26th June 2014 London, UK
Keeping the faith: the global prevention of torture
Guest blog by Matthew Sands, Legal Adviser, Association for the Prevention of Torture
I keep a quote on my desk from Jean Améry, who wrote about his utter despair while being held in concentration camps during the Second World War, and refer to it often. It reads:
“Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured. [Our] faith in humanity, already cracked by the first slap in the face, then demolished by torture, is never acquired again.”
This always serves to remind me of the devastating legacy of torture and the importance of our shared task to preserve, or in some cases, attempt to rebuild, that faith in humanity. The Association for the Prevention of Torture works globally to promote institutional and legal measures to prevent torture, and several of our projects are achieved with the assistance of the FCO.
For all States, and particularly those that are seeking to reconcile themselves with a legacy of torture, the adoption and implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol serve as important markers, both domestically and internationally, of their commitment towards fundamental freedoms and human dignity.
Taking the next step, transforming the dry legal obligations in the texts into positive operational standards and best practices, allows people in custody to put faith in the humanity of police, prison officers, and other State agents again.
Only in the last 12 months, several countries have taken very positive steps towards preventing torture and other ill-treatment in practice. In Fiji, multiple State departments have worked together to reconcile international human rights standards with a new national constitution in preparation for elections to a new Parliament in September, which is a necessary precursor for ratification of human rights treaties.
In Uganda, key State actors have worked together with civil society to develop a roadmap that operationalises each of the protective measures in the new national anti-torture law. In Tunisia, the Ministry of the Interior has been preparing its police to receive visits from independent detention monitoring bodies. The APT has been pleased to assist each of these processes, and I look forward to seeing further development towards the implementation of good practices and international standards.
Yet however many positive steps are taken to prevent torture, countless more remain. We recently conducted a survey of States party to the UN Convention against Torture that has identified significant gaps in its global implementation, particularly in transforming legal standards into reality, leaving many detainees without effective protections against abuse.
To reduce the risks of torture and other ill-treatment in detention, we must respond to the real challenges that States experience in implementing international standards. Among the States that are considering ratification and implementation of international treaties such as the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, several have expressed concerns over the cost of necessary institutional and legal reforms, or the capacity needed to effectively report to international human rights bodies.
Others have revealed fears about potentially critical scrutiny by international experts, and the perceived risks to their national sovereignty.
No doubt the challenges are significant, but through open and frank dialogue with States, we are helping each to overcome them. And once the obstacles are removed, we begin to see meaningful changes in the way key State actors treat persons in their custody. There are alternatives to torture, and by taking meaningful steps towards preventing abuses before they happen, State authorities start the process of restoring our faith in them.