Coronavirus – Africa: UN torture prevention body – COVID-19 shows need to strengthen national preventive mechanisms

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The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has called for the role of domestic monitoring bodies, officially known as National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), to be strengthened, highlighting the importance of monitoring the conditions of people deprived of liberty in critical situations such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The SPT, which monitors places, including prisons and other confined institutions, where people are deprived of their liberty, has been unable to carry out its normal mandate given restrictions on international travel over coronavirus concerns. Instead, the Subcommittee has been remotely assisting local NPMs to help safeguard detainees from torture and other ill-treatment.

During its last meeting, conducted online from 15 to 19 June, the Subcommittee underscored the increasingly important role of the NPMs, especially in the pandemic.  The SPT stressed that NPMs, through their regular visits to places of detention at national and local levels, and day-to-day contact with authorities, play a key role in torture prevention. The Subcommittee welcomed the formal notification of the newly established NPMs by Chile and Rwanda. 

The SPT, which monitors States parties’ adherence to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, reiterated its call to those State parties that have not yet designated their NPM to do so as soon as possible, and reminded them of ways in which the SPT can assist them. The Optional Protocol obliges States parties to establish an NPM in their country within one year of ratification.

States Parties which are currently substantially overdue in complying with this obligation include Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Mongolia, Nauru, Nigeria and the Philippines. The SPT also expressed concern over situations where the work of NPMS was being hampered by governmental action, citing Brazil as an example.

The SPT meetings were held online on various platforms across the day to allow experts and other participants from different time zones to take part. The SPT, which usually meets in private, decided to publicly webcast its opening and closing meetings for the first time.

The SPT looks forward to resuming its programme of visits as soon as possible. Meanwhile it will continue to work closely with and in support of NPMs in order to continue to fulfil its mandate.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

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