UN torture prevention body highlights States’ duty to allow access detention centres

3 December 2014

Countries that have ratified a key legal protocol that allows United Nations experts unannounced and unhindered access to places of detention are obliged to co-operate with such visits, the world body’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has reminded today.

“From time to time we have experienced some difficulties in carrying out our mandate, so we are clarifying and reaffirming the obligations States parties have, and how we and they can address any such difficulties,” said SPT Chair Malcolm Evansin a statement released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The main thing is that States continue to co-operate with the SPT to prevent torture and ill-treatment,” Mr. Evans added.

When a State ratifies the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) it is agreeing to a range of obligations, including unannounced and unhindered access to all places where people are deprived of their liberty, the Chair noted.

“The obligations also include sharing all the necessary information and documentation that the SPT requests, both before and during the visit and allowing private interviews with detained persons,” Mr. Evans said.

States are also obliged to establish a national independent body known as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPMs) to monitor places of detention. There are currently more than 50 States with NPMs worldwide.

“It is rare that a State does not co-operate with us and fulfil its obligations under OPCAT. But when this does happen, it can seriously undermine our work. Visiting places of detention is an essential and unique part of the SPT’s mandate,” he stressed.

Since the Optional Protocol came into force in 2006, the SPT has visited 31 countries, with a further nine visits planned for 2015.

“We welcome the reception we generally receive but we felt it was necessary to stress how important engagement and cooperation with us is to carry out the important work of preventing torture and ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty.”


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