UN human rights experts outline steps to strengthen prohibition, prevention of torture

18 October 2016

Following a discussion with the main committee of the United Nations General Assembly responsible for social, humanitarian affairs and human rights issues affecting people all over the world, three UN human rights experts briefed reporters in New York, highlighting steps to strengthen protection against torture.

“I encouraged Member States [of the UN] and human rights experts to consider the elaboration of a document […] which offers the best practices of interrogation of suspects as well as intervening witnesses and victims,” UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Juan Mendez told journalists at the briefing.

He added that such a document, based on the model of presumption of innocence and stressing that the objective of a criminal investigation be establishing truth based on evidence, would not only prevent torture but also other forms of coercion and mistreatment.

Also at the briefing, the chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Malcolm Evans, drew particular attention to the fact that sites of torture are no longer just limited to “classical places” within the criminal justice system. “Such sites are now being found increasingly outside the system, for instance in the context of irregular migration or in low-level conflict,” he said.

Mr. Evans also expressed concern at growing reprisals against persons who cooperate with independent human rights experts in the planning and execution of their visits to countries to monitor and report on the human rights situation, and called on countries to ensure that such individuals are not placed in peril.

Both Mr. Mendez and Mr. Evans also expressed concern about the level of cooperation from countries, particularly in response to requests for invitation and in allowing complete and unhindered access to places of detention in the context of their respective mandates. Further today, the chair of the Committee against Torture Jens Modvig, highlighted steps taken by the Committee to become more effective and efficient and noted that the Committee has held numerous dialogues with States party to the Convention against Torture to strengthen the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.

Noting that there has been the implementation of the recommendations stand between 50 to 60 per cent, Mr. Modvig said: “We believe that this is a positive [indication], the ideal situation would be all State parties implementation all the recommendations.”

He also reported that a number of African countries have initiated work to establish legal frameworks against torture and that these are showing an impact in addressing the prevalence of torture.

“These efforts to strengthen […] the prevention and prohibition of torture, I believe that there are reasons for a certain amount of optimism although much needs to be done before the phenomenon of torture is finally eradicated,” he said.

The three experts had earlier in the day held an interactive discussion with UN Member States at the General Assembly’s Third Committee where they discussed these and other related issues with the UN membership.

The Committee against Torture is a body of independent human rights experts that monitors implementation of the Convention against Torture by its State parties. The subcommittee on prevention of torture (SPT), a body under the Convention’s Optional Protocol, has a preventive mandate that is focused on a sustained and proactive approach to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment.

Independent experts and Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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