Torture Prevention

International Action Against Torture During February 2019

The UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) held its 37th Session in Geneva, Switzerland from 18 February to 22 February 2019. The SPT session information is confidential, but the SPT publishes annual reports on its activities. Its sessions generally provide its 25 members independent group of experts a chance to report on and discuss upcoming and recent activities related to specific States, regions, and thematic priorities.[1]

On 7 February 2019, the SPT completed its first visit to Switzerland, which took place from 28 January. During the 11-day visit, seven-member SPT delegation assessed the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty and the safeguards put in place to protect them from torture and ill-treatment in the country, which ratified the Optional Protocol in 2009. The delegation met representatives of the federal and cantonal authorities, the Attorney General’s office, the judiciary and civil society. The delegation, along with members of the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (CNPT) visited police stations, prisons, detention centers for migrants, and psychiatric service in the cantons of Bern, Zurich, Geneva and Vaud. The delegation noted satisfaction with the cooperation by the Swiss authorities during the visit. The delegation urged Switzerland to increase the resources allocated to the CNPT in order to strengthen its essential work to protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. At the end of the visit, the delegation presented its preliminary and confidential comments to the federal authorities and the CNPT. The SPT will send the Swiss government a confidential report containing its observations and recommendations.[2]

Interventions by UN Experts

I. UN urges Egypt & Iran to halt death penalty executions

On 22 February 2019, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern over execution of 15 people in Egypt in February 2019. Of these, nine people were executed on 20 February. OHCHR urged Egypt to halt all executions and to conduct investigations into all allegations that people are subjected to the death penalty based on confessions obtained under torture. According to the OHCHR, in all cases the defendants have told the court they were subjected to torture to make them confess to the crimes of which they were accused. During the trial, detailed accounts of the torture allegedly used to obtain confessions were apparently ignored by the court without due consideration.[3]

A day earlier (21 February 2019), a group of four UN experts urged Iran to immediately halt execution of child offender Mohamad Kalhori. Kalhori was sentenced to death for killing his teacher when he was 15 years old. The experts stressed that the execution will be unlawful and arbitrary as Iran has committed itself to prohibiting the use of the death penalty for all those who committed a crime while under the age of 18 by its ratification of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As such, this execution is unlawful and arbitrary.[4]

II. UN experts calls for investigation into torture of Papuan boy using snake

On 21 February 2019, UN experts condemned the use of a live snake by Indonesian police to torture a handcuffed indigenous Papuan boy who was arrested in connection with a case of alleged theft. The experts urged Indonesia to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the case. They stated that the case reflected a widespread pattern of violence, alleged arbitrary arrests and detention as well as methods amounting to torture used by the Indonesian police and military in Papua.[5]

III. UN experts alarmed at renewed persecution of LGBT community in Chechnya

On 13 February 2019, a group of nine independent UN experts urged Russia to urgently act to protect the rights of people of Chechnya, who are suspected of being lesbian, gay or bisexual following a spate of killings involving torture, and other rights abuses. The experts expressed alarm at the renewed persecution of the LGBT community, including women, and called for an investigation. More than 40 people suspected to be LGBT were arrested since December 2018 including two deaths, as a result of torture. The experts noted that the abuse inflicted on victims allegedly become more cruel and violent compared with reports from 2017. In addition, the Chechen authorities were also preventing the victims to flee the region, which is part of the Russian Federation through methods such as destroying or confiscating identification documents, threatening them or those close to them with criminal proceedings, or forcing them to provide blank signatures on forms.[6]

IV. UN experts urge Brazil to abide by its international torture obligations

On 5 February 2019, three United Nations human rights experts urged Brazil to comply with its international legal obligations to curtail torture. The UN experts expressed deep concern over the veto on January 2019 by the Governor of São Paulo of law No. 1257, which would have established a State Committee for Preventing and Combating Torture. Brazil, which ratified the OPCAT in 207, has an international obligation to establish a system of National Prevention Mechanisms for reducing torture and human rights abuses. In 2015, Brazil introduced a federal law creating a National System to Prevent and Combat Torture, which relies significantly on the establishment of a network of preventive mechanisms at the State level. The experts noted that States of Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, Roraima and the Federal District have all approved similar legislation. The vetoed legislation reverses that positive trend made.[7]

