NPMs

New Publication – SPT Health-Care Checklist for NPMs

“The availability and the quality of health-care in prisons are crucial indicators in assessing the risk of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and even torture.

National preventive mechanisms should ensure that they cover health-care issues comprehensively in order to fulfil their preventive mandate. The checklist … is recommended as a self-assessment tool to remind national preventive mechanisms of the critical health issues that they should consider in their evaluations of places of deprivation of liberty. The checklist is expected to reveal a general pattern of health-care issues that are, or are not, being addressed in their visit reports.”

National preventive mechanism checklist on health-care issues relating to the monitoring of places of detention (UN Doc. CAT/OP/7), published by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture 24 May 2019 (§2-3).  

Healthcare by Marco Verch (trendingtopics) 2019.

The SPT’s newly-published checklist breaks the issue of health-care down into eight specific areas. At just 3 or so pages in length, the resource can be easily used in practice. According to the checklist, NPMs (or other monitors for that matter) should ideally examine the following areas when visiting any given detention facility:

  • Admission procedures;
  • Files and records;
  • General health services;
  • Mental health services;
  • Health staff;
  • Sensitivity and professional ethics;
  • Practice;
  • And prison health environment.

The above focus on ‘health staff’ is especially interesting, as the checklist queries whether staff have been trained on the documentation of torture as well as on key instruments such as the Istanbul Protocol, UN Convention against Torture, San Jose Guidelines and the Nelson Mandela Rules.

The stated overall objectives of this internal checklist are to:

“(a) Remind national preventive mechanisms of the important health-care issues that need to be noted during their visits;

(b) Identify gaps in the capacity of national preventive mechanisms to monitor health aspects of torture prevention and, if necessary, strengthen their health expertise.”

The SPT authors of this helpful resource stress that the checklist is designed for internal use only and not as an instrument for assessing actual conditions in places of detention. As such, NPMs are encouraged to design their own health-care assessment tools for use in monitoring places of detention, which certain monitoring bodies have done so.

If readers can recommend any monitoring tools specifically on health-care, please do let us know. We would be very happy to hear from you.


Download the NPM health-care checklist in English.

Consult the SPT’s other resources for NPMs.

Read Professor Juan E. Méndez’ (2019) article ‘Right to a Healthy Prison Environment: Health Care in Custody Under the Prism of Torture’. 

View Penal Reform International’s Mental health in prisons: A short guide for prison staff.

Posted by mp in Health care, NPMs, Places of detention, SPT

Academic News & Views: The Australian NPM Challenge Ahead

Canadian readers looking for a searching assessment of the on-going challenge to implement the OPCAT in a federal state need look no further than Professor Richard Harding’s new article in the current Special Issue on the OPCAT of the Australian Journal of Human Rights. Compared with other writers, the author offers a more critical account of both the ratification and implementation-related processes of the OPCAT instrument in Australia.

Contextually, the writer advances an absorbing historical account of the background to OPCAT ratification, beginning as far back as 2002. In doing so, he maps out four different stages in the process, spooling forward to the present day when Australia finds itself grappling with the challenge of putting in place its NPM before the January 2022 deadline.

While much positive has been written about the overall OPCAT consultation process in Australia, not least in these pages, Richard Harding’s more critically pitched eye on the subject matter arrives at an opportune moment in terms of the sizeable task ahead.

challenge ahead
Prison by Ikhaan (2010).

In the article the author sums up the crux of the problem as follows:  

“First and foremost, there must be full commitment to implementing the NPM structure domestically. The journey towards ratification has been marked by ambivalence – as to the basic need for an NPM structure, as to whether existing structures can carry out the role, as to the necessary levels of funding and resources, and as to the extent of federal guidance and commitment through the NPM Coordinator in ensuring that ‘sub-NPMs’ possess ‘functional independence’. Yet, for all that, as the AHRC Interim Report has stated in the Preface: ‘OPCAT has the potential to be the single most positive step in a generation to improve human rights protection of people who are detained’”. (17)

For the author the challenges currently facing engaged human rights actors in ensuring that the OPCAT is implemented effectively in the country are several. After all, what would be the point in ratifying the instrument only to execute it poorly in practice?

Canada, no doubt, will face similar trials and tribulations, especially if it – like Australia – designates a panoply of existing human rights/ombudsperson-type bodies as its NPM, as forecast (rightly or wrongly) on this website. The OPCAT-related challenges which should be met in practice in Australia are outlined in the article, as follows:

  • The designation of monitoring entities in a devolved NPM structure which meet the OPCAT criteria, especially in terms of functional independence;
  • The implementation of the OPCAT progressively without overloading the new structures in a manner which ensures the process is ‘progressive, not static’, particularly in terms of the scope of OPCAT Article 4 coverage;
  • The development of a reliable and realistic criteria of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to guide NPM activities;
  • The structuring of civil society into the national-level OPCAT system, more so in view of the prominent and crucial role played by the third sector in achieving ratification;
  • And ensuring adequate funding and resources.
challenge ahead
Prisons by -JvL- (2012).

The advantages of successfully tackling the above challenges are both domestic and international in scope and, according to the author, might assume the form of leadership in relation to the promotion of the OPCAT in the Pacific region, where OPCAT ratification remains relatively low. The author tempers this prospect with the following assertion:

“However, the first task is to create strong structures, standards and values within the Australian federation. In that regard, the 2002-2017 history suggests that some significant attitudinal and political hurdles have yet to be overcome.” (17)

At some point in the future Canada will undoubtedly contend with several of these same issues, which are familiar challenges faced by other states currently putting in place NPMs as well as by NPMs operating in practice.

In an in-depth paper published earlier this year the Canada OPCAT Project examined some of these common challenges which frequently beset NPMs in practice. The paper argued that Canada should overcome these hurdles if it is to institute an efficiently functioning NPM. In this wider context Richard Harding’s detailed and highly useful analysis of the current Australian OPCAT implementation process is a timely reminder of the task ahead here in North America.   


Richard Harding, Australia’s circuitous path towards the ratification of the OPCAT, 2002-2017: the challenges of implementation, Australian Journal of Human Rights 2019, published online 2 May 2019. Readers can obtain a copy via Shibboleth or OpenAthens here.

Several other OPCAT themed articles in the current Special Issue on the OPCAT have been highlighted in these pages, including on the role of civil society vis-à-vis the instrument, monitoring immigration and psychiatric detention, NPM regularity of visits and the operation of New Zealand’s NPM.

