Torture prevention

COPCAT Shorts – CTI Best Practices Excluding Torture Evidence

Tired and jaded by constantly reading about COVID-19? Then look no further, dear readers, than the Geneva-based Convention Against Torture Initiative’s (CTI) excellent new tool on best practices excluding torture evidence. The CTI tool, while not exactly the most sunny of reads subject matter-wise, is unquestionably a very useful resource. Better still, it has nothing remotely to do with the wretched coronavirus, currently blighting our lives.

Prepared by the highly respected NGO REDRESS for CTI, the organizations have brought to the fore another exceptionally high quality resource aimed at ensuring adherence to the UN Convention against Torture’s key Article 15, prohibiting the admission of evidence obtained by torture in any proceedings.

The new CTI tool.

Published on 27 April 2020, the accompanying CTI press release outlines the objectives of the tool:

“CTI’s new tool is tailored to State policy-makers, police investigators, prosecutors, medical practitioners and judges, and explains not only the important rationale of Article 15 for the overall effectiveness of investigations and court proceedings, but shares a range of positive State practices. The tool clarifies that the rule of non-admission of the use of evidence obtained by torture puts an important break on corrupt practices, removes one of the primary incentives for abuse, and safeguards due process rights and the fairness of court proceedings. Applying this rule helps dismantle unreliable confession-based policing and results in better and more reliable evidence gathering and investigations.

The tool’s compilation of good State practices are drawn from 24 countries from all geographical regions and showcase legislative, policy and practical ways the “exclusionary rule” is being respected.”

In its opening pages the tool outlines 8 extremely compelling reasons for excluding evidence obtained by way of torture or ill-treatment – notwithstanding the illegality of the practice – which serve as a useful reminder of why this all-important provision must always hold firm.

In order to ensure that torture evidence is excluded in everyday practice, CTI’s resource identifies the key role played by different criminal justice actors, including:

  • Police interviewers and investigators;
  • Prosecutors;
  • Medical practitioners;
  • Judges.

While the tool’s focus on the above actors may not be especially new, the citation of numerous specific country examples very much brings the document to life.

Prison – Anthony Albright (2020).

The CTI tool additionally advances a range of examples of national-focused proceedings and processes which specifically exclude evidence obtained through torture, including from countries as diverse as Australia, South Africa, England and Wales, Brazil and Thailand.

The final section of the tool titled Procedures and Practices to Exclude Torture Evidence: Things to Consider is especially useful. It comprises a list of questions to bear in mind when considering existing laws, procedures and instructions as well as in relation to the implementation of new procedures and encouraging new practices.

Best of all, none of the above has anything to do with the coronavirus. Thus, immense thanks are due to CTI and REDRESS, not only for producing another highly practical and informative resource, but equally for a much-needed distraction from the current gloom-laden news headlines!

Interested readers may also wish to scrutinize more closely CTI’s other excellent resources which form its so-called UNCAT Implementation Tools, all of which are designed to share good practices among states on the effective implementation of the UN Convention against Torture.

Download CTI’s Non-admission of evidence obtained by torture and ill-treatment: Procedures and practices tool.

Learn more about the Convention Against Torture Initiative.

Discover other torture-prevention resources.

Check out Dignity’s legal fact-sheets on torture prevention.

Posted by mp in Absolute prohibition of torture, Publication, Tools, Torture prevention, UNCAT

New Publication – Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty

Fresh off their Warsaw printing presses OSCE-ODIHR has published yet another very welcome practical resource, this time on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in places of detention.

On 9 August 2019 the inter-governmental organization released the publication, Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty: Standards, Approaches and Examples from the OSCE Region, which – at 170 pages or so in length – tackles this highly topical issue in considerable detail. More importantly, the publication is highly practical and usable too.

As one of the OSCE’s 57 participating States (although this fact is sometimes seemingly forgotten in Canada) the publication has direct relevance in the Canadian context.

The official OSCE-ODIHR description accompanying this new resource reads as follows:

The purpose of this publication is to improve the understanding of sexual and gender-based violence on the part of state actors and civil society, including an understanding of how such violence manifests in places of deprivation of liberty. It also identifies many of the factors that increase the vulnerability of persons deprived of their liberty and aims to contribute to the reduction and eventual elimination of sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty. The publication is primarily intended for policymakers, lawmakers and practitioners from criminal justice systems, including lawyers, prosecutors, judges and anyone else involved in arresting, investigating, interrogating or detaining suspects, those accused of a crime and prisoners or detainees.”

In this respect, the new publication complements very well a number of existing detention related guides currently available to detention monitors, human rights activists and criminal justice practitioners. The APT’s 2018 publication Towards the Effective Protection of LGBTI Persons Deprived of Liberty: A Monitoring Guide springs immediately to mind, which was also featured on this website.

OSCE-ODIHR’s brand-new contribution to the wider literature comprises some seven individual sections, as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Core concepts
  • Background: What do we know about sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty?
  • Risk and needs assessments
  • Reducing risk in specific situations
  • Other measures to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence
  • Conclusion

Three annexes complement the main body of text, highlighting key recommendations drawn from the publication as well as providing a very useful checklist for monitoring visits on sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty.

Solitary confinement
Solitary Confinement by garshna (2013).

The many specific country examples and ECtHR case-law excerpts also very much bring the document alive, adding colour to it and making it highly accessible to the reader. In short, the numerous country examples give the reader much to think about and draw on in their own national contexts.

