Caribbean and Latin American States meet on torture prohibition

Friday, April 7, 2017

On a rare occasion, 22 States from Latin America and the Caribbean met in Santiago, Chile, from 5-6 April, to share experiences on anti-torture legislation and measures. Organised by the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) with the support of APT and hosted by the Government of Chile, the Regional Seminar convened over 60 participants, including representatives of the States, as well as international and regional anti-torture experts and civil society organisations.

The Santiago Seminar opened discussions amongst the 22 States on the adoption of comprehensive anti-torture legislation, in accordance with the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and related regional instruments. In particular, to consider the elements needed for comprehensive anti-torture legislation; and to promote cooperation among States in Latin America and the Caribbean on legislative and institutional reforms for the implementation of the UNCAT.

This was the occasion for Chile, a core member of the CTI, to publicly demonstrate its support for the global fight against torture. Opening the meeting, Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet acknowledged the international consensus against torture while recognising the challenges ahead, notably with the justification of unacceptable practices such as waterboarding and solitary confinement. “We have to speak out and repeat, as many times as necessary, that torture, in all its dimensions – physical, psychological or through sexual violence – is unacceptable at all times, in all places, and it disgusts human conscience.” Having highlighted the measures taken by Chile to prohibit and prevent torture, in particular the recent amendments made to the Criminal Code to criminalise torture, President Bachelet announced the imminent introduction to Congress of the legislation on the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), granting the NPM mandate to the National Human Rights Institute.

Over two days, the high ranking representatives of 13 States from Latin America and 9 States from the Caribbean region exchanged views on the need to adopt comprehensive anti-torture legislation or amend existing provisions; the definition of torture according to the international and regional conventions; the exclusionary rule on evidence; the institutional measures to prevent torture and ill-treatment; and the added value of UNCAT ratification for national legal system. A specific session was dedicated to gender perspective and torture, which was highlighted as an innovative approach by President Bachelet.

“Everyone agreed that legislative measures are not enough if we really want to end with these practices,” said Audrey Olivier Muralt, Director of APT’s Regional Office for Latin America. “Even though the Regional Seminar focused on very specific issues related to anti-torture laws, prevention was on the mind of every participant. What we need to do now, is work closely with States and relevant actors to encourage other States to join the UNCAT and bridge the gap between law and practice. One practical way of doing so is promoting the effective implementation of detention safeguards in the very first hours of custody, during which the risk of torture and ill-treatment is the highest.”

(Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Chile)

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