8 May 2012
The Committee against Torture this afternoon held a meeting with the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture to discuss its fifth annual report and areas of collaboration between the two bodies.
Malcom Evans, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, presenting the Subcommittee's fifth annual report, noted that this year marked the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was now ratified by 63 countries, or one third of the world community. The report highlighted the development of the internal working practices which were significant in driving forward operational activities. Also worth mentioning were programmes of visiting, the increased range of engagement with national preventative mechanisms, and the establishment of the Special Fund under Article 26 of the Optional Protocol, which now had received a considerable volume of donations and stood at little over
$ 1.1 million and was already making its first round of disbursements, thus making it fully operational.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked questions concerning measures to address the lack of compliance of 25 States parties to establish national preventive mechanisms and the approach to countries that persistently refused cooperation and compliance. It was important to take stock of the effectiveness of national preventive mechanisms to determine if the system was working, Experts said. Other questions included criteria for the choice of States to visit, and the confidentiality and collaboration with the Committee in areas of work that ran in parallel.
The Subcommittee Chairperson responded to all of these questions and noted that establishing a good national preventive mechanism was a long and hard process and sometimes it was sufficient to know that a State was actively pursuing it. On the overall relationship with the Committee against Torture, the Subcommittee would pursue its preventative mandate and would take into account the findings of the Committee when possible. The Subcommittee was staying clear from establishing formal assessment of the effectiveness national preventive mechanisms and was instead focused on getting to know what the national preventive mechanism was doing in order to be better informed of what it was capable of doing.
When the Committee against Torture next meets in public on Wednesday, 9 May at 10 a.m., it will begin its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Greece (CAT/C/GRC/5-6).
MALCOLM EVANS, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, said that this year marked the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was now ratified by 63 countries, or one third of the world community. The highlights of the report included the development of the internal working practices which were significant in driving forward operational activities. Also worth mentioning were the programmes of visiting, the increased range of engagement with national preventative mechanisms, and the establishment of the Special Fund under Article 26 of the Optional Protocol. The Subcommittee had established four sub-teams each covering a particular region, with each member in charge of a country and this enabled the Subcommittee to have a much clearer internal architecture and structure of work to provide better focus and better advice to national mechanisms. More working groups were established as well, modeled by other committees, such as a medical working group, and a working group on security in the context of visiting, or a working group on the development of standards and minimal rules of treatment of prisoners.
In the course of 2011, three visits had been conducted, while six visits were being conducted this year. This year new types of visits would take place which would focus on engagement with the national prevention mechanisms to advise and assist them on their working practices. The first visit of such nature to Honduras had been completed a few days ago and the Subcommittee was eager to learn from this experience. Previously, decisions as to where visits would be taking place were taken during the November session, but with the new system in place this would probably be moved to the June session. Also, greater advance publicity would be given to civil society organizations as to the programme of visits to allow for better inputs and facilitation of the visit by States parties themselves. With the ever increasing number of national prevention mechanisms, it was a challenge to respond to all the requests for information and advice and a working group had been established to advise on how best to deal with this issue. Regarding the Special Fund to help fund the recommendations of the Subcommittee and the educational work of the national prevention mechanisms, the Fund now had received a considerable volume of donation and stood at little over $ 1.1 million. Four countries which qualified for the disbursement from the Fund would start their projects soon: Paraguay, Benin, the Maldives and Mexico. It was expected that another six would be considered during the June session. All this meant that the Fund was fully operational and was a living reality which represented a major achievement of the year.
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, said that the Committee appreciated the contribution of the Subcommittee and hoped it could learn from it. It was impressive that the Subcommittee had the rule of “who invites pays” which was an example of looking at issues with fresh eyes and being inventive.
Questions and Comments by Committee Experts
The Committee experts said 25 States parties that had ratified the Optional Protocol had not complied with their obligations to establish national preventive mechanisms, which was a question of concern. How could the Committee assist in this issue and what could the Subcommittee do to address the persistent lack of compliance? Concerning the visit to Brazil, an Expert noted that Brazil was found by the Committee against Torture to commit systematic acts of torture and asked how these kind of findings were squared with the preventative nature of the Subcommittee’s visits. Did the Subcommittee have any discussion on what to do with countries that persistently refused cooperation and compliance, and how did it envisage collaboration with the Committee in this matter?
It was important to take stock of the effectiveness of national preventive mechanisms to determine if the system was working and therefore it would be important that the next report of the Subcommittee contained this kind of information. Committee Experts also suggested that the Subcommittee’s regional coordinator for the Americas be split in two, one for Latin America and another for North America, since those regions represented different realities. One Committee member asked why Cambodia had not been mentioned so far and asked how the Subcommittee assessed the effectiveness of existing national preventive mechanisms. Another Expert asked for clarification of criteria for the choice of States to visit and noted that there were some aspects of the work of the Subcommittee that ran in parallel with the work of the Committee and wished to see more collaboration which would also assist in preserving and respecting the principle of confidentiality.
Answers by the Subcommittee’s Chairperson
Mr. Evans, in reply to the Experts, said that with the 25 non-complying members it was absolutely essential to work informally in small groups and then provide reports back to the plenary. Concerning national preventive mechanisms, it was a matter of concern when they were not established within prescribed timeframes. However, it was not always clear when national preventive mechanisms existed or not and the Subcommittee was aware that some of them existed even if the Subcommittee was not formally informed. One needed to read what was going on under the headlines. Getting a good national preventive mechanism established was a long process and sometimes it was sufficient to know that a State was actively pursuing it. Concerning Kazakhstan, the situation was more complicated because there was confusion in the official translation to Russian and Spanish. On the overall relationship with the Committee against Torture, Mr. Evans said that the Subcommittee would pursue its preventative mandate and would take into account the findings of the Committee when possible. It would be interesting to hear the views of the Committee as to deepening the relationship, with the need to keep procedural differences intact.
Assessing the effectiveness of anything, including national preventive mechanisms, was a very tricky undertaking and the more the Subcommittee got to know what the national preventive mechanism was doing the better informed it would understand what it was capable of doing. It did produce a self-assessment guide for national preventive mechanisms where they could assess their own performance, but was staying clear from establishing formal assessment processes. Cambodia had not been mentioned in the report, but contact had been kept through other channels and that was how things could move forward. Turning to the functioning of the Special Fund, Mr. Evans said that it was important to insist on partnerships between States parties and non-governmental organizations or national preventive mechanisms. The Subcommittee was taking a very narrow approach to confidentiality, with the exception from country visits, as it wished to get its work known. The principal criteria for the choice of countries to visit was to go where a difference could be made and something could be accomplished.
For use of the information media; not an official record