COPCAT Shorts – A Dialogical Dead-End & Abandonment of Torture Prevention?

“Distressingly, and as foreseen, 2018 saw a decline in the number of visits undertaken by the Subcommittee. This diminution in productivity is not for the want of dedication, but for the lack of human resources provided to the Subcommittee by the United Nations to allow it to undertake its work as mandated by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.”

“The Subcommittee believes that in many parts of the world there appears to be backward movement concerning commitments to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. This is not only reflected in the reports of various organizations and groups; it is reflected also in the lived reality of the Subcommittee: too many States parties appear to have resiled from their enthusiasm and commitment to torture prevention, by challenging the mandate of the Subcommittee and not establishing and supporting national preventive mechanisms as the Optional Protocol envisages.”

Subcommittee concern
Winter scenes in the Ariana Park (2012) – UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre

“In its work, the Subcommittee hears much rhetoric that does not reflect reality. The Subcommittee understands this, and why this is so often the case. The Subcommittee is committed to working with States parties to change those realities and close that “reality gap” – in confidence and with understanding and sensitivity. At the same time, the Subcommittee’s overriding priority must be the victims of torture and ill-treatment. The Subcommittee was not created, or the Optional Protocol adopted, to provide a “dialogical dead end” down which the interests of the most vulnerable and most imperilled of those in detention can be forgotten.”


Twelfth annual report of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UN Doc. CAT/C/66/2, 13 March 2019) § 49, 52-53.


Read the UN SPT’s 12th Annual Report in English.

See the Statement of SPT Chair, Professor Malcolm Evans, to the UN General Assembly Third Committee in October 2018.

Explore key UN SPT documents and other reports on the OPCAT and NPMs.

Posted by mp in NPMs, SPT, UN Subcommittee, 0 comments

CBSA Release of Canadian Red Cross Immigration Detention Report

Successfully evading the watchful eye of even the Canada OPCAT Project, the first report of Canadian Red Cross monitoring of immigration detention in Canada has been released.

Published by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) on 14 February 2019, where the news item remains a front page feature, the report highlights the findings of Canadian Red Cross monitoring of immigration detention in Canada in the period September 2017 to March 2018. A French version of this key report is also available on the same website.     

If the CBSA seems only too pleased to mark the release of the Canadian Red Cross’ CBSA detention report, the said report has oddly yet to surface on the Canadian Red Cross website. Even so, its publication comes as a very welcome step in opening up a detention setting in Canada, for which there is currently no statutory arms-length oversight body.

CBSA detention report
CBSA by British Columbia Emergency Photography (2014)

Instead such facilities are monitored as part of a two-year agreement between the CBSA and the Canadian Red Cross, as highlighted in the Executive Summary of the recently published report. In the document the Canadian Red Cross summarizes its main findings, as follows:

“Under the reporting period, the IDMP carried out a total of fifteen (15) visits to detention facilities holding immigration detainees between December 2017 and end of March 2018. Based on our observations made during this reporting period, CRCS grouped its concerns into the following five themes:  

  • Co-mingling of immigration detainees in correctional institution;
  • Lack of orientation about the detainees’ rights and responsibilities in detention;
  • Difficulties in accessing certain medical service;
  • Lack of access to outdoor areas in some visited facilities;
  • Difficulties in maintaining contact with families.”

On the basis of the CRC’s findings and observations the report makes the following recommendations:

  • “Where detention is necessary, to hold immigration detainees in facilities other than correctional prisons and where this is not possible, to separate immigration detainees from the rest of the prison population; 
  • To ensure that immigration detainees are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities, regardless of their place of detention; 
  • To ensure that immigration detainees have access to adequate mental health services wherever they are detained; 
  • To provide immigration detainees with daily access to outdoor areas as well as recreational activities; 
  • And finally, to allow regular and adequate contact between detainees and their families.”

In reaction to the Canadian Red Cross report, the CBSA has issued its Management Response and Action Plan, outlining its raft of proposed actions.    

CBSA detention

In contrast to certain other countries, Canada’s dedicated immigration holding regime is relatively small, comprising just three facilities. However, the country’s provincial prison estates are also used for the dispersal and detention of immigration detainees, a practice not without accompanying concern. Moreover, annually, sizeable numbers of persons are detained on immigration grounds.

