Distinguished delegates, colleagues and friends ,
I am please to be able to formally present to you the 13th Annual Report of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture ( SPT, or the OPCAT Committee ), and to do therefore once again in the company of Mr Modvig, the Chair of the Committee against Torture and Mr Meltzer, the special Rapporteur on Torture. This is the tenth – and final examination – occasion on which that I have the privilege and opportunity of addressing the 3rd Committee concerning the exploit of the SPT – and it is surely the strangest and most challenging .
Let me be blunt : update you on our visiting program since I last addressed you in October 2019 is relatively simple – as no visits have taken position. Let me be clear why. It is because of the failure of the UN to provide the funds necessity to permit us to carry out our conventionality mandate – thus effecting a clear rupture of Article 25 of the OPCAT and frustrating the object and purposes of the OPCAT. States Parties and Signatory States alike comprise over half the membership of the UN and jointly carry a duty for this.
We amply understand the limitations on our work brought about by necessary restrictions resulting from COVID-19. however, our inability to undertake our exploit in visiting places of detention for the entirety of the survive 12 months is not fair because of such restrictions. Our visits were cancelled in the last quarter of 2019, and could not be undertaken in much of the first quarter of 2020, because there was no money available to pay for them. The SPT was the only homo rights treaty body whose work was directly affected by the ‘ 2019 ’ fiscal crisis affecting the solve of the OHCHR .
fortunately, National Preventive Mechanisms ( NPMs ) established under the OPCAT model have been able to continue to undertake their preventive oeuvre during this time, including conducting visits to places of detention, in many countries around the worldly concern. We are besides identical well mindful that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture has been able to recommence its program of visiting places of detention within Europe, despite the Pandemic. Whilst we realise that it is not presently potential for us to undertake our visiting work exactly as before –there is no reason why we ought not to be able to exercise our visiting mandate at all. The rationality we can not do then is not COVID – but cash .
The SPT supports exploring innovative ways of fulfilling its mandate. indeed, we were the first of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies to hold and complete a full treaty soundbox session on-line in June 2020 – including a very successful on-line states party meet – the inaugural, and I believe so army for the liberation of rwanda the only meet of this type. During our on-line plenary we were able to hold meetings with groups of National Preventive Mechanisms in all regions of the earth, and I believe the extent of our use of electronic means to connect with others is credibly matchless within the treaty body system. This is not a modern development but builds on our by rehearse. We are pleased that the UN Office in Geneva nowadays has platforms which support coincident translation – though unfortunately our access to them is circumscribed and much of our oeuvre hush has to take set in single-language forum, which means that some members are just not able to contribute. We greatly regret this, but there is no alternate .
The SPT has been fully engaged with the 2020 Review of the Treaty Body system mandated by Resolution 68/268. unfortunately, that Review, just like the former treaty body strengthening practice, does not seem to be fully engaging with the needs of the SPT. Hopefully, this will be addressed in its latter phases. The SPT has constantly been committed to the principle that it ought to be able to visit its states parties with a regularity akin to that of the coverage cycles of the other treaty bodies. We hope that this will become a recognize operational principal – and in supported in operational practice. The SPT must not be ‘ left behind ’ in the strengthening process, as was largely the font in 2014 .
There is, however, an authoritative element of the emerging review that needs to be properly contextualised deoxyadenosine monophosphate far as the work of the SPT is concerned, and these are proposals for a ‘ digital shift ’. As I have already indicated, the SPT has been in the forefront of those who have pioneered digital engagement with states parties and others in its employment. however – there are limits to this. I should like to quote a passage from my savoir-faire to you last year – words spoken in October 2019, before the COVID -19 pandemic had arisen, and before the estimate of a ‘ digital switch ’ in the ferment of the treaty bodies had been thought of. end year I said to you the follow, and I quote :
‘ One thing, however, is wholly obvious : you can not visit a stead of detention remotely. The integral point of the OPCAT system is that it allows SPT members access to closed places where persons are deprived of their liberty ; to interview detainees and staff ; to see the conditions of detention and to learn from those who work in detention and justice systems what happens in practice … This just can not be done from afar. It is just impossible ’ .
