In the 1970’s, the world was waking up to the fact that the practice of torture was spreading in all corners of the globe and increasingly being used against civilian populations. There were few legal mechanisms in place to stop it.
Amongst the many individuals who rejected the use of torture was Jean-Jacques Gautier (1912-1986), founder of the APT. He believed that torture not only affected the victims themselves, but that it had a toxic effect on societies that tolerate it.
Gautier realised that torture is most likely to occur in places out of public view. He became convinced that one of the most effective ways to prevent torture therefore would be to put in place systems of regular, unannounced visits by external actors to all places of detention.
At the time, Gautier’s idea was considered with great scepticism. Few believed that governments would ever agree to let outsiders into their prisons and detention centres. But he persisted. With the help of a few committed individuals he gradually mobilised support for his initiative, both in Switzerland and internationally.
The Swiss Committee Against Torture (which later became the APT) was founded in 1977 to promote an international convention that would create a universal system of visits to places of detention. After a first success at the regional level with the adoption of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture in 1987, the organisation intensified its lobbying work at the international level.
In 2002 the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) was finally adopted by the UN General Assembly and entered into force in 2006. Jean-Jacques Gautier’s idea had become a global reality.