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, in the fiscal year 2017-2018 some 8,355 persons were detained for a total of nearly 120,000 detention days in Canada. Of this number, 6,609 persons were held in one of the country’s three Immigration Holding Centres, while the remainder were detained in provincial and other facilities.

It bears noting that, during its examination of Canada in November 2018, the UN Committee against Torture voiced various concerns about recourse to immigration detention in the country, including the use of provincial prisons and the absence of any arms-length oversight body of such detention facilities.

During the said review in Geneva, the Canadian delegation stressed its intention to make public the annual reports of the Canadian Red Cross Immigration Detention Monitoring Program. The publication by the CBSA of the first annual report of activities is therefore to be welcomed.


Read the CRC report in English.

Read the CBSA Management Response and Action Plan in English.

Lire le rapport de l’CRC en français.

Lire la réponse de la direction de l’ASFC et un plan d’action en français.

Examine the Concluding observations of the UN Committee against Torture from December 2018 concerning oversight of immigration detention in Canada.

Explore the Canada OPCAT Project’s other featured articles relating to immigration detention, including the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law Border Criminologies publication, HMIP Detention Monitoring Methodology: A Briefing Paper (2018) and the Global Detention Project reportHarm Reduction in Immigration Detention (2018).

Posted by mp in Immigration detention, Oversight bodies, UNCAT, 0 comments

Committed to Change – Involuntary Mental Health Detention in B.C.

In a critical new report by the Office of the Ombudsperson of British Columbia a long, dark shadow is cast over the efficacy of fundamental detention safeguards in the province’s mental health institutions.

The March 2019 report, Committed to Change: Protecting the Rights of Involuntary Patients under the Mental Health Act, reveals some unsettling findings regarding the far-reaching extent to which mental health law-related safeguards are ignored in practice by health-care practitioners in the province of British Columbia, as the Infographic below succinctly illustrates.

Committed to Change
Committed to Change Infographic (March 2019)

Patient rights in B.C. are protected through a series of legal procedures which practically take the shape of written forms to be completed on admission. These crucial forms bring to life an array of key detention-related safeguards. Routinely these forms must be completed upon admission of a person to psychiatric detention, demonstrating that the detention criteria has been met, consent to treatment has been obtained, there has been a notification of the patient’s rights, and his or her relatives have been notified. As the Commitment to Change report reveals, these basic rights have frequently been ridden roughshod over in practice.  

The press release accompanying the report quotes B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke as stating:

“Involuntary detention and treatment is the most intrusive form of mental health care available. This is a failure to comply with the Mental Health Act, the law that allows people who are gravely ill – our friends, daughters, sons, parents and grandparents – to receive timely treatment while protecting their legal rights … The state, when it uses such an extraordinary power, has a critically important duty to follow the law. This includes properly completing documentation of what is happening to an individual and why. To not do so is not only unacceptable, it is contrary to law.”

The report’s findings were based on an investigation that reviewed admission records of every involuntary admission in the province that took place in June 2017. In 2016-2017 alone, some 15000 persons were involuntarily admitted to mental health institutions in the province.

A detailed analysis of mandatory admission forms from June 2017 found that across the province, all of the required forms were completed in only 28% of involuntary patient admissions, as the above Infographic illustrates. Key findings include:

  • A number of directors of designated facilities admitted and detained people involuntarily without adequate information and reasons to demonstrate how the patient met the criteria for admission;
  • There was no consent for treatment form in 24% of patient admissions across all health authorities;
  • A number of directors of facilities  permitted the psychiatric treatment of involuntarily detained patients in circumstances where the patient objected to treatment and no Consent for Treatment form was completed;
  • There was no rights advice form for more than half of the involuntary patients. This form advises the patient of their legal rights including how to get legal advice and challenge their detention;
  • The health-care authorities acted unreasonably in failing to adequately monitor, audit and address designated facilities’ compliance with the involuntary admission procedures under the Mental Health Act.

Interested readers may also wish to watch the following short animation, which captures the main findings of the B.C. Ombudsperson’s report.

