Launch of Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights

In just a few short weeks’ time a new, unique international expert network on prison oversight is set to see the light of day during this year’s ICPA Annual Conference in Montreal, Quebec.

Launch Expert NetworkThe ICPA, as the International Corrections and Prisons Association is known to most readers, will  launch its Expert Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights during this large-scale gathering of penal and criminal justice practitioners in Montreal the week beginning 22 October 2018.

This human rights initiative is especially interesting, as a key Canadian criminal justice actor is behind the enterprise. Federal Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger is the main initiator of the network which will hold an inaugural panel discussion on Prison Oversight and Human Rights on the morning of 22 October.

During this session various guest speakers will address this important topic. From the United Kingdom Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisoners Peter Clarke will offer his insights into the importance of independent external oversight of closed custodial settings. Moreover, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons plays a key role in the operation and coordination of the UK’s multi-body National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT and is a highly respected prison oversight entity in its own right.

Peter Clarke will be joined in this discussion by Michael Horowitz, the US Inspector General of the US Department of Justice and compatriot, Michele Deitch, a Senior Lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Michele Deitch boasts an extremely strong academic as well as practical track-record in the domain of prison oversight, particularly in the US state of Texas.

Launch Expert Network

The key role played in Canada in this same connection by Ivan Zinger’s institution, the Office of the Correctional Investigator, will be familiar to many readers. This ombudsperson-type institution has also been a vocal Canadian proponent of the country’s ratification of the OPCAT, having urged the Government to do so in past Annual Reports.

In addition to the panel discussion, members of the fledgling prison oversight network will meet to discuss its internal organization and future activities.

The launch of the Network on External Prison Oversight & Human Rights during this year’s ICPA’s Annual Conference is without question a very welcome initiative and from this promising start bigger and better things are anticipated in the months ahead. Persons interested in its activities, or joining the network as an expert, should contact Ivan Zinger via his office.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Places of detention, Prisons, 0 comments

Canada Makes Renewed UPR OPCAT Pledge

During its UPR process Canada has once again publicly stated before the international community that it will consider ratifying the OPCAT.

During the examination of Canada’s UPR Report during the Human Rights Council’s 39th Session in Geneva on 21 September 2018 Canada reiterated its intention in this respect. It should be noted, however, that Canada already made this same commitment during its candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council as long ago as 2006.

UPR Canada

Image copyright of OHCHR

In Geneva the Canadian Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Rosemary McCarney, informed the Human Rights Council that Canada accepted the recommendation to consider the ratification of three international instruments, namely the OPCAT, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Readers may recall that in May 2018 the UPR of Canada took place in Geneva, the outcome document of which is available in English and French. During Canada’s UPR some 27 different countries advanced recommendations that the country should either ratify the OPCAT or consider its ratification. During this review Canada repeated its position that it was “… considering becoming a party to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, as well as options to implement that instrument.”

While it remains positive that Canada has reiterated its commitment to the OPCAT as a human rights instrument, tangible progress needs to be seen on the ground in Canada in making this intention a reality.

An on-demand video of Canada’s full consideration by the Human Rights Council on 21 September is available by clicking on the image below. The segment on Canada’s acceptance of the potential ratification of international human rights instruments can be found from 6 minutes 15 seconds onwards.

Canada UPR

Ambassador Rosemary McCarney before the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 21 September 2018 (copyright UN Web TV).

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UNCAT Rapporteurs Assigned for Canada

The Canada OPCAT Project has learned which UN Committee against Torture members will act as the rapporteurs for Canada’s examination under the UN Convention against Torture in November in Geneva. These two members will lead the Committee’s examination of Canada and closely scrutinize state compliance with the anti-torture instrument.

AI France

Amnesty International France vintage campaign action

As this information has not yet been made public, interested persons are invited to contact the Canada OPCAT Project for further information (we have been asked not to publicize this information for the moment). Nonetheless, given the small ten-person composition of the UN Committee and the linguistic make-up of Canada, interested parties may well be able to surmise the possible candidates.

