Annual Report: South Africa 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: South Africa 2011

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  • In May, a police officer, Vinod Maharaj, was arrested and allegedly tortured by members of the Organized Crime Unit and the special police unit, the Hawks. He was allegedly subjected to electric shocks, beatings, removal of a fingernail and suffocation torture. Four days after his arrest he was brought to court on weapons and murder charges. Although the court ordered the police to ensure his access to medical treatment, he was denied this. Four days later he was taken to hospital for emergency surgery. He was in remand custody with no trial date set at the end of the year.
  • In June, a lawyer consulting with his client at Protea Police Station in Soweto heard screaming from an adjacent office where a man was apparently being electrocuted. When he attempted to persuade police officers to intervene, he was verbally abused, threatened with violence and told to leave the police station. Lawyers managed later to trace the man who was being tortured and a second detainee who had also been assaulted; they were being held under police guard in Leratong Hospital. Access to them was denied. Four days later they were removed from hospital by members of the Organized Crime Unit and allegedly subjected to further torture, before being transferred to remand custody on murder and robbery charges. One was later released.
  • Three suspected illegal immigrants arrested near the border with Lesotho were detained and assaulted at Ladybrand police station. On 14 June, their lawyer observed that they had facial injuries and blood on their clothes and one required urgent medical attention. The following day immigration officials authorized their release. When they attempted to complain of assault by the police, the lawyer and one of the detainees were verbally abused, pushed and threatened with violence by a police officer at the station. When the lawyer attempted to obtain the medico-legal reporting form, the same officer allegedly assaulted him repeatedly and forced him out of the police station. In September the Director of Public Prosecutions decided to prosecute two police officers on assault charges, following a prompt ICD investigation into the allegations.
  • Following an ICD investigation and police disciplinary hearing, the station commander of Sasolburg police station was dismissed from service for raping a woman volunteer in his office on 5 February. His criminal trial had not concluded by the end of the year.

The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services received over 2,000 complaints of assaults against prisoners by prison warders between April 2009 and March 2010. Overcrowding remained a serious problem, with 19 of 239 facilities having occupancy rates of over 200 per cent capacity and conditions described as "shockingly inhumane".

Extrajudicial executions

In September, Cabinet approved a bill to amend Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act governing the use of force during arrest. The proposals in the bill raised public concern as they would allow "arrestors" to use deadly force against a suspect resisting or fleeing arrest where they believed there was a substantial risk of "future death" if the arrest was delayed. The draft provisions would allow members of the public as well as police officers to use deadly force in circumstances beyond those allowed by international human rights standards.

In November, the ICD reported a six per cent decline, to 860, in deaths in custody and "as a result of police action" between April 2009 and March 2010. However, in KwaZulu-Natal province, there was a year-on-year increase from 258 to 270 deaths. The National Commissioner of Police, General Bheki Cele, told Parliament in October that the increase in shootings by police was due to the dangers they faced and inexperience.

Violence against women and girls

High levels of violence against women and girls continued to be reported and to cause national concern. Over 63,500 cases of sexual offences, including rape, against women and children were reported to the police between April 2009 and March 2010.