UN panel focused on role of prevention

Friday, September 19, 2014

“Prevention of human rights violations is a matter of sound policy as well as of moral conscience”, said UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri, when she opened a panel discussion at the UN Human Rights Council on the role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights.

The prevention of human rights violations is receiving increased international attention, but the understanding of the concept is still rather limited. Yesterday’s panel discussion aimed at raising awareness among States and other stakeholders about how prevention can be better reflected in polices and strategies at national, regional and international levels.

In the panel, APT’s Secretary General Mark Thomson elaborated on the need for a combination of solutions and on the strategies that have proved effective in preventing torture. These include strong legal and policy frameworks, training and capacity strengthening, independent oversight though National Preventive Mechanisms and the promotion of strong public support against torture. Procedural safeguards, such as registers in places of detention, video recordings of interrogation etc. can also greatly contribute to prevent violations.

Prevention already in the UNCAT

The concept of prevention is more developed in the fight against torture and other ill-treatment than in other areas. Already 30 years ago the UN Convention against Torture included a visionary duty to prevent torture in its Article 2. Prevention was seen as an important complement to other approaches focusing on denunciation, litigation and redress. The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) is also the first international treaty exclusively focusing on prevention. Mark Thomson highlighted the particular focus on direct prevention, or mitigation, in the prevention of torture:

“Direct prevention aims at preventing torture before it happens, by reducing risk factors and possible causes. It is forward-looking, long term and aims at creating an environment where torture is unlikely to occur.”

Extended role of national institutions

A number of States took the opportunity to express their support for an increased focus on preventive approaches. Several speakers, including Flavia Pansieri in her opening statement, stressed the important role that National Human Rights Institutions are already playing in the prevention of torture, many as designated National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) and how this could be extended also to the prevention of other human rights violations.

The panel was moderated by Rachel Brett of the Quaker United Nations Office, and the panellists were Rita Izsák, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Committee on the Rights of the Child; Sima Samar, Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission; Mark Thomson, Association for the Prevention of Torture; and Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leião, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The panel discussion will feed into the study on prevention of human rights violations that the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights is preparing, to be presented to the Council at its 30th session.