Interactions with international / regional bodies

Which international and regional actors may be most relevant to the work of NPMs?

A large number of different international and regional actors may be relevant to the work of NPMs. These include:

UN Treaty bodies, most notably: the Committee against Torture (CAT) and the Subcommittee on   Prevention of Torture (SPT), as well as the Human Rights Committee,  the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  

It also includes peer networks that NPMs may be a part of depending on their composition, including: the Global Alliance of NHRIs (GANHRI) and its different regional networks, the Association Francophone des Commissions Nationales de Droits de l’Homme (AFCNDH) and the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI).

In some regions there are also regional monitoring bodies, such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa (CPTA), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that conduct country visits, including to places of detention and produce reports, recommendations and guidance that may be of use to NPMs.

International and regional courts may also be relevant to the work of NPMs, in particular the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Other UN and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms may also be useful to NPMs. These include, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and its special procedures, in particular the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and those with mandates relating to specific groups in situations of vulnerability. It also includes regional human rights mechanisms, such as the thematic rapporteurships of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in particular the one on rights of persons deprived of liberty.

The list of bodies that may be relevant to the work of NPMs can quickly become very long indeed. It is thus important to stress at the outset that NPMs do not need to engage with all (or even any) of them all of the time. Indeed, it will be important for NPMs to only do so when it helps them to achieve change in detention, something that is addressed in the other questions in this tool.

Note that, due to their particular relationship, enshrined in the OPCAT, interactions between NPMs and the SPT are dealt with in their own tool.

Why may NPMs interact with international and regional bodies?

The first and most important reason that NPMs may wish to engage with international and regional bodies is in order to help them to achieve their own objectives. When thinking about why and when to engage, NPMs will need to keep this primary objective in mind, particularly given the time and expense that such interaction may involve for institutions with already limited resources.

Nevertheless, engagement with international and regional bodies can be a powerful tool, helping NPMs to:

  • achieve their aims in relation to deprivation of liberty,
  • learn and strengthen themselves and others as institutions,
  • contribute to the development of standards and good practices, and
  • be better protected from reprisals.

Engagement with international and regional partners, can also be a way for NPMs to contribute to strengthening the human rights system as a whole. This may include sharing information both with international and regional bodies, as well as good practices and ideas among NPMs and other oversight bodies themselves.

How can NPMs interact with international and regional actors?

Throughout this tool we have used the term “interaction” to cover a large range of different activities. In this section, we try to break it down into the different ways it might happen.

The Committee against Torture and other UN treaty bodies

Sharing information, in the form of reports and statements and through face to face meetings is one of the main ways that NPMs can interact with international and regional bodies.

For many NPMs, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) is a key interlocutor in this regard. Information provided by NPMs is considered by the CAT at each stage of the reporting cycle.

Like other treaty bodies, CAT recommendations may deal with substantive issues relating to torture and ill-treatment but, of particular importance to NPMs, they can also relate to the NPM itself. By providing accurate information to the CAT, NPMs can thus use it as a powerful way to advocate for more independence, for more resources, or for change in relation to specific or thematic detention issues.

First, NPMs can submit written information to the Committee as it prepares its List of Issues (LOI) and List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR) – the two documents that form the basis for the state report and eventual examination by the Committee. By submitting information for the LOI and LOIPR, NPMs have an opportunity to influence the focus and priority areas that are considered by the Committee.

Second, NPMs can submit written information to the Committee for the examination of the State party’s report. This will usually happen once the state has submitted its report and is an opportunity for the NPM to submit additional information and questions that it thinks that the Committee should take into consideration.

Third, NPMs that have submitted written information can take part in one-hour closed-door briefings with the Committee during the session, immediately before the dialogue with the state party delegation. These meetings, which include interpretation, if needed, are an opportunity to meet with the members of the Committee and to discuss confidentially any additional information that they might think is particularly relevant.

Forth, NPMs can attend the examination of the state party report, although they are not able to intervene during these sessions.

Finally, the Committee has a follow-up procedure relating to concerns and recommendations in its concluding observations that are particularly serious, protective and that can be achieved within one year. NPMs also have an opportunity to submit written information to the Committee on the implementation of these recommendations.

