Press Statement on excessive use of force by the South African Police Services


15 March 2021, Banjul, the Republic of The Gambia

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), through its Country Rapporteur for the Republic of South Africa Honourable Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, is deeply concerned about reports of excessive use of force by the South African Police Services. It in particular expresses its condemnation of the killing of a 35-year old person who happened to be in the area following shooting by police in the course of protest staged by  students of the Univesity of Witswatersrand. It is reported that the victim was struck twice by the bullets and succumbed to his injuries. Multiple disturbing videos and images have been circulated on social media showing his last moments lying on the pavement.

The African Commission is deeply concerned about this report of excessive use of force against protesters in South Africa and the resultant loss of life of the above-referenced passerby and injuries to others. The Commission reiterates its strong condemnation of these acts of excessive use of force, endangering various rights guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including the rights to life, bodily integrity, freedom of assembly and the right to peaceful protests.

Recalling its Guidelines on the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa (2017), while the African Commission recognizes the need for upholding law and order, it underscores the human rights imperative of ensuring that force is used only as a last resort measure and in compliance with the principles of proportionality and necessity and to avert imminent danger to life and bodily security.

Furthermore, Guideline 4.3 provides that law enforcement officials must be subject to accountability mechanisms, and non-compliance by law enforcement officials with laws and regulations governing assemblies must be treated as an offence, particularly in cases of arbitrary and excessive use of force, ill treatment or torture, while Guideline 22, stipulates that any use of force by law enforcement officials during gatherings should be subject to an automatic and prompt review by a competent and independent authority. Guideline 8 further provides that accountability mechanisms be put in place to provide an adequate, effective and prompt remedy to persons who experience human rights violations in the context of public order policing.

In light of the foregoing, the African Commission, while expressing its solidarity with the family of the victim as well as with the injured protesters

A) calls on the Government of the Republic of South Africa to:

1) take immediate action and urgently initiate transparent and independent investigation into the reported excessive use of force that led to the above-referenced death and injuries;

2) hold those responsible for the perpetration of the act of excessive use of force accountable; and

3) institute corrective measures including legislative and institutional reform measures to prevent the recurrence of such.

B) Welcomes the ongoing legislative reform process currently underway in South Africa including on the review of the South African Police Services Act in order to bring it in line with the South African Constitution and with principles of international human rights law and in this respect calls on the Government to maximize the opportunity presented by this process for comprehensive reform of law enforcement by the South African Police Services, to address fully the lacunae in the existing legislative and regulatory framework on the use of force including oversight and accountability measures with a view to resolve the recurrence of excessive use of force involving law enforcement institutions.


Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso,

Country Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Republic of South Africa