Monitoring tools

COPCAT Shorts – New Dignity Fact Sheet

Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture has unleashed on the torture-prevention world a brand new Fact Sheet. Published as No. 10 in Dignity’s superbly useful series of Legal Fact Sheets, its focus on Prisoner Contact Rights offers a succinct overview of this topic, citing various relevant international standards such as, among others, the UN Nelson Mandela Rules.

New Dignity Fact Sheet on Prisoner Contact Rights (November 2019).

Dignity’s entire collection of Legal Fact Sheets merit closer examination by detention monitors and human rights actors alike. To date, this distinguished Copenhagen-based international NGO has covered an array of important topics, including the following:

Legal No. 1 – Defining Torture

Legal No. 2 – Redressing Torture

Legal No. 3 – Preventing Torture

Legal No. 4 – Investigating Torture

Legal No. 5 – Criminalizing Torture

Legal No. 6 – Prosecuting Torture

Legal No. 7 – Safeguards in Police Custody

Legal No. 8 – Torture & Migration

Legal No. 9 – Pre-Trial Detention

Additionally, Dignity has also produced a non-numbered Fact Sheet on Corruption & Torture, a topic of concern highlighted on this website. If that were not enough for the over-worked, time-poor and possibly under-paid, but highly thought-of reader, the organization has published a whole range of other useful resources relating to the prevention of torture, not least on the broader issues of health and rehabilitation.

For Canadian readers perhaps less familiar with Dignity, now some 37 years into their existence, why not explore the organization’s website. After all, what is there not to like about this exceedingly fine international human rights organization?!

Read more about Dignity – Danish Institute Against Torture, including its long history.

Explore Dignity’s 10 different Legal Fact Sheets and other publications.

Learn more about the UN Nelson Mandela Rules and UNODC’s related posters.

Check out this website’s ‘Other Resources’ for more tools and reports about deprivation of liberty.

Posted by mp

COPCAT Shorts – New Online Course on CPT Detention Monitoring Standards

A new free online course on the standards developed by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) is now available. The course aims to familiarize human rights actors with the CPT’s key standards concerning the five most important places of deprivation of liberty – police stations, prisons, immigration detention facilities, psychiatric establishments and social care homes.

As a highly respected regional detention monitoring body with 30 years’ experience monitoring places of detention and developing a wealth of standards based on best practice, the CPT has a huge amount to offer Canadian human rights actors and detention oversight mechanisms.

HELP CPT Standards promotional image – copyright Council of Europe (2019).

The official press release launching the online course, describes its content as follows:

The course consists of 6 modules:

Introduction (what is the CPT and how does it work?; CPT visits; interaction between the CPT and other Council of Europe bodies; the CPT and other preventive mechanisms; how to use CPT resources);

Law enforcement (apprehension; arrival at a police station; legal safeguards; police interviews; conditions of detention; appearance before a judge);

Prisons and other penal institutions (admissions procedure; ill-treatment; conditions of detention; health care in prisons; special categories of prisoners; other issues);

Immigration detention (detention as a last resort; legal safeguards during detention; conditions of detention; children; staff; health care; removal of foreign nationals);

Psychiatric establishments (ill-treatment; patient’s living conditions; psychiatric treatment; staff; means of restraint; legal safeguards);

Social care homes (de-institutionalisation; ill-treatment; resident’s living conditions; care; staff; means of restraint; legal safeguards).

The topics are explored in a practical way, through presentations, interactive screens, knowledge tests and reflective exercises.

The course is primarily intended for legal professionals, staff from places of deprivation of liberty, national preventive mechanisms (NPMs) and policy makers, but can be also used by national human rights institutions, civil society organisations, university lecturers and students, etc.”

The course was developed by the Council of Europe HELP Programme (Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals) in close cooperation with the CPT Secretariat. Details of how to access the course can be found in the CPT press release in English and French.

Visit the CPT website for more information about this free online course.

Find out more about the CPT in English and French.

Other CPT detention monitoring documents can be found under Other Resources.

