SPT

Canada & OPCAT Ratification – Does This Sound Vaguely Familiar?

“The OPCAT has now been ratified by 90 countries from all regions of the world, with Iceland and South Africa joining the OPCAT system so far this year. This is an impressive number but there are still a considerable number of states parties to the Convention against Torture which have not yet done so. All States Parties to the Convention against Torture are already bound to take preventive measures by virtue of article 2 of that Convention, and it has been the longstanding position of the SPT that that obligation is best fulfilled through ratification of the OPCAT, which is entirely focussed on effective prevention. Numerous states have undertaken to do so during the course of their Universal Periodic Reviews by the Human Rights Council: but these commitments sometimes seem to be swiftly made, but slowly fulfilled. The SPT hopes that the rate of growth in participation will quicken in the coming months as more states seek to honour their commitments to ratify.”

Statement by Sir Professor Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, to the 74th session of the General Assembly Third Committee in New York on 14 October 2019.

Sir Professor Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, presents to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, 14 October 2019, in New York. Image copyright of UN Web TV.

If one reflects that over the years – many years – there have been repeated past high-profile statements (like the above) by Canada purporting to commit to the country’s potential ratification of OPCAT, then the overall lack of progress of the North American state to make good on such pledges (both to the UN Human Rights Council as well as other key UN bodies) is unquestionably disappointing.

Astonishingly, Canada first used the pledge of OPCAT ratification during its candidacy for membership of the UN Human Rights Council as far back as 2006, a pledge unfulfilled to the present day.

During its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Human Rights Council in February 2009 Canada accepted the recommendation to possibly ratify the OPCAT. During its second UPR cycle in April 2013 Canada once again accepted in principle the recommendation to do so, even though it stated that at the time it had no plan to ratify the instrument. Nonetheless, Canada did not reject the recommendation outright at that time.

As recently as May 2018, during Canada’s third-cycle UPR by the UN Human Rights Council, some 27 countries urged Canada to either ratify the OPCAT or consider the ratification of the instrument. 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.”

Immigration detention
Palais des Nations, Geneva by UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre.

Canada reported back to the Human Rights Council during its 39th Session on 21 September 2018, stating that it had indeed accepted the recommendation to consider ratification of the OPCAT. Again.

Since 2018, no shortage of UN experts have urged Canada to advance and expedite the OPCAT ratification process, as highlighted on this website. Yet, disappointingly, little tangible progress has seemingly been made in practice to do so. The complete lack of transparency and publicly available information about any domestic process has further obfuscated the issue. Simply put, Canadian civil society remains well and truly in the dark about what is and what is not being done by Canada to make good on its UPR pledges.

In view of Canada’s (to put it kindly) patchy OPCAT track-record one cannot escape the distinct feeling that – to paraphrase Sir Professor Malcolm Evans above – OPCAT commitments have been swiftly made, but slowly fulfilled. Very, very slowly…


Sir Professor Malcolm Evans was joined by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, and the Chairperson of the UN Committee against Torture, Jens Modvig, during the UN Third Committee session.

You can read Professor Evans’ full written statement to the UN Third Committee here or watch it on demand at around the 38-minute mark.

Watch the three torture prevention experts present their respective reports to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 14 October 2019.

In addition, readers might wish to watch the ‘Prevention of Torture Press Conference’ from 15 October 2019.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, SPT, UN Subcommittee

COPCAT Shorts – UN Prevention of Torture Press Conference

“Of course, none of this is possible [torture prevention efforts at the national level] if it is not properly supported, and so it is a matter of great concern to us that the current financial problems that are affecting the UN system that … our final visits of this year have had to be called off for financial reasons. This has never happened to us before and we hope that it never happens again, because we, like my colleagues, are working to secure the interests of some of the most vulnerable in our societies and it is absolutely imperative that that work should continue.”

Screenshot from the Prevention of Torture Press Conference – copyright UN Web TV.

Sir Professor Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, speaking at the UN Prevention of Torture Press Conference, New York, 15 October 2019.


Watch the full Prevention of Torture Press Conference here.

The above quotation excerpt begins at around the 15-minute mark.

Sir Professor Malcolm Evans was joined by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, and the Chairperson of the UN Committee against Torture, Jens Modvig, at the UN Prevention of Torture Press Conference.

Watch the three torture prevention experts present their respective reports to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 14 October 2019.

Listen to an audio interview with Sir Professor Malcolm Evans on what routinely happens during a UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture visit to a country.

Watch a short video about the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

The Canada OPCAT Project signs up to a CSO petition against UN cuts to the treaty bodies.

Posted by mp in SPT, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, UN Subcommittee, UNCAT

Happy Birthday to Us! The Canada OPCAT Project at One Year Old

Acutely inspired by successive Canadian government pledges over a 12-year period to ratify the OPCAT, while doing precious little about it in practice, the Canada OPCAT Project entered this fine world during the final week of July 2018.

Created on a shoestring budget of 120 Canadian dollars, albeit with much elbow-grease, the Canada OPCAT Project came into being with the aim of throwing light on Canada’s domestic OPCAT ratification process.

Some 90 or so posts and eight website sections later, we remain a very small, but hopefully somewhat useful somebody on Canada’s wider human rights landscape.