Read the current issue of the ICPA’s Network on External Prison Oversight and Human Rights with its Australian OPCAT focus.

Read more about the challenges which frequently beset NPMs in practice.

Posted by mp in Australia, NPMs, OPCAT, Ratification

Academic News & Views: Civil Society & the OPCAT

It has for several years been recognized that civil society has an invaluable role to play in relation to the OPCAT, including its promotion and implementation. At the highest international level, for example, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture stated as long ago as 2010 that a country’s NPM “… should be identified by an open, transparent and inclusive process which involves a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society.” It has since elaborated on this position.

In a bang-up-to-date May 2019 article titled Involving civil society in preventing ill-treatment in detention: maximising OPCAT’s opportunity for Australia, Rebecca Minty explores the role of the third section both in relation to promoting the ratification of instrument as well as to its implementation in practice. The lessons for Canada are unquestionably several, more so regarding the potential role of civil society in promoting the OPCAT as an instrument at the domestic level.

OPCAT campaign images
‘Ratify OPCAT’ campaign image by the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.

Rebecca Minty’s excellent new paper appears among the current series of articles which comprise the Australian Journal of Human Rights’ Special Issue on the OPCAT, previously highlighted on this website.

In the article the author skilfully draws on the existing academic literature as well as international practice vis-à-vis civil society’s role and the OPCAT, hinging her discussion on Australia’s on-going attempts to institute an NPM (resulting from its December 2017 ratification of the OPCAT). In doing so, she advances at the outset of the paper a very informative account of the role of Australian civil society with respect to the promotion of the OPCAT in the country, noting:

“Prior to ratification, Australian civil society and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) had been calling for OPCAT ratification for a decade, in a range of advocacy settings. Internationally, CSOs made statements to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review and recommended OPCAT ratification in alternative reports to the UN treaty bodies, including the Committee Against Torture.” (3)

Canadian civil society organizations have placed similar recommendations before the UN human rights machinery, spanning a period of many years. The November 2018 examination of Canada by the UN Committee against Torture and the presentation of a dozen or so shadow-reports is an illustrative, more recent case in point. Previously, different Canadian actors had also done so with regard to the UN Human Rights Committee and UN Human Rights Council.

Campaign Images
‘Ratify OPCAT’ campaign image.

Where the Australian advocacy context has been different to the Canadian landscape lies in Rebecca Minty’s next point, namely the establishment in 2015 of the Australian OPCAT Network (AON), an informal grouping of academics, non-government organizations and interested individuals. According to the author, the AON:

“… was formed to raise awareness about the benefits of OPCAT and advocate for its ratification. The AON wrote joint advocacy letters and submissions, conducted national teleconferences to share information, and organised symposiums and seminars on OPCAT. Various CSOs provided submissions to national inquiries and consultations, including the National Children’s Commissioner’s 2016 Children’s Rights Report and the Federal Human Rights Commissioner’s 2017 OPCAT consultation.”(3)  

The progressive, open and inclusive nature of Australia’s OPCAT consultation process has previously been commented on and commended in these pages, despite its limitations in the eyes of some commentators. Nonetheless, Australian civil society clearly made its own luck in this matter by proactively collectively organizing to embrace the task of promoting the instrument.

Could Canadian civil society actors follow the tack of their Australian human rights colleagues? There exists absolutely no compelling reason why not – providing sufficient interest and will exists to do so.

Domestic drivers

Interestingly, however, in the view of Rebecca Minty domestic circumstances also played in civil society’s favour when promoting the merits of the instrument. More specifically, two noteworthy events preceded the ratification of the OPCAT which provided an opportunity for Australian civil society to engage in more targeted and strategic advocacy.

These events included Australia’s candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in 2018-2020 which resulted in an OPCAT ratification pledge, as well as the appalling Don Dale Detention Centre scandal which made for damaging international news headlines. It was therefore not by accident that the images of abuse at the Don Dale detention facility in the Northern Territory were utilized as part of national-level OPCAT campaign. In this latter regard Rebecca Minty commented:

“The release of shocking footage in 2016 of ill-treatment of young people in Don Dale Detention Centre in the Northern Territory, including the use of tear gas and spits hoods, was cited as an example of the need for more comprehensive oversight of closed environments, specifically OPCAT-style monitoring. Australia was elected to the Human Rights Council in October 2017, and OPCAT ratification followed two months later, with Australia making a declaration under Art 24 to delay the obligation to establish or designate its NPM for three years.” (3)

OPCAT Campaign Images
‘Ratify OPCAT’ campaign image.

From the above, various relevant lessons can be drawn for the Canadian context, not least the utmost importance of strong civil society cooperation. Moreover, while one would never wish for a national prison scandal to be the central driver for OPCAT ratification in Canada, domestic penal controversies have sadly been the forces to engender long-overdue change in decades gone by.

Wider OPCAT lessons for civil society involvement

While the OPCAT promotional dimension of Rebecca Minty’s article may be highly relevant for the Canadian context, readers should not lose sight of its wider lessons. More generally, the overall thrust of the piece is very valuable in that it sets out in detail how Australian civil society actors are engaging with the fundamental question of how to put in place an NPM.

Furthermore, the writer also casts her gaze more widely, illustrating through various international examples how civil society in different national contexts is engaging with the OPCAT. Such engagement involves both formal and informal participation in NPM-related activities from undertaking actual monitoring to playing a vital NPM watchdog role.

A very useful selection of country examples are highlighted under these different categories from national contexts as diverse as Austria, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In a nutshell, the article gives us a great deal to reflect on regarding the potential involvement of civil society in the wider OPCAT framework.

Campaign images
‘Ratify OPCAT’ campaign image.

In the final part of her article Rebecca Minty looks ahead, mapping the challenges and opportunities for effective civil society engagement with OPCAT in Australia. Such challenges and opportunities include the raising of awareness amongst civil society groups about OPCAT and its preventive approach, their role in the designation process of the future NPM, and the all-important process of building an OPCAT system from the ground up in the country. The author concludes on a positive note, namely:

“There is a range of potential roles that civil society can play in relation to OPCAT implementation in Australia, including formal or informal partnerships with NPMs, or a watchdog role. Case studies from other OPCAT State Parties provide a sound basis for Australia to draw from and develop its own innovative approaches to preventing ill treatment. However, to fully realise this potential, further work is needed across all Australian jurisdictions to raise awareness amongst detaining authorities, potential NPMs and within civil society itself about civil society’s value add. As part of an expanding global framework, there is cause for optimism that the gathering momentum for prevention in Australia will continue to grow.” (18)

It can only be hoped that Canadian civil society actors can succeed in emulating some of these same OPCAT practices at the national level.

