UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

COPCAT Shorts – Psychological Torture Discussed at Human Rights Council

The high-level Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on torture took place at the Human Rights Council in Geneva just a few days ago. During the two-segment exchange on 28 February 2020 Professor Nils Melzer presented, among other important matters, his new thematic report on psychological torture under international law.

Nils Melzer by Prachatai (July 2019)

On the prevalence of psychological torture, the UN Special Rapporteur stated the following in his new thematic report:

Psychological torture occurs in a wide variety of contexts, including ordinary criminal investigations; police detention; “stop-and-search” operations; intelligence gathering; medical, psychiatric and social care; immigration, administrative and coercive detention; as well as in social contexts such as domestic violence, mobbing, cyberbullying and political or discriminatory persecution.” [§78]

The new report presents a raft of related recommendations in relation to the application of the practice.

As a case in point, the UN Special Rapporteur has recommended with regard to the notion of psychological torture that states adopt, incorporate, and implement the definitions, interpretations and understandings, as advanced in the said report, throughout their national normative, institutional and policy frameworks. These components should be included in the training and instruction of medical, judicial, administrative, military and law enforcement personnel.

Thomas Hawk (2005)

In the report Professor Melzer offers a working definition of psychological torture, comprising various constitutive elements. These aspects include mental severity, suffering, powerlessness, intentionality, purposefulness, as well as resort to lawful sanctions. The UN expert also highlights other closely related issues such as the predominant methods of the practice, torturous environments, and the challenges presented by new technologies. In this latter regard Professor Melzer has observed:

“More generally, in order to ensure the adequate implementation of the prohibition of torture and related legal obligations in present and future circumstances, its interpretation should evolve in line with new challenges and capabilities arising in relation to emerging technologies not only in cyber-space, but also in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, nano- and neurotechnology, or pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences including so-called “human enhancement”. [§76]

The report undeniably brings to the table some cutting-edge reflection by the UN anti-torture expert.

Readers may wish to directly consult the report for more detailed information and/or watch the Interactive Dialogue which took place before the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 28 February 2020.


Watch the Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on torture – part 1 and part 2.

Read the UN Special Rapporteur on torture’s new thematic report on psychological torture under international law.

Read Professor Melzer’s 2019 thematic report on domestic violence titled Relevance of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to the context of domestic violence.

Learn more about the UN Special Rapporteur on torture’s fears on the risk of backsliding on torture.

Posted by mp in Human Rights Council, Psychological torture, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

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

COPCAT Shorts – Prohibition of Torture in the Context of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is perpetrated every day against millions of children, women and men worldwide. It is experienced by all generations, nationalities, cultures and religions and on all socioeconomic and educational levels of society. It constitutes a major obstacle to the universal fulfilment of human rights and to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and it severely damages the physical, sexual, emotional, mental and social well-being of innumerable individuals and families, often leaving lasting trauma not only on its direct victims but also within entire communities. For countless people, it makes the home a place of danger, humiliation and untold harm, rather than a place of refuge, trust and protection.

In the light of these observations, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is of the view that domestic violence cannot be regarded as a private matter, but constitutes a major human rights issue of inherently public concern that requires examination, inter alia, from the perspective of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment. Building on the work of his predecessors and other mechanisms, the Special Rapporteur conducted extensive research and broad stakeholder consultations with experts, government representatives, international organizations and civil society organizations, including through a general call for submissions in response to a thematic questionnaire posted on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The present report reflects the resulting observations, conclusions and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur.”

UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Relevance of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to the context of domestic violence (UN Doc. A/74/148, 12 July 2019) §1 and 4.


Read the UN Special Rapporteur’s report here.

Explore what the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women stated about domestic violence in Canada following the 2018 mission to the country in July 2019 report.

See what the UN Committee against Torture said about gender-based violence in Canada in its Concluding Observations from December 2018.

Read the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada and its focus on multiple forms of gender-based violence.

Posted by mp in Domestic violence, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Violence Against Women

COPCAT Shorts – Domestic Violence: A Veritable Scourge of Inhumanity

“Similar to war, domestic violence is a veritable “scourge” of inhumanity, traumatizing countless children, women and men on a daily basis, and brutalizing human society for generations to come. Contrary to war, however, domestic violence is still largely considered to be a “private matter”, a social taboo to be dealt with at the discretion of the perpetrator in the perceived legal “black hole” of the home. As long as a substantial part of the world’s population is oppressed, abused and even murdered with impunity by their own family members, the promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals will remain a far cry from reality. Consequently, though domestic violence may occur in the private sphere, it must be regarded as a global governance matter of inherently public concern.”

UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Domestic Violence and the Prohibition of Torture and Ill-Treatment, 5 April 2019.


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 UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has opened up a thematic consultation on the phenomenon of domestic violence from the perspective of the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In his upcoming report on this topic to the UN General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur aims:

(1) To apply the substantive elements of the definition of torture to a broad range of practices commonly understood to fall within the notion of domestic violence;

(2) To analyze the legal obligations arising for States under the prohibition of torture with respect to domestic violence;

(3) And to make recommendations with a view to improving the protection against torture in the context of domestic violence.

Canadian human rights actors can contribute to this crucial public consultation by answer three sets of questions. Please help to put domestic violence in Canada in the international spotlight by responding to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture’s open consultation.

The closing date for responses is 15 May 2019.


Read more about the UN Special Rapporteur’s consultation on domestic violence.

Read Professor Melzer’s recent report on combating corruption and torture.

Read his comments from October 2018 on the danger of backsliding on torture.

Posted by mp in Absolute prohibition of torture, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, UNCAT

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.


Corruption
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

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