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The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

January 2011

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The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The mandate of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) is twofold: to visit all places of detention in States Parties and to provide assistance and advice to both States Parties and National Preventive Mechanisms.

- Independent Experts

The SPT is composed of 10 independent and impartial experts serving in their individual capacity from different backgrounds and from various countries, which have ratified or acceded to the OPCAT. After the fiftieth ratification of or accession, the number of the members of the SPT has increased to twenty-five.

SPT membership is multidisciplinary, including lawyers, doctors and inspection experts, among others. Members are elected by States Parties for a four-year term; the term of half the members elected at the first election will expire at the end of two years. They are eligible for re-election once if re-nominated.

- Visits

The SPT visits police stations, prisons (military and civilian), detention centres (e.g. pre-trial detention centres, immigration detention centres, juvenile justice establishments, etc.), mental health and social care institutions and any other places where people are or may be deprived of their liberty. It recommends action to be taken to improve the treatment of detainees, including conditions of detention.

The visits are conducted by at least two members of the SPT. These members may be accompanied, if needed, by experts of demonstrated professional experience and knowledge in the field. These experts are selected from a roster of experts prepared on the basis of proposals made by States Parties, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Centre for International Crime Prevention. In preparing the roster, the States Parties concerned may propose no more than five national experts.

- Access

Under the OPCAT, the SPT has unrestricted access to all places of detention, their installations and facilities and to all relevant information relating to the treatment and conditions of detention of persons deprived of their liberty. The SPT must also be granted access to have private interviews with the persons deprived of their liberty, without witnesses, and to any other person who in the SPT’s view may supply relevant information.

The States Parties undertake to ensure that there are no sanctions or reprisals for providing information to SPT members.

- Assistance and Advice

According to the OPCAT, the SPT’s mandate includes advising and assisting States in the establishment of the NPMs. These national mechanisms have the mandate to examine regularly the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty and make recommendations to the States’ authorities in order to improve the conditions of detention. In the framework of the close cooperation between the SPT and the States Parties, the SPT will make itself available for ongoing dialogue concerning the NPMs. Advising States in the development of effective national mechanisms is a key element in the work of the SPT and will form an important part of each visit.

The SPT advises States Parties about reinforcing the powers, independence and capacity of NPMs. The SPT also provides NPMs with advice on and assistance in reinforcing their independence and capacities and strengthening safeguards against ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. The SPT works in close collaboration with the NPMs, in order to ensure ongoing monitoring of all places of detention.

The OPCAT requires that the composition of the NPMs be established in accordance with a process providing all necessary guarantees of the independence of the NPMs, including the pluralist representation of civil society.

-  Principles

The SPT is guided by core principles: confidentiality, impartiality, non-selectivity, universality and objectivity. The OPCAT is based on co-operation between the SPT and the States Parties. During its visits, the SPT’s members meet with State officials, NPMs, representatives of national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations, as well as with any other person who can provide information relevant to the mandate.

The SPT communicates its recommendations and observations confidentially to the State, and if necessary, to the national preventive mechanisms. The SPT will publish the report, together with comments from the State Party, whenever requested to do so by the State Party.

However, if the State Party makes part of the report public, the SPT may publish all or part of the report. Moreover, if a country refuses to co-operate or fails to take steps to improve the situation in light of the SPT’s recommendations, the SPT may request the Committee against Torture to make a public statement or to publish the SPT report.

The SPT presents a public annual report on its activities to the Committee against Torture.

- FIACAT and the SPT

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