Torture and ill-treatment usually occur in isolated places – such as prisons. By their very nature they are cut off from the rest of the world and those who practise torture feel confident that they are outside the reach of effective monitoring and accountable to no one.
Preventing torture and ill-treatment requires that places of detention are transparent and subject to regular external scrutiny. Enabling prisoners to have contact with the outside world, for example through family visits and meetings with lawyers, is not just a human right in itself. It plays a crucial role in helping to prevent torture or ill-treatment from occurring and from going undetected and unpunished.
For this reason, monitoring mechanisms have been established to make regular, unannounced visits to places of detention and contribute to the prevention of abuse.
The possibility that a visit could be made at any time, unannounced, increases the likelihood that abuse will be detected. It therefore discourages prison guards and police officers from engaging in torture or other forms of ill-treatment. Visiting mechanisms should identify risk factors that contribute to torture and ill-treatment, and they should reveal and identify systemic deficiencies. If addressed, this can prevent future cases of abuse.
Such factors include:
- access to a lawyer
- the due registration of arrest
- the prohibition of evidence obtained under torture
- adequate staffing and training
- adequate salaries of staff
- due process throughout detention
- the criminalisation of torture and prevention of impunity.
The quality and capacity of criminal investigations also play a crucial role. Where forensic capacity to investigate offences is lacking, under pressure to solve crime, law enforcement bodies are more likely to resort to confessions obtained through torture or ill-treatment.
In detention, systematic or humiliating searches, the use of instruments of restraint, disciplinary sanctions, the absence of decent healthcare and basic material conditions can all constitute torture or ill-treatment.
The obligation of states to prevent torture and ill-treatment is well established in international law, irrespective of ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
What we do
We support the work of monitoring bodies, including National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), in a number of ways.
- We advocate for preventive monitoring bodies to be established, in line with the requirements for their effectiveness (eg. independence, comprehensive mandate, unannounced visits, private interviews).
- We develop resources to support monitoring bodies, including National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs).
- We provide training for monitoring bodies to increase their capacity to prevent torture and abuse.