Interaction with the SPT

What is the basis for NPM interactions with the SPT?

The OPCAT establishes a triangular relationship between the state party, the NPM and the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT). The OPCAT is the first international human rights instrument to establish such a relationship. This link is built on the shared mandate and powers of the SPT and of NPMs to conduct visits, make recommendations, and maintain (confidential) contact with each other.

This means that, in relation to NPMs, the SPT has a specific mandate under article 11 of the OPCAT to:

  • Advise and assist in relation to NPM establishment.
  • Maintain direct and confidential contact with NPMs.
  • Provide training and technical assistance to NPMs and advice relating to the protection of persons deprived of liberty.
  • Make recommendations and observations to states on strengthening NPMs.

The possibility for NPMs to have confidential and direct interactions with the SPT, without the interference of the state party, is one of the most powerful powers granted by the OPCAT.

How to cooperate with the SPT in the framework/context of its visits?

One of the moments at which NPMs will likely interact with the SPT is in relation to SPT country visits. This interaction is likely to fall into three main categories.

In relation to preparation of visits, NPMs can send information to the SPT during the visit planning phase. This will usually be once  the  SPT  makes  its  visiting  programme  public  (usually  in June and  November  of  the year before the programme starts). The SPT often contacts the relevant NPMs to provide background information to better inform their visit programme.

This is in order to help the SPT understand the particular risks, places and themes relating to detention in the country and, on this basis, to establish its priorities for the visit. This is an important opportunity for the NPM to ensure that its own priorities are reflected in the SPT visit and subsequent report and recommendations.

In addition to specific places, risks, and themes, NPMs may also wish to suggest key national actors that it thinks the SPT should consider meeting during the visit. The NPM may also provide information to the SPT in relation to its own functioning, powers and budget, particularly in cases where the additional attention and pressure of an SPT visit may help their own advocacy for improvements.

During visits, NPMs will also usually meet with the SPT at the start of the visit and as it progresses in time, in order to discuss precise plans and priorities. Depending on the situation, the NPM and the SPT may conduct one or several visits together to places of deprivation of liberty. This can be an opportunity to focus on issues in detention, but also to exchange on visit methodology and NPM practices. At the end of the SPT country visit, the NPM will also often participate in the final discussion with the authorities, in addition to a meeting between the SPT and the NPM alone.

Following an SPT visit, the NPM may wish to conduct follow-up, both immediately and over the longer term.

In terms of immediate follow-up, NPMs can play an important role in prevention of reprisals, including in accordance with the UN Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals (“San José Guidelines”). This might include going back to the places that were visited by the SPT and conducting interviews and other monitoring activity with this specific purpose in mind.

Over the longer term, the NPM plays an important role in encouraging the state to make the visit report public, as well as the official state response (if it does not already do so as a matter of policy). If the SPT report is made public, there will then be important opportunities for engagement on follow-up to the recommendations. This might include a tripartite dialogue with the SPT, NPM and the state on how and when it plans to implement them. If both documents are made public (i.e. the SPT in-country visit report and the state party’s response), the NPM plays an important role in monitoring the implementation of SPT recommendations.

When the country concerned has a designated NPM, SPT in-country visit reports also include specific recommendations and observations to the state in relation to the NPM (for example, on resources, independence or legal basis). In addition, the SPT may often provide a second report directly to the NPM with recommendations on NPM functioning. Whether this NPM-specific report is made public is then up to the NPM itself to decide, although this is a good practice. Some NPMs also publish their replies to the SPT report at the same time.

In addition, it is worth noting that, through the Special Fund established by Article 26 of the OPCAT, funds may be made available to support the implementation  of  SPT  recommendations  resulting  from  an  in-country  visit, in cases where it has been made public. Both NPMs and civil society can apply for funding in this way. NPMs in states that have not received an SPT visit can also apply to the Special Fund for support to their educational programmes.

How to interact with the SPT in its advisory capacity?

Outside the context of SPT visits, the SPT also has a mandate, under article 11 of the OPCAT, to provide advice to NPMs and to support and strengthen them in their preventive work. This requires ongoing direct contact, in particular outside the context of SPT country visits. The basis for these interactions is set out in the SPT Rules of Procedure.

Because the SPT is organised into regional teams, each with a regional head and country rapporteurs, these groups and individuals will usually be the first point of contact for NPMs, outside of in-country visits.

This might include several types of interactions, including: meetings with NPMs during SPT sessions in Geneva (both face to face and via video-conference); participation by SPT members in national activities; participation by the SPT in NPM regional meetings and workshops; and ongoing written and oral communication.

Many NPMs also update the SPT in relation to other issues, including state compliance with OPCAT obligations (including, for example, attacks on NPM independence). Some NPMs have also contacted the SPT in relation to thematic issues or developments in detention, which can be useful in helping the SPT to plan future visits. In relation to some of these issues, the SPT can play a useful role by intervening directly with the state party. Finally, some NPMs have asked the SPT for authoritative interpretations of specific articles of the OPCAT.

It is also common practice for NPMs to share their annual reports with the SPT, who post them publically on their website.

Finally, the SPT can sometimes provide advice to NPMs without being in direct contact, by providing general guidance and recommendations on NPM functioning through its publications, “guidelines on NPMs” and annual report.