While NPMs may not always have exactly the same rights to meet with the committees of other UN treaty bodies (usually unless they are NHRIs), they can usually contribute written information in similar ways at the different points of the review cycle. As with the CAT, written information provided by NPMs can influence the issues that each committee chooses to focus on and the content of their reports. Where their recommendations relate to NPM priorities, it may also be useful to reference them in NPM reports and to provide shadow reports to the committees in relation to state progress on implementation.  

Finally, in addition to the periodic review cycle, NPMs can also provide input on draft general comments on different articles, as they are prepared by each committee. This can be an interesting opportunity to contribute to the development of law and standards that are relevant to their work.

The Universal Periodic Review

NPMs can also reinforce their national work through interactions with the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The UPR aims to review the “fulfilment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments based on human rights treaties and other instruments that they have ratified”.  It takes place every four years through a process in which each State is reviewed by the HRC through a working group of the whole membership, followed by discussion and decision in plenary. The UPR Working Group meets three times a year for two weeks and reviews 14 States each time.

The UPR involves five main steps and there is an opportunity for NPM involvement at each stage.

The first stage is documentation. The review is based on information from three sources: information provided by the state, a compilation prepared by the OHCHR of UN reports and official documents, and a summary (prepared by OHCHR) of “[a]dditional, credible and reliable information provided by other relevant stakeholders”.  Information provided by NPM is often included in this last category. NPMs may also wish to participate in a national consultative process, if it exists, relating to the preparation of the state report.

The second stage is the so-called “interactive dialogue” of the UPR Working Group. While NPMs are not permitted to make statements during this stage of the UPR, if they are able to attend they can nevertheless have an impact by meeting bilaterally with the different state delegations, holding side events and advocating for the inclusion of their recommendations in the UPR report.

The third stage is the UPR report and recommendations. The report includes: a summary of the proceedings, conclusions, recommendations made by individual States in the interactive dialogue, and voluntary commitments made by the State under review.  Because many states would like to make recommendations that are then included in this report, but lack detailed, expert knowledge of the country situation, they often rely on outside expertise when formulating their recommendations. NPMs can thus have a useful impact by providing states with high quality information and suggested recommendations – which are then often included in the UPR report.

The fourth stage is the HRC plenary debate and adoption of the report. NPMs that are also “A status” NHRIs are given a particular slot to speak, immediately after the state under review. Other institutions can also intervene at the end of the session, although they share a timeslot with NGOs and other NHRIs, so may not always be guaranteed time to speak, depending on the timing and how many others have signed up.

Finally, as with many other international and regional processes, NPMs may find the UPR follow-up phase useful in achieving the change they wish to see in detention. This might involve publicising recommendations that relate to detention or their thematic priorities, monitoring steps that the state takes towards implementation, and referencing UPR recommendations in their own reports and advocacy or communications.

The Special Procedures

The special procedures (SPs) are independent human rights experts appointed to undertake certain mandates on behalf of the HRC. Their mandates are either thematic or country specific and they are created and renewed by resolutions of the HRC. The SPs vary in the ways in which they operate but, in general they all: undertake studies, investigate situations of rights abuses that relate to their mandates, conduct country visits, receive complaints (and intervene with states on their behalf), issue urgent requests, and report to the HRC (and often the General Assembly) on their findings and recommendations.

The special procedures and, in particular, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (UNSRT) may be useful to NPMs in several ways although most particularly in the lead up, during and following in country visits. SPs must be invited to visit a country but, once invited, their visits are covered by a broad set of agreed “terms of reference” which give them broad powers to visit places, talk to people, and conduct inquiries.

SP country visits can bring enormous amounts of attention, including in the international media to a particular situation and they can thus be useful to NPMs wishing to draw attention to particular situations or themes that it views as a priority.