Consider becoming a CPT expert. Deadline closes soon!

Read more about the CPT’s concerns about corruption and human rights.

Posted by mp

COPCAT Shorts: The Value of Internal Inspection

“Monitoring and inspection mechanisms shed a fresh and critical light on institutions which, by their very nature, are closed environments, and therefore require particular efforts to counter the risk of abuse. The basic function of monitoring and inspecting prisons, whether internal or external, should be seen against this background.
… rule 83 of the Nelson Mandela Rules provides for a twofold system for regular inspections of prisons, which is to consist not only of external inspections conducted by a body independent of the prison administrations, but also of internal or administrative inspections to be conducted by the central prison administration.
In the light of the above, the overall purpose of this checklist is to assist Member States in conducting internal or administrative inspections to assess compliance of their national prison systems with the Nelson Mandela Rules, and thus to facilitate the practical application of the Rules at national level.”

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Assessing compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules – A checklist for internal inspection mechanisms (2017), excerpts from pages 2-3.

Read UNODC’s Nelson Mandela Rules checklist in English and French.

Internal Inspection document

Read UNODC’s Brochure on the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) in English and French.

UNODC Mandela Brochure

Explore UNODC’s instructional placards on the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Consult UNODC’s numerous other justice and prison reform publications and tools.

Posted by mp

New Publication: Protecting LGBTI Persons in Detention

The Geneva-based Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) has added to its many other detention monitoring resources through the publication of its new tool, Towards the Effective Protection of LGBTI Persons Deprived of Liberty: A Monitoring Guide. The latter is available for download in English.

LGBTI Monitoring GuideWeighing in at a welcomely exhaustive 130-odd pages this superb publication offers first-class guidance on monitoring various detention settings where LGBTI persons might be deprived of their liberty.

Written by Jean-Sébastien Blanc, the APT’s Director of Thematic Programmes, and based on extensive consultation with key human rights actors, the new guide complements the organization’s numerous other tools with a focus on detention, including prisons, police facilities, immigration detention, and psychiatric and social care settings. Many of the APT’s publications are featured in these pages under Other Resources.

Significantly, the UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz offers the following thoughts in the publication’s Foreword, highlighting the gap it fills:

Upon entering a place of deprivation of liberty, I have had meetings in which authorities were visibly uncomfortable at the sole use of the word lesbian and others in which I was informed that gay men are a construct of other parts of the world and not existing in that context. While the legal argument that condoms are criminal paraphernalia is only made in the 71 countries that still criminalise same sex relations, in the rest of the world the stigma associated to the mere existence of LGTBI persons remains deeply entrenched in the collective awareness.

Up to this day, I have never had an experience where policies in places of detention catered for bisexual persons or revealed an understanding of intersexuality. While great progress has been made in relation to the needs of trans persons, they remain the most mistreated of all persons deprived of liberty …

The reader of this manual, possibly about to engage in a visit that hopefully will impact persons’ lives and contribute to social change, may experience apprehension deriving from an awareness of just how little one single person can know about the enormous range of problems and needs connected to sexual orientation and gender identity in places of deprivation of liberty, a concern that I know only too well. This guide – prepared by the Association for the Prevention of Torture with great attention to the current state of international human rights law, best practices in the field of torture prevention, and the wealth of experience of the extraordinary group of experts that provided its substance – will provide an understanding of the factors of risk and the acts, patterns and extreme manifestations of torture and ill treatment against LGTI persons, and is an invaluable blueprint for any conceptual understanding of these.

In this connection there can be no doubt that the APT guide ably accomplishes what it sets out to achieve. The publication is divided into five main chapters, the first of which highlights the specific exposure of LGBTI detainees to torture and other ill-treatment. It is then followed by an in-depth focus on the key considerations relating to monitoring methodology, closely examining all stages of the detention monitoring process from planning a programme of visits through to reporting on their findings.

