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CPT Anniversary Conference to be followed up in Council of Europe

11 May 2015

The implementation of recommendations of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture can be substantially improved, said professor Anton van Kalmthout in The Hague on 8 May. “Even though CPT recommendations are considered ‘soft law’ by many, they still are law”, he said. Van Kalmthout was key note speaker at the conference on the prevention of torture in Europe, organized by the Netherlands Helsinki Committee. The conference was held on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the CPT, provided for by the Convention for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe. Member of the Netherlands Senate and of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Tiny Kox announced he would pursue a resolution on the work of the CPT by the Assembly.

Van Kalmthout emphasized that the Committee looks both at torture, the deliberate infliction of severe pain, and ill-treatment, a wider concept including detention conditions that are contrary to international standards. In the first 25 years of its existence, CPT has carried out 372 visits using its competence to enter any facility where people are confined against their will. It works with regular four year visits to each country, with precise dates and places to be visited not being announced at all or only a short period before the visits. Additional visits take place in specific, alarming situations. The CPT aims for a continuing, open dialogue with state authorities. It depends on the states whether the reports and correspondence about the reports is made public but this has become common practice, with Russia being the main exception.

The presentation can be found here.

Richard Carver spoke about his research project, commissioned by the Association for the Prevention of Torture, a Geneva-based NGO, on the effectiveness of torture prevention measures. The project covers 16 countries world-wide over a period of 30 years. Practical steps to increase transparency of detention and improve access to detainees are important in torture prevention. Police practice that does not focus heavily on obtaining confessions as opposed to other forms of evidence is also important, as is the rejection by courts of evidence possibly produced under duress or ill-treatment. The enhancement of professionalism in police and prison staff by training and by proper salaries is important. This was echoed by Yuval Ginbar of Amnesty International.

You can find the presentation here.

Erinda Bllaca, a staff member of the Albanian Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma and Torture, a partner of the NHC in one of its prison reform projects, said that the first CPT visits and reports had had great positive impact in her country. Yet, incidents amounting to torture continue to happen, but are usually prosecuted as lesser crimes. She also asked for attention by the CPT for the quality of national inspection systems. These ‘National Preventive Mechanisms’ are set up under the Optional Protocol to the UN Anti-Torture Convention but need outside scrutiny as independence and proper funding are not always secured. Access by NGOs therefore remains important. This point was also made by Feride Rushiti, representing the Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims, another NGO partner of the NHC. Her intervention also made clear that also territories which do not have full international recognition can be covered by Council of Europe mechanisms – a special arrangement was made for CPT visits to Kosovo. A testimony on the situation in the self-declared ‘Republics’ in the east of Ukraine made clear that other disputed territories may also be served by such arrangements.

You can find the presentation here.

On behalf of the jury, Peter van der Sande announced the winner of the essay contest on the prevention of torture organized by the NHC: David Kohl, a student at the Karl-Franzens University in Graz (Austria). The essay “The Disease of Torture – The role of the CPT to perform preventive “medical” check-ups” compares torture with a disease, and “the tasks and activities of the CPT can very much be compared to the preventive medical check-ups everybody should have performed by a doctor from time to time”.

The conference was held at The Hague University of Applied Sciences and attended by about 100 participants. The conference was held with the support of the University, the Haella Foundation and (for the essay contest) the ASN Foundation. Online reports from the conference were published during the day on Twitter and Facebook. A report of the conference is being prepared and will be published both online and offline.