A Continuing Struggle To End Torture, In South Africa And In Sri Lanka: Commemorating International Day In Support Of Victims Of Torture, 26 June 2016

The only photograph of Mr Johannes Sweet Sambo The only photograph of Mr Johannes Sweet Sambo

This week, Khulumani Support Group will participate with the children of Mr Johannes Sweet Sambo (pictured above) in a spiritual repatriation ceremony for their father, to be conducted in Komatipoort where Mr Sambo died while being tortured by operatives of the apartheid death squads from Vlakplaas. After his murder, Vlakplaas Commander Mr Eugene de Kock was called in to dispose of the body of Mr Sambo. Mr Sambo’s body was burned to ashes.

At the time of Mr Sambo’s death, his three children were still very young. About a year ago, the children contacted Khulumani Support Group and this initiated a process in which their story was told in the media, both in the New Age newspaper and in a Leihlo la Sechaba documentary. The documentary was screened on the 17th December 2015 at 18h00 on SABC 2. The children explained that they remember their mother attending a hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They expressed their regret that they realised that they were too young and that they did not think to ask her to explain what happened at the TRC. Not long after the TRC Hearing into this matter, Mrs Sambo passed away, leaving three young orphans. The story of the children is one of extraordinary tenacity and perseverance. The children learned from Khulumani about the possibility of being able to apply to the TRC Unit for financial assistance for education. The children have their own vision of achieving their dreams.

In Commemoration of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June, GROUNDVIEWS has published stories of the continuing struggle to end the use of torture that became entrenched from the time of political conflict in Sri Lanka. Khulumani Associate, Mr Ruki Fernando speaks in a beautifully produced website focus of the need to demand an end to impunity for state agents who perpetuate the practice in a Sri Lanka that is engaged in processes to reform the institutions that were complicit in committing human rights violations in the country. The Sri Lankan experience mirrors the situation in South Africa where officials readily resort to brutal tactics to extract information despite the information procured using these illegal means, being entirely untrustworthy and in violation of the Combating of Torture Act that took ten years for Parliament to adopt.

For the full story, see

Protest against Torture in Kandy

Protest against torture in Kandy, courtesy

The fact that incidents of torture are frequent, and ongoing, has been documented by several bodies, notably the International Truth and Justice Project, and Human Rights Watch. They report hundreds of first-hand accounts, many of them post-war, of abduction, torture and sexual violence. In most of these reports, the finger has been pointed at police and military personnel. "The police routinely torture people as a way to extract information, or conduct an investigation," human rights activist Ruki Fernando said, speaking to Groundviews. "It appears that they think it is the best, or fastest way to investigate… and I think this idea is even reinforced by sections of society, who think that beating up someone who is alleged to have committed a crime, especially where there is clear evidence, is justified outside the judicial system."

The fact that torture is routinely used by organisations such as the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) has been well-documented particularly with the release of the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka and the recent visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan E. Mendez. "Some of these victims who I have spoken to personally, are scarred for life, and mentally traumatised. Others are physically incapacitated, and cannot find work. The effects of torture are lifelong." Fernando says. “I think one major problem is that the culprits are not held accountable. Not just the actual implementers of torture, but those who know that it is being practiced, and allow it to happen. For instance, the OIC in charge of a police station is directly responsible,” Fernando pointed out.

This could be changed with a more effective legal system. “Freedom from torture is a non-derogable right. Certain things can be curtailed in a time of war via Special Assembly. However, torture is not allowed under any circumstances – be it floods, tsunami, war or terrorism,” Fernando says. So why is the legal system falling short? Attorney-at-law Ermiza Tegal says part of the problem is a lack of urgency. “The system is broken in many places.”

Khulumani as a member of the South African No Torture Consortium supports the International Campaign Against Torture that this year calls for Support for Life After Torture, drawing attention to the reality that torture causes lifelong consequences for its survivors as they work day-by-day to rebuild their lives. 

Please review the factsheets that accompany this article.


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