I make no claims to clairvoyance, but these words were prescient. The visiting work of the SPT can not take stead remotely, and whatever the future may hold for the treaty-body system as a hale, the SPT ’ s future bring must remain focus on the airfield. indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the necessity of preventive travel to to places of detention clear than always .
The SPT has monitored closely the response by States to the affect of COVID-19 on their detention systems. many detention systems are chronically overcrowded, greatly magnifying the risk of transmitting the virus. Some states responded to this by taking emergency measures to reduce their prison populations and mitigate this hazard. Others did nothing – whilst some have manipulated early on exhaust schemes to allow those imprisoned for unplayful human rights violations to be released, whilst continuing to hold those convicted of relatively minor offences .
Most states have introduced draconian restrictions on external entree – in effect cutting detainees off from the outdoor global. Whilst some countries have mitigated the worst effects of this by providing alternative means of communication with families and friends, and other forms of liaison ( such as distributing pre-programmed phones or tablet devices permitting face to face communication ), many others have not. Educational, amateur, and rehabilitative programmes have been suspended – and periods of external drill have been reduced, in some cases to vanishing point. The impression on the wellbeing of detainees has been profound. furthermore, communication concerning such restrictions has frequently been very poor indeed, resulting in inner disturbances and considerable ( and entirely evitable ) loss of life. The truth is that states were swift to impose restrictions within places of detention – slow to put in position measures to mitigate the effects of these measure and, it seems, putting detainees at the back of the queue when it comes to easing limitations.
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Against this background, the role of hindrance mechanism has never been more important. The SPT has issued an Advice concerning the response to the Pandemic by both States and NPMs. We have been in patronize contact with our NPMs to encourage them to continue in their make as best they can, and to ensure that they are able to do so. many NPMs have responded positively to the challenge, finding new ways of working in order to ensure there is oversight of places of detention. In some cases, physical visit continues more or less as earlier, in others on a more restricted basis. Some NPMs temporarily suspended their visiting bring, but have nowadays developed early means of communicating with detainees and of scrutinising detention practice. much of this initiation has been beneficial and will be carried over into future rehearse. Relations between NPMs and national authorities has in some countries improved well as they have worked together to solve problems of entree .
But some states have taken advantage of the pandemic to restrict the work of NPMs unnecessarily, seeking to deny them access to places of detention, or even license to travel at all. We consider the work of NPMs to be an essential servicing which can not be subject to general restrictions .
The experiences of the last six months have put many modern questions ‘ on the table ’ concerning the OPCAT system of prevention. One particular issue that has arisen is whether places of quarantine are places of ‘ detention ’ for the purposes of the OPCAT. Let me take this opportunity to answer this distinctly : they are, and access can not be denied to them ( whilst all proper precautions must besides be respected ). Another question concerns what amounts to a identify of detention for the purposes of the OPCAT : could state imposed restrictions on leaving ones ’ home convert this into a station of detention ? The SPT has already touched on this in its Advice, and it will be returning to this question in the future .
More generally, we have seen States being able to do some positive things which they had previously said were impossible – such as dramatically reducing prison populations in order to reduce overcrowding, allowing phones and tables in prisons in order to enhance communications with the outside universe, for example. Some countries have dramatically reduced the numbers held in immigration detention, knowing that it is fair not potential for delay persons to be returned to third gear countries. Outside of the detention system itself, there has been a growth in the use of non-custodial sentencing – and deep-rooted assumptions concerning the necessitate for captivity and the use of the custodial estate of the realm are now being questioned. These are important, and incontrovertible, systemic developments .
But there is another side to this mint : delays in the condemnable judge system mean that some states are either holding pre-trial detainees for longer than they ought, or they are extending the periods in which they can be held. Reduced staffing capacities within places of detention have left some detainees even more vulnerable to inter-prisoner violence. Some countries have taken the opportunity presented by there being less external supervision to mistreat political and other detainees. once again, this underlines the importance of allowing NPMs to fulfil their functions to the utmost extent possible .