Thanks for reading.


Many thanks to Steven Caruana for his generosity in relation to this post.

The above article was published in the current issue of the Australian Journal of Human Rights in May 2019. The article can be accessed free-of-charge here.

Read an overview of other articles in the Special Issue on the OPCAT of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, including on immigration detention and the OPCAT and on the New Zealand NPM.

Posted by mp in Australia, Civil society, NPMs, OPCAT, UN Subcommittee

Academic News & Views: Twelve Years On – Reflections on New Zealand’s NPM

Some twelve years into its existence New Zealand barrister and High Court solicitor Michael White has offered some fascinatingly detailed insights into the operation of the country’s NPM.

Frequent visitors to this website will recall that New Zealand’s multi-body NPM is no stranger to these pages. Comprising some five different specialized bodies with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission executing the overall coordination role, the NPM’s operation has not been entirely without issue.

In an article titled ‘The role and scope of OPCAT in protecting those deprived of liberty: a critical analysis of the New Zealand experience’ author Michael White advances a balanced account of the functioning in practice of the mechanism. The academic piece appears in the Australian Journal of Human Rights’ tremendous Special Issue on the OPCAT, several articles from which have been showcased in these pages in recent weeks.

The focus on the New Zealand NPM is of particular interest to these pages, as Canada is also likely to adopt a multi-body structure as its future NPM.

Twelve years
Christchurch Police Car in The Sq. by NCSphotography (2010).

To briefly recap, the New Zealand NPM comprises five different specialized bodies, including: New Zealand Human Rights Commission; Office of the Ombudsman; Independent Police Conduct Authority; Office of the Children’s Commissioner; and the Inspector of Service Penal Establishments. More detailed information about the detention responsibilities of the different NPM bodies can be found on the Human Rights Commission’s website.

In his article, Michael White casts the operation of the New Zealand NPM for the most part in a positive light, as follows:

“Since 2007, OPCAT in New Zealand has developed and become a strong part of New Zealand’s human rights framework … The impact of OPCAT monitoring on the rights of those deprived of their liberty in New Zealand is significant. For example, positive progress includes upgrades and modifications to facilities; changes to policy and practice; and in a number of instances, identifying and addressing issues or problems relating to the situation of individuals in detention. However, this has not been without challenges.” (2)

In doing so, the author enumerates the various areas where clear gains have been made in terms of improvements. Such advances have included, among other things, the following:

  • The establishment of the NPM in 2007 introduced for the first time the independent monitoring of closed health and disability settings. Through the new NPM mandate independent monitors have been able to scrutinizes practices affecting the rights of persons detained in such locations;
  • Police policies and training have been updated to better identify risks and to prevent deaths in custody;
  • Despite on-going problems regarding their practice (as also highlighted in the article) the use of seclusion and restraint practices are now subject to better management processes;
  • Improvements have been implemented to the way sentencing orders are recorded and monitored, resulting in more timely access to parole hearings;
  • The introduction of systems have been ensured to track the use of force and search procedures;
  • Various improvements have been made to conditions of detention;
  • And there has been a raising of awareness of the situation of vulnerable groups in detention, especially LGBTQI.

As highlighted in a recent post, just as the Norwegian NPM, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has been a driver of change, the New Zealand mechanism has similarly been a catalyst for betterment.

Twelve years
Australian Journal of Human Rights – image copyright of the AHRC Centre at UNSW Sydney.

Nonetheless, some very tangible challenges exist, of which funding remains a very significant factor. Michael White has underscored this key point:

“While NPMs all have a degree of structural independence, in practice independence can be compromised due to funding arrangements, resource constraints and existing operating measures. These issues will need to be continually reviewed as OPCAT continues to mature in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The impact of resource constraints should not be underestimated. Monitoring visits in New Zealand are generally carried out by between one and four people. Furthermore, visit teams are not truly pluralistic as envisaged by OPCAT. They do not represent people with lived experience, or the diversity of the population (and more specifically the detained population). Furthermore, at times they lack the specific professional expertise to monitor a wide-ranging ambit of detention settings.” (13)

The author also notes that the regularity of visits undertaken by the NPM has been restricted by existing resources.

Somewhat surprisingly, the NPM does not widely publish the outcome of its activities, which is also rightly deemed to be problematic in the eyes of Michael White. According to this legal expert, until recently the NPM only published an Annual Report and no other reports of its monitoring activities were readily available. In contrast, other NPMs do regularly publish reports above and beyond just an annual document.

Finally, as a further challenge, the scope of OPCAT Article 4 and the legal understanding of deprivation of liberty in New Zealand is more limited than might be the case elsewhere. However, Michael White acknowledges that this discussion is on-going:

“In June 2018, the Minister of Justice gazetted new responsibilities for the Office of the Ombudsman under its OPCAT mandate. The Ombudsman is now responsible for monitoring dementia units in private aged care facilities (as well as court cells). While this is a significant step forward, there are still a wide range of places where people are or may be deprived of their liberty that are not covered by New Zealand’s NPM designations, such as community disability residences, aged care homes and educational facilities.”

This same point also relates to the deprivation of liberty of persons in residential care by dint of their lack of legal capacity. The author underscores the potential role the NPM might play in relation to the New Zealand’s international obligations under the UN CRPD in this same regard.

Based of these twelve-year-long OPCAT reflections the writer advances a list of some nine key elements, which he deems crucial for an effective and OPCAT-compliant framework. These key elements include NPM attributes such as independence, mandate, resourcing, transparency and accountability, collaboration, expertise, and engagement with civil society, among other essential items. If Canada is to institute an effective NPM, all nine elements should be taken heed of by the Canadian authorities.

In summary, the experiences of the New Zealand NPM are there to be drawn on by Canadian actors, more so at a time when OPCAT ratification is said to be under consideration in the country (despite the absence of any public information about progress in this regard). In his highly engaging article Michael White succeeds in great measure in highlighting the gains made by the NPM over the past twelve years as well as the existing challenges facing the New Zealand multi-body mechanism.


Many thanks once again to Steven Caruana for his assistance in relation to this post.

The above article was published in the current issue of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, on 16 April 2019. The article can be accessed free-of-charge here.

