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COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE HEARS FROM THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON PREVENTION OF TORTURE

28 April 2016

The Committee against Torture this morning heard from Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, who presented the 2015 annual report of the Subcommittee and engaged in an interactive discussion with Committee Members.

Mr. Evans, presenting the Subcommittee’s ninth annual report, said throughout 2015, the Subcommittee had undertaken the largest number of visits to States parties ever, including to Azerbaijan, which had been almost cancelled.  In 2016, 10 visits were planned, out of which those to Benin, Cyprus, Chile and Tunisia had already been completed.  The support of the Secretariat was indispensable for the successful carrying out of such a high number of visits.  Visits to national preventive mechanisms were also on an upward trajectory, noted Mr. Evans.  Focused requests from national preventive mechanisms were included in an annex to the annual report and were available on the website. 

Committee Experts raised questions concerning video conferences with national preventive mechanisms; reprisals; States which had not replied to the Subcommittee’s requests; the work between the Committee and the Subcommittee since combatting torture and prevention were two sides of the same coin; and the Subcommittee’s cooperation with regional preventive mechanisms and the Red Cross.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of the third periodic report of the Philippines (CAT/C/PHL/3).

Presentation of the Annual Report

MALCOLM EVANS, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, said that it was the tenth anniversary of the Optional Protocol and the Subcommittee.  The ninth annual report, which covered 2015, had been circulated to the Committee Members.  It could be the last time that the annual report was produced in the current format, as it had evolved in a given direction in order to give publicity to various activities done over the year.  Information provided in the report could probably be presented in other ways, which would be discussed at the next session of the Subcommittee.

At the end of 2015, there had been 80 States parties, and Cabo Verde had joined later on, bringing the total number to 81.  It meant that about half of States parties to the Convention were now part of the Optional Protocol.  Some 54 States parties had officially notified the Subcommittee on the existence of their national preventive mechanisms, which did not mean that other countries did not have mechanisms in place, but they had not yet formally notified the Subcommittee.  Some States parties still had not designated national preventive mechanisms within the given time frame, and greater pressure ought to be exercised on them. 

Throughout 2015, the Subcommittee had undertaken the largest number of visits to States parties ever, including to Azerbaijan, which had been almost cancelled.  In 2016, 10 visits were planned, out of which those to Benin, Cyprus, Chile and Tunisia had already been completed.  The support of the Secretariat was indispensable for the successful carrying out of such a high number of visits.  Visits to national preventive mechanisms were also on an upward trajectory, noted Mr. Evans.  Focused requests from national preventive mechanisms were included in an annex to the annual report and were available on the website. 

A number of consequential changes had taken place in the work of the Subcommittee.  Each visit by the Subcommittee was multifaceted and would no longer be formalistically categorized.  The Subcommittee was conscious of the need to stay faithful to the spirit of unannounced visits to places of detention, but also of the need to do advanced planning.  Visits were now announced in two different tranches.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues were also addressed in the annual report.  The Special Fund had received much lower donations in 2015, which put the future of the Fund in jeopardy.  A great deal of effort and attention had been put into making the Fund leaner and swifter, especially given the ever more limited resources.  It would be seriously detrimental to the work of torture prevention if such an innovative body was to close. 

Mr. Evans stated that the new emerging challenge would be to improve the quality and depth of dialogue with States.  Producing a report should be the beginning, not the end, of the process.  States parties were now routinely invited to discuss with the Subcommittee best ways on how best to organize dialogues with them.  2015 had indeed been a very active year for the Subcommittee, which was grateful for all the support provided, which had made it possible.   

Questions by Experts

An Expert wanted to know more about video conferences with national preventive mechanisms, and whether the Subcommittee found it useful.

The Expert also asked about practical developments when it came to the issue of reprisals.  Were there any improvements now that there were more frequent visits?

Would it be useful if the Committee raised the issue of contributions to the Fund with States parties reporting to the Committee, asked another Expert?  She also wanted to hear about States which had not replied to the Subcommittee’s requests.

An Expert said that the issue of funding ought to be given due attention.  The role of national preventive mechanisms in combatting terrorism, as in Libya, should be considered, she said. 

The work of the Committee and the Subcommittee was closely intertwined, as combatting torture and prevention were two sides of the same coin.  More information that the Subcommittee collected in the field would be very useful for the Committee.  Did the Subcommittee take the Committee’s agenda into consideration when scheduling its field visits?  The Expert also asked about the Subcommittee’s cooperation with regional preventive mechanisms.

More information was sought on the cooperation between the Subcommittee and the Red Cross, especially given the confidential nature of the latter’s work.   Having a list of all national preventive mechanisms would be very useful, he noted.

A question was asked on whether States parties seemed to be more ready to make their reports public.  What were the tendencies regarding monitoring by non-governmental organizations once national preventive mechanisms were established?

Replies by the Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

Mr. Evans explained that video conferencing was a more effective way to engage with as many national mechanisms as possible over a short time.  The purpose was to have exchanges with the mechanisms, give and receive information and plan visits in the best possible ways.  The Subcommittee would like to see those expanded.

The Subcommittee’s guidelines on reprisals were being currently updated so that they would be in line with the San Jose Guidelines.  Risk assessment on the likelihood of reprisals was conducted during every field visit, and steps were taken to minimize the risks.  Reprisals, however, sometimes did not come from the authorities, but from other inmates, which was harder to track.

Mr. Evans believed that it would be useful for the Committee to raise the issue of funding of the Voluntary Fund during interactive dialogues with States parties.  The Fund currently had reserves of under USD 500,000, which could be spent out within 18 months as an average of seven projects a year were funded.  The next six months were hence critical for its future.  The Fund was only open to those countries which had published visit reports. 

There was certainly room for better coordination between the Committee and the Subcommittee, especially when it came to sequencing field visits and States parties’ considerations.   Scheduling visits was a difficult task, with many parameters at play.

States that had not sent responses following the Subcommittee’s visits should be asked about it during their interactive dialogues with the Committee.

The question of migrants was currently being considered under the jurisprudence group of issues, said Mr. Evans. 

The role of national preventive mechanisms was becoming increasingly central, and their establishment ought to be supported.  A timely intervention at the right moment when a national preventive mechanism was being put together was invaluable.  Libya was not yet a party to the Optional Protocol, but a number of non-State parties also realized the value of national preventive mechanisms.

Regarding the relationship between the Committee and the Subcommittee, Mr. Evans believed that the two should work ever more closely together.  Even if there was a great will to promote synergy, putting it into practice faced challenges.  Much of the work of the Red Cross included visiting places of detention in a way not too different from the Subcommittee’s own.  There was a richness of contacts between the two.

The list of national preventive mechanisms existed on the website, but the Subcommittee was aware of some mechanisms which were not listed there, said Mr. Evans.  The very first of the Subcommittee’s guidelines stressed that there should be no exclusivity in visiting places of detention, and non-governmental organizations were thus encouraged to continue doing so.  There are various routes of integrating civil sector in visiting places of detention. 

There was a tendency to think largely in terms of fulfilling obligations and complying with the standards when it came to torture prevention.  Being innovative and flexible in that regard was of great importance.  

The figure for the publication of reports stood at 53 per cent; it was difficult to extrapolate trends.  The Subcommittee always encouraged publication as it facilitated dialogue. 


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CAT16/007E