#HRC

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