Read an overview of other articles in the Special Issue on the OPCAT of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, including on immigration detention and the OPCAT.

Lean more about the operation of the New Zealand NPM.

Visit the New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s website on the OPCAT.

Posted by mp in New Zealand, NPMs, OPCAT

Academic News & Views: An OPCAT Focus on Immigration Detention

As part of the Australian Journal of Human Rights fascinating new Special Issue on the OPCAT, the matter of ensuring adequate coverage of immigration detention has come into sharp focus. In a brand-new article by Madeline Gleeson of the University of New South Wales titled ‘Monitoring places of immigration detention in Australia under OPCAT’, the author focuses on the challenges of making certain that immigration detention is effectively monitored in practice.

The parallels with Canada are illuminating. As has been highlighted in recent Canada OPCAT Project posts, even though Canada’s formal immigration detention estate is small, the Government frequently resorts to the use of provincial prisons for immigration detention purposes. Furthermore, unlike in Australia, there is currently no statutory inspection body for immigration detention in Canada, bar a temporary monitoring agreement with the Canadian Red Cross.     

Madeline Gleeson
Australian Journal of Human Rights – image copyright of the AHRC Centre at UNSW Sydney.

In her thought-provoking article Madeline Gleeson makes the essential point:

“…. while the government immediately claimed it as a ‘significant victory for human rights’ (Bishop and Brandis 2017b), the extent to which ratification of OPCAT will in fact mitigate the risks of torture and ill-treatment in places of detention will depend on how it is implemented. In the context of immigration detention in particular, there are significant challenges and controversies to be overcome if OPCAT is indeed to play the preventive role for which it is intended.”

For Australia these aforementioned challenges and controversies are several. In her article Madeline Gleeson embarks on a broad sweep of what might constitute immigration detention in Australia, including more typical facilities located within the country, but also focusing on less typical accommodation type settings, international transit zones in airports, escorts and transfers, so-called off-shore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and cloaked-in-secrecy detention at sea.

Madeline Gleeson
Maitland Gaol by OZinOH (2007).

For Canadian readers the author’s detailed discussion points to the wide range of potential immigration detention settings in any given country, itself an extremely informative exercise. All of these settings, she correctly argues, potentially fall within the scope of the OPCAT.   

Madeline Gleeson’s focus on the general features of an NPM also serves as a useful reminder of the wide potential array of functions of an effective NPM. In doing so, she examines two existing oversight bodies responsible for immigration detention in Australia, namely the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

As Australia’s future NPM is likely to comprise a multi-agency body whose work is coordinated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the author makes various key recommendations aimed at ensuring its legal and functional independence as well as its efficacy as an institution. This advice merits a detailed reading, especially if, as predicted by this writer, Canada also opts for a multi-body NPM as its future mechanism under the OPCAT.    

As in Canada, Madeline Gleeson also notes that the Australian Red Cross has a long history of visits to immigration detention facilities across Australia through its Immigration Detention Monitoring Program. The writer notes: “The Red Cross’s engagement with the Australian government is confidential, focusing on identifying issues of humanitarian concern and providing advice on how to minimise harm for people in detention.” However, unlike in Australia, Canada currently has no other permanent oversight entity for its main immigration detention settings such as an ombudsperson-type body.

The final section of the author’s paper highlights several outstanding challenges relating to the monitoring of immigration detention in Australia. While these factors are to a certain extent Australia-specific in scope, several of Madeline Gleeson’s observations apply beyond its national borders to other current and future OPCAT States Parties such as Canada. These include that:

  • unfettered access to NPM monitors should be ensured in practice in terms of places, people and information;
  • the monitors should be able to address the root causes of potential abuses which may lie in official state policy (such as punitive immigration approaches);
  • and states should be open to independent scrutiny and criticism of their immigration policies, no matter how unpalatable the truth.

All of these lessons could have resonance in the Canadian context as a state which may one day get around to ratifying the OPCAT.

In a word, Madeline Gleeson has made both a very interesting and highly practical contribution to the Special Issue on the OPCAT, with several important lessons for the Canadian setting. With further articles to come in this excellent series of papers, please stayed tuned to the Canada OPCAT Project dial.  


Many thanks to Steven Caruana for his assistance in relation to this post.

The above article by Madeline Gleeson appears in the current issue of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, published on-line on 17 April 2019. The article can be accessed free-of-charge here.

Read an overview of other articles in the Special Issue on the OPCAT of the Australian Journal of Human Rights.  

Read more about the Canadian Red Cross Immigration Detention Report.

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

Posted by mp in Australia, Immigration detention, NPMs, OPCAT, Oversight bodies

Making A Difference: Norway’s NPM

Have you ever wondered if NPMs are making a difference in practice? For many of us interested or otherwise engaged in torture prevention the above conundrum is a recurrent question. After all, if the sum total of any preventive work is at best negligible, or even worse, why waste the time and effort?

In its newly published 2018 Annual Report the Norwegian NPM takes a fresh look at this fundamentally important question, devoting a full chapter to gauging impact. Most positively, in four of its past five Annual Reports the NPM has retrospectively cast its eye over the year of activities to document effected change.

Even though Canada and Norway are quite different national contexts, not least in terms of size of geography and population, Norway’s industrious NPM has nonetheless advanced some illuminating insights into how one NPM is making a difference on the ground through its preventive work.

making a difference

As noted in these pages just a few months ago, Norway ratified the OPCAT in 2013 and designated the Parliamentary Ombudsman as the NPM. The NPM has been operating since 2014 and consists of an independent department within the Parliamentary Ombudsman, comprising a team of multi-disciplinary staff. Detailed information about the structure and operation of Norway’s NPM can be found in the 2018 Annual Report.

The Norwegian NPM has described in detail how it is making a difference in practice in chapter 5 of the 2018 report. In these pages it has sketched out the all-important process of follow-up to monitoring visits, as follows:

“After each visit, the NPM publishes a report describing its findings and making recommendations for preventing torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. Much of the preventive work begins after the reports have been published.

We ask all places we visit to provide written feedback on how the recommendations have been followed up within three months of the visit report being available.

