Start main page content

SACTJ Calls for Reform of National Preventive Mechanism

- South African Transitional Justice Coalition

The South African Transitional Justice Coalition calls for changes to the National Preventive Mechanism in South Africa

Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and punishment were routinely and widely practised during the Apartheid era in South Africa. These human rights abuses are still rife in the country and need to be combated in a variety of ways. 

South Africa is obliged to take steps to eradicate torture and these other types of violations, in accordance with our Constitution (especially Section 12 of the Bill of Rights) as well as the country's international obligations. In 2019, South Africa ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) which requires the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to monitor all sites of confinement, detention, or incarceration, that deprive people of their liberty in all forms. 

The South African Human Rights Commission is at the helm of this oversight work. A draft discussion paper on 'The Role of Civil Society in The Work of The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM)' was circulated by the SAHRC for public input. In response to the discussion paper, the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice (SACTJ) notes several concerns and limitations regarding the creation and functioning of the NPM, and the involvement of civil society in its work. The SACTJ calls for changes to the architecture and working methodology of the NPM in South Africa. These calls are outlined in a Memorandum prepared by Professor Jeremy Sarkin on behalf of the SACTJ. 

Some of the specific issues raised include the need for the NPM to be more democratic, the need for more resources for the NPM, and the need for legislative reform to ensure that the process is more democratic, open, transparent, and fit to deal with the matters under its umbrella. The SACTJ also recommends that the NPM process be more inclusive of various stakeholders, including institutions currently playing a role in monitoring and dealing with places affected by the acts of torture and other abuses. It is essential that the NPM draw on existing expertise of organisations, institutions, and civil society actors with experience and knowledge on monitoring places of detention. The SACTJ also raises flags on issues of non-disclosure and liability of people working for the NPM. The Memorandum addresses these issues and makes recommendations to ensure that the NPM is effectively equipped to fulfil its mandate as a mechanism to prevent torture and to combat the culture of impunity for such abuses in places of detention and confinement in South Africa. 

The Memorandum has been delivered to the coordinating process of the NPM to raise these concerns regarding the creation of the NPM and its modus operandi. While the SACTJ has received acknowledgement of the Memorandum, we have not heard confirmation that it has been shared with the NPM partners or will be discussed. 

The SACTJ calls for the Memorandum to serve at the upcoming meeting of the NPM partners on 7 December 2021. A functioning NPM is fundamental to the work of monitoring places of detention and confinement and for the prevention of the scourge of torture that occurs in in these places. Therefore, it is crucial that the NPM operates properly and effectively to ensure the safety and protection of persons deprived of their liberty. The SACTJ wishes to play a constructive role and stands ready to engage on these issues and the work of the NPM. 

The full Memorandum written by Professor Jeremy Sarkin is available for those who wish to obtain it. 

For media enquiries, contact: 

Endorsed by: 

  • Centre for Applied Legal Studies
  • Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation 
  • Human Rights Media Centre 
  • Khulumani Support Group 
  • Institute for Healing of Memories 
  • Foundation for Human Rights 
  • Institute for Justice and Reconciliation 
  • Jeremy Sarkin 
  • Thozama Njobe 
  • Salim Essop 
  • Jemma Blacklaw 
  • Helen Scanlon