Revised EU Guidelines on Torture: A Stronger EU Policy, Calling for Enhanced Implementation in Practice

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The APT welcomes the revised  Guidelines on EU Policy Towards Third Countries on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted in September 2019. These Guidelines notably put a stronger and more comprehensive focus on the prevention of torture and in particular, on the specific mandate of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) established under the OPCAT.

A substantial policy document bearing concrete improvements

The APT has been involved in the revision process and welcomes the fact that most of its key comments on the structure and the substance of the document have been taken on board, bearing significant impact on the final draft. In particular, APT’s initial suggestion to re-structure the document under the distinct stages of the fight against torture- prohibition, prevention, combatting impunity and redress for victims- has been accepted, providing for a clearer guidance to EU institutions and Member States on how to act to support those complementary steps.

The APT furthermore welcomes the fact that the European Council simultaneously issued, for the first time, groundbreaking Council Conclusions on these Guidelines where it reaffirmed the commitment of the EU and its Member States to combat torture and other ill-treatment worldwide. In addition to conveying this strong political message, the Conclusions also stress major elements of prevention, including the importance of procedural safeguards in the first hours of detention to prevent torture and other ill-treatment, the need to pay particular attention to persons at risk of torture in specific situations of vulnerability, and the key role of independent NPMs.

Bridging the gap between policy and practices

“The revised Guidelines represent a step forward in terms of the EU’s commitment to fighting torture outside its borders”, said APT’s Secretary General Barbara Bernath. “We now call on the EU to ensure its external policy against torture is effectively implemented in practice by its institutions and Member States. This can only be made possible through a wide awareness-raising and training scheme, notably for EU Delegations in third countries for which the Guidelines represent a key guide to action. This also requests the close and regular follow-up and evaluation of the implementation of the Guidelines, including by the Council of the EU’s Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM), as committed to in the related Council Conclusions.”

The APT furthermore stresses the continuous need for the EU to ensure coherence between its external and internal policies, including on the issue of combatting torture and other ill-treatment. It calls on the EU institutions and Member States to enhance their internal and domestic policies and practices when it comes to preventing and combatting torture, notably relating to conditions and treatment of persons deprived of their liberty, independent oversight of detention, counter-terrorism activities, and migration policies.

Issued in 2001, and further revised in 2008 then 2012, these Guidelines aim to provide guidance to EU institutions and EU Member States, in their endeavours to combat torture in their external policy.