Common concerns for UN anti-torture bodies

Friday, December 7, 2012

The situation of National Preventive Mechanisms and the risks of sanctions are common concerns for the UN's two anti-torture treaty bodies.

In November 2012, the Committee against Torture (CAT) and the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) held their annual meeting as provided for by the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. They first met publicly to discuss issues of common interest and cooperation and then held a private session for more specific concerns.

The situation of the National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) generated a lot of interest on the part of the CAT members. The CAT noted that it was increasingly requesting detailed information on NPMs from States Parties and that the CAT asked questions in a public forum (its review of States parties), compared to the SPT which interacts with the NPMs and the authorities on a confidential basis. The CAT expressed its interest in receiving the SPT views on States to be examined by the CAT and the SPT asked the CAT to consider sharing background information with them when it drafted list of issues prior to reporting.

Fear of reprisals

The existence of reprisals (or sanctions according to the OPCAT text) was another issue debated amongst the anti-torture experts. According to the SPT, a fear of reprisals had been noted during the majority of the visits undertaken by the SPT. The SPT has noted various types of reprisals: threats, placement in isolation and ill-treatment – which is worrying considering that the aim of the SPT is to prevent such abuses. The SPT shared with the CAT the type of interventions undertaken in such situations (contact with the authorities, written and oral communication, alerts to civil society and/or NPMs for follow-up actions, and follow-up visits by the SPT to specific places of detention). The SPT announced its intention to draft a public policy document on sanctions and reprisals and invited the CAT members to work together with the SPT on this specific issue. For instance, the possibility of releasing a public statement on a State Party’s refusal to cooperate with the SPT could be an area for future cooperation between the two committees.

The discussions closed on a debate related to the establishment of national databases on acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as well as enforced disappearances and the role of the NPMs in their own establishments.