56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Banjul, Gambia, 21 April – 7 May 2015
Item 4 of the agenda: Human Rights Situation in Africa
Oral Statement by the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT)
The International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, FIACAT, remains greatly concerned by the number of African countries which have not made torture a crime under their national law.
For example, Côte d’Ivoire acceded to the United Nations Convention against Torture on 18 December 1995, and Article 3 of the Ivorian Constitution of 2000 provides that ’Slavery, forced labour, inhuman, cruel, degrading and humiliating treatments and physical or mental torture are prohibited and shall be punishable under the law’. Nevertheless, apart from this provision there is a legal vacuum on torture and mistreatment in the body of laws that are applicable in Côte d’Ivoire.
Similarly, in Niger, whose periodic report will be reviewed at this session, the Criminal Code does not define torture and does not include an autonomous offence of torture. This is the case in several countries, such as Benin, Congo and Togo, which have not yet revised their national laws.
This failure to define torture makes the absolute ban on torture meaningless and thus does not make it possible effectively to prevent or punish it.
For these reasons, FIACAT calls on all the member States of the African Union who have not yet done so to make torture a crime under their criminal law to bring them into line with their international and regional commitments.
FIACAT is particularly concerned by detention conditions in Africa, and particularly prison overcrowding. Failure to comply with legal time-limits for pre-trial detention aggravates this situation and facilitates acts of torture against those who are deprived of their liberty.
In Benin, prison overcrowding is endemic, since many prisoners stay in prison for a longer period than their prison sentence, and people who are in pre-trial detention are often detained for long periods, exceeding the periods set out under the criminal law. For example, a prisoner in Benin was illegally kept in abusive pre-trial detention for more than 19 years, finally being sentenced to a seven-year prison term. Prisoners in pre-trial detention make up on average 65% of the prison population, or up to 85% in some of the country’s prisons.
In Côte d’Ivoire, as in a large majority of African countries, prisons are extremely overcrowded. The capacity of the 34 prisons, based on an area of 5m² per person, is estimated at 4078 prisoners. On this basis, FIACAT noted on 31 December 2014 an occupation rate of about 278% over the whole territory of the country. Here too, time limits for pre-trial detention are frequently exceeded and prisoners in pre-trial detention represent almost 40% of the prison population.
Similarly, time spent in police custody often exceeds what is laid down by the law, particularly because the rules for extending the time limit are not stringent enough. Moreover, the Directorate of National Security, the DST, still extends the time limit for police custody by 60 days, although this has not been applicable since the abolition of the State Security Court in 1993.
FIACAT thus congratulates the African Commission for having adopted, at its 55th Ordinary Session, the Guidelines on police custody and pre-trial detention in Africa; this document will be a particularly useful tool to ensure that legal guarantees around detention in Africa are respected and to prevent acts of torture in places of detention.
With regard to the death penalty, FIACAT welcomes the progress made in recent months in Africa: abolition of the death penalty in Madagascar on 10 December 2014 (Human Rights Day); the increase in the number of African States supporting the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly calling for a moratorium on the death penalty (27 in 2014 as against 23 in 2012 for the African Union); adoption of a draft Criminal Code in Chad providing for abolition; removal of all references to the death penalty in the Ivorian Criminal Code in March 2015.
Nevertheless, FIACAT remains concerned by the increase in the number of death sentences in Africa in 2014 and by the fact that the death penalty has been retained in many countries.
For example, although there have been no executions since 1976, Niger has still not abolished the death penalty in its national law. Moreover, the Criminal Code of Niger still provides for the death penalty for some crimes that do not come into the category of ’extremely serious crimes’. It is therefore essential for Niger to undertake a process of abolition in law of the death penalty.
To contribute to the abolition of the death penalty in Africa, FIACAT, a member of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, invites the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to adopt at this Ordinary Session an African Protocol on the abolition of the death penalty to strengthen the provisions of Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Adoption of this regional text can only be beneficial for the fight in which we are engaged with a view to abolishing the death penalty over the whole continent of Africa.