EU’s action against torture

I. CPT urges Greece to improve the situation for psychiatric patients and to treat immigration detainees humanely

On 19 February 2019, the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published a report on a visit to Greece carried out in April 2018. During its visit, the CPT examined the situation of civil and forensic patients in psychiatric establishments and of foreign nationals deprived of their liberty under aliens’ legislation. The report highlighted the systemic overcrowding in three of the five psychiatric establishments visited (Evangelismos, Gennimatas and Sotiria), with patients at Evangelismos being accommodated in the corridors. In all five hospitals visited, the CPT found lack of staff and over-reliance on pharmacotherapy, and the fact that patients were offered few activities. The CPT also received some isolated allegations of ill-treatment (punches, tight restraints, and verbal abuse) by staff at the private “Athina Vrilissa” Psychiatric Clinic. Further, at Korydallos Prison Psychiatric Hospital, it found that the use of the basement protection cells for the seclusion of patients without supervision and for extended periods could easily be considered inhuman and degrading. Moreover, safeguards surrounding involuntary placement procedures were found to be insufficient in law and practice. The CPT called for improvement of the situation of psychiatric patients.[8]

The CPT also criticised the poor treatment of immigration detainees and stressed the need for a coordinated European approach to address the high number of foreign nationals arriving in Greece. It urged Greek authorities to treat the detainees humanely and with dignity.[9]

II. CPT publishes report on periodic visit to Montenegro

On 7 February 2019, the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment published a report on a periodic visit to Montenegro. In the course of the visit undertaken in 2017 the CPT delegation reviewed the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty by the police and the conditions of detention of inmates in the country’s prison facilities as well as examined the treatment of psychiatric patients. The report noted that despite some overall improvement in the treatment of persons detained by the police in Montenegro, ill-treatment still appears widely spread. The alleged ill-treatment consisted of punches, slaps, kicks, baton blows, strikes with non-standard objects and the infliction of electro-shocks from hand-held electrical discharge devices either at the time of apprehension or in the course of police interviews. In prisons too, the CPT received a significant number of allegations of physical ill-treatment consisting of slaps, punches and kicks and to the prolonged fixation of inmates for several days with metal hand- and ankle-cuffs and chains to a bed. In psychiatric hospitals visited, it found chronic overcrowding and prolonged prescription of benzodiazepines to patients. The CPT recommended the authorities, among others, to tackle the issue of ill-treatment through stricter recruitment, better training and improved oversight and to put an end to the current practice of fixating prisoners.[10]


Endnotes:

[1]. See https://ijrcenter.org/2019/02/01/february-2019-united-nations-and-regional-human-rights-bodies-in-session/

[2]. UN torture prevention body concludes first visit to Switzerland, OHCHR, 12 February 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/ DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24159&LangID=E

[3]. Press briefing notes on Egypt, OHCHR, 22 February 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24195&LangID=E

[4]. Iran must halt execution of child offender, say UN human rights experts, OHCHR, 21 February 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/ Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24188&LangID=E

[5]. Indonesia: UN experts condemn racism and police violence against Papuans, and use of snake against arrested boy, OHCHR, 21 February 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews. aspx?NewsID=24187&LangID=E

[6]. Chechnya: UN experts urge action after reports of renewed persecution of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, OHCHR, 13 February 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24162&LangID=E

[7]. Torture prevention: UN human rights experts urge Brazil to abide by its international legal obligations, OHCHR, 5 February 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24138&LangID=E

[8]. Greece: Council of Europe anti-torture committee calls for the situation of psychiatric patients to be improved, while criticising once again the poor treatment of immigration detainees, Council of Europe, 19 February 2019, https://www.coe.int/en/web/cpt/-/greece-council-of-europe-anti-torture-committee-calls-for-the-situation-of-psychiatric-patients-to-be-improved-while-criticising-once-again-the-poor-t

[9]. Greece: Council of Europe anti-torture committee calls for the situation of psychiatric patients to be improved, while criticising once again the poor treatment of immigration detainees, Council of Europe, 19 February 2019, https://www.coe.int/en/web/cpt/-/greece-council-of-europe-anti-torture-committee-calls-for-the-situation-of-psychiatric-patients-to-be-improved-while-criticising-once-again-the-poor-t

[10]. Anti-torture Committee publishes report on periodic visit to Montenegro focusing on police, prisons, psychiatry and social welfare establishments, Council of Europe, 7 February 2019, https://www.coe.int/en/web/cpt/-/anti-torture-committee-publishes-report-on-periodic-visit-to-montenegro-focusing-on-police-prisons-psychiatry-and-social-welfare-establishments

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