According to the report, there exists in the province of British Columbia some 77 acute in-patient mental health units and other psychiatric facilities. Canada-wide, the Canada OPCAT Project has calculated at least 234 such facilities (please see chapter 3 of the 2018 report, Instituting An NPM in Canada – Lessons Based on Global OPCAT Practice). The wide-spread disregard of fundamental safeguards in detention in British Colombia is therefore especially worrying in view of the large numbers of such facilities.

In its Executive Summary the report states:

“We were disappointed to find significant levels of non-compliance when we reviewed the forms. In many cases, forms were simply not completed. In many other cases, the forms were completed late or in a manner that did not provide anything close to adequate reasons.” (p.6)

It also underscored the key point:

“Failure to complete these forms is not just a matter of missed paperwork; it is a failure to follow the law. The safeguards in the Mental Health Act protect the inherent rights and dignity of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. When they are not observed, the balance between individual rights and society’s interest in protecting people with mental illness is upset.” (p. 7)

The B.C. Ombudsperson’s Office report makes 24 recommendations, all of which have reportedly been accepted in principle by government and health authorities.

In this same connection it bears noting a recent report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar. In her 2019 report, which was presented at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 March 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur has questioned the very notion of deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment. Her reports merits a close reading, as it goes a considerable way in questioning the international legality of this extremely wide-spread practice.

From an oversight perspective, however, the UN expert’s report also stresses:

“National preventive mechanisms, national human rights institutions and independent mechanisms for the promotion, protection and monitoring of the implementation of the Convention must be expressly mandated to carry out inquiries and investigations in relation to the deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities and provide them with assistance in accessing representation and legal remedies. Disability-specific settings of deprivation of liberty, such as psychiatric facilities and other institutions, must be effectively monitored. Having accurate data on the numbers of persons with disabilities deprived of their liberty will also allow monitoring of the trends and changes over time, thus enabling better preventive and deinstitutionalization strategies.”

If and when Canada ever ratifies the OPCAT, NPMs under the OPCAT will have a key role in monitoring Canada’s in-patient psychiatric facilities.

Under the OPCAT NPMs should regularly monitor psychiatric institutions and social care homes. For example, in England and Wales the Care Quality Commission undertakes this vitally important function, issuing a range of reports on mental health institutions, residential care and nursing homes as well as its flagship annual report on the implementation of the Mental Health Act. Similarly, the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Norway annually visits a significant number of such facilities, some reports of which can be found in English.  The monitoring of such domains is also currently a priority area for the Swiss NPM, the Commission nationale pour le prévention de la torture. There additionally now exist useful practical tools on the monitoring of such detention settings (please see under Other Resources).


Read the full report, Committed to Change: Protecting the Rights of Involuntary Patients under the Mental Health Act.

Browse the accompanying press release.

Examine the related Infographic.

Committed to Change

Read the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities 2019 report, Ending Deprivation of Liberty on the Basis of Disability.

Watch the presentation of the 2019 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 March 2019.

Study the New-Brunswick Ombud’s 2019 report on the deliberate ill-treatment of mental health patients at a facility in the province.

Posted by mp in Health care, Oversight bodies, Psychiatric detention, 0 comments

Aging and Dying in Canadian Prisons

In a new report titled Aging and Dying in Prison: An Investigation into the Experiences of Older Individuals in Federal Custody the Office of the Correctional Investigator (OCI) and the Canadian Human Rights Commission address the key issue of how to ensure public safety while respecting and protecting the unique needs, dignity and rights of older persons in the country’s federal prisons.  

The investigation behind the Aging and Dying report was motivated by the concern that the health, safety and dignity-related needs of older persons are not adequately protected in prison and that the Canadian prison service has made little progress in addressing such issues despite the constant and continued growth in the aged prison population as well as the numerous related recommendations issued by the OCI over more than a decade. 

At the present time Canada’s federal prison estate comprises some 43 federally-run prisons and 15 federally-run community correctional centres. According to the new Aging and Dying in Prison report, around 25% of persons currently held in federal prisons are aged 50 and over.