The feedback we received throughout the year indicates that the institutions generally followed up the recommendations in a thorough manner. The majority of places have implemented numerous measures that play an important role in reducing the risk of inhuman and degrading treatment …

Certain recommendations require limited effort to follow up, while others are more challenging. This means that the NPM’s follow-up can sometimes continue over a long period, and at other times be concluded relatively quickly.” (49)

The report highlights the measured impact of the Norwegian NPM’s activities vis-a-vis specific thematic areas. These include the following:

  • Documenting the use of force in detention;
  • Preventing the use of coercive measures;
  • Ensuring the right to information can be exercised in practice;
  • Facilitating the participation of detainees in decisions which impact on them;
  • Improving the material conditions of detention;
  • Enhancing injury reporting procedures;
  • And minimizing resort to solitary confinement, isolation and segregation.

It bears noting that in 2018 a sizeable number of these gains were made in child welfare, health care and immigration detention settings. In one instance a child welfare facility was even temporarily closed due to allegations of abusive use of force.

Making a difference

As in Canada, resort to solitary confinement, isolation and segregation by different detaining authorities, including in prisons and health care settings, has been a significant cause for concern for the Norwegian NPM. In late 2018 the NPM also published a separate thematic report on the use of segregation in mental health care institutions, a summary of which is available in English.

In conclusion, the 2018 Annual Report of the Norwegian Parliamentary Ombudsman offers Canadian (and other) readers a very welcome insight into how decisive change can be effected in a range of detention settings and, it should be stressed, over a relatively short period of time. For those persons on the receiving end of such change, the positive impact ought not to be underestimated.


Visit the English version of the Norwegian NPM’s website.

Listen to an interview with the Norwegian NPM Director, Helga Fastrup Ervik, and learn more about the activities of her institution.

Read the current and past Annual Reports of the Norwegian NPM.

Read the summary of the December 2018 report, Segregation in mental health care institutions – risk of inhuman treatment.

Posted by mp in Health care, Norway, NPMs, Places of detention, Prisons, Psychiatric detention, Solitary confinement

Academic News & Views: Special Issue on the OPCAT

“OPCAT has the effect of making places of detention more transparent. However, transparency is not, in itself, this treaty’s end goal. OPCAT exists ‘to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. In other words, the ratification and implementation of OPCAT must contribute to the eradication of mistreatment in all of Australia’s places of detention. If it does not achieve that aim, it will have failed.”

Foreword to the Special Issue on the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) – Bronwyn Naylor, Edward Santow, Sophie Farthing, Penny Weller & Stan Winford, Australian Journal of Human Rights, 4 April 2019.


If one interchanged the reference to Australia for Canada in the above quotation, the ultimate purpose of the OPCAT as an international torture-prevention instrument would still remain the same.

Yet, as highlighted in a recent article on the implementation on the OPCAT in Australia, the latter has progressed much further in doing so than its Canadian counterpart.

Even so, the current Special Issue on the OPCAT in the brand-new edition of the Australian Journal of Human Rights merits a closer read by both Australians and Canadians alike. Contained therein are various interesting OPCAT insights as well as a number of lessons which might be transposed from the Australian into the Canadian context.

The Foreword to the Special Issue on the OPCAT, from which the above introductory quotation is taken, kicks off with a general overview of the issue and the three main contributing articles comprising the issue.

Special Issue
Australian Journal of Human Rights – copyright of the AHRC Centre at UNSW Sydney.

The first article, penned by Bronwyn Naylor and Stan Winford from RMIT University in Melbourne, is titled ‘Implementing OPCAT through prison monitoring: the relevance of rehabilitation’. The authors argue that the broad scope of the preventive mandate under OPCAT clearly permits the inclusion of rehabilitation and that various NPMs have, to date, included rehabilitation in their OPCAT monitoring activities.

In making this argument, the authors draw references to the rehabilitation-focused monitoring activities of NPMs in France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales is discussed in some detail in this connection, particularly its set of monitoring standards known as ‘Expectations’. The article concludes:

“Ratification of OPCAT requires establishment of comprehensive monitoring frameworks to prevent ‘torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’ in places of detention. As Australia begins this process, it is important to ask the question: To what extent should monitoring by NPMs address the rehabilitative aspects of imprisonment? We have argued here that it is critical that they do so.” (p. 13)

For Canadian readers perhaps less familiar with the potential rehabilitative scope of the OPCAT at the national level, the contributors advance a strong case for why such an approach should be the case.

Special Issue
Detention by Matt (2009).

The Special Issue on the OPCAT continues with an article by Penelope Weller, also of RMIT University in Melbourne, titled ‘OPCAT monitoring and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’. Like Canada, Australia is a State Party to the UN CRPD and thus obliged to work towards its implementation in practice.

The writer contends that Australia’s preventive monitoring regime under OPCAT must consider and take account of the CRPD and the particular experiences of people with disabilities in places of detention. In this latter connection she writes:

“People with disabilities are more likely than others to live in institutional settings such as social care, disability, health and mental health homes and hospitals. While these places are established to provide care, they are also places where people may be deprived of their liberty and are at risk of experiencing violence, abuse and discrimination. Persistent revelations about incidents in aged care homes and psychiatric facilities confirm the ever-present risk of violence and abuse in such places … People with disabilities are also disproportionately represented in traditional places of detention, such as prisons and police cells, and similarly disproportionately at risk of detention and abuse in such settings.” (p.2)

As a recent investigation into acts of abuse in a healthcare setting in New-Brunswick revealed, the above risk is very real. Moreover, the frequent disregard in practice of fundamental safeguards in such healthcare settings, as highlighted in a March 2019 report of the British Columbia Ombudsperson, potentially heightens such risk. Penelope Weller makes a well-reasoned argument why the scope of OPCAT Article 4 should include a wide array of healthcare settings in Australia, a line of argument which would equally apply to the Canadian context.  

In this same regard the writer also argues that a reading of the OPCAT in light of the CRPD suggests that any deprivation of liberty based on disability-related discrimination, as defined by the Article 14 of the CRPD, may be construed as torture. Moreover, as persons with disabilities may suffer a diversity of abuses in healthcare settings, including seclusion, restraint, involuntary treatment and sexual assault, there exists the need to incorporate such disability awareness into OPCAT monitoring principles, methods and practices.

In a word, as healthcare deprivation of liberty contexts are not the same as prisons or police stations, a different monitoring approach is required under the OPCAT and CRPD, the possible specificities of which the author outlines in some detail. Penelope Weller concludes her unique article by stating: “Infusing OPCAT with the CRPD principles will produce a robust preventive monitoring approach.” Even though the writer’s geographic focus is Australia, the lessons she draws from the CRPD and OPCAT might equally apply to North America.

Special Issue
Centré de détention de Venna by Sara Prestianni (2009).

