Committee Against Torture Meets with Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture this morning presented its fifteenth annual report to the Committee against Torture.
Suzanne Jabbour, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, said that this year marked the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the fifteenth anniversary of its entry into force and of the establishment of the Subcommittee. The Subcommittee had recently undertaken a visit to Brazil for high-level talks, as the Government had considerably curtailed the resources of the national preventive mechanism. The Subcommittee was convinced that the visit contributed for the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil to overturn the President’s decree, as it was considered unconstitutional as well as contrary to the international obligations of the State under the Optional Protocol. This was a significant victory for the Optional Protocol system and a reinforcement of the obligations of the State. Ms. Jabbour said the Subcommittee would continue to provide the Committee with assistance and cooperation.
In the ensuing discussion, experts asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and mechanisms and tools created to allow the Subcommittee to continue its work during this time, despite the difficult circumstances.
The Committee against Torture will next meet in public on Tuesday, 26 April at 10 a.m. to being its consideration of the second periodic report of Iraq (CAT/C/IRQ/2).
Statement by the Chair of the Subcommittee
SUZANNE JABBOUR, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, said that this year marked the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the fifteenth anniversary of its entry into force and of the establishment of the Subcommittee. It was a good opportunity to take stock of the progress accomplished and build on it. There were, as of today, 91 States parties to the Optional Protocol; the latest being Latvia, which acceded to the Protocol at the end of 2021. There were also 13 signatories, and around 70 designated national preventive mechanisms. While these numbers were a significant achievement, they also showed how much work was still needed: 91 States parties out of 173 States parties to the Convention was still too few.
Despite continuously challenging circumstances, especially with the pandemic waves at the beginning and at the end of the year, the Subcommittee had found innovative ways to fulfil its mandate, as did the national preventive mechanisms. The third session, in November 2021, took place in Geneva in person, for the first time in a year and half, which was particularly welcome. Over the year, the Subcommittee managed to maintain close contact with States parties and signatories, as well as the national preventive mechanisms. Ms. Jabbour welcomed the enhanced cooperation between the Subcommittee and the Committee, saying the exchange of information was always useful. It was the basis for joint activities, including the reaction to the situation in Ecuador. The mandates and missions were complementary, which was a benefit. While the Subcommittee managed to continue implementing many of its mandated activities despite the challenging circumstances, it was not able to conduct its planned visiting programme. Only one visit took place in 2021, to Bulgaria in November. It was crucial to note that the Subcommittee was a visiting mechanism at its heart. Without visits, it would lose part of its mandate and one of its fundamental purposes.
The first visits of 2022 were announced in November 2021, and were currently underway. The Subcommittee had recently undertaken a visit to Brazil for high-level talks, as the Government had considerably curtailed the resources of the national preventive mechanism. The Subcommittee was convinced that the visit contributed for the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil to overturn the President’s decree, as it was considered unconstitutional as well as contrary to the international obligations of the State under the Optional Protocol. This was a significant victory for the Optional Protocol system and a reinforcement of the obligations of the State. After this high-level visit, the Subcommittee undertook a second visit to Tunisia, with a visit currently being undergone to Argentina and, a Subcommittee delegation planning to visit Lebanon for a second time before June this year.
Ms. Jabbour said that at the core of all activities was the need for more resources, with the Secretariat remaining understaffed and under sourced. Fifteen years after its creation, the Subcommittee was a strong and recognised body. Its unique preventive mandate and activities were an unmatchable added value to all United Nations human rights mechanisms and served as an example for the future monitoring of human rights. The Committee against Torture had a role to play in this. It could continue to advocate for torture prevention efforts in its States parties, including for the ratification of the Optional Protocol and the establishment of independent and adequately resourced preventive mechanisms at the national level. It was also essential in advocating, as much at the States’ as at the United Nations level, for the necessary resources to be allocated for mandated activities. Ms. Jabbour was glad to count on the support of the Committee, and said the Subcommittee would continue to provide the Committee with the same assistance and cooperation.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said that in the period of 2020 and 2021, several important guidelines had been developed, including the protocol for the national preventive mechanism, among others. One of the biggest challenges of the past two years was access to places of detention. Had there been any impact assessment of the COVID-19 restrictions on the lack of access by national preventive mechanisms to detention centres? Was there any intention to do so?
CLAUDE HELLER, Chairperson of the Committee on the Prevention of Torture, asked about the comprehensive protocol developed by the Subcommittee for visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was noted as a significant achievement, with Bulgaria being the first country to try this out. Could the Committee share some characteristics of this protocol?
A Committee Expert asked whether the Subcommittee was taking measures to encourage States to use the tools developed during the pandemic at the entrance of prisons?
Responses by the Chair of the Subcommittee
SUZANNE JABBOUR, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, said that during the past two years, the pandemic had affected the mandate of the Subcommittee, as an organization working on the ground. It was very critical to have access to detention places, yet this had not been easy during the pandemic. This had impacted the mandate of the Subcommittee and the national preventive mechanisms. The national preventive mechanisms had created many innovative tools and mechanisms to continue doing their job, despite the challenges. There were a lot of best practices collected and shared with the Subcommittee during the last two years. Problems were faced but the work never stopped on the ground, with the Subcommittee endeavouring to support national preventive mechanisms during this time.
The protocol developed allowed for visits to be conducted, with specific measures for safety during the visit. This allowed the work to continue, even if not at all levels and in all regions. Ms. Jabbour said there was a need for an impact assessment of the pandemic restrictions, and how these had impacted those in places of detention. While the Subcommittee did not have the capacity and resources to do the assessment, they could collaborate with the national preventive mechanisms to collate learnings from the pandemic. The protocol assigned a medical expert for each visit, to discuss what measures were required to enter the facilities.
Ms. Jabbour said that like the protocol developed, the Subcommittee referred to these tools and recommended that States use them. These tools were shared with national preventive mechanisms, to recommend to the States as these bodies were in more regular, continuous contact with States parties.
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