The publication concludes as follows:

Sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty is preventable and should never be tolerated. This publication has sought to dig deep into this human rights violation and has demonstrated the need to raise awareness of its pervasiveness, enhance research and implement measures for its prevention

The recommendations in this publication serve as guidance for actions to be undertaken to step up OSCE participating States’ monitoring and reporting efforts in relation to SGBV. They should also help them to develop comprehensive methods for upholding human rights by creating appropriate safeguards.

This publication serves as a first step towards more detailed guidance and tools on the topic for practitioners, including both state authorities and non-governmental organizations. ODIHR will continue to raise awareness of this topic, in line with its mandate, and provide support to OSCE participating States willing to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence in places of deprivation of liberty.”

In a word, once again OSCE-ODIHR has made an invaluable contribution to the wider human rights literature on the topic of deprivation of liberty, providing a highly practical guide on what can be done on the ground to counter sexual and gender-based violence in detention.

Download Preventing and Addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Places of Deprivation of Liberty: Standards, Approaches and Examples from the OSCE Region in English.

Explore the APT’s Towards the Effective Protection of LGBTI Persons Deprived of Liberty: A Monitoring Guide.

Read other detention related resources here.

Read an overview of two recent UN publications on women in detention, including in Canada.

Posted by mp in Places of detention, Publication, Torture prevention, Women prisoners

COPCAT Shorts – Canada Sponsors UN General Assembly Resolution on Torture-Free Trade

“Taking note of the launching of the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade,

1. Requests the Secretary-General, with the provisions of resolution 72/163 in mind, to seek the views of Member States on the feasibility and possible scope of a range of options to establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of goods used for (a) capital punishment, (b) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and to submit a report on the subject to the General Assembly at its seventy-fourth session;

2. Also requests the Secretary-General, on the basis of his report to be submitted to the General Assembly at its seventy-fourth session, to establish a group of governmental experts, to be chosen on the basis of equitable geographical distribution and guided by the need to appoint individuals reflecting the highest standards of efficiency, competence in the fields of human rights and/or international trade, and integrity, to examine, commencing in 2020, the feasibility, scope of the goods to be included and draft parameters for a range of options to establish common international standards on the matter and to transmit the report of the group of experts to the Assembly for consideration at its seventy-fifth session…

The United Nations ‘Knotted Gun’ by JasonParis (2011).

UN General Resolution ‘Towards torture-free trade: examining the feasibility, scope and parameters for possible common international standards’ (UN Doc. A/73/L.94), adopted by the UN General Assembly on 28 June 2019 (emphasis added above).

It was most encouraging that during this week’s UN General Assembly vote on the possibility of bringing into being an international standard on torture-free trade, Canada was one among 51 UN Member States to sponsor the draft UN Resolution on this pressing issue, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in New York on 28 June 2019. The adoption of this key UN Resolution paves the way for the creation of a group of experts to examine the feasibility and scope of such a possible future international standard on torture-free trade.

Canada’s sponsoring of the UN Resolution comes as a very welcome move, more so just two days after the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June. It can only be hoped that Canada will continue to put its political weight behind this long overdue initiative in the months and years ahead. And ratify the OPCAT of course…   

Read the UN General Resolution on torture-free trade.

Read the accompanying UN press release.

Learn more about the Alliance for Torture-Free Trade.

Read more about the Omega Research Foundation’s work on trade in the ‘tools of torture’.

Explore the key related publication Monitoring Weapons and Restraints in Places of Detention: A Practical Guide for Detention Monitors. 

Posted by mp in Absolute prohibition of torture, Torture prevention, Torture-free trade

Introducing… OPCAT Academics

Regular visitors to the Canada OPCAT Project website will be aware that in recent weeks the website has highlighted an ever greater number of articles under the ‘Academic News & Views’ rubric. As the heading suggests, the aim of the post series is to highlight journal articles with a more academic slant on all things OPCAT/torture prevention. In order to make life somewhat easier for visitors to the website, we have corralled them together in a new OPCAT Academics section.

Academics by Ron Mader (2019).

If you have written any materials on the broad subject of torture prevention with an academic twist, please do let us know. The aim of the post series is not to critically review articles, but more to offer a quick overview of their content and publicize them among our ever increasing readership.

Thus, whether you are freshly starting out on your academic path or running a busy, well heeled university law or politics department, we would be delighted to hear from you.  

Consult the OPCAT Academics section here.

Posted by mp in Academic, OPCAT, Torture prevention

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

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

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

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

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

Prison by a2zphoto (2010)

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

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

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

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

‘Football Yes – Torture No’ Campaign Posters

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

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

Campaign poster

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

Posted by mp

OHCHR Video on the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

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

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

Posted by mp in OPCAT, Torture prevention

Guidance Document on the Nelson Mandela Rules Now Published!

This past week Penal Reform International and the Organization’s for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights published their Guidance Document on the Nelson Mandela Rules. The document offers invaluable advice on the implementation of the revised UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which were adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2015.

According to the authors: “The Guidance Document is the result of a joint project by ODIHR and PRI that is designed to assist states in implementing the new Rules, so as to protect the right of people deprived of their liberty to be free from torture and other ill-treatment.” The Guidance Document, which is presently only available in English, can be downloaded by clicking on the image below.

Mandella Rules Guidance DocumentPRI’s other key documents on torture prevention can be located under Other Resources in this website’s menu.


Posted by mp in Prisons, Publication, Torture prevention