Promoting freedom from torture in Africa

Miss Debra Long, Research Associate, University of Bristol Law School

Miss Debra Long, Research Associate, University of Bristol Law School

In 2014 the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) will be thirty years old. The UNCAT is the primary international treaty which sets out a range of measures which countries should take to prohibit and prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment. While much has been achieved since the UNCAT was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1984, torture and other forms of ill-treatment continue to occur throughout the world.

The majority of African countries have ratified the UNCAT, however unfortunately little has been achieved to actually implement the objectives of the Convention on the ground. For example, few have made torture a specific criminal offence under their national laws as required by the UNCAT or respect safeguards to ensure that persons detained by the police, or other officials, are treated humanely and not subjected to torture. While a lack of political will, training and resources may be to blame for this limited compliance, in many regards, some of the provisions of the UNCAT are too abstract and it can be difficult for government officials and others to know exactly what must be done to translate the provisions of the UNCAT into effective action on the ground.

For this reason, in 2010 the Article 5 Initiative was created to develop tools to assist African institutions to implement the UNCAT. The Article 5 Initiative is a partnership between the Human Rights Implementation Centre of the University of Bristol; the Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit of the University of Cape Town; the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative of the University of the Western Cape; and the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum. (The Article 5 Initiative is funded by the European Union.)

The Article 5 Initiative has spent three years developing and pilot testing a package of tools designed to explain the obligations in the UNCAT and provide a framework for action to implement the Convention in practice.

These tools, known as the ‘Domestication and Implementation Packages’ (DIPs), look at all aspects of the UNCAT. They set out the steps required to criminalise torture and bring perpetrators of torture to justice, as well as the safeguards that should be in place to protect people from torture and other ill-treatment and the rights of victims to obtain redress and rehabilitation. They also explain what is required of States in order to fulfil their duty to report to the UN and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the primary human rights monitoring body in Africa), on actual measures taken to prohibit and prevent torture and other ill-treatment.

Article5The tools are designed to be used by government officials, politicians, lawyers, non-governmental organisations and others, to identify what action needs to be taken to implement the Convention in practice within their particular country. They consist of ‘Guidance Notes’ that explain in clear language each obligation set out under the UNCAT, and ‘Checklists’ that are to be used to monitor the extent to which a country has implemented the provisions of the Convention. The Article 5 Initiative has recently published these tools in the form of a manual, ‘Practical Monitoring Tools to Promote Freedom from Torture‘.

By using these tools an accurate picture can be built up of the measures already taken by a State to prohibit and prevent torture and other ill-treatment and to identify any gaps and problem areas that still require reform. This information is extremely important as it can then be used by politicians, law enforcement and military personnel, national human rights commissions and non-governmental organisations to decide on the precise action that is needed to address these shortcomings. The tools can also be used by a range of organisations and individuals to systematically monitor and report on progress with the implementation of the UNCAT within a particular country overtime.

For the past three years, the Article 5 Initiative has worked with a range of institutions and individuals in six African countries (Burundi, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda) on the development of these tools to ensure that they are user-friendly and can be applied in different country contexts. Over the course of this project significant progress has been achieved within each of these six countries to determine the areas where action is required in order to implement the UNCAT effectively. In 2014 the Article 5 Initiative will continue to work with local partners in these initial countries to help them move forward with plans for the implementation of the Convention. In subsequent years the Article 5 Initiative hopes to expand its work to other countries in the region.

To find out more about the Article 5 Initiative please visit or contact Debra Long, Research Associate at the Human Rights Implementation Centre, at