Independent watchdog paramount to torture prevention: UN experts
20th anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture
22 December 2022
GENEVA (22 December 2022) – A functional and independent preventive mechanism, at national and international levels, that can regularly visit all detention facilities is vital to protect more than 10 million people detained worldwide from torture and ill-treatment, the UN torture prevention body said on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), set up under the OPCAT, has carried out unannounced visits to two-thirds of its States parties and has worked with national preventive mechanisms in 70 countries over the past twenty years. The Subcommittee issued the following statement.
“An innovative and proactive way of preventing torture based on regular visits to detention places by international and national bodies was established twenty years ago. The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 2002, establishing the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT).
Since it began to work in 2007, the SPT has visited more than 60 of the 91 States parties to this preventive system in more than 80 missions.
Among these missions, the SPT delegations visited self-ruled prisons controlled by inmates in Ecuador and Mexico, where grave violence occurred. Members of the SPT also examined high-security prisons in several countries, including Brazil, Guatemala, Cambodia and the United Kingdom. In addition, SPT delegations monitored how migrants were detained in closed camps in Nauru, Türkiye, Cyprus and Italy, and examined psychiatric hospitals in all the visits.
During these visits, the delegations interviewed thousands of women, men and children in detention, and talked to patients, migrants, as well as medical doctors, social workers, security personnel and staff working with people deprived of their liberty. The SPT delegates also engaged with judges, prosecutors, legislators, lawyers, authorities and non-governmental organisations.
In addition, the SPT collaborated closely with the independent national oversight body, officially known as National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), in conducting joint visits to detention facilities. The SPT supported NPMs’ requests for more resources and greater independence from the national authorities to carry out their mandate efficiently.
Following each visit, the SPT submitted confidential reports to the Governments containing its observations, concerns and corresponding recommendations to prevent further torture and ill-treatment, and to improve the conditions of detention.
More than 70 countries have established their NPMs, which must be in place one year after being parties to the OPCAT. Regrettably, 14 States are particularly late in doing so. Nevertheless, the SPT will continue to engage with them to support their establishment.
As Suzanne Jabbour, the Chair of SPT, stressed, it is of paramount importance that all States have a functional, independent, and well-resourced preventive mechanism that can regularly visit all places of deprivation of liberty to ensure that the more than 10 million people detained worldwide are treated with dignity and that torture and ill-treatment are prevented, in accordance with the international standards, such as the Nelson Mandela Rules. The SPT’s own resources must also be increased to be able to pursue its preventive mandate more effectively.
In 2023, the SPT plans to visit Croatia, Georgia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Mauritius, Palestine, the Philippines, South Africa and other possible countries, depending on its resources. At its forthcoming event on 9 February 2023, the Subcommittee will join many stakeholders to evaluate achievements in torture prevention and consider challenges in this critical area of human rights.”
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The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture monitors States parties’ adherence to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which to date has been ratified by 91 countries. The Subcommittee is made up of 25 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Subcommittee has a mandate to visit States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, during the course of which it may visit any place where persons may be deprived of their liberty and assist those States in preventing torture and ill-treatment. The Subcommittee communicates its observations and recommendations to States through confidential reports, which it encourages countries to make public.