As per the joint press release accompanying the report, Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry commented:

“Every person in Canada, including those in federal custody, has a right to live their final moments with dignity and safety. Prisons are not equipped to provide end of life care. Correctional Service Canada must do more to ensure inmates can return to the community and so that end-of-life care is humane and dignified. This starts with encouraging and facilitating inmates to maintain meaningful connections within their community.”

Aging and Dying

Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger is also quoted in the press release of the Aging and Dying in Prison report as stating:

“Conditions of confinement of older individuals in federal custody are lacking in terms of personal safety and dignity. Some older, long-serving inmates are being warehoused behind bars. Their prospects for release are often overlooked or neglected … Older offenders are one of the most costly cohorts to incarcerate, yet they pose the least risk. More responsive and humane models of care exist in the community that would better support the reintegration needs of older offenders at a significantly lower cost. These alternatives could be funded through savings generated by unnecessary incarceration.”

The report makes 16 joint recommendations, several of which are aimed at the de-institutionalization and release of older prisoners (who do not pose an undue risk to the public) and their placement in a community-care focused environment.

The creation of an immediate prison service-led comprehensive National Older Offender Strategy to address the care and needs of older individuals in federal custody (as reflected in the recommendations of the report), was also highlighted as a key recommendation.

Other recommendations encompassed the additional training needs for federal prison staff in addressing age-related needs (physical, social and psychological) as well as the allocation of tailored age- and disability-appropriate space and services for such categories of persons.  

As the report itself underlines in its conclusion:

“It seems surprising to have to actually say or note, but a few modest measures would go a long way to recognizing and addressing the needs of older individuals in federal custody and improving the quality, purpose and meaning of their lives behind bars. Rules, routines, conditions of confinement and environments that were originally put in place to manage more active, healthier and younger people are not necessarily responsive to the life trajectories, circumstances or needs of aging persons.”


Read the new Aging and Dying report in English.

Read the backgrounder on the report.

Lire le nouveau rapport en français.

Lire le document d’information.

Read what the Canadian Human Rights Commission has to say about prisoners’ rights and follow the institution on Twitter.

Visit and explore the OCI website. Examine the Correctional Investigator’s recently expressed views on the importance of Canada ratifying the OPCAT in English and French.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Prisons, 0 comments

Renewed Scrutiny of Youth Solitary Confinement & Pepper Spray Use

Detention-related practices have once again come under the domestic spotlight in Canada, as two more provincial oversight mechanisms have issued critical reports urging sweeping change.

Following a highly critical report of the New-Brunswick Ombud’s Office into serious allegations of ill-treatment of psychiatric patients at a facility in the province, the Manitoba Ombudsman and Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth have published the findings of a joint investigation into the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement in youth correctional facilities in the province.  

The conclusions of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth were especially critical of such practices, drawing heavily on international human rights instruments, including the Nelson Mandela Rules (who most appropriately adorns the cover of the said report).  

Solitary confinement

With each office examining the issues under scrutiny from the perspectives of their distinct mandates, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth underlined the key point in the Executive Summary of the report:

Youth do not come to the attention of the justice system because things are going well in their lives. The vast majority of youth in custody live with mental illness, cognitive disabilities, and childhood trauma. Indigenous youth are overrepresented in Manitoba’s youth justice system, a persistent legacy of colonization and residential schools.

One of the report’s overarching recommendations was that the institutional reliance on solitary confinement and pepper spray must end and investments must be made to improve mental health and other health-related supports during the period youth are being held in custody. Six key recommendations to flow from the investigation included the following:

  • A ban on solitary confinement for youth, which is consistent with the Nelson Mandela Rules, affirming the prohibition of solitary confinement for youth under 18 years old and for individuals with mental or physical disabilities;
  • Enhanced restrictions and better monitoring of the practice of segregation under 24 hours in a day;
  • Better record keeping and monitoring of segregation-related data in youth custody facilities;
  • A change in the regulations to reflect the changing practice already underway in custody facilities by banning the use of pepper spray on youth, except in situations of immediate risk to life;
  • The implementation of evidence-informed and culturally safe therapeutic behavioural management alternatives to solitary confinement and pepper spray in recognition of the profound trauma histories, cognitive disabilities, and mental illnesses that youth in custody are living with;
  • And finally, enhanced evidence-informed health care programming for youth with mental illnesses or cognitive vulnerabilities.