In particular, NPMs may wish to do some or all of the following in relation to SP country visits:

  • encourage the government to issue an invitation, in particular to the UNSRT;
  • brief the mandate holder before, during and after the visit, including offering advice on which places to visit and who to meet;
  • brief NGOs and relevant government officials on the visit;
  • make submissions to the SP in relation to specific findings or recommendations;
  • following the country report conduct advocacy in relation to its key recommendations; and
  • conduct follow-up visits to any places of deprivation of liberty that were visited by the SP, including to prevent reprisals.
  • Make reference to SP recommendations in future NPM reports

Regional Monitoring Bodies

Where they exist, it may also be useful for NPMs to interact with regional detention monitoring bodies, such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The CPT, which was established under the “European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”, which came into force in 1989, has a mandate to conduct visits in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe. Delegations of CPT members and experts carry out periodic and ad hoc visits to places of deprivation of liberty, after which they send a report to the state with findings and recommendations. It also requests a state response, which forms the basis for an ongoing exchange. While these reports are not always made public, it may be useful for NPMs to engage with the CPT, including by sharing information, reports, priorities and recommendations. At the start of a CPT country visit, it may also be useful for the NPM to meet with the delegation to discuss priority issues. In addition, the CPT has a practice of inviting the NPM to their debriefing meeting with the authorities at the end of the visit. If the CPT report is public, it might be useful for the NPM to reference its recommendations and conclusions in its own reports, as a way of strengthening its arguments vis-à-vis the authorities.

The IACHR is one of the institutions of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights, together with of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Among its main functions, the Commission and its thematic rapporteurships deal with individual petitions, monitor the human rights situation in the States that are members of the Organization of American States, including through country visits, publish country and thematic reports, and contribute to the development of human rights standards, including related to deprivation of liberty.

Country visits from the Commission or its rapporteurships, such as the one on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty and to Prevent and Combat Torture, can be useful for NPMs to draw attention to particular situations or issues of concern. Concretely, NPMs can:

  • brief the Commissioner(s) or Rapporteur before, during and after the visit, including offering advice on which places to visit and who to meet, and sharing findings and recommendations;
  • issue a press release or other communications following the visit and the country report in relation to its key recommendations;  
  • conduct follow-up visits to any places of deprivation of liberty that were visited by the IACHR or its rapporteurships, including to prevent reprisals; and
  • make reference to the IACHR findings and recommendations in future NPM reports.

Other ways for NPMs to interact with the IACHR include contributing with inputs to thematic reports or standards developed by the Commission, participating in IACHR country or thematic hearings, and providing information on specific issues of serious concern beyond country visits. The IACHR may rely on this information to publish a public statement on the issue, establish a dialogue with the relevant national authorities, and even request that a State adopt precautionary measures.

Networks of oversight bodies

By virtue of their structure, many NPMs are members of existing international and regional networks of oversight bodies. These include networks of NHRIs, such as GANRHI (and its regional networks), networks of ombuds institutions, such as the IOI, and specific NPM networks, such as the network of South East European NPMs.

While each network varies, there are some commonalities in the ways that they may be useful partners for NPMs.

Training and capacity building is one of these. Many networks offer training on a range of issues of interest to NPMs, including both institutional development and thematic issues related to detention. NPM networks can also be important sources of advice and expertise, whether it is through informal WhatsApp groups or Slack channels or more structured meetings and exchanges.

International and regional networks have also been active in the past in relation to reprisals against their member institutions. GANHRI for example has been quick to condemn attacks on the independence or funding of its member NHRIs. By raising their profile and working together, NPMs can use networks to respond collectively to threats made against them, while also bringing them to the attention of the media and other human rights mechanisms.  

Regional human rights courts.

In relation to regional courts, some European NPMs that are also NHRIs  have provided information to the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as amicus curiae. Similarly, many NPMs also follow the decisions of regional courts, including the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and reference their decisions in their reports, where they are relevant to national issues. 

Other bodies and processes

Interactions at the international and regional level can also be useful in the longer term if NPMs are able to contribute to standard setting – for example by feeding their national experience into discussions around updates to documents like the Nelson Mandela Rules. Sometimes national practices can be ahead of regional and international standards and NPMs can help to raise the level by bringing these practices to the fore.

Other international organizations can also be useful to NPMs, in particular where they have  regional and/or national offices. Regional and national offices of institutions such as UNICEF, UNDP, and OHCHR, for example, can be useful sources of expertise and funding for NPMs. Many of these organisations can also be key allies of NPMs in raising issues of concern to the national authorities.