Lack of laws allows torture to thrive in Africa - Amnesty

by Katie Nguyen | Katie_Nguyen1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 09:30 GMT

Convicts wash their laundry inside the central prison in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, April 26, 2014. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

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Amnesty says it has evidence of torture at the hands of prison, police and army officers in at least 24 countries in sub-Saharan Africa

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Torture by security forces, including the use of electric shocks, beatings, nail extractions, rape and amputation, is rampant in Africa where only 10 out of 54 countries have adopted national laws banning it, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The human rights group said it had evidence of torture at the hands of prison, police and army officers being practised in at least 24 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

It said torture was routinely used as a means of extracting "confessions" in prisons and detention centres, where prisoners had been suspended from ceilings, bound in painful positions and sexually abused.

"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," Belay said in a statement.

Worldwide, Amnesty has evidence of torture in 79 out of the 155 states that have ratified a 1984 U.N. Convention against Torture, it said in its annual global report.  


Although all but one African Union country - South Sudan - has ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, which outlaws torture, only 10 countries have made it a criminal offence: Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Mauritius, Senegal and Tunisia.

Amnesty said torture practices in Sudan include the use of amputation as a punishment, citing the example of three men in who had their right hands cut off after being found guilty in April 2013 of stealing cooking oil.

In South Africa, inmates at Mangaung high-security prison have accused the authorities of using electric shocks and beatings on them.

In Kenya, 58 percent of the respondents to a poll on torture, said they were afraid of being tortured if taken into custody. In Nigeria, where there have been reports of detainees being starved, shot, forced to sit on sharp objects and held in stress positions, it was 50 percent, Amnesty said.

Reports of torture have risen in the West African country, Amnesty said, since Nigerian security forces stepped up operations against Islamist group, Boko Haram, reviled internationally for its abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls last month.

The group also criticised delays in a Nigerian bill to criminalise torture. Two years after being submitted to parliament, the draft law still had not been debated, Amnesty said.

African governments should take immediate action to criminalise torture, Amnesty said.

It called for detention centres to be opened to independent monitors, and interrogations to be recorded on video as ways of reducing the use of torture.

Detainees should also be allowed proper medical examinations, prompt access to lawyers, and any allegations of torture should be investigated thoroughly.

"Torture is never justified. It is illegal. It is barbaric. It is inhumane," Amnesty said.

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