(8 August 2012) A recent workshop of Public Monitoring Commissions in Kazakhstan facilitated by Penal Reform International (PRI) on 24-26 July has prompted an agitated debate in Kazakhstan about the role of these Commissions and the nature of an association coordinating their work.
In the light of this discussion and criticism, which has also affected our organisation, PRI would like to clarify its role and considerations with regard to preventive monitoring.
In its international as well as regional activities PRI’s primary concern is the development of effective tools for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. Our organisation has a track record of supporting initiatives to that end, and has supported civil society organisations as well as advocated for the government to implement its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture which includes obligations to prevent torture. PRI has been advocating for the ratification of OPCAT and the establishment of an effective and independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM).
In this context and in general, PRI has been explicit and outspoken on the fact that the establishment of NPMs must not be misinterpreted as excluding NGOs from monitoring places of detention, but they supplement each other and both retain important roles to play. The same is true for other monitoring bodies established by the government. PRI has made this point strongly on numerous occasions, for example in its statement at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (OSCE-HDIM) in Warsaw in September 2011 or in the context of the PRI cross-regional conference in Tbilisi in June this year.
From a professional point of view and based on international experience, the existence of various monitoring bodies covering different types of places of detention or different geographic regions benefits from a coordinating body, looking after the coordination of visits with a view to the required frequency of visits, the balanced coverage of different types of places of detention, ensuring the development of effective and consistent monitoring methodology as well as standards against which the PMCs assess conditions in detention during their visit.
Consequently, following the announcement by Svetlana Kovlyagina and Ardak Zhanabilova on 19 April in the Majilis to establish an association to this end, PRI committed to facilitating such a discussion with funds generously allocated by the European Union, the British Embassy in Kazakhstan and Open Society Institute (OSI) for the strengthening of detention monitoring.
International experience, including in the region, demonstrates that associations of monitoring bodies as a general rule have a positive impact on the effectiveness of detention monitoring.
Subsequently, PRI communicated the option of PMCs establishing an association in a press conference on 14 May 2012 and organised the workshops on 14-15 May 2012 at PRI’s office and from 24 to 26 July at the Kegok Centre near Astana. In order to inject first-hand experience from an association with a comparable mandate PRI invited Ms Angela Clay, Chairman of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards (AMIMB), a coordinating body of the various NPMs in the United Kingdom, to the latter workshop. Discussions comprised deliberations relating to a possible future association as well as the PMCs’ strategic plans for the next three years.
While PRI supports the concept of a coordinating body to ensure consistency of standards and for the various PMCs to discuss their experiences, including challenges in accessing detention facilities or conditions of their work, PRI’s role in this process was to facilitate the respective discussions and decision-making of the PMCs. PRI did not and does not have any role in the decision-making at either the workshop or subsequently. Decision-making on membership of the association, the structure and decision-making procedures are taken by the association.
PRI understands that the PMCs plan to make the results of the July workshop public once the participants have approved the minutes.
From international experience and in order to ensure an association of PMCs can fulfil its role, PRI strongly recommends that Rules of Procedure be drafted to clarify in particular and in sufficient detail the purpose and mission of the association, criteria for membership, its governance structure, decision-making process, conflict of interest situations and how they may be resolved as well as how accountability of the association can be ensured.
PRI is supportive of any measures contributing to further civil society monitoring mechanisms for places of detention and will continue to provide expert and technical support to the PMCs and other monitoring bodies in order to enhance the prevention of torture.
There are currently 13 public monitoring commissions in Kazakhstan, with each group including human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and academics. The Penal Executive Code states that the commissions have access to all prisons in their region. At present each commission is working independently and the aim of the meeting was to bring all the groups together to establish a Coordinative Council of Public Monitoring Commissions (PMCs), which would be known as KSONK.
The decision to create a KSONK was voted for by PMC chairpersons and officially announced on 14 May. Chairpersons of all PMCs were invited to every working meeting PRI held, with the aim that PRI would support a coalition without influencing their work or derailing any other existing coalitions or organisations; such a coalition would enable PMCs to standardise and enhance their work by sharing information and good practice with each other.