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Cape Town -
Marikana mineworkers’ allegations that they were tortured while in police custody demonstrated the urgent need for SA to have legislation forbidding the practice in place, MPs heard on Tuesday.
Judith Cohen of the SA Human Rights Commission said the country’s failure to put in place laws against torture had earned it the ire of international human rights bodies.
Events at Marikana, where 34 Lonmin miners died in a police shooting and almost 80 were injured, with a further 279 detained, highlighted the “urgent” need for such a law, Cohen said. She was speaking during public hearings at Parliament on the draft Prevention and Combating of Torture Bill.
Other human rights bodies, including the Women’s Legal Centre, the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the Centre for Constitutional Rights also made submissions to the National Assembly’s justice committee, which is processing the bill.
Many of the submissions said the bill’s current definition of torture fell short of that set down by the UN Convention Against Torture.
The rights bodies have urged that the legislation properly reflect the seriousness of the crime and define torture as a distinct offence, with effective penalties.
In a joint submission, the Women’s Legal Centre, the Sex Worker’s Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) and Sisonke Gender Justice argued the bill should also address torture inflicted on sex workers.
Stacey Leigh-Miller of the Women’s Legal Centre said that according to their statistics, in Cape Town alone, 37 percent of street-based sex workers and 20 percent of those working in brothels often experienced violence.
But ANC MP John Jeffery challenged this: “I’m sympathetic, [but] is it really appropriate for this bill?”
As it presently stands, the bill does not hold the state accountable for acts of torture perpetrated by officials acting on its behalf - nor are there any guarantees for redress, reparation or compensation for victims of torture. - Cape Argus