Increased monitoring powers for Arab human rights institutions

Friday, January 18, 2013

Detention monitoring is considered a cornerstone of the mandate of National Human Rights Institutions (NRHI). This role was recently discussed at a conference in Doha, Qatar, among NHRIs from the Arab region. Participants also dealt with other key areas of their mandates, such as commenting on legislations, receiving complaints and providing education on human rights.

The APT was invited to speak on the role of NHRIs in detention monitoring and as National Preventive Mechanisms under the UN torture prevention treaty (OPCAT). There has generally been a positive tendency of States from the Middle East and North Africa region to grant increased powers to NHRIs in regard to visiting places of detention.

Several NHRIs from the region have seen their mandated and powers in regard to detention monitoring strengthened over the last years:

With the revision of its founding legislation in 2010, the National Human Rights Commission of Mauritania was mandated to conduct unannounced visits to all the prisons and police detention centers to ensure respect for human rights. The 2011 legislation that developed the former Moroccan Consultative Council for Human Rights into the Moroccan National Council for Human Rights does now specify that the institution is has the mandate to visit prisons and other places of detention to supervise the treatment of persons deprived of liberty.

Founding legislations of some of the new NHRIs are granting explicit powers to conduct visits, including unannounced visits, from the outset. The 2008 law gives for example Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights an expansive mandate to “conduct visits to prisons, social rehabilitation centers, detention centers and all other places without the need for the prior authorization of the said bodies”. The Commission must further “…meet with those convicted and those detained, document cases of human rights violations and inform the relevant authorities to take the proper legal action.” Other institutions, such as the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights and the Jordanian National Centre for Human Rights have been implementing detention monitoring programs for several years.

Based on their exposure the reality of detention, NHRIs take a keen interest in the UN torture prevention treaty, the OPCAT. Many of the NHRIs are regularly recommending their authorities to ratify the OPCAT. The meeting in Doha, which took place 14-15 January 2013, was an opportunity for the representatives of Arab institutions to discuss the opportunities and challenges related to OPCAT ratification and implementation in the region.