The report’s concluding paragraph underscores the key point that, while the data about institutional recourse to solitary confinement and pepper spray is unquestionably at its most stark in the province, the underlying challenges are not unique to Manitoba.

The findings of the Manitoba Ombudsman, while not identical to the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, were similar with a keen focus on the compliance of the detaining authorities with existing legislation, regulations, policies, and procedures and whether they were being appropriately followed by corrections staff. On the use of pepper spray the Manitoba Ombudsman’s report makes 13 highly detailed operationally-focused recommendations, while vis-à-vis the use of segregation 18 recommendations were advanced.

Solitary confinement

The report concludes by noting:

Manitoba Justice accepted our findings and recommendations about pepper spray and segregation use. Manitoba Justice advised it has implemented the recommendations relating to pepper spray, and expects to implement the recommendations relating to segregation by March 1, 2019.

In view of the recent highly critical media coverage of the prolonged use of solitary confinement in Canadian provincial prisons and the resulting violations of fundamental Charter rights, the two reports arrive at a very timely moment, pointing to the acute importance of external oversight of deprivation of liberty settings in Canada.


Read the full report of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth.

You can follow the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth on Twitter.

Explore the detailed findings of the Manitoba Ombudsman on the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray in youth detention.

Follow the Manitoba Ombudsman on Facebook.

Find other resources on solitary confinement and the use of force under Other Resources.

Posted by mp in Oversight bodies, Solitary confinement, Use of force, 0 comments

COPCAT Shorts – European Anti-Torture/Corruption Bodies Echo Concerns of UN Special Rapporteur

Torture and corruption are indeed concurrent consequences of the same original cause, namely the failure of the relevant governance system to prevent abuse by unchecked power.

It is therefore crucial that steps are taken to develop policies of zero tolerance, effective monitoring and robust accountability. Measures aimed at fostering a strong culture among public officials opposing corrupt practices should also be implemented.


Joint statement of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) on the occasion of the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, 28 February 2019.


The CPT/GRECO underlined that they concurred with the opinion expressed by Professor Nils Melzer, United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, who stated in his report to the Human Rights Council on 28 February 2019 that wherever torture and corrupt practices coexist, their relationship tends to be mutually reinforcing.


Corruption
Prison by a2zphoto (2010)

Read the full CPT-GRECO joint statement on torture and corruption in English or French.

Read Professor Nils Melzer’s report on torture and corruption and his emphasis on independent oversight of places of detention, including the OPCAT.

Watch the UN Special Rapporteur on torture’s presentation of his report at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 28 February 2019 on demand on UN Web TV.

Posted by mp in Corruption, Oversight bodies, Torture prevention, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, 0 comments

The Importance of Oversight in Combating Corruption and Torture

In his recently published 2019 report the Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, examines the relationship between corruption and torture or ill-treatment, outlining the predominant patterns of interaction between the two phenomena as well as their systemic root causes.

The report, which is set to be discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 28 February 2019, offers a raft of recommendations aimed at strengthening the protection against torture and ill-treatment in contexts affected by corruption. 

The central role of external oversight in combating corruption and torture, as highlighted in the report, is anything but accidental. Sunlight – as the old adage goes – has long been known as the best disinfectant, and its important negating impact on the phenomena of corruption as well as torture holds equally true.

The Special Rapporteur on torture writes in the report:

When examining the correlation between corruption and torture or ill-treatment, it is of utmost importance to understand the predominantly structural and systemic nature of both forms of abuse. Contrary to common misperceptions, both corruption and torture or ill-treatment are rarely isolated in a few “bad apples” but, figuratively speaking, tend to extend to “rotten branches” or even “rotten orchards”.
 
For example, in the context of policing, the practice of corruption and of torture or ill-treatment typically goes beyond individual officers and extends to their units or even entire police departments, often exacerbated by collusion at worst or acquiescence at best on the part of the judiciary and open or implicit complacency on the part of policymakers. Overall, the resort by individual officials to corruption or to torture and ill-treatment is more often the result of their professional environment than of their personal character. (§21).   

