Safeguards to prevent torture

Detention safeguards have long been cited by experts as one of the most effective way to prevent torture and ill-treatment. In 2016, they were even recognised as having the highest impact in reducing the risk of torture and ill-treatment by the global independent research “Does torture prevention work?

Legal and procedural safeguards include measures such as:

  • prompt access to a lawyer,
  • notification of a relative,
  • access to a medical examination by an independent doctor, and
  • information on rights.

These need to be implemented in the first hours following arrest, when the risk of torture and ill-treatment is the greatest.

Recognising the particularly high risk of torture and ill-treatment in these first hours, the APT is working to improve the implementation of procedural safeguards during police custody and pre-trial detention on three different levels:

1. Mobilising States to develop international guidelines on safeguards and non-coercive interviews

The APT is contributing to build a momentum towards strengthening international standards on safeguards and capitalising on the Human Rights Council Resolution 31/31, as well as the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez’s last report to the UN General Assembly in October 2016, in which he called for the development of a universal protocol on safeguards and non-coercive interviews.

  • The APT advocated for and moderated an OHCHR seminar on the prevention of torture, held in October 2017.
  • Together with the Anti-Torture Intiative, the APT organised an expert meeting in January 2017 to discuss how to move forward with the development of universal standards on non-coercive interviews and the implementation of attendant safeguards.

2. Accompanying partners on implementation and monitoring of safeguards

  • The APT drafted a tool on "Safeguards in the first hours of police custody" to support partners in their ongoing work to help States fulfil their obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and identify practical solutions to the implementation challenges they face. The tool was launched in October 2017 during a public event organised by the Convention against Torture Initiative.
  • The APT organised a workshop in November 2017 for Latin American National and Local Preventive Mechanisms on how to effectively monitor the implementation of safeguards during the first hours of police custody.
  • Jointly with the ICRC, the APT organised an expert roundtable on "Good Practice in Police Custody," which gathered 28 senior police officers from 22 countries.
  • The APT produced an animation video on “Changing Police Mindsets: From Coercion to Justice,” which was launched during the APT-ICRC roundtable in December 2017.

3. Protecting rights through contributing to the implementation of concrete safeguards

In addition to the work initiated at the international level, the APT has been developing projects designed to improve the implementation of procedural safeguards in the first hours following arrest in national jurisdictions. Among others, the APT organised:

  • A symposium on procedural safeguards in May 2017, which brought together experts from 11 countries to analyse the use of safeguards against torture and ill-treatment in the first hours of police custody; and
  • Two workshops in May and October 2017 to strengthen the capacity of judges on custody hearings in Brazil.