Newly-composed torture prevention treaty body ready to face challenges

Friday, November 6, 2020

Twelve members were elected to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) on 22 October by the 90 States parties to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

The election involved 20 candidates from 19 countries, who had previously outlined their vision and priorities to representatives of States parties in a virtual ‘meet and greet’ organised by the APT and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Following one round of voting, candidates from the following countries were elected to the 25-member SPT for a four-year term: Argentina, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Maldives, Mauritius, Montenegro, Morocco, Poland, Switzerland and Tunisia.

Of the 12 new SPT members, seven are male and five are female.

The APT has published a statistical analysis of voting patterns for SPT members, including by gender, language and regional representation.

The SPT is the largest treaty body, with 25 members and has a very strong operational mandate. Barbara Bernath, APT Secretary General, said the work of the SPT is complex and requires members have a broad mix of expertise and skills.

“We were pleased we could support States to get to know the candidates in the lead-up to the election so we can have a strong and robust SPT,” Ms Bernath said.

“The very positive feedback we received shows that it was a valuable contribution to the election process,” she added.

“The purpose of the OPCAT system, of the SPT and of NPMs is really very simple: it is to do all it can to prevent torture. It is a terrible responsibility, but, whatever it takes, we will continue to find ways of doing so.”

Sir Malcom Evans, SPT Chairperson


In a statement to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in October 2020, the outgoing SPT Chairperson, Sir Malcom Evans, drew attention to a number of serious challenges facing the treaty body.

These include insufficient funding for the SPT to conduct country visits over the past 12 months, a situation which has been compounded by restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the SPT has sought to innovate through the use of technology – and was the first human rights treaty body to complete an online session in June 2020 – Sir Malcom noted that a ‘digital shift’ is not appropriate for the full range of the SPT’s work.

“The visiting work of the SPT cannot take place remotely,” he said. “The SPT’s future work must remain focused on the field. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the necessity of preventive visiting to places of detention clearer than ever.”

Given the challenges facing the SPT, Ms Bernath said it is vital that NPMs are established and strengthened in order to undertake regular, systematic and national monitoring of all places of detentions.

“The APT will continue to provide NPMs in all regions with the practical advice and support they need to work effectively, especially during the pandemic” she said.

“COVID-19 has left persons deprived of their liberty vulnerable to infection, vulnerable to isolation and vulnerable to violence,” Ms Bernath added. “We need strong national preventive mechanisms and a strong international treaty body to ensure that people in places of detention are not forgotten.”