Strong recommendations on torture prevention in the OSCE
States in the OSCE region need to fully cooperate with their National Preventive Mechanisms, ensure their independence and give unimpeded and immediate access to all places of detention. The OSCE as such has an important role to play in supporting the exchange of experience between NPMs in the region. These were some of the key recommendations that came out of a two-day meeting with representatives from 17 National Preventive Mechanisms, organised in connection to an OSCE States conference on the prevention of torture, in Vienna 10-11 April.
Switzerland has decided to make torture prevention a priority during its OSCE Chairpersonship-in-Office. As part of this effort the Swiss, together with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), organised a two-day meeting, which brought together participating States, experts and civil society organisations to discuss how to better address the prevailing issues of torture and ill-treatment in the region.
A majority of the States in the OSCE region – 36 out of 57 States - already have National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) in place. These national torture prevention bodies are a requirement under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and have increasingly been recognised as the “frontline” of torture prevention. The Swiss Chairpersonship had therefore asked the APT to organise a preparatory meeting for NPMs, to discuss their priorities and recommendations for the OSCE and its States. It was clear that despite the geographical and political diversity in the region many of the NPMs have to deal with similar problems. The participants, from 17 different countries, agreed on a set of concrete recommendations, both for States and for the OSCE, on how to strengthen the torture prevention system and to ensure that the NPMs can carry out their work effectively. These recommendations were then presented at the main OSCE meeting on 10-11 April and will be used to inform future discussions among civil society, OSCE and participating States.
Need for cooperation
The Swiss Ambassador Thomas Greminger opened the meeting of OSCE participating States by stressing the need for cooperation among actors at all levels. ODIHR director Janez Lenarčič said that although OSCE States have repeatedly committed to combating torture, the so called “war on terror” have brought about new challenges.
“Over the past two decades we have witnessed unfortunate resurgence of torture practices, especially in the name of the fight against terrorism. I note with concern that there has been complicity among some participating States in enabling this worrying “torture legitimization” trend”, he said.
Assistance to States
The first working session, with APT’s Secretary General Mark Thomson in the panel, aimed at taking stock of developments in the OSCE region since the last high-level meeting on prevention of torture in 2003. A second session focused on national level responses, including the role of National Preventive Mechanisms, and many of the recommendations from the preparatory NPM-meeting were raised and discussed. During the last session, participants highlighted the major role that the OSCE could play in assisting participating States to prevent torture, especially through training, support to the establishment and functioning of NPMs, and increased cooperation with the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.
In the concluding remarks, the ODIHR Director urged all OSCE participating States to ratify the OPCAT, put in place the NPMs and open up all places where are deprived of their liberty to preventive monitoring bodies.
Interview with Mark Thomson, Secretary General of the APT
Interview with Ambassador Thomas Greminger, Switzerland
Interview with Juan Méndez UN Special Rapporteur on Torture