OPTIONAL PROTOCOL TO THE CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE (OPCAT)
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PREVENTION OF TORTURE
What is the SPT?
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“SPT”) is a new kind of treaty body in the United Nations human rights system. It has a purely preventive mandate focused on an innovative, sustained and proactive approach to the prevention of torture and ill treatment. The SPT started its work in February 2007.
The SPT was established pursuant to the provisions of a treaty, the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture (“OPCAT”). The OPCAT was adopted on December 2002 by the General Assembly of the United Nations and entered into force in June 2006.
The SPT is composed of 25 independent and impartial experts coming from different backgrounds and from various regions of the world. Members are elected by States parties to the OPCAT for a four-year mandate and can be re-elected once.
What does the SPT do?
Mandate – The SPT has an operational function which consists in visiting all places of detention in States parties, and an advisory function which consists in providing assistance and advice to both States parties and National Preventive Mechanisms (“NPM”). In addition, the SPT cooperates, for the prevention of torture in general, with the relevant United Nations organs and mechanisms as well as with international, regional, and national institutions or organizations. The SPT presents a public annual report on its activities to the Committee against Torture and convenes three times a year for sessions of one week duration at the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Visits –Under the OPCAT, the SPT has unrestricted access to all places of detention, their installations and facilities and to all relevant information. The SPT visits police stations, prisons (military and civilian), detention centres (e.g. pre-trial detention centres, immigration detention centres, juvenile justice establishments, etc.), mental health and social care institutions and any other places where people are or may be deprived of their liberty.
The SPT must also be granted access to have private interviews with the persons deprived of their liberty, without witnesses, and to any other person who in the SPT’s view may supply relevant information including Government officials, NPMs, representatives of national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations, custodial staff, lawyers, doctors, etc. People who provide information to the SPT shall not be subject to sanctions or reprisals for having provided information to the SPT.
The visits are conducted by at least two members of the SPT. These members may be accompanied, if needed, by experts of demonstrated professional experience and knowledge in the field.
Assistance and advice – Pursuant to article 17 of the OPCAT, State parties have an obligation to establish NPMs, which are independent national bodies for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment at the domestic level. The OPCAT provides guidance concerning the establishment of those bodies, including their mandate and powers. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that it has in place a NPM which complies with the requirements of the OPCAT.
For its part, the SPT's mandate includes assisting and advising States in the establishment of NPMs. To this end, the SPT has set out Guidelines on NPMs to add further clarity on the establishment and operation of NPMs. The SPT also assists NPMs in reinforcing their power, independence and capacities and strengthening safeguards against ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. To that purpose, the SPT makes itself available for continuous dialogue and works in close collaboration with the NPMs, in order to ensure ongoing monitoring of all places of detention.
How does the SPT do its work?
The SPT undertakes country missions, by sending a delegation to visit places of deprivation of liberty. During its visits, the SPT examines conditions of individuals’ daily lives in places of detention, legislative and institutional frameworks, and other areas that may be related to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. At the end of its country visits, it communicates its recommendations and observations to the State by means of a confidential report, and if necessary, to the NPMs. However, State parties are encouraged to request the SPT to publish the visit reports.
The SPT is guided by the principles of confidentiality, impartiality, non-selectivity, universality and objectivity. The SPT conducts its work in a spirit of co-operation. It aims to engage with States parties via constructive dialogue and collaboration rather than condemnation. Nevertheless, if the State party refuses to co-operate or fails to take steps to improve the situation in light of the SPT’s recommendations, the SPT may request the Committee against Torture to make a public statement or to publish the SPT report.