The UN Committee will examine Canada at 10 am (Geneva-time) on 21 November, while Canada’s replies will be heard from 3 pm onwards on 22 November. The Committee’s provisional agenda and program of work are available here.

As noted in a recently issued update, the deadline for civil society contributions to the upcoming examination of Canada is no later than 15 October 2018. More information about the overall process of how to submit a shadow-report can be found in this earlier article.

The Geneva-based civil society entity, the Convention against Torture Initiative, has also produced the following in-depth guidance paper on the overall reporting process to the this treaty body.

Alternatively, you would be very welcome welcome to contact us for further advice. But please do not forget to mention the OPCAT in your submissions! As Amnesty International France might say (see above): Utilisez votre arme pour l’OPCAT!

Posted by mp in OPCAT, UNCAT, 0 comments

New ICRC Blog & Publications on Detention

In a new ICRC blog published this week, Helen Durham, the ICRC’s Director of International Law and Policy, serves up considerable food for thought in relation to the harsh realities faced by detainees in armed conflict and how the legal framework protecting such persons might be reinforced and translated into greater protection at the operational level. In her discussion the writer identifies three areas of work where she believes that the ICRC has contributed to enhanced protection. These include the on-going process of updating the commentary on the Third Geneva Convention (on the treatment of prisoners of war) as well as efforts to strengthen the protection of International Humanitarian Law vis-a-vis detainees in the context of non-international armed conflict.

For the purposes of this website, however, of more direct interest will be the writer’s focus on the ICRC’s work to contribute to better conditions of detention for persons who are held in prisons. In doing so, Helen highlights the two important ICRC publications illustrated below. According to the author:

“Building on its extensive experience in visiting prisons and engaging with prison authorities, the ICRC has just released a set of guiding principles on prison planning and design. The ICRC has also cooperated with leading academics to update a Handbook for Prison Staff on a ‘Human Rights Approach to Prison Management’. These are very concrete tools that I can warmly recommend to anyone involved in prison planning and management.”

While certain Canadian human rights and criminal justice actors may well be familiar with earlier editions of this updated version of the publication, A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management (issued with the Centre for Criminal Policy Research in 2018), others may be less familiar with Towards Humane Prisons (also published in 2018). Both publications (which are currently available in English) can be obtained by clicking on the images below.

ICRC blog publication            ICRC blog publications

Please note that the 2nd edition of A Human Rights Approach to Prison Management is available in French.

Other ICRC publications of interest can be found under Other Resources.

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Canadian Red Cross Detention & Prohibition of Torture Conference

Dalhousie University in Halifax is set as the scene for this year’s illustrious 14th Annual International Humanitarian Law Conference on 5 October. Co-organized by the Canadian Red Cross and the John E. Read International Law Society at the Schulich School of Law, the event is titled Detention and the Prohibitions against Torture, Cruel, and Unusual Punishment.

Canadian Red CrossAccording to the Canadian Red Cross: “The conference will explore the protections and rules that aim to reduce the occurrence of torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment during armed conflict under both international and national law. Our speakers will provide an introduction to the various legal regimes addressing torture and related humanitarian issues such as detention and internment. Panelists will provide insight into their personal and professional experiences working with both government and NGOs and discuss the challenges that remain in regards to both compliance with, and adequacy of, the current legal regime.”

Interested readers can register for the event by clicking on the Canadian Red Cross symbol above.

Readers can also watch a short ICRC video of the organization’s esteemed work under Electronic OPCAT (in English and French) and read selected ICRC materials under Other Resources.

Posted by mp in Absolute prohibition of torture, Places of detention, 0 comments

ATIP OPCAT Request – Time’s Up!

The time is officially up for Justice Canada! Regrettably, the Canada OPCAT Project has yet to obtain a response from the Department of Justice concerning an OPCAT-related request under the Access to Information Act, known as a so-called ATIP request.   

On 5 June 2018 the Canada OPCAT Project made the ATIP request to obtain a copy of a Justice Canada legal analysis of Canada’s potential accession to the OPCAT. The document was referred to in Department of Justice correspondence also obtained through an ATIP request.

