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. 

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. 

APT travelled to South Africa at the end of April to co-host a national roundtable alongside the South African Human Rights Commission and the European Union. The roundtable, which brought together representatives from government, oversight institutions, detaining authorities, former detainees, civil society, and the diplomatic community, was a forum for discussion of the first findings of  a multi-country research study into the implementation of the Bangkok Rules in the SADC region, which we commissioned last year. 

The study, conducted by Professor Lillian Artz and a team of researchers, looks at both the implementation of the Bangkok Rules across the sub-region, as well as at the state of detention oversight institutions, including as a means to pave the way towards greater OPCAT implementation. 

The national roundtable, which was held at the site of a former women’s prison in Johannesburg, also provided an opportunity to discuss a draft “guidance tool” which has been developed in parallel to the study, as a way for stakeholders to assess implementation of several of the most important rules - including those relating to healthcare, discipline and body searches. 

Deputy Justice Minister, John Jeffries, in opening the meeting, 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 in the speech of 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

During online and face to face working sessions, participants gave input on the draft tools and discussed the steps that will be needed to implement them in South Africa, including the need to make rapid progress towards full independence and adequate resources for all the bodies that will make up the South African NPM. 

Before and after the national roundtable, APT also took the opportunity to hold 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, all of whom will eventually form part of the South African NPM. These meetings now form the basis for our own South Africa strategy, as well as informing the planning for an upcoming study tour that the NPM will undertake to France, Italy and Switzerland, which aims to deepen their understanding of gender sensitive monitoring (including through shadow visits to detention with the French and Italian NPMs) and further strengthen their institutional cooperation. 

Staff members