United against all forms of torture: Applying a cross-cutting perspective to prevent, prohibit and redress torture globally

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

On 3 April 2017, the Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN) published a report outlining the recommendations from the 18th EU-NGO Human Rights Forum on torture prevention, prohibition and redress, to which APT took part in Brussels on 1-2 December 2016. Discussions at the Forum co-organised by HRDN and the European External Action Service (EEAS) pointed to several key challenges in the fight against torture. The Forum offered EU and member State officials the opportunity to discuss with civil society about strategies on preventing and combatting torture and possible ways forward in future, including in view of the upcoming revision of the EU Guidelines on Torture.

The report summarises the three main themes discussed during the Forum: groups vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment; prevention, accountability and redress; and speaking of torture in today’s foreign and domestic security agenda. On prevention, the APT highlighted, amongst other preventive measures, the special role that the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) can play for the prevention of torture worldwide; as well as the meaningful changes regarding detention conditions, institutional culture and practices that National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) have contributed to. Some NPMs also shared their experience in monitoring all places where people are or may be detained, at any time without prior notice.

On vulnerabilities, the Forum highlighted the disproportionate risk of torture and ill-treatment suffered by women and girls, children and indigenous people. The report echoes these findings and suggests a need for a gender-sensitive lens to properly identify and respond to the threats and needs specific to women and girls. On children in particular, emphasis was put on age-specific forms of torture, which can happen in places of deprivation of liberty – including in medical or social institutions or in centres for migrants and refugees – but also outside formal detention.

In general, participants in the Forum agreed that torture and ill-treatment must be understood in the broadest possible scope, in order to best tackle and eradicate them in all their forms. Despite the considerable legislative progress made at international, regional and national levels in the past decades, in practice, torture and ill-treatment persist worldwide. In particular, in a context of escalating crises and protracted conflicts in various regions of the world, the challenges of preventing, investigating and prosecuting torture, as well as ensuring redress to its victims, are as relevant as ever. A holistic fight against torture and ill-treatment thus requires a multidimensional approach and the activation of the entire framework of international, regional and domestic legislation and standards available.

The report of the 18th EU-NGO Forum contains a set of recommendations which are directed to the EU, its Member States and third countries on policy and practice at home and abroad, in bilateral relations and with the ambition of greater international, multilateral efforts to stop torture worldwide. Key recommendations made on the prevention of torture include:

  • Ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the OPCAT and ensure the full implement of their provisions at domestic level;
  • Develop and implement comprehensive anti-torture policies;
  • Ensure full human rights training of all detaining authorities and establish effective, independent oversight of all places of detention, through a NPM in full compliance with the OPCAT and civil society monitoring;
  • Recognise and speak out about torture and ill-treatment and the different forms to which some groups may be particularly vulnerable, such as sexual torture, abuse in healthcare and domestic settings;
  • Make full use of international mechanisms such as the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to promote recognition of the special risks and needs of vulnerable groups;
  • Produce and make available data and statistics on victims of torture and ill-treatment disaggregated by gender, age, ethnicity etc., to be able to develop appropriate tailored tools and policies to tackle group-specific issues;
  • Document and promote best practices for preventive measures targeting vulnerable groups as regards juvenile justice, gender-sensitive detention and legal systems, anti-discrimination measures, and share them with third countries;
  • Demonstrate the inefficiency of torture as an investigative method through studies and statistical evidence, backing this up with communication at highest level within State institutions that torture and ill-treatment will not be tolerated in places of detention.