In the final article in the Special Issue on the OPCAT two very well-known British academics, Rachel Murray and Nick Hardwick, reflect on the question, ‘Regularity of OPCAT visits by NPMs in Europe’.  

The paper examines how NPMs in Europe have interpreted the concept of ‘regular’ visits in the hope that this exercise will be of assistance to those involved in the establishment of Australia’s NPM. Based on a combination of publicly available reports and survey materials, the article is highly interesting.

For Canada the task of ensuring both coverage and regularity of visits by its future NPM over a potentially vast geographic area, some two-and-a-half times larger than the European Union space, will not be insignificant.

The authors note from the outset that the concept of NPM regularity has been under-explored in the published literature on the OPCAT, somewhat surprisingly so it must be said. On the issue of regularity they comment:

“By July 2018, 38 NPMs had been designated in Europe, the largest number in any region. As is seen below, the practice of these NPMs varies considerably, with a number of factors coming into play when one is trying to identify what is regular, and the extent to which, even if one could define regularity, any NPM is fulfilling this requirement.” (p.2.)   

Nonetheless, the authors skilfully dissect the concept of regularity, discussing its definition, the types of NPM visits, and the notion of frequency. They also discuss in detail the different factors determining regularity, including UN Subcommittee on Prevention and other international guidance as well as the NPMs’ own criteria. Unsurprisingly, geography, NPM resources, organizational mandate and the depth and length of visits all impact on regularity to varying degrees. The authors conclude:

“Across the world NPMs have been established at great speed. In Europe alone, in little more than a decade, 38 NPMs have been designated. Every year they are carrying out hundreds of independent preventive visits to places of deprivation of liberty, which in many cases were hidden from scrutiny before. The very speed of their development has meant there is relatively little detailed evidence of how NPMs have gone about their task and ‘what works’. This limits the opportunity for new NPMs, including that in Australia, to draw on the experience of those that have gone before. The paper explored one of the most basic questions facing NPMs: how NPMs understand and apply the requirement to undertake ‘regular’ visits.” (p.20)

Despite such limitations, Rachel Murray and Nick Hardwick offer the Australian/ Canadian reader some very useful general conclusions. In a word, regularity means different things to different organizations and it is not always equated with frequency. As such, the authors recommend that a newly established NPM in Australia (or Canada) might wish to consider how it views regularity.

Special Issue
Detained abstracts 1 by Greenmonster (2010).

In addition, NPMs routinely take into consideration a number of factors when visiting a given facility and not just the frequency or the length of time which has passed since the last visit. Examples of such factors would include: the size of the team; the availability of resources; the overall magnitude of detention facilities to be visited in any given country; the different types of visits (announced or not); and the receipt of complaints as an indicator of potential problems in a given facility. These same factors will unquestionably impact on the work of the future Canadian NPM, as it determines its program of monitoring activities.

In conclusion, the Australian Journal of Human Rights has done an excellent job in compiling some extremely interesting and unquestionably cutting-edge papers on the topic of OPCAT. Even though their focus may lie outside the borders of Canada (Australia and Europe), the issues under discussion (rehabilitation, healthcare settings as deprivation of liberty, and regularity of visits) are as equally relevant in the Canadian context, perhaps more so at a time when more of us could be thinking longer and harder about the potential application of the OPCAT in the country.

Finally, as this short review post barely skims the surface of the three excellent academics articles, readers are warmly encouraged to refer to the full articles for more in-depth information about the very useful ideas advanced in them.  


***Many thanks to Rachel Murray and Steven Caruana for their assistance in relation to this post.

The above articles appear in the current issue of the Australian Journal of Human Rights, published on-line on 4 April 2019. The articles can be accessed via Shibboleth or OpenAthens or can be purchased via this link.

A further article in the OPCAT Special Issue on immigration detention can be read here.

If you have written a recent academic article on the OPCAT, or a related topic, with a potential ‘Canada angle’ and would like an ‘Academic News & Views’ mention, please let us know.

Read earlier ‘Academic News & Views’ posts, including an article by Marie Steinbrecher on NPM independence and effectiveness and by Professor Juan Mendez on a healthy prison environment.

Explore what the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has recently said about deprivation of liberty on the basis of impairment.

Posted by mp in Australia, Implementation process, NPMs, OPCAT, Places of detention

If A Picture Paints A Thousand OPCAT Words…

If a picture does indeed paint a thousand words, it is notable that the torture prevention world remains distinctly word top-heavy.

While NPMs and other detention monitoring bodies typically spill ink on paper thousands and thousands of words over, describing their vexing findings and advancing corrective recommendations, the use of pictures in the form of electronic video imagery is not as commonplace as one might have expected.

In an Internet and social media-driven world this reality is remarkable. NPMs and other oversight entities routinely issue a range of reports, unleashing them into the public domain most commonly through accompanying backgrounders, press releases and Tweets. What is perhaps anything but universal, is the use of animation and information video clips as a means of propagating key findings and recommendations.

The video clip below from the United Kingdom is a relatively rare illustrative case in point. Of the UK NPM’s constituent 21 bodies, the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland exercises oversight over prisons in the province. In late November 2018 the mechanism issued a joint report with several other members of the UK NPM of an unannounced inspection visit to Maghaberry Prison earlier in the year. Brendan McGuigan, the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, took to video to spell out the key findings of the report.

Most encouragingly, the Chief Inspector can routinely be seen doing so in relation to the institution’s other key reports.

The Paraguayan NPM, Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura, has also produced a series of video clips highlighting both its visits and general preventive activities. Please see the following clip about mental health detention in Asunción.

The Kazakh NPM, the National Commissioner for Human Rights, has publicized its more general detention monitoring activities through two video clips (in Russian), which can be watched here.

The Senegalese NPM, l’Observateur national des lieux de privation de liberté, has similarly produced several promotional videos.

That said, not too many other NPMs appear to be breaking new ground in relation to the dissemination of their annual-, thematic- or visit reports in such a manner or even publicizing their OPCAT-related monitoring activities. If such animation or video clips exist in sizeable numbers, then the Canada OPCAT Project could not find them!

Take, for example, the respected French NPM, Controller General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty, which published its 2018 Annual Report this past week on 27 March 2019. The French NPM has succeeded in publishing yet another solid yearly report, albeit one whose key recommendations might have been reinforced through some form of social media/website video clip.