ATIP RequestSeveral weeks later on 28 June 2018 the Department of Justice responded to this initial ATIP request, stating the following:

“Pursuant to paragraph 9(1)(b) of the Access to Information Act, I hereby notify you that an additional 60 days are required to comply with your request because consultations that cannot be reasonably completed within the original time limit are necessary. It may be possible, however, to reply sooner should we complete the processing of your request prior to that time.”   

As this request for information relates to Canada’s publicly stated intention to ratify a key UN human rights instrument (hardly a sensitive issue), this failure to respond within the stipulated time-frame comes as even more surprising.

Nonetheless, with the annual holiday season soon coming to an end, it is very much hoped that a response will be elicited from Justice Canada and that its OPCAT legal analysis will be made available to the project.

Although the Canada OPCAT Project has yet to see a copy of the legal analysis, it is reported to highlight, among other issues, concerns about gaps in the coverage of places of detention by existing independent monitoring bodies. Police and immigration detention facilities are said to be particularly problematic in this respect. Until the report is made available, however, this information cannot be confirmed.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, 0 comments

Canada/Ireland – Time To Ratify OPCAT

As the discussion continues on if and when Canada will ratify the OPCAT, attention falls on the same OPCAT process in Ireland.

On 2 October 2007 Ireland signed the OPCAT. More than a decade later, however, the country has yet to ratify the instrument. The highly-respected NGO, Irish Penal Reform Trust, has produced the following animation, arguing why the country should move forward to ratify this important anti-torture instrument.

Canadian readers may find parallels with their own country, even though Canada has not yet signed the OPCAT. You can make your own mind up!

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, 0 comments

Canada UNCAT Shadow-Reports Due Soon… Don’t Leave It Too Late!

Canada’s track-record to prevent acts of torture and other ill-treatment is set to come under international scrutiny once again in just over two months’ time. The UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) is due to meet for its 65th session in Geneva, Switzerland from 12 November to 7 December 2018, during which it will examine Canada’s seventh periodic report under the UN Convention.

UNCAT shadow-reportsCivil society actors who are intent on submitting alternative- or shadow-reports to the UN Committee of experts should act sooner rather than later!

Although no specific date is as yet known for the Geneva review, Canadian CSOs and NHRIs should submit information in an electronic format no later than 15 October 2018.

According to OHCHR’s website, to date no Canadian (or other) CSOs or NHRIs have yet submitted information on Canada (unlike for several of the other countries which will be examined during this same session).

The procedure for doing so can be found as follows in English. If afterwards you still remain unsure as to how all this works, please do contact us. We would be very happy to assist you.

If your organization plans to submit a shadow-report, please do not forget to mention Canada’s stated intention to ratify the OPCAT … and its lack of progress to do so. Please contact us for any advice in this connection. Alternatively, read the following section of this website for more information.

General information about the UN Committee against Torture can be found as follows in French and English. OHCHR has also produced this short video animation about the UN Committee.

Posted by mp in UNCAT, 0 comments

‘Football Yes – Torture No’ Campaign Posters

The Canada OPCAT Project has recently added a new section to the website titled Stop Torture Campaign Images. The section aims to bring together in one place a collection of hard-hitting and eye-catching campaign images aimed at preventing torture. While certain images will have a specific OPCAT focus, others will be more generic in scope.

The Amnesty International Germany poster below from 1978 is an illustrative case in point. In a World Cup football year these vintage campaign posters from the late 1970s may be of particular interest. The very fact that FIFA went ahead with the tournament in Argentina at a time when it was widely known that thousands of people were being made to disappear as well as being imprisoned and tortured, beggars belief from today’s perspective.

Campaign poster

If you have any suggestions for images we should include in this website section, please contact us.

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OHCHR Video on the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has published a series of short, humorous videos about the work of the UN treaty bodies. These include the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, UN Committee against Torture and several others. They are all well worth a watch.

If you liked this short clip, explore OHCHR’s other treaty body animations.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Torture prevention, 0 comments