Engagement avec la société civile

What are civil society organisations relevant to the work of NPMs?

Civil society includes a wide range of actors including non-governmental organisations and associations, professional associations, trade unions, academia, and faith-based groups.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are essential actors in the prevention of torture. They work with and in parallel to NPMs, with their different mandates, working methods and strategies. While it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list, in relation to torture prevention the following types of civil society organisations may be particularly relevant: national and international human rights organisations, including those litigating on cases of torture and related issues; organisations working with particular groups in situations of vulnerability; detainee family associations, academics, unions (for example of healthcare workers of detention staff), organisations of former or present detainees, and professional associations, particularly of lawyers and doctors, among many others. 

Why do NPMs and civil society work together?

Due to their different and often complementary mandates and approaches, NPMs and CSOs have the potential to work together effectively to better prevent torture. By joining forces and cooperating to achieve their goals, NPMs and CSOs can maximize their resources and their impact.

The OPCAT provides NPM with unique powers of access to detention places, persons and information. It also places an obligation on the authorities to enter into dialogue on NPM recommendations. From their side, CSOs often have strong field presence and first-hand information, including through their direct contacts with persons deprived of their liberty or their relatives. Many are also able to effectively raise awareness and to mobilise public opinion through their advocacy or campaigns. Specialised CSOs also possess extensive knowledge and expertise in their specific fields of work.

NPMs and CSOs can help strengthening each other’s ability to achieve change in detention by exchanging information, working together or by forming more formal coalitions in relation to their policy and advocacy work.

NPMs and CSOs can also play an important role in strengthening each other’s mandates. CSOs are often key stakeholders in domestic discussions on the NPM, including from the early stages when they may be involved in advocacy around OPCAT ratification and NPM designation or establishment, a role that is recognised as crucial by the SPT Guidelines on NPMs.

NPMs also play an important role in ensuring that places of deprivation of liberty are not closed to CSOs monitoring groups or mechanisms after NPM establishment.

In cases where there are reprisals against them, NPMs and CSOs also can be key allies in mutually protecting each other from undue pressure or interference.

How can NPMs and civil society organisations work together?

To work together, NPMs and CSOs can collaborate in various ways, which are not mutually exclusive:

  • Exchanging information: formally or informally, regularly or on an ad-hoc basis, within the limits set by each party, including for NPMs the confidentiality requirements of the OPCAT mandate. This exchange of information can be important to strengthening the effective implementation of NPM mandates. Indeed, NPMs often rely on the information provided by CSOs (among other key sources) to plan their visits strategically, including by helping NPMs to identify which places to visit or the topics to address as a matter of priority. CSOs may also be able to provide NPMs with useful baseline information on the places they visit. NPM visit reports are also a hugely important contribution, made by the NPM, to CSOs working in the area covered by the report. As the NPMs have access to places, information and sources that CSOs cannot access, the visit report and the “hard facts” it presents is vital to many CSOs and a document on which they can build effective advocacy. Similarly, if NPM visit reports are not published but instead kept confidential, this may demotivate CSOs from contributing their experiences and knowledge to the NPM, thus depriving them of a valuable tool in planning visits, deciding on issues to investigate, and so forth. In other words: public visit reports may be a crucial cross pollinator for NPMs and CSOs.
  • Supporting each other’s activities and recommendations: CSOs can be of invaluable help in pushing NPM recommendations forward, when they advocate and support them with authorities, the media and the wider public.
  • Strengthening capacity: In several instances, CSOs have played an active role in building the capacity of their domestic NPM, especially at the early stages. NPMs can often rely on the expertise of CSOs in relation to institutional processes (from selection of NPM members to planning and communication), and substantial detention and detention monitoring issues. CSOs can also advocate for adequate resourcing for the NPM, as well as for the implementation of SPT recommendations related to the NPM.
  • Cooperating on specific activities: Several NPMs cooperate with individual experts including those who are members of CSOs. NPMs and CSOs may also collaborate on joint projects or in relation to specific visits or reports. Cooperation might include: advocacy with authorities; awareness-raising with the media or the wider public; and training and capacity-building of torture prevention stakeholders. Some NPMs collaborate with expert CSOs on thematic priorities, although it is important here that NPMs are careful to maintain their independence.
  • Establishing a durable institutional collaboration: CSOs and NPMs can also collaborate on a more permanent basis, often by providing CSOs with a formal advisory role in relation to NPM activities. CSOs can be part of NPM advisory bodies or councils, which usually entails a policy-making role but can sometimes include giving advice or taking decisions on programmatic issues related to the implementation of the NPM’s mandate.
  • Establishing a formal partnership within the NPM: “Ombudsman plus” NPM models involve ombuds institutions designated as NPMs and formally integrating CSOs into their work, including regular monitoring activities.

What are some key considerations for NPMs and CSOs when working together?

To avoid any misunderstanding or frustration with regards to each other capacities and mandates, NPMs and CSOs may wish to clearly formulate and agree on the expectations, possibilities and limits of their cooperation or partnership, before they start work. In some cases NPMs have found it useful to include the objectives and modalities of this cooperation in a formal Memorandum of Understanding. Although, it is important that any MoUs or similar formal structures do not to restrict the independence or flexibility of the NPM.

The OPCAT mandate is specific and requires any operational partners of an NPM to abide by important rules to preserve the institution’s independence and effectiveness. This includes respecting the confidentiality of any data that NPMs have access to through their broad OPCAT powers. While an expert from a CSO may join the NPM on a specific visit or for a specific project, this would usually require them to sign a confidentiality agreement before being allowed to access sensitive information. More broadly, NPMs will need to be careful when working with CSOs to not share sensitive information that the CSOs would not have been able to otherwise access. It is paramount that this is clarified and agreed in advance of any cooperation and particularly, before any visits to places of deprivation of liberty. It might be useful to share information with CSOs regarding the NPM’s obligations and responsibility to protect sensitive information to avoid any misunderstandings or problems that might arise.

Joint monitoring visits, if they are undertaken, are usually the most sensitive and tricky aspect of cooperation with CSOs. In such cases, it is recommended that both parties agree in advance on their roles, responsibilities and approach during the visit. They will also need to agree in advance on the actions they shall take should they uncover any gross violation of human rights or other situations requiring urgent action. A key issue is also the question of how CSOs can use any  information gathered during joint visits, taking into account the point above regarding sensitive or confidential information and the responsibility that NPMs have to protect such information.