1st Birthday Cake Face by Suzanne Schroeter (2014).

The highly respected international NGO, Penal Reform International, was the unwitting victim of our very first test post, while over the past 12 months many other organizations and individuals broadly engaged in torture prevention have had their superb work and sterling efforts featured on the website.

Against all good web-development advice (and probably good common sense), the website was built live, piece-by-piece, with various sections slowly being added. Over the past year, an ever great number of posts have since been thrown into the ether on all manner of issues with an OPCAT and/or torture prevention slant.

In truth, with no heavy bureaucracy, we can post whatever related human rights content we wish, such is the utility and flexibility of the site.

Yet if the aim of the website was to cast light on Canadian government activities aimed at ratifying the OPCAT, then unhappily dear readers, there has been very little progress to report on this front over the past year. At least from the side of Canadian government.

A comprehensive Justice Canada-led legal analysis of how to possibly implement the OPCAT in Canada remains classified and is unlikely ever to see the light of day.

Most regrettably, the Canadian OPCAT consultation process remains entirely closed to civil society at the present moment and there is nothing to indicate that this unacceptable state of affairs will change one jot in the near future.

For the record it should be underscored that this status quo is contrary to all international best practice-related advice and guidance, including by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. This key point has been repeatedly made in these corridors.

The reality is such that federal, provincial and territorial governments will continue to quietly confer among themselves behind closed doors on this key human rights issue and that Canadian civil society will only be asked its opinion on this question at the very last moment – once the decision to ratify the OPCAT and the shape and structure of the future NPM have been largely determined.

If there were ever a completely closed and opaque OPCAT ratification process, then one need look no further than Canada.

That being so, casting such pessimism aside for an instant, the past year has also brought with it certain welcome developments.

In September 2018 the Canadian government responded to its May 2018 Universal Periodic Review by stating before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that it would consider the ratification of the instrument. It bears noting that during this UPR process some 27 different countries advanced recommendations that Canada should either ratify the OPCAT or consider its ratification.

On an equally welcome note, in December 2018, the UN Committee against Torture urged that Canada should complete the OPCAT ratification process and, in so doing, consult with Canadian civil society.

The key recommendation that Canada should ratify the OPCAT has also repeatedly been highlighted by different UN special procedures, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities during her 11-day April 2019 mission to Canada.

In June 2019, in her final report of her mission to Canada the previous year, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women advanced a similar recommendation.

Despite such welcome recommendations, what is clearly lacking in Canada is tangible progress on the ground to make such recommendations a reality and, equally as importantly, to include Canadian civil society in the process.

As to the future, what lies in store over the next year remains to be seen, of course. It would be comforting to forecast with certainty that the OPCAT would be signed or ratified within the next 12 months. Sadly, this outcome remains extremely unlikely.

No matter, having just coughed up 200 Canadian dollars in website hosting fees and for domain name rental for the year ahead, readers may be pleased to learn that the Canada OPCAT Project is set to remain in place for at least the next 12 months and it will continue to train its beady eye on domestic OPCAT developments.

It goes without saying that the Canada OPCAT Project remains extremely grateful to its many readers from both near and afar (in Canada and abroad) who have continued to encourage and support the work of the website and who have provided us with super-useful information and lent us their wise advice and many talents on the basis of nothing more than their kindness. Who could ask for more?

Please visit us again soon, dear readers!


Read the Canada OPCAT Project report, Instituting an NPM in Canada.

How is Canada faring against other countries OPCAT-wise? Read on.

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Ratification, SPT

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

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

The Importance of Oversight in Combating Corruption and Torture

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

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

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

The Special Rapporteur on torture writes in the report:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Yet Another Canadian Free UN Expert Body

A leading United Nations human rights expert body will regrettably remain Canadian free for at least another two years after Thursday’s elections in Geneva, Switzerland.

The vote on more than half the membership of the 25-person UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture was once again notable through the absence of any Canadian candidates for this esteemed multi-national UN body.

Canadian free

Nations Unies by MPDO1605 (2008)

The outcome of the tightly contested ballot was announced on 25 October, resulting in the election and re-election of some excellent human rights experts.

Due to Canada not being a State Party to the OPCAT, the country had neither the possibility of putting forward a Canadian candidate, nor the right to cast a vote to determine the composition of the UN’s largest human rights treaty body.

With a vitally important human rights role to play in the global fight against torture, the UN Subcommittee might have benefited significantly from Canadian human rights expertise, which unquestionably exists in abundance in the country. Moreover, in the light of the fact that Canadian experts occupy just one out of 162 seats which comprise the 10 existing UN treaty bodies, Canada’s potentially sizeable human rights role on the international stage remains surprisingly diminished.

Even so, if Canada acted on its OPCAT pledge and swiftly moved forward with the ratification of the instrument, Canada would be strategically placed to advance a Canadian candidate for the next SPT elections due in 2020.

By doing so, the very positive influence of Canada’s accession to the instrument might equally be felt inside the country as well as out.

For readers who are unsure how the UN treaty bodies operate in practice, please watch the short animation below.

 

Posted by mp in OPCAT, SPT, UN Subcommittee

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