News 24 May 2017
Africa: Commission adopts standards for support to torture victims

In Nigeria, Kevin was tortured for hours with heated knives and other metallic objects by a community vigilante group working with the police. In the Central African Republic, Carène was raped by rebel leaders and forced to witness the torture of her husband, while in Kenya, Sillah was beaten and had his kneecaps crushed by the police. 

Africa: Commission adopts standards for support to torture victims

Currently in pre-trial detention because he confessed stealing a generator while being tortured, Kevin suffers from insomnia and withdrawal symptoms on top of his physical wounds. Carène, who suffers from PTSD and contracted HIV during the rape, is now a refugee in Cameroon, where she is trying to rebuild a life with her son. For Sillah, the torture caused PTSD and severe physical injuries that prevents him from working. As a result, his family is now without a bread winner and his relatives are continuously being harassed by the perpetrators.

All three are now in the process of rebuilding their lives with support from IRCT members in Cameroon, Kenya and Nigeria. Despite their very different stories, the one thing they have in common is that their individual country has done nothing to help them seek justice or get rehabilitation for the pain that they have suffered. Unfortunately, their experience is emblematic for how torture victims are treated in most states in Africa.

In response to the continent-wide lack of justice and rehabilitation for torture victims, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights issued this month a General Comment calling on states to ensure that people like Kevin, Carène and Sillah get access to justice and the support they need to rebuild their lives after torture. The Commission outlines how states should ensure justice and rehabilitation, also in relation to issues such as armed conflicts, torture by non-state actors, sexual violence and countries in transition. It also clearly establishes that states must support or establish rehabilitation facilities for torture victims and report regularly to the Commission on the status of these efforts.

The General Comment was developed with extensive input from civil society across Africa. As part of the Pan African Reparations Initiative (PARI), the IRCT and its regional members contributed our experience of providing rehabilitation support to the region’s torture victims and our specialised knowledge on right to rehabilitation and standards on effective documentation and investigation of torture.

The General Comment creates a strong platform for civil society to make the right to rehabilitation come to life so that states will fulfil their duty to the many torture victims across Africa.

“In South Africa, reparation has only been available to those who are able to access the court processes, and so it has been out of reach for the many survivors and victims of torture. We believe the General Comment will help us convince the South African government to take responsibility for providing remedies for the harm victims have suffered, for example by strengthening the anti-torture legislation to explicitly include reparation for victims of torture in South Africa,” says Annah Moyo, Advocacy Programme Manager at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR).

Moving ahead, the IRCT will continue to monitor states’ implementation of the standards expressed in the General Comment and develop tools to ensure that this monitoring is based on the well-established regional expertise in supporting victims like Kevin, Carène and Sillah.

For more information

All persons whose experiences are portrayed in this text have given prior and informed consent to the publication of their experiences. The names used in the text are made up to protect their privacy but their real identity is known by the IRCT.

To find out more please see:

General Comment No. 4 on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: The Right to Redress for Victims of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment (Article 5)

IRCT publication on the Right to Rehabilitation in Africa: a regional overview (English/French)

The General Comment creates a strong platform for civil society to make the right to rehabilitation come to life so that states will fulfil their duty to the many torture victims across Africa.

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