CSPRI unpacks its new research papers

Community Law Centre's Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative presented two papers which seek to understand gross human rights violations by prison warders on inmates in prisons and how different sub-sets in the South African population experiences law enforcement.

CSPRI delivered findings of two new research papers addressing key issues in the South African criminal justice system at a one day seminar on 22 August 2013 in Cape Town. 

The first presented paper was titled ‘Understanding impunity in the South African law enforcement agencies’ by Lukas Muntingh and Gwenaëlle Dereymaeker. The other paper was titled ‘Race, gender and socio-economic status in law enforcement in South Africa – are there worrying signs?’ and it was presented by Lukas Muntingh.

The first paper looked into the fact that nearly 20 years into a constitutional democracy it is regrettably the case that few police officials and prison warders are prosecuted for human rights violations. The UN Commission on Human Rights defines impunity as “the impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account - whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings - since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims.”

This paper seeks to gain a deeper understanding of this problem after 1994 by analysing structural and functional aspects of de facto impunity in law enforcement agencies. In the wake of recent high profile events it is important to enquire why the state is apparently failing to meet its obligation to investigate and hold accountable those officials responsible for gross human rights violations.

The second paper tittled: 'Race, gender and socio-economic status in law enforcement in South Africa – are there worrying signs?' addressed the fact that in the South African context the right to equality has particular significance given the country’s history of statutory unfair racial discrimination. This paper investigates, based on quantitative data, how different sub-sets in the South African population experiences law enforcement.

Accepting that formal and procedural discrimination according to race was entrenched under apartheid, especially in law enforcement, the paper enquires if different population sub-sets experience different criminal justice outcomes. Despite shortcomings in the data, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that there is reason to be concerned and that further research is required.

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