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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 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 following the provisions of a treaty, the Optional Protocol to 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 from different backgrounds and 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.

The SPT has two primary operational functions:

  1. It may undertake visits to States parties, during the course of which it may visit any place where persons may be deprived of their liberty.
  2. It has an advisory function which involves providing assistance and advice to States parties on the establishment of National Preventive Mechanisms (“NPM”), which OPCAT requires that they establish, and also providing advice and assistance to both the NPM and the State Party regarding the working of the NPM.

The SPT cooperates, for the prevention of torture in general, with relevant United Nations organs and mechanisms as well as with international, regional, and national institutions or organizations.

The SPT produces a public annual report on its activities which it presents to the Committee against Torture and the UN General Assembly in New York.

In addition to its field work, the SPT also convenes three times a year for one week-long sessions at the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The work of the Committee

The SPT examines the way in which detainees are treated whilst in detention, as well as looking at the conditions of detention. SPT members talk in private with people in custody, without the presence of prison or other staff or of Governmental representatives.

During its country visits, SPT members also talk with Government officials, custodial staff, lawyers, and doctors, and can recommend immediate changes intended to improve the situation of detainees. Their work is governed by strict confidentiality and they do not reveal who they have spoken to, or what they have been told. People who provide information to the SPT must not be subject to sanctions or reprisals for having provided information to the SPT.

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 through a process of constructive dialogue and collaboration rather than condemnation.