to encourage the adoption of legislation in State Parties criminalizing torture and advocating for the ratification and effective implementation of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
It is encouraging to note that more States Parties have heeded to the call of the CPTA to criminalize torture and have responded by initiating bills in their respective legislatures in this regard. The Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Republics of Togo, Namibia and Uganda are some countries which have bills on the criminalization of torture pending enactment into law. The importance of adopting these bills and speedily enacting them into law cannot be over-emphasized and I therefore call on the abovementioned States Parties and those that have not yet done so, to take all necessary measures to make torture and other forms of ill-treatment, a crime punishable with appropriate penalties.
To date, eleven African countries have ratified the OPCAT, the latest addition being the Republic of Tunisia which acceded to the same on 01 June 2011. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Republic Tunisia for taking this very important step and urge that effective implementation of the instrument should be given priority. I also congratulate the Republic Cape Verde for signing the OPCAT and urge that the Republic of Cape Verde and all the other African countries that have signed the OPCAT, including the Republics of Cameroon, Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zambia to take all necessary measures to ratify and implement the Convention as soon as possible.
The enormity of the task of eliminating torture in a continent like Africa, that is confronted with the numerous challenges outlined above has led the CPTA to devise new ways and means of confronting these challenges, notably by elaborating a three year Strategic Plan that aims at rendering more effective and visible, the work of the mechanism in the fight against torture.
Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, what follows is an outline of the activities that the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa undertook during the Intersession.
1. On 14 July 2011, members of the CPTA held a meeting in Dakar, Senegal. The meeting was aimed at reviewing the performance of the CPTA in the execution of its mandate, examining the state of execution of the activities in the 2011 CPTA Work Plan in the first half of 2011 and planning for activities to be undertaken in the remaining half of the year. I chaired the meeting, at the end of which a net amelioration in the performance of the mechanism and a satisfactory rate of execution of planned activities was noted.
2. As earlier mentioned, the focus of the CPTA for the past six months has been to devise ways and means of enhancing the visibility and effectiveness of the mechanism in its efforts on the prevention of torture. It is in this regard that the CPTA organized, from the 14 – 16 July 2011, in Dakar, Senegal, a strategic planning workshop. The meeting brought together all CPTA members and Secretariat staff supporting the CPTA and was facilitated by an expert from the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) Geneva.
3. During the meeting, the opportunities and challenges of torture prevention in Africa were assessed and the role of the CPTA in influencing and helping States Parties to live up to their obligations of prohibiting and preventing torture were examined. The workshop participants brainstormed and defined the vision, mission and strategic objectives of the CPTA as well as activities that could be carried out in furtherance of the mandate of the mechanism. The workshop came up with a blue-print of a three year Strategic Plan, to run from 2012 to 2014. The draft was subsequently finalized and adopted during a meeting of CPTA members that held on 21 October 2011 in Banjul, the Gambia. The Strategic plan will be made available on the website of the African Commission very soon.
4. It is hoped that the implementation of the Strategic Plan will add impetus to the torture prevention efforts of the CPTA on the continent, help enhance the creation of synergy among various actors involved in the prevention of torture and usher in a new dynamic in the work of the CPTA.
5. The successful implementation of this Plan will require the active collaboration and contribution of all stakeholders involved in torture prevention on the continent. I therefore wish to seize this opportunity to call on States Parties, civil society organizations, National Human Rights Institutions and all interested individuals to actively engage with and support the CPTA and the African Commission as a whole, in order to give human dignity in Africa, a new face. Above all, I call on the African Commission to allocate adequate resources for the successful implementation of this plan.
6. People deprived of their liberty face a particularly high risk of being tortured given that most places of deprivation of liberty are usually shielded from public scrutiny. One effective way of minimizing the risk of torture and ill-treatment in such places is by subjecting them to external monitoring, through regular visits by independent bodies. Regular external scrutiny of places of deprivation of liberty has an important deterrent effect and helps to ensure that safeguards and measures put in place to protect detainees from any form of abuse, are adhered to.
7. It is in this regard that the CPTA has been encouraging African States to ratify and effectively implement the OPCAT which makes provision for the establishment of national and international oversight mechanisms, to undertake regular unannounced visits to places where people are deprived of their liberty with a view to insuring that the treatment of these people conforms to international standards. Senegal is one of the eleven African countries that have ratified the OPCAT (October 2006), and has adopted a law instituting the National Observer of Places of Deprivation of Liberty as its National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). The law entered into force in March 2009 and following this, the Senegalese Cabinet recently adopted the implementation decree of the law instituting the Senegalese NPM, on 16 June 2011.
8. To follow up on this development, the CPTA, in collaboration with the West African Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Association for the Prevention of Torture (Geneva), Amnesty International - Senegal and the Senegalese Ministry of Justice, organized a two day workshop on the effective functioning of the Senegalese NPM, from 18 – 19 July 2011 in Dakar, Senegal. The main objective of the workshop was to exchange ideas and formulate concrete recommendations in order to promote the effective functioning of the NPM as well as advocate for the prompt appointment of an independent, qualified, credible and committed person in the area of human rights to the position of National Observer of Places of Deprivation of Liberty. The workshop also provided an opportunity for the CPTA to popularize the Robben Island Guidelines (RIG) and envisage ways of cooperation with the future Observer and how the RIG could be used in its work.
9. The workshop brought together a broad range of stakeholders from Senegal including representatives of various government ministries, the National Assembly and Senate, the Police, Gendarmerie, defence forces, civil society and the Focal Point for Africa of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture. The workshop came up with various recommendations which will be officially transmitted to the Government of Senegal in the coming days. A report on the proceedings of the workshop will be made available on the website of the African Commission very soon.
10. It should be noted that Senegal is one of the first African countries to adopt legislation to implement the provisions of the OPCAT and it is hoped that if well implemented, the law will provide a model for replication by other African countries. I therefore seize this opportunity to congratulate Senegal on this initiative and urge the Government to fully implement the recommendations of the workshop in order to ensure that the National Observer is sufficiently empowered to effectively carry out its mandate.
11. On 21 October 2011, the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of the CPTA took part in the special interest group discussions on prisons and torture at the NGO Forum. The discussions centered on the challenges and gaps in the prevention of torture in Africa, and came up with recommendations for overcoming some of these challenges.
12. On 21 and 22 October 2011, members of the CPTA met in Banjul, the Gambia. During the meeting, members finalized and adopted the draft Strategic Plan of the CPTA as well as the report of the Workshop on the effective functioning of the Senegalese NPM. Members also developed the 2012 Work Plan of the CPTA.
13. The CPTA has this week, published the third edition of its biannual newsletter – the Africa Torture Watch. This edition of the newsletter highlights the activities of the CPTA in the past six months, sheds more light on some principles contained in the RIG and shares best practice on torture prevention. It also contains an updated standard page on the ratification of the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, as well as the criminalization of torture and the applicable penalties in African countries. Copies of the newsletter are available at the Secretariat of the African Commission.