Human Rights Approach to Preventing Torture – Day 1

Day 1 of the WJP Symposium on the Prevention of Torture

“They covered our heads with plastic bags and strangled us with seatbelts.”- Torture survivor, speaking at the opening session of the Symposium

Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture

Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture

Day 1 (28 August 2014) of the Wits Justice Project symposium kicked off with official welcome from the Wits Council chairperson, Dr Randall Carolissen. He talked about proud tradition that Wits University has in upholding human rights and fighting injustice. He pointed to the work of the Wits Justice Project as being one of the flag-ship projects of the University, winning the Vice-Chancellor’s Academic Citizenship team award in 2013.

Representing the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services was Advocate John Makhubele – the head of the international relations unit of the Ministry. He reiterated the commitment of the South African government to preventing torture and to upholding its international obligations, including the ratification of the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) in the near future.

Keynote speaker, Prof Malcolm Evans, chair of the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture, introduced the global human rights framework on the prevention of torture. He talked about the importance of OPCAT and shared examples of  its ratification and implementation in other countries. He advised that the time to start preparing for the consequences of the ratification of OPCAT, and the consequent creation of a national preventative mechanism (NPM) is as soon as possible. He said that the setting up of an NPM that suits the particular context in South Africa would take time and need consultation and reflection.

Prof Evans reminded the participants of the resource which had been drafted in South Africa -the Robben Island Guidelines –  which includes guidance on the prevention of torture and other forms of ill treatment through visiting mechanisms and oversight.

Throughout the week we will be adding new blogs on the topics covered during the Symposium. In the meanwhile, here are some of the important tweets (from our own account and from those of the participants) using the hashtag “PreventTorture“.




Torture symp_Anton tweet_28 Aug 2014



Torture symp_3 tweets_28 Aug 2014


Torture symp_5 tweets_28 Aug 2014















Prisoner Rehabilitation through Performing Arts




Professor Ashley Lucas, Director of the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan


Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi from the Wits Justice Project (Left), Professor Ashley Lucas (Middle), and Dr Cobus van Staden, lecturer at the Wits Department of Media Studies (Right)












On August 8 2014,  Professor Ashley Lucas, director of the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan joined the Wits Justice Project’s Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi on the panel for the second School of Literature Language and Media (SLLM) seminar.

“Hosted by the Wits Journalism department, the second seminar focused on prisoner rehabilitation and the use of the arts in the facilitation of the rehab process. Lucas spoke of the motivation to work in this area following her own father’s incarceration for a period of 20 years (he had only been released in May this year.) Erfani-Ghadimi, talked about the problems prisoners face in South African institutions and how the work of the WJP helps to bring justice to many prisoners who face an uncertain and protracted period in remand detention. Lucas also provided a quick look into her work through the performance of one of a set of monologues, which can be viewed on Youtube.”


Also Read: 

NICRO Interventions

Silver & Co Carry Slivers of Hope

Leeuwkop Max C: Inmates claim abuse and torture, turn to courts for relief

Leeuwkop Prison Inmates

Leeuwkop Prison Inmates








According to Malanie, “six inmates – including my husband – were taken separately to the showers and repeatedly shocked with “boards” or electric shock shields. They were made to squat and after each shock, the warders put their fingers up their anus’ to search for contraband. Llewellyn told me he was the second last to go into the showers. He said the shower floors were full of faeces which must have been from the other guys who were taken there before him…When you are shocked it makes you defecate….”

Although President Zuma signed into law the Prevention and Combating of Torture Of Persons Act on July 25th 2013, torture remains prevalent is South African prisons. Read senior journalist, Carolyn Raphaely’s story on the brutal attack and torture of Llewellyn Smith, an inmate at Leeuwkop Max C prison. The piece details how Smith, together with a number of inmates were assaulted and beaten just a few days after a cell phone was found in Smith’s cell. To read the article as it appears on the Daily Maverick, click here.

Podcast: Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi discusses the WJP Torture Symposium


On the Wits Justice podcast this week we’ll be talking about the prevalence of  torture in South Africa.