Similarly, as discussed in these pages, in late January 2019 the UK NPM published its Ninth Annual Report, seemingly wholly unaided by any such video clip fandangle. The NPM list goes on.

Despite the more traditional approach of detention monitors to promoting their reports and wider activities, resort to electronic video imagery is unquestionably worth considering.

This past week the Queensland Ombudsman in Australia issued a report into an investigation into a riot in a youth detention facility. As was noted in a recent article, the Queensland Ombudsman may become part of the country’s future NPM. The report was titled The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre report: An investigation into the management of young people at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre between November 2016 and February 2017 and, unusually, its publication was accompanied by a helpful animation clip, which readers can watch below.

Even though this super little video clip would never win any glittering prizes at Cannes, it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. After watching the three-minute or so clip, the viewer comes away with a good insight into the thrust of this newly published report.

Meanwhile back in Canada, not as yet part of the ever-growing OPCAT family, a few weeks ago this website threw a spotlight on an excellent report by the Ombudsperson of British Columbia. The report cast a long, dark shadow over the efficacy of fundamental detention safeguards in the province’s mental health institutions. If you did not have time to read the report, you could have watched the following animated video clip (on the bus or train traveling to work for example). The clip successfully captures the gist of the report in less than two minutes.

Having said that, the use of the moving image to complement the static word appears to be a new approach for the Ombudsperson of British Columbia.

Somewhat surprisingly, other Canadian oversight bodies do not appear to be following suite, be it for reasons of cost, time or in-house expertise or perhaps even skepticism about the added value of resorting to such tools.

Take, for example, the recently published joint report by the Office of the Correctional Investigator and Canadian Human Rights Commission titled Aging and Dying in Detention. There was not an accompanying video clip in sight.

Similarly, a February 2019 report of the Ombud New-Brunswick titled Failure to Protect, focused on the deliberate physical abuse of patients in a care facility in the province. The report was also not accompanied by any such digital promotional materials.

The two emerging reports from out of the joint investigation of the Manitoba Ombudsman and Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth into the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement in youth correctional facilities in the province, as highlighted on this website, adopted the same standard promotional approach: a report accompanied by a press release.

While all of the above are very well presented, expertly written reports, could the size of their respective media splashes or public outreach have been greater with the use of a cleverly produced animation or information clip? In an era when ever greater numbers of us are addicted to the Internet and social media and are seemingly developing ever shorter attention spans, the use of such electronic Internet and social media tools might have a useful practical resonance.

After all, throwing a bright spotlight onto what is happening in detention is at the very heart of the independent oversight function, arguably more so in view of the OPCAT.

Civil society – a step ahead?

Unsurprisingly, civil society has long since understood the power of digital imagery. The Association for the Prevention of Torture, for instance, has had its famous promotional OPCAT animation clip transformed into an impressive 21-language versions. Thus, whether you are a Thai, Hungarian or Arabic speaker, you can learn more about this key torture prevention instrument in your language of choice (check them out here). As a result, French-speaking Canada, Belgium or Switzerland are all able to watch the following OPCAT animation in their French language of choice.

This author’s personal favourite promotional OPCAT video clip was produced by the highly respected Irish NGO, the Irish Penal Reform Trust. It was also featured in an article on this website earlier this year, focusing on Ireland’s much anticipated, but long delayed ratification of the OPCAT.

Whether it is the poignant music, the simple but ingenious design, the stress on the acute vulnerability of certain categories of persons in detention, or the Irish Government’s inexcusable dragging of feet to ratify the OPCAT,  the IPRT’s animated video clip pushes all the right buttons as a promotional tool. If you exchanged Ireland for Canada, the thrust of the clip would arguably be equally as powerful in the North American context.

Regardless of the Irish (and equally the Canadian) Government’s unimpressive foot-dragging on OPCAT ratification, the use of animation and other information clips remain a persuasive tool, whether for projecting an advocacy campaign or just a simple point of information. Furthermore , they represent a surprisingly under-utilized means of conveying to a wider audience the key content and any related recommendations of a given report. For detention monitors of all stripe they remain an avenue meriting further exploration.

Even the UN Subcommittee has got in on the act!

The work of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture has been showcased in the following OHCHR animated video. However, to date, none of its published reports (annual, country visit or advisory visit focused reports) have been subjected to the same treatment. Please see for yourself!

Thanks for reading.


Do you know of any video clips commissioned by NPMs or other detention monitoring bodies? Please contact us and we will add them to this post.

Check out Electronic OPCAT for other related torture prevention videos.

Please also see the Canada OPCAT Project’s gallery of static torture prevention images.

Posted by mp in NPMs, Oversight bodies, Video clips

OPCAT in a Land Down Under

If this writer could not resist the temptation of employing the much-loved Men At Work ‘Down Under’ song reference in this post’s title, then you too will hopefully not resist reading the current edition of the ICPA External Prison Oversight and Human Rights Network newsletter with its Australian OPCAT focus.

As featured in an earlier article, with a spotlight on the current OPCAT implementation process in Australia the newsletter has considerable relevance for the Canadian context with its lessons of good related practice. This fact rings especially true at a time when Canadian government authorities at all levels have apparently been discussing potential OPCAT implementation among themselves, albeit lamentably with practically no one else, not least civil society.

As a fellow federal state, the parallels between Australia and Canada are not insignificant. While Australia has 9 jurisdictions (one federal, six state and two territorial in scope) compared with Canada’s 14, the distinct challenges of implementing the OPCAT in a multi-jurisdictional state structure still have to be met.

Down Under
Maitland Gaol by OZinOH (2007).

Even though reservations have been expressed in these pages about Canada adopting a multi-body approach to OPCAT implementation (please see the Canada OPCAT Project discussion paper, Instituting an NPM in Canada), Australia appears to be forging ahead in this direction, emulating countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

Australia ratified the OPCAT in December 2017, postponing the obligation to institute an NPM by up to three years through a Declaration under OPCAT Article 24. As a result, the country has until January 2022 at the latest to put in place its NPM.

The current ICPA newsletter offers readers a deep dive into the OPCAT implementation process in Australia through the contributions of seven leading human rights academics and detention monitors. Professor Bronwyn Naylor of RMIT University in Melbourne kicks off the Australian OPCAT discussion, offering an informative sweep to date of the overall implementation process in the country. In doing so, she comments on the task of designating multiple bodies as the future NPM:

“The implementation process in Australia therefore involves identifying all relevant places of detention, and all existing monitoring bodies, and – probably most challenging – decisions at state, territory and federal level about whether and how existing bodies could take on the OPCAT monitoring role, and what might be needed to make them OPCAT compliant …

Some of the Australian monitoring bodies, such as the prisons inspectorates and Ombudsman offices, have some or most of the OPCAT characteristics. However across Australia there are both gaps in coverage, and overlapping powers. There are also inconsistencies across states and territories, with varying degrees of independence and effectiveness of monitoring bodies.”

