Experts consider strategies to mitigate the risks of reprisals

Thursday, February 6, 2014

On 30 and 31 January, the APT hosted an expert meeting on reprisals against persons visited in places of deprivation of liberty. Most monitoring bodies see reprisals as a threat to their mission of preventing torture and ill-treatment and all participants firmly condemned the practice of inflicting reprisals in relation to their visits.

Reprisals against persons deprived of their liberty in relation to monitoring visits have existed since closed institutions have been under the scrutiny of independent bodies. Although reprisals are not a new phenomenon, the awareness about it has grown in the recent years, especially since the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and the multiplication of National Preventive Mechanisms. Experts discussed techniques that can be applied during visits and strategies beyond monitoring activities to reduce the risk of reprisals, but all recognized that they can only be “mitigated”.

The APT meeting hosted experts from national institutions coming from all regions, together with representatives from the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture(CPT)  and various branches from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Visits conducted by international bodies without regular in-country presence were deemed more likely to lead to reprisals, as those bodies do not have the follow-up possibilities that national institutions can guarantee.

A way forward discussed during the meeting was to enhance cooperation between international and national bodies with the challenge of balancing confidentiality rules with the humanitarian imperative, but with the general agreement that a pragmatic approach is required on a case-by-case basis.

Reprisals are originally generated by an environment which allows them to happen. There was a general agreement that in order to fight against these unlawful and damaging practices, monitoring bodies have to tackle the whole culture prevailing in places of deprivation of liberty. Giving more visibility to the issue and developing or making public existing policies and guidelines on the issue was also recognized as an important step forward.

The APT has issued a public statement on reprisals. We will also update our briefing paper on reprisals and continue our efforts to bring the issue to the appropriate fora to ensure that it is addressed by relevant stakeholders.