OPTIONAL PROTOCOL TO THE CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE (OPCAT)
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PREVENTION OF TORTURE
The SPT in Brief
“The objective of the [Optional] Protocol is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
(article 1 of the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, (OPCAT))
“A Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Committee against Torture ...shall be established and shall carry out the functions laid down in the present [Optional] Protocol.”
(article 2.1 of the OPCAT)
The OPCAT also obliges each State Party to designate independent national bodies for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment at the domestic level. These Preventive National Mechanisms must be established one year after the entry into force of the OPCAT by each State party (exception see Article 24 of OPCAT).
The mandate of the SPT is threefold: to visit places of detention in States Parties; to advise and assist both States Parties and National Preventive Mechanisms concerning their establishment and functioning(see Article 11 of the OPCAT); and to co-operate with other international, regional and national organisations and institutions working to strengthen protections against torture and ill-treatment.
The SPT is composed of 25 independent and impartial experts from countries which have ratified or acceded to the OPCAT. Members serve in their individual capacity and are drawn from a variety of different backgrounds relevant to its work, including lawyers, medical professionals and detention and inspection experts.
Members are elected by States Parties for a four-year term, staggered over a two year cycle. Members are eligible for re-election to a second term, if re-nominated.
The SPT may visit any place under the jurisdiction of a State Party where persons may be being deprived of their liberty. This includes, but is not limited to, 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. It recommends action to be taken to improve the treatment of detainees, including conditions of detention.
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. These experts are selected from a roster of experts prepared on the basis of proposals made by States Parties, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Centre for International Crime Prevention. Each State Party may propose up to five national experts as members of the roster.
In order for the SPT to fully realize its mandate under the OPCAT, the SPT has so far devised four types of visits: these are SPT country visits, SPT country follow-up visits, NPM advisory visits and OPCAT advisory visits. Depending on the type of visit and the local circumstances of the country visited, the size of delegations may vary, as may the length of the visit, a country visit usually lasting around 10 days.
Under the OPCAT, the SPT has unrestricted access to all places of detention, their installations and facilities and to all relevant information relating to the treatment of persons and to conditions of detention. The SPT must also be able to undertake private and confidential interviews with both persons deprived of their liberty and any other person who, in the SPT’s opinion, may supply it with relevant information.
The States Parties undertake to ensure that there are no sanctions or reprisals against those who meet with, or provide information to, the SPT or to the National Preventive Mechanism.
Assistance and Advice
The SPT's mandate includes advising and assisting States Parties regarding the establishment of their NPMs. These national mechanisms have the mandate to visit regularly places of detention in order to examine the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty and make recommendations to the States’ authorities regarding their treatment and conditions of detention. Reflecting the spirit of co-operation which underpins the OPCAT and the mandates it gives to the SPT and to NPMs, the SPT is to make itself available for ongoing dialogue concerning the work of NPM, both with the State Party and the NPM itself. Advising States in the development of effective national mechanisms is a key element in the work of the SPT and forms an important part of each visit, as is the SPTs continuous contact with the NPM once it is established.
The SPT advises States Parties where it is desirable to reinforce the powers, independence and capacity of NPMs. The SPT also provides NPMs with advice on and assistance to reinforce their independence and capacities and to assist them in strengthening safeguards against ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. The SPT works in close collaboration with the NPMs, in order to ensure that there is ongoing visiting to all places of detention within each State Party.
The OPCAT requires that NPMs be established in accordance with a process and on a basis which guarantees the functional, financial and operational independence of the NPM, including the involvement of civil society.
The SPT is guided by core principles: confidentiality, impartiality, non-selectivity, universality and objectivity. The OPCAT is based on the principle of co-operation between the SPT, each State Party and the NPMs. During its visits, the SPT’s members meet with State officials, NPMs, representatives of national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations, as well as with any other person who can provide information relevant to the mandate.
Following each of its visits, the SPT communicates its recommendations and observations to the State, and, if necessary, to the National Preventive Mechanism, in a confidential Report. The SPT will publish its report and recommendations whenever requested to do so by the State Party.
However, if the State Party makes part of the report public, the SPT may publish all or part of the report.
Moreover, if a country 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.
The SPT produces a public Annual Report outlining and reflecting on its activities.