While a similar auditing process took place in Canada in 2017-2018, relatively little information about it has been allowed to seep into the public domain.

Down Under
Ground Floor Maitland Prison by Bill Collison (2012).

In contrast, according to Professor Naylor, in Australia the process of identifying places of detention and establishing a baseline of the extent to which existing oversight bodies are currently OPCAT-compliant is being carried out by an arms-length government body designated to coordinate OPCAT implementation in the country, the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Unlike in Canada, this study is to be made public in an upcoming 2019 report.

Contemporaneously the Australian Human Rights Commission has been conducting a broad constituency consultation into the role of civil society in the implementation of the OPCAT as well as the later operation of the NPM (please visit the institution’s OPCAT Consultation Page). If Australia is willing and able to open up its OPCAT consultation process, Canada’s closed, locked-down process remains all the more perplexing.

In a nutshell, even though the Australian OPCAT consultation process has not been without certain criticism, it remains light years ahead of Canada in terms of its openness, transparency and inclusiveness. Professor Naylor’s article offers an excellent overview of this process up to the current point in time.

Steven Caruana, the Inspections and Research Officer at the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services in Western Australia, and himself no stranger to these Canada OPCAT Project pages, convincingly argues how the OPCAT is being used to strengthen existing oversight bodies in the country, highlighting various illuminating examples thereof. He writes:

“These next two years are crucial times for the advancement of correctional oversight in Australia. Effective and substantial compliance with the OPCAT, in the fitting words of the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Ed Santow, ‘…could be the single most positive development this decade in improving conditions in all Australian places of detention.’ State and Territory governments will need to turn their attention to the requirements of OPCAT. They will need to consider the most suitable existing agencies and what resourcing and legislative requirements will be necessary for them.

Equally important, Australian oversight agencies will need to proactively assess whether their mandate and methodologies are compatible with OPCAT.”  

Thus, OPCAT ratification is being used as a moment of introspection by the government authorities and certain existing oversight bodies, which is most encouraging.

Down Under
Light in the Darkness by Drew Douglas (2007).

In her contribution to the OPCAT discussion, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass extends the above analysis to her own institution, noting:

“When, in 2017, the Commonwealth Government announced that Australia would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), people might have assumed it would be business as usual in Victoria…

For those of us working in this area, however, it was clear that OPCAT would require change. It introduces more rigorous standards for local inspections of places of detention by National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs). By opening detention to United Nations scrutiny, it also demands much closer attention to international standards for the treatment of detainees.”

Citing several so-called pilot OPCAT investigations undertaken from 2017 onwards, the author brings to life Steven Caruana’s key point that the OPCAT can be harnessed to improve and enhance existing oversight activities on the part of detention monitoring bodies.

In a further illuminating article, Rebecca Minty and Holly Fredericksen of the Office of the Inspector of Correctional Services in the Australian Capital Territory, underscore how the OPCAT text was used to inspire the drafting of the statute which brought into life this oversight body in 2017:  

“The legislation to establish the ACT OICS was developed to reflect the requirements and expectations around the establishment of a national preventative mechanism under the OPCAT. This resulted in the creation of a preventative focused independent statutory authority with all the powers and guarantees required in OPCAT, for example, the right to access to any place of detention at any time, the power to speak with detainees and staff, and the right to access documents including registers. Furthermore, when conducting an examination and review, the ICS Act requires that the review team include those with expertise relevant to the subject matter being reviewed, and all reports from examinations and reviews must be publicly tabled in the Legislative Assembly.”

Once again, we see the positive influence of the OPCAT instrument as an international point of reference for best detention monitoring practice.

In other articles more operational accounts are offered of other existing Australian detention monitoring bodies, including the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services in New South Wales, South Australian Ombudsman Office, and the Chief Inspector of the Queensland Corrective Services. All of these bodies may feasibly play a future role as part of Australia’s NPM. 

Down Under
Port Arthur (Tasmania) by Andrea Schaffer (2010).

Some Final Thoughts

With less than three years to put in place an NPM, the Australian OPCAT implementation process appears to be moving steadily forward. More impressively still, Australian civil society has succeeded in establishing an informal OPCAT network to coordinate their respective activities, to closely shadow as well as to feed into the on-going OPCAT consultation process, to which several of the above contributors belong. While no analogue civil society network currently exists in the Canadian context (bar this creaking website), this might be another best practice to be drawn from the Antipodean colleagues.

Though the task of re-purposing a sizeable number of existing monitoring bodies as the future NPM should not be taken lightly, several such oversight bodies in Australia are clearly using the OPCAT as central point of reference against which to gauge and recalibrate their existing inspection activities. In itself, this process of reflection appears to have been an important outcome of the OPCAT implementation process, despite there being much work ahead in this respect.

Yet none of the above would have been possible without a reasonable degree of willingness on the part of the Australian authorities to open up the domestic OPCAT process to discussion – crucially with civil society. Gloomily, as previously stated, such openness and inclusiveness has been almost entirely lacking in Canada, despite international recommendations and advice to this end.

This impenetrability and opacity aside, the OPCAT discussion process Down Under remains an invaluable benchmark of how such a national discussion might be conducted in future in Canada. It goes without saying that we wish our impressive Australian colleagues the very best of luck with these crucially important torture-prevention endeavours.


The next installment of the ICPA Network newsletter is scheduled for September 2019 with the featured country jurisdiction of Argentina and the featured topic of “Strengthening our Correctional Cornerstones: Rights, Dignity, Safety and Support.” Persons interested in contributing an article should contact the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

Read the current ICPA Network newsletter.

Read an earlier article based on the current newsletter titled Critical Expert Focus on Solitary Confinement.

Read ICPA Network newsletter No. 1.

Visit the Network’s webpage and see who is a member.

Make a request to join the Network by contacting Canadian Correctional Investigator, Ivan Zinger.

Listen to Steven Caruana talk about the Australian OPCAT process on C3R radio.

Posted by mp in Australia, Implementation process, NPMs, OPCAT, Oversight bodies

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