Detention Justice Forum host panel on preventing torture at the ISS Conference on Criminal Justice

The Detention Justice Forum, which Sonke co-coordinates, hosted a panel on “Preventing Torture and Abuse through Oversight” at the 4th Annual ISS Conference on Criminal Justice on the 21st August 2013. As emphasized by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Prevention of Torture, the most effective mechanism to prevent torture and ill-treatment is through the regular inspection of places of detention. Drawing from South African perspectives, the panel examined the current landscape of detention oversight, identified gaps, and considered the needs of specific vulnerable groups.

Berber Hettinga from University of the Western Cape framed the discussion with an overview of the Optional Protocol on the United Nations Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), which is yet to be ratified by South Africa, and requires the establishment of National Preventative Mechanism to provide independent oversight of all places of detention. She also highlighted the strengths of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services – the only wide-reaching system of detention oversight in SA – and its need for independence from the Department of Correctional Services, which it monitors.

Amanda Dissel from the Association for the Prevention of Torture examined police detention, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate’s mandate to investigate deaths in detention, and the lack of a national system of oversight for police detention. Last year alone, there were 232 deaths in police detention, 34% which were from injuries sustained during detention. Though the Independent Police Investigative Directorate investigates deaths in detention, there is no system to independently monitor police custody. Ms. Dissel also explored the Western Cape Community Safety Act of 2013 and its proposed groundbreaking system of independent visitation, using Community Police Forums.

Dr Roni Amit from the Wits African Centre for Migration & Society explored the Department of Home Affairs’ practice of illegally detaining asylum seekers and refugees at the Lindela Immigration Detention Centre. Dr Amit explained the SA Human Rights Commission’s struggle to gain access to Lindela and how this abusive detention system is exacerbated by the complete lack of independent oversight, even by the South AfricanHuman Rights Commission.

Joan van Niekerk from Childline SA explored the internal quality controls for Child and Youth Care Centres, and the oversight needs of these centres to protect children, who are highly vulnerable to abuse and ill-treatment.

Lessons learnt from the presentations were discussed by members of the Detention Justice Forum, which plans to host workshops on the formation of the National Preventative Mechanism in the coming months, and dialogues to commemorate the passing of the Prevention and Combating of Torture Act of 2013.

The Detention Justice Forum is a civil-society organisation that seeks to ensure that the rights and well-being of those who are detained are respected and upheld, as enshrined under the South African Constitution, laws, and international human rights norms and standards. The DJF is coordinated by Sonke Gender Justice, Just Detention International, and the Wits Justice Project. For further information, email, or visit