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2008 | Robben Island Guidelines for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture in Africa - Practical Guide for Implementation, by Jean-Baptiste Niyizurugero and Patrick Lessène, for the Association of Prevention of Torture.

Robben Island Principles: Practical Guide for Implementation

The goal of this brochure on implementation of the Robben Island Guidelines, was to highlight the role that the Guidelines can play in combating torture in Africa and to provide national actors with a suggested approach for implementing them. Five years after the Guidelines were adopted, the authors felt it would be useful to propose a series of concrete measures, based on the results of the consultative meeting on the implementation of the Guidelines, which was organized jointly by the APT and the African Commission in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 8-9 December 2003.

The Robben Island Guidelines (RIG) were adopted in 2002, with the intention of providing concrete measures for the implementations of a State Party’s obligation, under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to respect human dignity and prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The RIG contain three parts, treating the prohibition of torture, the prevention of torture, and rehabilitation of victims. This comprehensive brochure highlights the role that the RIG can play in the fight against torture in Africa and provides recommendations for implementing them. It addresses States, civil society, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Follow-up Committee, set up to promote the implementation of the RIG. This summary, however, is confined to highlighting the main recommendations to States in view of their obligations to provide a remedy to victims of torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

Part I - Prohibition of torture Section F: Complaints and Investigation Procedures (articles 17-19)

Under this section, States are required to establish independent mechanisms to which victims of torture or ill-treatment can bring their claims. Additionally, States must ensure that victims are brought before competent authorities and that effective and impartial investigations into the allegations are started immediately. The work highlights that these obligations require an independent judicial system which is currently lacking in multiple African States whose judicial systems originate from colonial times. Hence, institutional reforms are recommended as well as the upgrading of domestic laws, so as to embed the fundamental principles of human rights and the Robben Island Principles.

Part II – Prevention of Torture Section D: Mechanism of Oversight (articles 38-42 RIG)

This part underscores that States are held a) to ensure an independent and impartial judiciary b) to establish independent complaint mechanisms that can hear, investigate and act on claims of torture or ill-treatment c) to establish independent national institutions (e.g. ombudspersons, human rights commissions) empowered to visit prisons and discuss the prevention of torture. In essence, this means that detained persons should not be left under the sole responsibility of their guards but should also be granted visits by lawyers, doctors, ombudsmen etc. These visits, through their positive impact (visits as a deterrent tool, discuss improvements in prisons, provide moral and practical support to detainees), can mitigate the risk of torture or ill-treatment. Against this background, the report points to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OP CAT) as an international instrument that seeks to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment by establishing a system of regular visits to places of detention by independent experts, and recommends that States ratify and implement this instrument. Concomitantly, States are urged to cooperate with oversight mechanisms and visiting bodies, to ensure they have full access to all places of detention, and to establish external oversight mechanisms for law enforcement agencies.

Part III – Responding to the needs of victims Articles 49-50 RIG

The Guidelines oblige States to protect victims and their families against violence, to provide reparation to the victims - irrespective of the outcome of any criminal prosecution, to bear the cost of any medical needed by victims and to ensure access to full rehabilitation, compensation and effective support to the victims and their families. Moreover, the RIG concept of “victim” includes the family and communities affected by the torture and/or ill-treatment inflicted on one of its members. The authors stipulate that effectuating “the right to an effective remedy” requires access to justice, the State’s recognition of the victim’s right to know the truth, restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, moral satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. Considering “restitution” in practical terms, the work observes that a victim’s right to liberty, security, civil rights and right to family life must be restored. “Compensation” covers the victim’s physical, material and psychological damage and in this context, States are recommended to create a compensation fund for victims of torture and other grave violations of human rights. And in order to ensure that the torture or ill-treatment will not re-occur, States should prosecute the perpetrators, refrain from measures that de facto imply impunity and blacklist officials involved in torture. Furthermore, States are recommended to make adequate rules that provide varied forms of reparation for victims and train relevant actors (police officers, judges, lawyers, immigration personnel etc.) with respect to the various aspects of victim’s needs.