The latter three chapters offer useful practical insights into three frequently encountered detention contexts. These include a focus on the monitoring of the situation of LGBTI persons in: (a) prisons; (b) police custody as well as the wider context of policing; and (c) immigration detention. In doing so, these chapters offer the reader detailed guidance on key aspects of monitoring such detention regimes.

In bringing to the fore such a key publication the APT has once again succeeded in equipping detention monitors and human rights actors alike at the national level with an invaluable tool aimed at enhancing the protection of a particularly vulnerable group of persons when deprived of their liberty.


Readers are kindly invited to download the publication and explore its contents.

Discover more background information about the guide.

Read author Jean-Sébastien Blanc’s guest blog about his new contribution to torture prevention for Penal Reform International.

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, Monitoring tools, Publication, Tools

New Publication: Monitoring Immigration Detention

A brand new publication, HMIP Detention Monitoring Methodology: A Briefing Paper, offers some very useful and illuminating insights into how the vital task of independent monitoring of immigration detention is being approached in England and Wales.

Immigration detentionThe University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law has published this new briefing paper as part of its Border Criminologies series. The Oxford University-based project brings together academics, practitioners, and those who have experienced border control from around the world to better understand the effects of border control and to explore alternatives to immigration detention.

The author of the briefing paper, Dr Hindpal Singh Bhui, is the Inspection Team Leader at Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) in England and Wales. He has deftly put pen to paper to offer his institution’s view on how various immigration detention settings might be monitored by independent detention monitors, including by NPMs under the OPCAT. In the context of England and Wales such settings include immigration removal centres, family detention and residential short-term holding facilities, and removal flights.

In the United Kingdom HMIP also takes a lead role in relation to the OPCAT. In doing so, this highly respected monitoring body coordinates the overall activities of the country’s NPM and also undertakes core monitoring of a range of other detention settings in England and Wales, including police stations, youth detention facilities, prisons and court cells.

In this short briefing paper Dr Bhui concludes:

While detention monitoring may be carried out by a variety of state and non- state institutions, under the terms of OPCAT, national NPMs bear the principal responsibility. HMIP is part of the UK NPM and a long established professional detention monitoring body. It has accumulated technical knowledge and considerable political support. It also has sufficient funding to allow it to carry out its duties. Despite this, it still faces considerable challenges; for example, in ensuring that its methodology is responsive and relevant to current detention practices, and in encouraging establishments to implement its recommendations … NPMs operate in very different social, political and economic contexts and must find the best way to navigate their individual challenges. This briefing paper is therefore not offered as a blue-print, but as an example of the current approach of one detention monitoring body.

As highlighted previously on the Canada OPCAT Project website, at present oversight of immigration detention settings is exercised by the Canadian Red Cross through an agreement with the Federal Government. Unlike in the UK, no arms-length government body like HMIP currently exercises oversight over immigration detention in Canada. How the Canadian Government intends to plug this glaring OPCAT coverage gap remains unknown at present.

Nonetheless, Canadian readers (as well as our many foreign visitors to the website) are encouraged to read the University of Oxford’s highly welcome briefing paper.


Read this brand new publication, HMIP Detention Monitoring Methodology: A Briefing Paper.

Read more about HMIP and its monitoring methodology known as Expectations.

Get up to speed with the University of Oxford’s Faculty of Law project, Border Criminologies.

Find other detention monitoring tools and guides under Other Resources.

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, Monitoring tools, NPMs, OPCAT, Places of detention

Making Immigration Detention Less Harmful

The Geneva-based Global Detention Project has issued a cutting-edge report on how to make immigration detention less harmful. The report titled Harm Reduction in Immigration Detention outlines key measures which states can implement to lessen the harmful impact of immigration detention on detainees.

The Global Detention Project report systematically compares conditions and operations at detention centres in five European countries to identify practices that may be used to develop harm reducing strategies in detention. The report, which was commissioned by the Norwegian Red Cross, is part of its initiative to promote reform of Norway’s detention practices. In doing so, it addresses the following key questions:

  • In what ways has the Norwegian system met or exceeded internationally recognized standards?
  • In what ways has it fallen short, especially when compared to detention practices of peer countries?
  • And what are the key reform priorities going forward that may help reduce the harmful impact of detention?

