JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A leading South African human rights group accused the police and army Tuesday of imprisoning, torturing and killing black children in their attempts to quell continuing civil unrest in the country.
The Black Sash, whose members are mostly liberal white women firmly opposed to apartheid, said it found in a national survey that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of black children have become victims of "indiscriminate brutality" by the security forces and that this has contributed substantially to further violence.
"In most countries, children are protected and nurtured," the 33-page Blask Sash report concluded. "Here, they are attacked."
Statements reproduced in the report, some from children as young as 12, recounted torture by policemen and soldiers, detentions without charge and often in solitary confinement for weeks and apparently unprovoked shootings by the security forces.
A 15-year-old boy, arrested while visiting his grandmother after the home of a policeman neighbor was stoned, reported that he was whipped by police until his skin cracked open and then put into solitary confinement without medical treatment. Another 15-year-old said that police dogs were set on him until he agreed to cooperate in his interrogation.
40 Cases in Detail
Nearly 40 cases claimed to be typical are reported in detail, and these represent less than one-tenth of the documented files that the Black Sash said it has collected over the last year.
"Our children are revolting against years and years of (racial) differentiation, discrimination and oppression," Joyce Harris of the Black Sash wrote. "The authorities deal with this by meeting justifiable anger with increasingly harsh restrictive measures and terrifying bully-boy tactics.
"Children are intimidated, brutalized and often simply scared stiff. They are not safe in the streets or even in their homes. They are also learning to hold life cheaply, their own and others', and to lose all respect for an authority from which they can expect only to be slapped down without any visible justice. . . ."
A police spokesman dismissed the Black Sash report as "yet another example of unfounded, unsubstantiated and one-sided allegations made in a bid to discredit the South Africa police. . . ."
But Justice Minister Hendrik J. Coetsee, who is responsible for South Africa's prisons, announced Monday that he had ordered a top-level study of the conditions in which juveniles--criminal offenders as well as political detainees--are held.
"I want to say clearly that we do not want to see juveniles in our prisons," said Coetsee, who has been increasingly at odds with his Cabinet colleague, Louis le Grange, the hard-line minister of law and order, over the issue of imprisoned children.
But, "with juveniles in our care as a reality, the question is rightly being asked whether existing facilities and services with relation to the handling and care of these young people are adequate and whether they need to be extended. . . . Alternatives to imprisonment will also be examined."
The Black Sash report, which follows a similar survey in April by the New York-based Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, calls for an immediate, full investigation into police brutality against children and the total retraining of the country's security forces.