Governments across Africa are betraying their commitments to stamp out torture, Amnesty International said today as it launched its latest global campaign, Stop Torture. The practice is rampant across the continent, which lags behind the rest of the world in criminalizing it.
Only 10 African nations have adopted domestic legislation outlawing torture, despite the fact that the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights – ratified by all but one African Union state – expressly prohibits the practice.
“African governments have yet to acknowledge the problem, let alone begin to rectify it,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa.
“The lack of strong national laws prohibiting torture in the majority of African countries allows torture not just to survive – but to thrive.”
The two-year campaign, Stop Torture, launched with a new media briefing, Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises, which provides an overview of the use of torture in the world today.
Amnesty International has reported on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in at least 141 countries from every region of the world over the past five years – virtually every country in which it works.
In 2014, 30 years after the UN adopted the 1984 Convention Against Torture – which commits all governments to combatting the abuse – Amnesty International observed torture in at least 24 Sub-Saharan African countries. Given the secretive nature of the abuse, the true number is likely to be far higher.
In a number of African countries the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is routine and accepted by many as a legitimate response to high levels of violent crime.
A worldwide Globescan survey commissioned alongside the briefing for the launch found nearly half (44%) of respondents – from 21 countries across every continent – fear they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country.
In Africa, at least half the respondents in Kenya (58%) and Nigeria (50%) feared they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody.
The survey indicates nearly three quarters (73%) of Nigerians and more than fourth fifths (84%) of Kenyans agree that clear rules are needed to fight against torture.
Amnesty International has documented various forms of torture used across Africa. In prisons and detention centres torture is routinely used as a means of extracting “confessions”. Detainees are beaten, tied in painful positions, held in extreme weather conditions, suspended from ceilings and sexually abused in countries including Ethiopia, the Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Allegations of abuse in South Africa, including the use of electric shocks and beatings, emerged in the past year from a privately run prison at Mangaung’s high-security prison.
· In Mauritania, courts have declared that “confessions” extracted under torture or other forms of ill-treatment are admissible as evidence, even if they are subsequently retracted.
· In Nigeria, police and military personnel use torture as a matter of routine. When Moses Akatugba was arrested by soldiers in 2005 he was 16 years old. He said they beat him and shot him in the hand. According to Moses, he was then transferred to the police, who hanged him by his limbs for hours at a police station. Moses says he was tortured into signing a “confession” that he was involved in a robbery. The allegation that he confessed as a result of torture was never fully investigated. In November 2013, after eight years waiting for a verdict, Moses was sentenced to death.
· Torture practices in Sudan include the use of amputation as a punishment. In April 2013 three men had their right hands cut off after being found guilty of stealing cooking oil following a trial in which they did not have a defence lawyer.
Amnesty International is calling on all African governments to immediately take steps to criminalize torture. The organization is further calling on governments to implement protective mechanisms to prevent and punish torture. These include proper medical examinations, prompt access to lawyers, independent checks on places of detention, effective investigations of torture allegations, the prosecution of suspects and proper redress for victims.
“African governments must take their international obligations to stamp out torture seriously,” said Netsanet Belay.
“Thirty years ago Amnesty International led the campaign for a worldwide commitment to combat torture, resulting in the UN’s Convention Against Torture. It is disheartening that despite ratifying this treaty only 10 African nations have criminalised torture and ill-treatment. It remains rampant across the continent.”