TODAY, April 25, marks the second anniversary of Africa Pretrial Detention Day with concerns about the lack of independent and sustained monitoring of places of deprivation of liberty other than prisons in South Africa.
Recently, SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was granted a court order to access the Lindela Repatriation Centre just outside Johannesburg which is used to detain foreign nationals awaiting deportation.
“Undocumented migrants are among the most vulnerable constituencies in South Africa because the default reaction is to arrest and detain them while their status is being checked and when they are being prepared for deportation” said the commission in a statement.
It also pointed out that other concerns voiced by the UN Human Rights Committee regarding SA included cases of sexual violence, excessive use of force, torture and other forms of ill treatment against detainees, as well as deaths resulting from actions of the police and prison officials.
It was also noted with concern that few investigations into such reported cases have led to prosecutions resulting in the punishment of those responsible.
Across Africa, approximately 43% of the total prison population comprises of pretrial detainees. In SA alone, there are more than 45 000 people who are awaiting trial.
“For many of these pretrial detainees, the right to a fair and speedy trial is elusive. The lack of affordable legal representation – often combined with unaffordable bail conditions – means that detainees can wait for years before a court adjudicates their matters.
“Sometimes detention follows arrest and custody for minor or petty offences and the detention of people who do not pose a risk to society. For every day that a person spends in pretrial detention, they lose the opportunity to work, study, care for their families, and are exposed to conditions of detention that pose a serious risk to their lives and health,” the commission said.
The commission called upon the government to strengthen efforts to improve conditions of detention and to implement the Constitutional guarantee to each detainee to have his or her trial begin and conclude without unreasonable delay.