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Surprise visits to detention centres by independent national bodies vital to eliminate torture – UN expert body

NEW YORK (24 October 2012) – All States should have national bodies that can enter places of detention unannounced and unhindered, as a vital tool to prevent and eliminate torture, a UN expert body on the prevention of torture has urged.

“The place where human rights are really protected should be in places of detention,” said Malcom Evans, the Chair of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT). Mr. Evans presented the Subcommittee’s report to the UN General Assembly yesterday. “National Preventive Mechanisms need support and encouragement from the outside, but the final way of improving conditions and preventing torture lies in the states themselves.”

In his presentation to the General Assembly, Mr. Evans noted that National Preventive Mechanisms have been established in 36 of the 64 countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture of June 2006. The treaty creates a two-pillar system, at the international and national levels, designed to prevent torture and other forms of ill treatment in all places of detention.

“Our major goal is to see effective National Preventive Mechanisms established in all States parties in accordance with the criteria established by Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, as swiftly as possible,” Mr. Evans told the General Assembly. “When coupled with international oversight by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, we consider this to be the most potent means possible to prevent torture and ill-treatment.”

Mr. Evans said that the recent significant increase in membership of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture from 10 to 25 would enable the UN torture-prevention body to conduct more field visits. The visits are designed to “set in motion a continuous preventive dialogue.”

“While there remains much to be concerned about, we believe that working in collaboration with our colleagues at the UN – in particular the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Committee against Torture – and elsewhere, we can continue to make steady progress in erecting safeguards to help prevent torture and ill-treatment from occurring and we look forward to more States parties joining us on this journey,” Mr. Evans said.


The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is a new kind of treaty body in the UN 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. It is composed of 25 independent and impartial experts from different backgrounds and regions of the world. Members are elected by States parties to the OPCAT for a four-year mandate.

Learn more about the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/opcat/index.htm

The Subcommittee’s members: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/opcat/membership.htm

(*) Mr. Evans is Professor of Public International Law at the University of Bristol and has served as Head of the School of Law (2003-2005) and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law (2005-2009). Professor Evans is a renowned authority in the field of international law of the sea and international human rights protection, particularly torture and torture prevention and freedom of religion or belief. In 2009, he was elected member of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and in 2010 elected as Chairperson.

For more information or media requests, please contact Patrice Gillibert (Tel.: + 41 22 917 9332 / email:pgillibert@ohchr.org).

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