Focus on pre-trial detention in SPT's Annual Report

Monday, April 27, 2015

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has released its 2014 Annual Report. These reports are extremely important, not only because they provide a public record of the work being done by the SPT, but also because the committee uses each report as an opportunity to develop specific guidance on thematic issues relating to the prevention of torture.

The 2014 report also introduces a new working method of the SPT: OPCAT Advisory Visits. This type of visit was used for the first time in 2014, in order to assist Nigeria to fully implement the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.

This year’s major thematic focus is on pre-trial detention, which the SPT links to a number of forms of torture and ill-treatment. The report discusses the ways in which the overuse of pre-trial detention is linked to forced confessions and the poor treatment of detainees. It also highlights the fact that pre-trial detention has a disproportionate effect on the poor and other vulnerable groups. Linking the issue to the SPT’s preventive approach, the report discusses procedures, resources, cultural influences and other factors that all play a role in exacerbating the use of something that should only ever be a last resort.

The report also places an emphasis on the range of different actors—including judges and prosecutors, medical professionals, and members of civil society—that must be engaged by preventive bodies if pre-trial detention numbers are to be reduced.

Need for gender-specific perspective

In addition to this major focus, the report also touches on an important situation of risk (the transfer of detainees) and the specific vulnerabilities of women and LGBTI persons in detention. Relating to transfers, the report underlines that while transfers are often necessary, they can be used arbitrarily or disproportionately in ways that can be considered an illegal, extrajudicial form of punishment. On the subject of women and LGBTI persons in detention, the report highlights the fact that there is a need for visiting programmes to include a gender-specific perspective. In particular, the report notes that women and LGBTI persons can be subject to “double or triple discrimination” and a process of dehumanisation, which is often a necessary condition for torture or ill-treatment to take place.

Finally, the SPT again expresses its concerns regarding resources and the serious constraints that have made it impossible to deal with its large backlog of work. Despite these constraints, however, the SPT does look forward to making eight visits in 2015.