Article 5 Initiative launched at old Breakwater Prison

On 13 December, following International Human Rights Day, the Article 5 Initiative (A5I) was launched at the Breakwater Lodge in Cape Town. The Article 5 Initiative aims to support African institutions to improve domestic compliance with international law obligations, norms and procedures under the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).

A5I focuses on six post-conflict African countries, namely Burundi, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda and will work closely with the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The beneficiaries of the A5I are people deprived of their liberty, who are at risk of torture and other ill treatment.

A5I is a partnership between the University of Cape Town (Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit), the University of the Western Cape (Community Law Centre’s Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative), the University of Bristol (Human Rights Implementation Centre) and the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum. The project is supported by the European Union through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.

The Article 5 Initiative draws its name from Article 5 of both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which both guarantee the right of all people to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Regrettably, it remains the case that torture continues to be perpetrated in Africa; sometimes targeting individuals but in some instances on widespread and systematic basis. People deprived of their liberty are extremely vulnerable to torture and other ill treatment. In the post-conflict context, the state’s focus is often on broad nation-building efforts and institutional governance. The treatment of people deprived of their liberty is frequently overlooked in these efforts, notwithstanding that they are particularly at risk of being subjected to torture and other ill treatment, and continue to be part of systemic secondary victimisation. Therefore there is a need for continuous involvement in the fight against torture.

The venue of the A5I launch used to be the mess hall of prison guards of the old Breakwater Prison and instruments used to torture the prisoners can still be seen around this hall. “Even though many years have passed since the torturous treadmill is no longer in use, the struggle to eradicate torture is not over. It is not only political activists and terror suspects who are victims of torture. Suspects in ordinary criminal investigations, prisoners who have offended their keepers, children in secure care facilities, psychiatric patients, to name a few, are also vulnerable to and often the victims of torture and ill treatment,” said Lukas Muntingh, project coordinator of CSPRI.

Commissioner Dupe Atoki, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights said that “[t]he continued and widespread practice of torture in Africa is a real and weighty challenge, the prevention and eradication of which requires creative initiatives, the building of synergies and the complete engagement and commitment of all relevant stakeholders.” Justice Albie Sachs also expressed his support for A5I, saying that “[t]he spirit of Ubuntu, which underlies our whole constitutional order, is incompatible with torture. In helping to eradicate the international curse of torture, this [initiative] promotes the African values of Ubuntu.” In his keynote address, Justice Vincent Saldanha, Judge of the Western Cape High Court, stressed the need for all stakeholders to continue the fight against torture and called on judges to use their mandate to pay unannounced visits to places of detention in order to monitor treatment of detainees and their conditions of detention.

The launch was an opportunity to present the ambitious 3-year project to all guests representing Chapter 9 institutions, academia, civil society, diplomatic missions, the media and the general public. More information on the project is available on the A5I website. 

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