Against this background, it is more important than ever that States parties designate their NPMs in a timely fashion. All States are obliged to establish their NPM within one year of ratification, unless they have delayed that obligation by making a declaration under Article 26 of the Optional Protocol. There are presently 90 States Parties, of which 68 have designated their NPM, and 21 are not in complaisance with their obligations to do so. furthermore, for some years now the SPT has compiled a number of those countries which are more than three years delinquent in establishing their NPMs, meaning that they will have had four years since the date of their ratification in which to have done so. That number has lengthened and now comprises 14 countries : Belize, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Mongolia, Nauru, Nigeria and the Philippines. Since last year, Chile has been removed from the list since it has now established its mechanism, but Belize, Niger and South Sudan have had to be added. It should besides be said that whilst all these countries are substantially delinquent, worryingly, half of them are now egregiously so ; over 10 years, in the cases of Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, the democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Liberia and Nigeria. These states seem to lack the will to comply with their OPCAT obligations at all, thus violating not only the letter but besides the heart of the conventionality. There is a clear course here : whilst most states work to establish their NPM in adept time, a modest phone number struggle to do so – and a number of these seem uninterested in doing so. This needs to be addressed, as the constitution of mugwump, effective NPMs is vital, not only for complaisance with OPCAT obligations, but for effective prevention of anguish and maltreatment .
even whilst we are unable to undertake our visiting program, there is, then, much that the SPT can and should be doing. Its work is, however, further handicapped by the reduction in the size of its Secretariat during the stream year. In 2014 UN Resolution 68/268 paratrooper 26 ( five hundred ) said that there should be ‘ An adequate allotment of fiscal and human resources to those treaty bodies whose main mandate function is to carry out sphere visits ’ ( that is, for the SPT ). Following this, an addition legal policeman was appointed, but this position is now unfunded, meaning that our complement of professional staff is precisely the lapp as it was when there were only 10 members and about half the number of states parties. This is no way to run a ball-shaped system of distortion prevention and it is imperative mood that the serious problem of anguish in the worldly concern nowadays be tackled with the seriousness it deserves. presently, the resources allocated to that work show that it is not .
Despite all this, the many positives remain. During the life of the SPT the number of states parties and of NPMs has continued to increase. The SPT has established itself within the UN system and greatly expanded its range of visiting and has helped refine the very concept of prevention. The work of the NPMs has increased in scale, they have become more widely known and recognised their recommendations increasingly implemented. Partnership working across the UN and between the external and national mechanism has developed greatly, and it ’ south focus, rightly in my scene, has shifted increasingly towards working in region and in country, bringing external human rights auspices ever closer to the rights holders. Most importantly, the OPCAT system has demonstrated the importance of human rights bodies being generators of cognition, preferably being limited to recipients of information. The special Fund under OPCAT Article 26, to support the execution of SPT recommendations and the educational programmes of NPMs, has made great strides, though it is in want of further fiscal support. Relationships with our companion UN mechanism focussing on torment – the CAT, the particular Rapporteur, the Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture are closer than ever, as are our relationships with regional mechanisms.
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We can now see that a global network schooled and skilled in the techniques of prevention has grown to maturity. More is known than ever before about the shocking realities of the atrocious ways in which detainees are treated in far excessively many states around the earth. inevitably, this includes many who are here today. And it includes many states who dare to complain about the costs of the UN human rights system, whilst caring not at all about the price paid by those who are the victims of their human rights abuses. States are asked to pay in cash – detainees are made to pay with pain .
The function of the OPCAT system, of the SPT and of the NPMs is actually identical simple : it is to do all it can to prevent distortion. It is a severe province, but, whatever it takes, we will continue to find ways of doing thus .
Let me thank you for your kind attention and I look forward to responding to your questions .