Looking ahead: new strategies for tackling torture and improving prevention

2 April, 2015

Identifying innovative approaches to torture prevention alongside existing legal provisions and measures to ensure an absolute prohibition on torture.

Strategies for tackling torture and improving prevention

Monday 30 March – Wednesday 1 April 2015 (WP1382)

Vigorous discussions took place at Wilton Park to find new strategies for tackling the enduring existence of torture in the world. While the framework of domestic and international law – at the global level, the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and its Optional Protocol — remain key to combating torture, to end torture there also needs to be some fresh thinking on how to have impact on the ground. Attention needs to focus on identifying additional strategies, drawing on recent and ongoing studies assessing evidence on impact.  Wilton Park’s meeting, held in partnership with Bristol University’s Human Rights Implementation Centre and the Open Societies Foundation, and with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, aimed to:

  • Map what is being done in different situations to prevent torture to share best practice and lessons learned.
  • Critically assess the mechanisms and methods of those bodies and organisations currently mandated to address the phenomenon of torture.
  • Identify the aids and obstacles to effective prevention to enable further coordination between international, national and local efforts to monitor and address torture.
  • Contribute to ongoing discussions at international and national levels on shaping strategies to prevent and combat torture;
  • Seek to identify innovative approaches to torture prevention which can be developed alongside existing efforts, and how to shape these in policy terms.

Among those taking part were experts from human rights and civil society groups, including those working at national and local levels to combat torture, members of UN and regional monitoring bodies, policy makers, national human rights institutions and academics.

Some of the key points arising in discussions were:

  • The discourse around torture requires re-humanising; there is a need to speak to, hear from and engage with the victims of torture in particular, but also the perpetrators. It is important to hear the voice of the victim, and their families.
  • Without downplaying the importance of law, there is a need to move away from legal debate, technicalities or processes, and use different language to reach different audiences. Parliamentarians and the judiciary are important actors; and going beyond these targets, discussions should engage police associations, professional organisations, trade unions, forensic and community workers, business and others.  The role of development agencies is important, with their strong in-country presence and ability to address root causes.
  • One size does not fit all. The context is all-important, messages to a particular audience need to be carefully tailored, and different strategies devised for different situations, based on country-specific knowledge and expertise.. Different vulnerable groups have different needs, for example children. Bespoke approaches, however, have to be underpinned by consistency and adherence to basic standards.  Tailored messages need clear communications and advocacy strategies;  do key actors, such as National Prevention Mechanisms (NPMs) and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) have these?  Are they able to identify root causes?
  • Recognise the strengths and weaknesses of key actors, NPMs, NHRIs, treaty bodies and civil society organisations, and be clear on the distribution of roles. Coordination and synergy is key, and efforts should be made on sharing information and working together on strategic litigation and joint visits.
  • There is a need to map out stakeholders, funding, and the different types of expertise of police bodies and professional associations for example.
  • Are there too many recommendations to governments from treaty monitoring bodies, and are these sufficiently focussed? Or clear in terms of what is required?  Who can provide advice and technical assistance to states in terms of how to implement them?  Could national plans of action be devised for implementation of specific issues or recommendations of a treaty body?
  • There is a need for continuity and longevity, and continuous dialogue and longer term approaches require sustained funding. Civil society organisations have difficulty in finding long-term support.
  • How to measure impact? Why do states comply, and is dialogue alone sufficient as a measure of compliance?  Who should measure compliance and implementation, treaty bodies or domestic actors for example?

Among ideas which emerged for new strategies or measures for combating and preventing torture were:

  • Undertaking a study of the economic costs of torture, such as health care, judicial investigations and other legal processes etc;
  • Producing a study or publication on ‘voices of torture’ focusing on victims and their families
  • Since the poor are the most vulnerable to torture, forming alliances with anti-poverty organisations
  • Framing torture not only as a human rights violation but as an impediment to development
  • Examining the relationship between torture and drugs policy
  • On-line training course for judges on human rights and other relevant standards with certification, since in some parts of the world they lack adequate knowledge of key texts

The report will be published on the event page in due course.

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Strategies for tackling torture and improving prevention

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