African torture prevention bodies unite in Rwanda

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), in partnership with the National Preventive Mechanism of Rwanda, brought together newly launched torture prevention bodies from across the African continent to strengthen torture prevention efforts.

“Torture prevention is not just for the National Preventive Mechanisms, but requires the collaboration of all concerned,” Michel Viellesse, the member of the National Preventive Mechanism of Mauritius, said recently at a practical workshop in Kigale, Rwanda.

The APT brought together representatives from across the continent to advance towards effective torture prevention in the region.

Representatives from newly established National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) gathered to address common challenges faced when carrying out their mandates. These independent bodies are formed under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) to conduct monitoring visits to places of detention, conduct reports of their visits and carry out investigations.

“Despite being prohibited, despite its abhorrent nature, torture and ill-treatment continue to occur and too many people continue to suffer abuses while in detention,” Audrey Olivier Muralt, Director of Regional Programmes, said at the event opening. “To break the cycle of violence, to ensure that atrocities are not repeated over time and history, and that we have no more victims, we need to invest in prevention and in strong and inclusive institutions that can fight effectively against torture. National Preventive Mechanisms have the potential to do just that.”

The event was focused on strengthening the skills and knowledge of the attendees, as well as providing guidance on structures that can ensure smooth functioning of the bodies. The APT took the opportunity to launch a new National Preventive Mechanism Toolkit with the African torture prevention bodies. The Toolkit, which will be available as an online tool in English, French and Spanish, can be used by all NPMs to source information.

Representatives of torture prevention bodies took part in activities designed to strengthen their capacity to carry out their work.

As Viellesse emphasised, however, it was also an important opportunity for knowledge-sharing amongst practitioners, for networking and brainstorming ideas. Kwanele Pakati, an advisor with the South African Human Rights Commission (South Africa ratified the OPCAT earlier this year), described it as “an incredible experience for African NPMs to meet regularly,” continuing, “the workshop creates a platform for future bilateral collaboration.”

It is clear that more work is needed to prevent torture across the region. Africa currently has 23 States Parties to the OPCAT, but only 14 National Preventive Mechanisms designated. Empowered with what they have learned, however, attendees will be able to begin to make changes in their day-to-day activities, with a final positive impact for those at the heart of this work: detainees, or those who find themselves at risk of torture.

“Prevention is a hard path to follow. It is about adopting a long-term perspective, about one step at a time, about building on what works, about constructive dialogue,” Muralt continued. “And it is about working together, because torture prevention is not a solo race.”

The APT will launch its online National Preventive Mechanism Toolkit in the coming weeks. Subscribe to our newsletter to be among the first to receive it or stay tuned on Twitter by following #NPMToolkit.