Sir Malcolm Evans addresses UN General Assembly in New York
Press release issued: 8 November 2017
Professor Sir Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) and Deputy Director of the Human Rights Implementation Centre at the Bristol Law School, presented the 10th Annual Report of the SPT to the UN General Assembly in New York on 13 October 2017.
As Chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) Professor Sir Malcolm Evans, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Implementation Centre at the Bristol Law School presented the 10th Annual Report of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) to the UN General Assembly in New York on 13 October 2017.
The United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) is a treaty body established in February 2007, comprising 25 independent experts. It has a purely preventive mandate focused on an innovative, sustained and proactive approach to the prevention of torture and ill treatment. As a result of the the work of the SPT and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), systems for regular visits to places of detention, as part of an international system of torture prevention, are now a reality in over a quarter of all states within the international community.
In his presentation to the General Assembly, Sir Malcolm explained that although the OPCAT had now been ratified by 84 countries from all regions of the world, there had been a disappointing reduction in the pace of ratification. The Committee felt that the ratification of OPCAT was receiving less attention than it should and that this should be given equal priority to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) by the General Assembly.
Sir Malcolm stated: ‘It is incomprehensible to me that currently it does not. The Convention against Torture already contains a clear obligation to take measures to prevent torture. OPCAT gives life to this obligation in the most tangible of fashions. If a State is truly committed to the prohibition of torture – a jus cogens norm of international law – then it is very difficult to understand why it ought to be reluctant to become a party to a mechanism that is entirely focussed on working co-operatively and collaboratively with states – and in confidence at the international level – in order to prevent torture from happening. The oldest adage in the book is ‘prevention is better than cure’. It seems to me that many states are not really as interested as they should be in taking the cure. And that is a problem’.
Sir Malcolm noted that the primary focus of the SPT would now be on those who had demonstrated their commitment to prevention, by being a part of the OPCAT system and to assist them in doing so.
Essential support provided by the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture to those who have suffered was acknowledged and it was noted that the Committee had been increasingly reaching out to other organisations working within the framework of the UN and regional systems of human rights protection, on whose work the SPT could draw. There were concerns about the capacity of the Committee to sustain its current level of work (in 2017 alone it had conducted 10 field visits to countries including Bolivia, Hungary, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Mongolia, Niger and Panama) and lack of support from States for the effective operation of the system.
Sir Malcolm commented: "The incidence of torture is not declining as it ought and there seems to be an increasing complacency about this among states. The UN General Assembly needs to challenge States that torture, rather than provide them with a platform from which to criticise those that do".
In his concluding remarks, Professor Evans highlighted the progress that had been made in two important areas, the way the Committee follows up on visits and new arrangements for the operation of the OPCAT Special Fund, which could be in jeopardy, unless further donations were received from more states.
To learn more about the Subcommittee for the prevention of Torture please click here.
Sir Malcolm Evans is Professor of Public International Law at the University of Bristol. He served as Head of the School of Law (2003-2005) and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law (2005-2009). Professor Evans is a renowned authority in the field of international law of the sea and international human rights protection, particularly torture and torture prevention and freedom of religion or belief. In 2009, he was elected member of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and in 2010 elected as Chairperson. He is also a member of the UK Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Group.
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