Immigration DetentionThe document highlights several key areas for promoting reforms across the facilities studied, including: placing immigration detainees in the custody of social welfare institutions rather than public security agencies; reforming operating rules on everything from food preparation to electronic communications; and shedding detention centres of carceral elements.

The Global Detention Project publication may also have direct relevance to the Canadian context. As is generally known, 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.

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. At present oversight of immigration detention in Canada is exercised by the Canadian Red Cross through an agreement with the Federal Government.

Unlike in other detention spheres, in practice no arms-length government body currently exercises oversight over immigration detention in Canada. The absence of any such body with a preventive mandate will be a significant monitoring gap to fill if and when Canada ratifies the OPCAT.

Nonetheless, for the moment the Global Detention Project report merits a close look and may contain some very important lessons for the Canadian context.

Readers may also wish to take note of the ICRC’s key guidance from 2016 on the use of immigration detention by states. This policy document stresses various key point, including that detention should be an exceptional measure and alternatives to detention should always be considered first. The full policy document can be downloaded in English and French.

Posted by mp in Monitoring tools, OPCAT, Places of detention

COPCAT Shorts: Too Many States Failing OPCAT

Although over 60 NPMS have been established in countries around the world – a major success story – it remains the case that a significant number of OPCAT state parties have failed to do so … The obligation to establish an NPM is a central element of the OPCAT. We just do not understand why these states believe that they do not need to do so.

We will continue to do what we can, but at the end of the day a State either takes its international obligations in respect of torture prevention seriously, or it does not. Those states which have not established their NPM as they ought do not appear to the SPT to be taking their obligations very seriously at all.

Statement of Sir Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to the UN General Assembly Third Committee, New York, 15 October 2018.

Read the full statement here.

Watch the joint press briefing by Malcolm Evans, Chair of Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; Jens Modvig, Chair of Committee Against Torture; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture from 16 October 2018.

States Failing OPCAT

Torture Prevention – Press Conference, 16 October 2018 (copyright UN Web TV).

Posted by mp in Monitoring tools, OPCAT, SPT

Monitoring Weapons and Restraints in Places of Detention

On a day that UK Prisons Minister Rory Stewart announced that 3.4 million Canadian Dollars (around 2 million GBP) would be spent on arming prison officers in England and Wales with a synthetic incapacitant pepper spray, the arrival of a new publication on the issue of weapons and restraints in detention arrives not a day too soon.

In a brand new set of resources the UK-based Omega Research Foundation and University of Essex have secured a firm handle on the task of monitoring the use of weapons and restraints in places of detention, a challenge underpinned by the above news story and the related human rights concerns voiced by key actors in the country.

Anti-torture toolsThe two organizations have produced a very welcome Practical Guide titled Monitoring Weapons and Restraints in Places of Detention: A Practical Guide for Detention Monitors and a related one-page, foldable Pocket Book for this purpose. The Practical Guide is described “… as a detailed resource which collates standards around the use of firearms, less lethal weapons and restraints in places of detention, and provides checklists of questions to ask and key areas for monitors to observe.”

The lighter-weight Pocket Book (please see below) summarizes key points from the Practical Guide and is designed to be easy for monitors to print out and use in places of detention. The above resources are available in English, French and Spanish.

In addition to an in-depth examination of the use of lethal weapons, the publication analyses an array of less-than-lethal weapons. These include chemical irritants and restraints, electric-shock and kinetic impact weapons as well as other restraints. The international and regional legal framework regulating such weapons and restraints is also examined in detail.

In a guest blog contribution to the Association for the Prevention of Torture’s website the University of Essex’s Abigail Dymond (the co-author) offers a short presentation of these invaluable resources and discusses why weapons and restraints should be monitored.

Anti-torture toolsMore interesting information about the highly respected Omega Research Foundation can be gleaned from watching the short video animation below:

Posted by mp in Independent detention monitors, Monitoring tools