African NHRIs United Against Torture

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

'An African continent united against torture' was the leitmotif of the high level conference on the role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the prevention of torture in Africa, which took place in Rabat on 7-8 September 2011. The conference was part of a larger strategy that the APT and the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) decided to undertake together by committing themselves to a three year partnership agreement concluded in October 2010, upon the initiative of the current President of the NANHRI, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) of Morocco.

The base of this partnership is the recognition by the APT and the NANHRI of the exceptional potential that NHRIs can have in the prevention of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

The conference in Rabat constituted the launching of this three year project which will be translated into a series of practical capacity building and experience sharing activities for NHRIs aimed at reinforcing their capacity to deal with the most challenging issues related to the prevention of torture. This includes conducting monitoring visits to places of detention, training of law enforcement officials, investigations of allegations of torture, advocacy and awareness raising campaigns, etc.

Indeed, the main objectives of the conference were to:

  • Sensitize and stimulate NHRIs in upholding their key role in the prohibition and prevention of torture;
  • Reach a common understanding and engagement among NANHRI members towards regional strategy to fight against torture;
  • Raise awareness among NHRIs on the two major tools in the prevention of torture: the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and the Robben Island Guidelines on the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture in Africa (RIG);
  • Share experiences, challenges and best practices on the promotion and implementation of both instruments;
  • Create synergies between NHRIs and international and regional mechanisms.

The meeting gathered 13 high representatives of African NHRIs over 17 endowed with 'A' status under the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC). The gathering of high representatives of NHRIs benefited also from the participation of the Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture as well as other international experts from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Discussions focused on the key role of NHRIs in the prevention of torture and concrete action that they can undertake, particularly in relation to the following issues:

  • Interaction with relevant regional and international human rights mechanisms;
  • Domestication of the UN Convention against Torture and criminalization of  torture;
  • Investigation of allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and fight against impunity;
  • Training of law enforcement officials and other relevant actors;
  • Monitoring places of detention;
  • Redress and rehabilitation of victims of torture;
  • Exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practices among NHRIs and other relevant stakeholders.

All these issues were synthesised in the in the conference declaration which was adopted by participants. This outcome declaration 'A continent united against torture' is not only the formalization of a common commitment to the implementation of the APT-NANHRI partnership, but it goes further by enunciating specific concerns and concrete actions to be taken by NHRIs as part of a mutual support within the regional network.

The declaration is based on the general acknowledgment of the NHRIs’ privileged position, thanks to their broad mandate on the promotion and protection of human rights, which is in line with the comprehensive and holistic approach integral to an effective prevention of torture. In particular, participants have recognised that NHRIs are well placed for analysing root causes of torture and taking the lead in developing comprehensive national action plans and inclusive national platforms against torture.

It is hoped that this formal engagement from the NANHRI members will attract external support from other relevant actors, including donors, in order to assure the implementation of the three year partnership’s activities. In the same vein, the APT and the NANHRI are grateful to the Moroccan inter-ministerial delegation for human rights and the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Morocco for their financial support to the organisation of this high level conference.