On 19 March 2019, the South African National Assembly approved the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). This follows a Cabinet decision of 28 February 2019 to refer the OPCAT to Parliament in terms of section 231(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. South Africa signed the OPCAT in September 2006, but had not yet ratified it.
As explained in a media statement by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC):
The OPCAT establishes international and domestic mechanisms for torture prevention through a system of regular visits to places of detention, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment. States are obliged to establish a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to monitor places of deprivation of liberty on an announced or unannounced basis. The SAHRC will be the co-ordinating body for the NPM in South Africa, in accordance with Article 17 of the OPCAT which allows for the establishment of institutions to serve as the NPM. The OPCAT is not prescriptive on the structure for the NPM, however, it has been noted that South Africa has a number of existing oversight bodies which includes the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and other such bodies. As such, the [SAHRC] will play a co-ordinating function for these and other involved institutions. The NPM is established to prevent torture and protect the rights of those deprived of their liberty through regular visits to places of detention.
The media statement explains further that the NPM is required to consult regularly with the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture; make recommendations to applicable authorities to strengthen the prevention of torture; and to comment on proposed legislation or polices regarding places of detention.
The OPCAT is accessible here.
The media statement by the SAHRC is accessible here.
Please note: The information contained in this note is for general guidance on matters of interest, and does not constitute legal advice. For any enquiries, please contact us at [email protected].