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Transforming torture prevention legislation in Africa

A pan-African project led by an AHRC-funded team at the University of Bristol has placed the UK at the forefront of legal research on the prevention of torture. In recent years, the recognition of the state’s obligation to prevent torture and other forms of ill treatment has gained importance both politically and legally. ‘Soft law’ documents have been created as guidance to prevent and prohibit torture, but their legal importance and implementation varies.

This project, led by Professor Rachel Murray and Professor Malcolm Evans looked at the effectiveness of regional, national and international mechanisms in the implementation of the Robben Island Guidelines: a ‘soft law’ document to prevent and prohibit torture in African states.

The researchers gave expert advice to develop pre-trial detention guidelines for Africa at the regional level, supporting the formal adoption of Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa in March 2015. By engaging with the Ghanian government and the Convention against Torture Initiative, the project continues to influence how torture might be criminalised within domestic legal systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

This work built on previous research on the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and its international implementation. It has also influenced broader UN reforms of human rights implementation, how national human rights institutions monitor the application of OPCAT and features in Amnesty International’s publication: Combating torture and other ill-treatment: A manual for action.

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