UN detention monitoring body adopts policy to combat reprisals

27.02.2015

Following sustained ISHR advocacy, a UN body responsible for monitoring places of detention has adopted a significant policy to combat intimidation and reprisals against those who provide information or contribute to its work to expose and prevent instances of torture and ill-treatment.

(Geneva) - A UN body responsible for monitoring places of detention has adopted a significant policy to combat intimidation and reprisals against those who provide information or contribute to its work to expose and prevent instances of torture and ill-treatment.

The UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture - a body comprised of 25 independent experts, including doctors and lawyers - adopted the policy following sustained advocacy by ISHR and others and in response to the 'frequency' of cases of intimidation and reprisals that arise both during and after its missions to countries to inspect places of detention.

The policy emphasises that the State has the 'primary duty to ensure that all alleged acts of reprisals and intimidation are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated, those responsible brought to justice, and victims provided with appropriate remedies'. It also recognises, however, that UN human rights bodies have a duty of care to those people who cooperate with them and provide them with the vital information necessary for their work.

'We are concerned that, when we undertake visits, people we come into contact with do not suffer reprisals as a result. If not, the SPT’s preventative mandate, which includes the basic imperative to "do no harm", is put at risk. That is why we have adopted a clear public policy on this,' said Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture.

The policy provides for the appointment within the SPT of a 'Focal Point on Reprisals' to coordinate proactive implementation of the policy, which includes both investigating individual cases of reprisals and examining and addressing 'systemic causes of reprisals'. The actions envisaged by the policy in this regard include examining alleged cases of reprisals, raising concerns as to such cases with State officials and relevant UN mechanisms, and exposing instances of reprisals through both local and international media.

'ISHR welcomes the adoption of this important policy, which recognises the primary duty of the State to prevent and ensure accountability for reprisals but also the obligations of the UN to protect those who contribute to its important work,' said Eleanor Openshaw of ISHR. The policy itself speaks of the SPT's 'uncompromising stance against reprisals and its unwavering commitment to prevent them'.

'ISHR is particularly pleased that the policy commits to examining and addressing systemic causes of reprisals, such as the lack of adequate investigation and accountability in individual cases which contributes to a prevailing environment of impunity,' Ms Openshaw said.

The SPT joins other UN treaty bodies, such as the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, in adopting a specific policy to combat reprisals as recommended by an ISHR submission on the legal duty of treaty bodies to take all such steps as are necessary to prevent and ensure accountability for reprisals.

'While the adoption of this policy is a welcome development, the fact remains that overall the UN response to combating reprisals and protecting those who cooperate with it remains inadequate. We continue to push for the appointment of a high-level, UN-wide focal point on reprisals as both a legal and moral imperative for the UN and member States,' Ms Openshaw said.

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, Program Manager (Combating Reprisals), on e.openshaw@ishr.ch

Category:

Topic
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT)