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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Statement on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture – 26 June 2020

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) and its Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa (the CPTA) would like to commemorate this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture by drawing attention to the COVID19 situation in Africa and the necessity of upholding the worth and dignity of all Africans, particularly vulnerable groups, in the enforcement of lockdown and curfew orders.

This important day marks the entry into force of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), a key instrument which commits and guides states on effective torture prohibition, prevention, punishment, and redress for victims. UNCAT complements Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter).

The CPTA is concerned by reports of acts of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment and treatment being committed in a number of African countries by law enforcement agents in an effort to ensure the public’s compliance with lockdown and curfew orders. Reports indicate that law enforcement agents have been resorting to excessive use of force such as beatings including with batons, kicking, flogging, and shooting.  

The CPTA notes that vulnerable groups, such as persons living in poverty, persons with disabilities, older persons, women and girls, sex workers, and other marginalized groups, are particularly affected by the lockdown and curfew orders.  

Persons living in extreme poverty have been forced to defy lockdown and curfew orders to survive, and as a result some of these people have been abused, flogged, and at times beaten to death by law enforcement agents.

There have been reports of a sharp rise in rape, defilement, abuse and other violence against women and girls in their homes as a result of the lockdown. Reports also indicate that States have not taken the necessary steps to address this issue and to provide adequate support and assistance to these women and girls. 

It has also come to the attention of CPTA that pregnant women who require medical assistance have been unable to access medical care as a result of lockdown and curfew orders. Some of these women have been forced to walk for several miles to access hospitals while on the verge of giving birth and some have died on the road. These restrictions which subject women to physical and mental pain and suffering violate Article 5 of the Charter.

Reports also indicate that in some States persons selling goods in markets have been denied their right to return home at the end of the day, and are instead forced to sleep in the market to prevent the spread of the virus in their communities.

Sex workers have been severely caned and even forced to roll in mud, for disobeying curfew and lockdown orders. 

At a time when it is critical to ensure that people have access to adequate living standards and facilities, there have also been instances of forced expropriation and destruction of houses by States, forcing people to live in inhuman and degrading conditions.

While noting the unprecedented nature of the COVID19 pandemic and the resulting complexities, as well as the need to take extraordinary measures to combat the pandemic, the CPTA wishes to remind States that notions such as “necessity”, “national emergency”, “public order”, and “ordre public” cannot be invoked as a justification of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  The prohibition of and protection fromtorture is absolute and has evolved into a peremptory norm or jus cogens, and become a fundamental international standard whereby states cannot derogate from their obligation to prevent and prohibit torture under any circumstances.

The CPTA urges States to carry out effective investigations into the allegations of abuse and death, and hold perpetrators accountable.

The CPTA wishes to remind States that they are bound by their international and regional human rights obligations, and the measures they adopt to contain the spread of COVID19 should be guided by the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, accountability and precaution, at all times.