Corruption and torture report
Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, UN Human Rights Council 1 March 2017 (copyright UN Geneva/Jean-Marc Ferre).

The positively countering effect of oversight on corruption and torture is underscored in several key recommendations of the report. These include the following important points:

  • States should adopt and/or ratify, without reservations, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol and all other universal and regional treaties and soft law instruments relevant to the prevention of corruption and torture and ill-treatment respectively, and should ensure their comprehensive and effective implementation across national legal and institutional frameworks. (§69)
  • States should establish and maintain accessible, well-resourced and fully independent monitoring, oversight and accountability mechanisms for the prevention of corruption and of torture or ill-treatment including, but not limited to, those foreseen in articles 6 and 36 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and articles 2 and 16 of the Convention against Torture in conjunction with article 3 of its Optional Protocol. (§72)
  • In addition to officially mandated mechanisms, States should provide a transparent and safe environment enabling and protecting the monitoring, reporting and advocacy activities of civil society organizations, human rights defenders and whistle-blowers and ensure their unhindered access to individual witnesses, victims or their relatives. (§72)
  • While maintaining comprehensive anti-corruption and anti-torture policies and practices, States, monitoring mechanisms and civil society stakeholders should focus their efforts specifically on contexts particularly prone to corruption and torture or ill-treatment… (§73).
  • United Nations agencies and mechanisms such as, most notably, UNODC, OHCHR, the Committee against Torture, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, as well as the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, including the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, should systematically examine the interaction between corruption and human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment, in their respective reporting…(§75).

The notable incidence of reference to the OPCAT system of torture prevention strongly suggests that its positive impact extends beyond the phenomena of torture and ill-treatment, addressing some of its wider pernicious societal root causes.


Professor Nils Melzer is scheduled to discuss his report on torture and corruption during an Interactive Dialogue at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 28 February 2019. Watch the UN Special Rapporteur on torture’s Interactive Dialogue live on UN Web TV.

Read the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on corruption and torture in English.

See Nils Melzer’s statement to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee from 15 October 2018.

Explore more of OHCHR’s work on corruption and human rights.

Posted by mp in Corruption, OPCAT, SPT, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, 0 comments

Ending Deprivation of Liberty on the Basis of Disability – New Publication

The deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment is a human rights violation on a massive scale. Persons with disabilities are systematically placed into institutions and psychiatric facilities, or detained at home and other community settings, based on the existence or presumption of having an impairment. They are also overrepresented in traditional places of deprivation of liberty, such as prisons, immigration detention centres, juvenile detention facilities and children’s residential institutions. In all these settings, they are exposed to additional human rights violations, such as forced treatment, seclusion and restraints.

Rights of persons with disabilities – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar (UN Doc. A/HRC/40/54, 11 January 2019) §85.

Ending deprivation

The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities is set to visit Canada from 2 to 11 April 2019. OHCHR has issued a call for written submissions in relation to this visit, more information about which can be found here in English.


The Special Rapporteur’s brand-new report discusses the underlying causes of disability-specific forms of deprivation of liberty, contrasting this bleak reality with the right to liberty and security of persons with disabilities as underpinned by international human rights law. The document underlines the following key point:

The universal nature of human rights means that the right to liberty and security cannot be denied on the basis of prohibited grounds, such as race, sex, age, disability, religion, national, ethnic, indigenous or social origin, or other status. Such deprivations of liberty are discriminatory and, thus, unlawful and arbitrary. However, for too long deprivation of liberty on the basis of actual or perceived impairment has been widely justified. (§41)

The Special Rapporteur rightly argues that the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities represents a milestone in the recognition of the right to liberty of persons with disabilities, especially its all-important Article 14. This latter article stresses that persons with disabilities must enjoy the right to personal liberty on an equal basis with others and cannot be deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily (§43).

In her report the Special Rapporteur scopes out various key measures aimed at ending deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability. These include:

  • Law reform;
  • Deinstitutionalization;
  • Ending coercion in mental health;
  • Access to justice;
  • Community support;
  • Participation;
  • Capacity-building and awareness-raising;
  • And resource mobilization.

