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United against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment

June 2013

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Oral statement of Sylvie Bukhari-de Pontual, President of FIACAT, before Council of Europe - Strasbourg (France) 25 June 2013

Madam President, Friends and Representatives of INGOs with participatory status at the Council of Europe,

I am honoured to be able to speak to you a second time following my address on 23 January last and to report to you on our progress towards setting up a working group on the fight against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment in the Member States of the Council of Europe.

First of all, let me introduce myself again before I give you a summary of the Recommendation adopted by the Conference of the INGOs at the winter session, and of the alarming report I made to you then.
My name is Sylvie Bukhari - de Pontual, I am a lawyer at the Paris Bar and I am Dean of the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at the Institut Catholique de Paris. I am also President of the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) and it is in this capacity that I am going to speak today.
FIACAT is an international, non-governmental human rights organisation set up in 1987 which fights for the abolition of torture and of the death penalty. The Federation brings together some thirty national associations, the ACATs, from four continents, including ten ACATs in Europe. Its mandate is to help its members to build their capacity and to represent them in international and regional organisations.

I/ A horrifying situation

Despite the work of the Council of Europe and of the bodies connected to it such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) or the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), we have noted a steady increase in the number of ECHR rulings relating to Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms arising from acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the lack of any enquiry by States when such acts are committed.

The ECHR statistics for 2012 which are now available are a perfect illustration of this situation. Of the 1 093 rulings by the Court (some of them relating to more than one defending State), 292 referred to violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That is over 25% of the Court’s total rulings – 26.71%, to be precise.

In the context of the present crisis, the Commissioner for Human Rights noted that such acts were on the increase. The press release reporting on his visit to Spain related that «Commissioner Muižnieks also stated his concerns about the work of the police in anti-austerity demonstrations that have multiplied in Spain in the last two years. He […..] called on the Spanish authorities to abandon immediately the practice of granting pardon to law enforcement officials convicted for serious human rights violations, such as torture.”
Our purpose here is not to point the finger at any particular country. Last January, we drew attention to the persistent shortcomings of all Member States of the Council of Europe when it comes to taking account of the recommendations made to them in the reports on visits by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). This is demonstrated by the fact that recent reports by the Committee have again highlighted failings and numerous violations by state officials and health professionals working in places of detention.

These violations also reflect the current situation in which the prison population in several European states is expanding exponentially. The 2011 Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics Enquiry (SPACE I), which was published on 3 May last, reports a prison density of close to 100%. This report is a mine of interesting statistics on the European prison population. It points out that 21% of prisoners are on remand and 27 % are awaiting final sentencing, to say nothing of the position of migrants, who are generally held in utterly outdated detention facilities, often under-equipped, dilapidated and with insufficient and inadequately trained staff. In this situation, it is not possible to ensure that migrants’ rights are respected and that their living conditions are such that they could be described as decent.

II/ Action required

The main purpose of my address today is to draw attention to the steps to be taken in the coming months. The final point we draw attention to in the Recommendation is the lack of involvement of members of civil society in the fight to eradicate torture and the almost total lack of awareness-raising and training for the public and for state officials.

The working group on the fight against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment in the Member States of the Council of Europe provides an opportunity for all of us, as INGOs which belong to the Human Rights Committee, to unite around this joint project with a clear line of strategy.

FIACAT, whose network of members in the field is a source of reliable information on victims of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, is offering to be one of the coordinators of this working group but is willing to consider any form of participation and assistance in the project. Given the complexity of the concept of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, we think it necessary to involve different types of INGO, including those concerned with human rights in general and those whose membership consists of official personnel (such as police officers and court officials), health professionals (such as psychiatrists and psychologists) or legal professionals who come into contact with torture victims (such as lawyers).

As regards the structure of the group, I have just attended a meeting with Jane Crozier, of the Division of Civil Society, who assured us of the Secretariat’s support, which will communicate on our action.

This is only the first of a long series of contacts in which, together with Annelise Oeschger, we will meet the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe and representatives of the ECHR and the CPT as well as a member of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly and the permanent representations of the Federal Republic of Germany and France, to be followed, we hope, by other representations in the near future.


This Working Group and the meetings referred to above will aim to make progress with the objectives which we mentioned in the Recommendation, which are:

For the Member States:

1. to prevent torture by securing respect for all human rights, training state officials, co-operating with the Council of Europe and its relevant subordinate bodies, particularly the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and raising public awareness about torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment;
2. to punish all acts of torture by making them a criminal offence in the legislation of states parties, by prosecuting those who commit torture and by fighting against impunity;
3. to meet the needs of victims of torture and ill-treatment by offering them protection and setting up reparation and compensation systems;

For the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, as well as all the relevant bodies:

1. to hold regular discussions on the issue of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and changes in existing situations in member states, and to make recommendations for the prevention and elimination of torture;
2. to encourage and where appropriate propose and organise awareness-raising and training programmes on the subject at European and national level;

For the INGOs with participatory status at the Council of Europe:

1. to increase their participation in the fight for the eradication of torture in Europe and the whole world, and to step up their co-operation for this purpose;
2. to raise awareness among their national members and encourage them to take action to prevent torture, in particular by proposing awareness-raising and training programmes, and to draw the attention of national and European bodies to cases of violations or situations amounting thereto.

In the hope that as many of you as possible will join us and that our work will yield concrete and visible results, I thank you for your attention. I shall be pleased to answer any question or listen to any suggestions you may have.

Thank you.

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