In the 1970’s, the world was waking up to the fact that the practice of torture was spreading in all corners of the globe and increasingly being used against civilian populations. There were few legal mechanisms in place to stop it.
Amongst the many individuals who rejected the use of torture was Jean-Jacques Gautier (1912-1986), founder of the APT. He believed that torture not only affected the victims themselves, but that it had a toxic effect on societies that tolerate it.
Gautier realised that torture is most likely to occur in places out of public view. He became convinced that one of the most effective ways to prevent torture therefore would be to put in place systems of regular, unannounced visits by external actors to all places of detention.
At the time, Gautier’s idea was considered with great scepticism. Few believed that governments would ever agree to let outsiders into their prisons and detention centres. But he persisted. With the help of a few committed individuals he gradually mobilised support for his initiative, both in Switzerland and internationally.
The Swiss Committee Against Torture (which later became the APT) was founded in 1977 to promote an international convention that would create a universal system of visits to places of detention. After a first success at the regional level with the adoption of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture in 1987, the organisation intensified its lobbying work at the international level.
In 2002 the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) was finally adopted by the UN General Assembly and entered into force in 2006. Jean-Jacques Gautier’s idea had become a global reality.
Click on the image above to access a visual timeline of the history of the APT and the development of the OPCAT around the world.
Jean-Jacques Gautier is born in Chêne-Bougeries, Geneva.
The “Gautier proposal” is published in La Vie Protestante.
Jean-Jacques Gautier founds the Swiss Committee against Torture (CSCT).
Costa Rica deposits a project for an Optional Protocol to the future UN Convention against Torture.
The CSCT and the International Commission of Jurists presents a draft European Convention for the Prevention of Torture.
The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Jean-Jacques Gautier dies.
The UN Convention against Torture obtains 20 ratifications and enters into force on 26 June 1987.
The Council of Europe adopts the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, creating the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) to conduct monitoring visits to places of detention.
Costa Rica submits a second draft Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.
The Swiss Committee against Torture becomes the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT).
The General Assembly adopts the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
The Robben Island Guidelines, adopted by the African Commission, becomes the first regional instrument for the prohibition and prevention of torture in Africa.
The OPCAT enters into force, realizing the visionary idea of Jean-Jacques Gautier of an international agreement to prevent torture and ill-treatment in places of detention. The OPCAT breaks new ground by establishing a system of regular and unannounced visits to prisons, police cells and all other places of detention by both an international body and by national preventive mechanisms.
APT’s Global Forum on the OPCAT gathers over 300 experts, implementers and practitioners in the field of torture prevention from around the world to take stock on achievements so far and identify challenges ahead.