Canada Joins the Convention Against Torture Initiative Group of Friends

In a rather belated piece of February news, Canada recently announced that it had joined the Convention Against Torture Initiative’s (CTI) Group of Friends, which comes as a welcome development.

Readers can find both the above Canada in Geneva and CTI tweets by clicking on the respective links. Yet beyond the social media bangs and flashes exactly who and what are CTI’s Group of Friends, you might be wondering?

In a nutshell, CTI is an inter-governmental initiative to strengthen institutions, policies and practices and reduce the risks of torture and ill-treatment by applying the UN Convention against Torture. It describes its mission statement in the following terms, although much more detailed information can be found on the organization’s website.

A short video succinctly captures the importance of the goal of universal ratification of the UN Convention against Torture by 2024.

As a member of the Group of Friends, Canada joins a cluster of some 43 States Parties and other actors working towards the universal ratification and implementation of the UN Convention against Torture, described in the following terms:

“International cooperation, knowledge and experience sharing are integral to successful treaty ratification as well as sustained progress toward full observance following that process.

To help States overcome challenges to ratification and implementation of UNCAT, CTI welcomes the expertise, experience and knowledge of a diverse coalition that share our vision and objectives, known collectively as the CTI Group of Friends. The CTI Group of Friends comprise UN Member States, international and regional organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), researchers, academics, torture prevention and other theme related experts.

Friends buttress the work and progress of CTI by providing assistance through active engagement in CTI technical workshops, training, seminars and other forums. They are  invited to attend the CTI’s Annual Forum  which provides an opportunity to inter alia provide input and advice on the strategic direction of CTI as well as to address specific regional and thematic challenges in the ratification or implementation of the Convention. Membership of the Group of Friends does not carry specific obligations or commitments, however, Friends are expected to share the vision and goals of the CTI and to work positively to those ends.”

While certainly not just the domain of states alone, a sizeable number of countries have signed up to the CTI Group of Friends, including the following:

Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Canada, Costa Rica, Egypt, Finland, France, The Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Luxembourg, North Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA.”

Interestingly, of the current 43 Group of Friends an impressive 34 states have either signed (namely Sierra-Leone) or ratified the OPCAT. Hence, in joining the CTI Group of Friends Canada is in potentially a majority of good OPCAT company. Conversely, it is also notable that the Bahamas, Egypt, Gambia, Grenada, Iraq, Jordan, Myanmar and USA have not signed or ratified the instrument – small surprise, then, given the human rights profiles of some of these states.

More to the point, however, might we expect that Canada’s new-found membership of the CTI Group of Friends will – at some level – rewire the imaginations and positively rub off on the country’s decision-makers, resulting in a stronger commitment to promoting the UN Convention against Torture abroad and to even ratifying and implementing its Optional Protocol at home?

After all, the OPCAT is unquestionably an effective means by which to achieve the ends of the UN Convention in practice. The ratification of the OPCAT would also bolster Canada’s credibility internationally, allowing it to promote both the ratification of the UN Convention and its Optional Protocol globally without charges of double-standards.

Optimists will no doubt opt for the better story, as progress on the OPCAT front at the domestic level has appeared virtually non-existent in recent years, at least to Canadian civil society.

Moreover, Canada’s next periodic review by the UN Committee against Torture, following its late 2018 examination, is now not too far off in the distance. Yet after much foot-dragging and derailment, Ottawa will have little to report to the UN Committee in relation to movement on the OPCAT file.

Stepping back for a moment, however, if Canada’s membership of the CTI Group of Friends indirectly results in a renewed domestic commitment to the instrument or inadvertently puts Canada on notice that it needs to do better, this recent development will have been all the more welcome.

Find out more about the Convention Against Torture Initiative.

See who are the Group of Friends and Core States.

Explore the CTI’s resources for states.