The Wits Justice Project is holding a Symposium on the Prevention of Torture next week. In preparation WJP Project Coordinator Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi came into the studio to discuss the symposium, why South Africa has taken 13 years to make torture a crime (when before the torturer would only be charged with Grievous Bodily Harm) and how we can get more people to speak out about this extreme kind of violence.

Produced and presented by Paul McNally for The Wits Justice Project.

Podcast released: 22 August 2014.



Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Prison

“We have more prisoners at the moment than China: than China. We don’t have more of anything than China…” -John Oliver

Adding a bit of humour while presenting substantiated facts, John Oliver takes a look at the prison system in the United States.

Infographic taken from COMMITTEE ON LAW AND JUSTICE












Also Read:

Whistleblower:Arizona inmates are dying from inadequate health care

A Prison Policy Initiative Briefing



The NPA comes on The Wits Justice Show with brilliant results

NPA-logo-448x272The Wits Justice Show on Thetha FM has had its most well received show yet. Calls, feedback and texts flooded in after the NPA came on the show to chat about the rather complicated topic of evidence.

NPA spokesperson Nathi Mncube came on the Wits Justice Show and gave us insights on how a proper case is built from evidence and accepted by the court. Residents are often frustrated by cases being kicked out of court and cite corruption as a reason for the process discontinuing. We wanted listeners to know that corruption is not always the case: the evidence can simply be too flimsy. So we analysed how the police collect evidence and work with the NPA, the “weight” of different pieces of evidence (from a witness to a weapon), what a court will accept and what they need to proceed to a trial.

WJP has partnered with community radio station Thetha FM in Orange Farm to develop a show that looks at people’s rights and here was a good example of how the NPA has overlooked the station several times in the past, but with the help of WJP a partnership was formed and informative radio was produced.


On the podcast:

This week we are podcasting one of our past “It Could Be You” stories on the DNA Act. Palesa Manaleng went to the SAPS Forensic Headquarters in Pretoria and spoke to the different section heads about the bill and the process involved in collecting DNA and how DNA impacts a criminal case.

DNA is a topic that WJP is trying to revisit frequently on The Wits Justice Show as it is crucial for people to understand when navigating the criminal justice system.

Listen to the podcast here.

Podcast released: August 15th 2014.

A new podcast is online every Friday.

Monday Lunchtime Seminar: Cracks in the fissure of Mass Incarceration in America

photo 4

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi of the Wits Justice Project (left), Vincent Schiraldi (middle), and David Bilchitz of The South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights, and International Law (right).

On the 11th of August 2014, The South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights, and International Law (SAIFAC) and the Wits Justice Project hosted a lunchtime presentation by Vincent Schiraldi, who is a Senior Advisor at the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. The presentation was held at the Constitution Hill (Old Fort Prison).

Vincent lead a discussion on trends in the decrease of prison populations in the United States with the aim that we identify lesson that may be learnt in reducing prison populations.

Statistics from Vincent’s presentation

  • 3 million adults in prisons
  • 3 million under correctional supervision
  • In 2012, nearly 1 in every100 American adults was in prison or jail
  • 1/3 of African American males born in 2001 can expect to spend time in prison over the course of their lifetime
  • Over 47 million have a criminal record
  • State and federal prison populations in the U.S. rose steadily between 1973 to 2009, from about 200,000 to 1.5 million, declining slightly in 2009 to 2012.

What drove this increase, and how has it affected crime rates, individuals, families, communities, and society at large?

To answer this question, Vincent presented a correlation between policies of past American presidents and incarceration growth. Looking at President Nixon’s introduction of ‘War on Drugs’…the rate of incarceration more than quadrupled. Drug laws drove up the incarceration rate for poor, black males. According to research conducted by The Sentencing Project, “one in three young black men is under control of the criminal justice system, that five million Americans can’t vote because of felony convictions, and that thousands of women and children have lost welfare, education and housing benefits as the result of convictions for minor drug offenses”.



Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Advisor at the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Advisor at the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.


Relevant Sites:


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