Police brutality alleged in shocking SAHRC report
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Cape Town - Women being strip-searched by male officers, murders in police custody and minors being detained and assaulted in holding cells with adults.
These were among the shocking incidents recently detailed in a report presented by the South African Human Rights Commission to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police.
The committee on Thursday expressed its shock and concern at what the report detailed regarding a number of cases of police brutality and gender-based violence crimes against suspects while in custody.
The incidents, which had been reported to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), include rape victims being arrested after their alleged rapist lodged a counter-complaint of arson, and a huge backlog of over 170 000 cases waiting for DNA processing for gender-based violence crimes.
Other cases highlighted by the SAHRC and currently being investigated by Ipid include that of Manfred Lewies, who died in police custody in Moorreesburg, and Leroy Oliphant, who was taken from his house in Epping Forest on September 8 and allegedly beaten to death while in the custody of the Anti-Gang Unit.
The committee also received a briefing from police management on last year’s third quarter crime statistics, from October 1 to December 31, 2020.
The SAHRC report states that in an incident in Delft, two victims went to the police to report a rape. While reporting the matter, the alleged perpetrator arrived and accused the two of arson.
Officers allegedly arrested the two complainants and released the alleged perpetrator.
“The following morning the two victims were released without being allowed to open cases. SAHRC monitors intervened and the two victims opened the cases at Milnerton SAPS. A male suspect was arrested and the case is before the court,” the report read.
Another excerpt from the report detailed minors being detained.
“At Atlantis SAPS, SAHRC monitors have reported the assault, arrest and detention of minors on separate occasions - July 27, 2020, August 24, 2020 and February 19, 2021. Minors had been targeted and assaulted – kicked, punched, knocked unconscious, sjambokked, and threatened by SAPS officers, and ALIU private security. Officers continued the assaults at SAPS Atlantis after arrest, during processing and in holding cells.”
The committee said the report was based on the principle that no one was above or beyond the law.
“While the committee acknowledged the importance of the report in holding the SAPS accountable, it highlighted that a broader and national view is necessary to ascertain the extent of challenges at these facilities. Nonetheless, the committee has emphasised its serious concern regarding contravention of human rights in those places of detention,” the committee said.
It reiterated its calls for police senior management to attend to shortages of rape kits and also to find solutions to the backlog at the National Forensic Science Laboratories in processing DNA for GBV crimes that now stand at 172 000.
Committee chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson said: “What is even more worrying is information that Rape Victim Emergency Rooms are not set up at every station and that Family Violence and Child Protection Unit members remain poorly trained; something which creates a barrier to reporting of GBV crimes.”
Police said yesterday that questions had been forwarded to the relevant office for feedback.
Ipid spokesperson Ndileka Cola said they were not part of the presentation on Wednesday, but added that the police watchdog had given a detailed account to the committee on February 24.
A reliable source who deals with several high-profile cases, including those mentioned in the report by the SAHRC, said their biggest concern was Ipid’s inaction.
“The other grave concern is the large DNA testing backlog, and that would explain why people are despondent in reporting rape and sexual crimes. And this is why the NPA cannot prosecute, because of lack of evidence,” said the source.