Read the UN Special rapporteur report focused on ending deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability. Lire le rapport en français.

An alternative version of the report designed for wider distribution is also available.

Explore the Special Rapporteur’s dedicated website.

Visit the related OHCHR website on Catalina Devandas Aguilar’s work.

Read about the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in French and English.

Explore related materials under Other Resources.

Posted by mp in Places of detention, UN Special Rapporteur, UNCRPD, 0 comments

Academic News & Views – Juan Méndez on the Right to a Healthy Prison Environment

Respect for the dignity of prisoners is a fundamental right, intrinsically linked to States’ obligations to maintain a healthy environment for persons deprived of liberty. A healthy environment requires structural integrity of prison systems, access to medical care and treatment, health care services, including dental, psychological, and rehabilitative services, and opportunity for prisoners to exercise. 

For women prisoners and other vulnerable persons, prison systems must recognize and provide necessary special arrangements for the safety and wellbeing of such persons. Additionally, health care professionals play a critical role in detecting and documenting instances of torture, and it is vital that all health professionals be trained in the Istanbul Protocol to utilize it properly. It can be vital to the fate of victims of torture and can transform a health professional’s role from one of not only therapist but also advocate for victims.

Conclusion taken from the recent article, ‘Right to a Healthy Prison Environment: Health Care in Custody Under the Prism of Torture’ by Professor Juan E. Méndez, Washington College of Law, American University.

Juan Méndez
Juan Ernesto Méndez, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment addresses during the 16th Session of the Council of Human Rights
– UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (2011).

In the article Professor Méndez addresses the following areas as they apply to a healthy prison environment:

  • Conditions of detention;
  • Medical care and health services in prison;
  • Women and other vulnerable persons in prison or detention, including LGBTI and disabled persons;
  • Istanbul Protocol and Nelson Mandela Rules.

The conclusion highlighted above draws on all of these threads as well as the invaluable insights of Professor Méndez in his former capacity of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2010-2016.

Read the full article in English.

Reference: Méndez JE, ‘‘Right to a Healthy Prison Environment: Health Care in Custody Under the Prism of Torture’ (2019) 9(1) Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law 40.


Who is Professor Juan E. Méndez? Read his full United Nations biography.

Watch the video of the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez ‘In His Own Words’.

Read past Canada OPCAT Project Academic News & Views.

Posted by mp in Health care, Places of detention, Prisons, 0 comments

COPCAT en bref: Échec À Protéger

En mai 2017, le Bureau de l’ombud a reçu une dénonciation écrite anonyme alléguant des manquements significatifs à la protection des patients du Centre hospitalier Restigouche (« CHR ») contre les mauvais traitements et les soins inadéquats infligés par son personnel.

Notre enquête dans cette affaire nous a permis de conclure que ces allégations sont fondées.

Nous croyons que, dans de multiples cas, des patients du CHR ont subi des mauvais traitements significatifs.

Ombuds NB Échec À Protéger

Nous croyons que, dans de multiples cas, des patients du CHR ont subi des mauvais traitements significatifs.

… c’est avec confiance que nous présentons les conclusions suivantes :

Des risques pèsent continuellement sur la sécurité des patients et du personnel au CHR. Il y a un besoin urgent de prendre des mesures correctives;

De graves incidents de mauvais traitements des patients ont eu lieu au CHR;

Le CHR ne prodigue pas périodiquement des soins adéquats aux patients;  

Le manque chronique de personnel a érodé la culture et le modèle de service au CHR; et,

De sincères tentatives visant à faire évoluer la culture et à améliorer la prestation de services n’ont pas connu de succès.

Nous recommandons d’envisager une révision considérable de la mission du CHR. Avec le personnel actuel, cet établissement se voit tout simplement dans l’impossibilité d’offrir tout l’éventail des services en santé mentale visés par son mandat.

Échec À Protéger

Lire Échec À Protéger en français.

Read the report in English.

Lire les observations du Comité de l’ONU contre la torture de décembre 2018 concernant la nécessité d’un contrôle indépendant de la détention psychiatrique au Canada.

Posted by mp in Acts of abuse, Oversight bodies, Psychiatric detention, 0 comments