South Africa: National discussions on implementing the Bangkok Rules

Friday, May 13, 2022

A national roundtable including representatives from government, oversight institutions, detaining authorities, former detainees, civil society and the diplomatic community has considered ways to bolster implementation of the Bangkok Rules in southern Africa.

The Bangkok Rules are a set of 70 rules, adopted by the UN General Assembly, to promote the fair and safe treatment of women prisoners and women in contact with the criminal justice system.

The national roundtable, held on the 28th of April 2022 and co-hosted by the APT, the South African Human Rights Commission and the European Union, discussed the initial findings of a multi-country research study into the implementation of the Bangkok Rules in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region, commissioned by the APT last year.

The study, conducted by Professor Lillian Artz and a team of researchers, looks at the implementation of the Bangkok Rules across the region, as well as at the state of detention oversight institutions. A focus of the study is to identify opportunities to strengthen implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

Opening the meeting, Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffries underlined the need for interventions at every step of the criminal justice process, including much greater use of non-custodial measures. These sentiments were echoed by Tshepiso Williams, a former detainee, who testified to the psychological devastation of her time in custody. 

Tshepiso Williams, a former detainee, addressing the meeting
Tshepiso Williams, a former detainee, addressing the meeting

Discussions at the national roundtable, held at the site of a former women’s prison in Johannesburg, also considered draft ‘guidance tools’, which have been developed in parallel with the study to assist stakeholders assess implementation of several of the most important Rules, including those relating to healthcare, discipline and body searches.

During online and face-to-face working sessions, participants provided input on the draft tools and discussed the steps required to implement them in South Africa, including the need to secure full independence and adequate resourcing for all the bodies that will make up the South African National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). 

As part of our visit, the APT held working meetings with the South African Human Rights Commission, the Independent Police Investigations Directorate, the Health Ombud, the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services and the Military Ombud, which will all eventually form part of the South African NPM.

These meetings also helped inform planning for an upcoming study tour the NPM will undertake to France, Italy and Switzerland. The goal of this study tour is to deepen their understanding of gender sensitive monitoring, including through shadow visits to places of detention with the French and Italian NPMs, and further strengthen their institutional cooperation. 

Staff members