Torture happens in secret.

Replacing secrecy by transparency was the idea of Jean-Jacques Gautier, the founder of APT, who proposed, in 1976, an international treaty creating a system of visits to places of detention. This idea prospered at the European level first.

On 26 June 1987, the Council of Europe adopted the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture. It does not create any new norms but establishes a European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) allowed to visit at any time any place of detention in Europe. It conducts periodic and ad hoc visits to all member States of the Council of Europe (15 States in 1987; 47 in 2020). Visits reports are published following authorization from the State (more than 400 reports published).

The CPT visits a variety of places of detention not only prisons or police stations but also psychiatric institutions, transit zones in airports or even homes for elderly. Over the last 30 years, the CPT has not only brought transparency in closed places, it has also developed an important body of standards. These cover a wide range of issues from police custody, women in detention, to migrants, and serve as a reference for other monitoring bodies and the European Court on Human Rights. The success of the CPT at the European level contributed to relaunch the discussions at the UN level in 1992, that eventually led to the adoption of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture in 2002 (OPCAT).

An enlightened Swiss citizen (J.J. Gautier), two non-governmental organisations (the Swiss Committee Against Torture and the International Commission of Jurists) and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly deserve credit for this major breakthrough in the human rights field.

First General report of CPT’s activities (covering the period November 1989 to December 1990).

What is the impact of the CPT?

First ever international body with a focus on prevention

In 1987, the CPT was a pioneer. For the first time, a proactive rather than reactive body was established to conduct periodic visits in the absence of prior complaint. It looks at the general conditions and treatment in detention to detect “early signs” pointing to future abuses. It focuses on causes and conditions conducive to torture or ill-treatment. Prevention is also based on cooperation and dialogue with State authorities rather than public denunciation. Over the years, the CPT has become a credible and key actor in torture prevention in Europe. It paved the way for the OPCAT.

Improvements in conditions and treatment in detention

The CPT has conducted more than 450 visits to countries in Europe, followed by reports and recommendations. The CPT has been able to contribute to substantive improvements in conditions and treatment in places of detention: in material conditions (e.g. removal of shutters on prison windows), procedures, institutional changes (prison heath services moved to Ministry of health), protection of vulnerable groups, development of safeguards and legislative changes.

Development of standards to prevent torture

From the first year, the CPT developed standards to assist states in improving the treatment and conditions in detention. They are published in the annual report and are very practical. They range from the minimum size of cells, to women or migrants. The CPT was the first to recommend three fundamental safeguards from the outset of deprivation of liberty: notification of family, access to a lawyer and to a doctor. CPT standards have influenced international standards and jurisprudence. 
 

What was the role of the APT?

The founder of the APT, Jean Jacques Gautier, is at the origin of the idea of a system of visit. The Council of Europe commissioned the APT (together with the International Commission of Jurists) to draft the text as basis for negotiations. The APT provided advice and lobbied States for adoption. The APT also campaigned for the election of the first CPT members and provided support in the CPT’s first years. In 1994, the APT organised a regional conference to take stock of the first five years of the CPT. The APT also raised awareness on CPT with a series of publications. In 2009, the APT co-organised with the CPT a regional conference on New Partnerships in Europe. In 2019, the APT and CPT’s celebrated CPT’s 30th anniversary focusing on safeguards during police custody.

 

conference photo

Milestones

  • 1987: Adoption of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
  • 1989: First session of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)
  • 1994: APT/CPT joint conference on “Assessment after Five Years of Activities of the CPT”
  • 2009: CPT/APT joint conference on “New Partnerships for torture prevention in Europe”
  • 2019: CPT/APT joint conference on “Safeguards in the first hours of police custody”