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Torture prevention in the OSCE region: taking stock after 10 years of OPCAT implementation


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The APT and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) jointly held the first Annual Meeting of National Preventive Mechanisms from the OSCE region, on 13 and 14 October in Vienna, Austria.

The meeting gathered 32 out of the 39 designated NPMs in the OSCE region, for a peer-to-peer exchange on challenges and successes in the implementation of their preventive mandate, 10 years after the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).  The Chair and the Head of the Europe team of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), as well as the President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), also took part in the meeting, alongside OSCE field missions.

The meeting included a panel discussion on cooperation with other torture prevention actors, including civil society. Beyond the rich discussions, the meeting revealed a strong sense of belonging to an OPCAT community amongst NPMs, despite the variety of contexts, ranging from South-Western Europe to Central Asia, the mix of old and new institutions and the diversity of NPM structures (new institutions, multibody institutions, Ombuds offices and “Ombudsman plus” NPM models).

Participants discussed their work to prevent torture and ill-treatment in detention, both in the criminal justice system and in other places such as psychiatric institutions and social care homes, and on their efforts and strategies to bridge the gap between human rights standards and detention practices in these fields. They also exchanged on their strategies to foster effective implementation of their recommendations by State authorities, and to effectively cooperate with other actors including civil society. Many challenges remain: States still do not always ensure the necessary powers and resources to their NPMs, and NPMs still meet difficulties, for instance as regards the implementation of their recommendations by authorities and the mitigation of reprisals.

NPMs also achieved many successes throughout the region in this first decade: they have been fostering important improvements in material conditions in some places of detention and in some cases, contributed to closing down inadequate ones; they have successfully advocated for the reduction or termination of abusive detention practices, and achieved the adoption of legal reforms guaranteeing an enhanced protection for persons deprived of their liberty. Among others, they have been addressing the particular risks faced by groups in situations of vulnerability in detention, by raising awareness and contributing to their improved treatment and conditions. Their presence and regular monitoring has also contributed to changes in mentalities and cultures, including in some places of deprivation of liberty where the message that torture and ill-treatment is not acceptable has been integrated.

This meeting is the result of a joint advocacy effort for an enhanced OSCE focus on the prevention of torture, intensified under 2014 OSCE Swiss Chairmanship, which also fostered the creation of the position of OSCE/ODIHR Advisor on Torture Prevention in 2015. Alongside APT efforts for an increased support of the OSCE to effective OPCAT implementation in its region of operations, such peer-to-peer meeting was also recommended to the OSCE by NPMs themselves - following their discussions at OSCE level facilitated by APT in 2014 and 2015 - and by other civil society organisations. This gathering confirmed once again the added value of enabling NPMs to exchange amongst peers and learn from each other, to be even more effective in their future endeavours.

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