The UN Convention against Torture: Holding the government to account

//The UN Convention against Torture: Holding the government to account

The UN Convention against Torture: Holding the government to account

2018-08-14T08:35:40+00:00 August 13th, 2018|

Romany Kisbee-batho is a volunteer at the Detention Forum. She attended a recent workshop on the UN Convention against Torture organised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. She writes:

The Equality and Human Rights Commission hosted a workshop on the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) earlier this year in order for organisations to learn about its relevance in UK law and how it can be used by them in holding the Government to account.

Clare Collier from the Equality and Human Rights Commission introduced the Convention and placed it within the international human rights framework as a UN human rights treaty that is ratified by the UK and 163 other states round the world. Under CAT, states must prohibit the use of torture and prevent other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. CAT is not yet incorporated into UK domestic law and therefore can only be enforced in courts through particular provisions, such as the prohibition on torture enshrined in Article 3 of the UK’s Human Rights Act.

The UN Committee against Torture monitors the implementation of the Convention and, as part of the monitoring process, states parties submit regular implementation reports. In its concluding observations following the UK’s 2013 report, the Committee were concerned by:

  1. Instances where children, torture survivors, victims of trafficking and persons with a serious mental disability were detained while their asylum cases were being decided.
  2. Cases of torture survivors and people with mental health conditions entering the Detained Fast Track system due to lack of clear guidance and inadequate screening processes.
  3. The absence of a limit on immigration detention.

The next UK examination is expected in April 2019. Evidence can be submitted by civil society organisations (CSOs) and will be used in forming the recommendations given to the Government and in aiding the work of the National Preventive Mechanism.

Anna Edmundson, the National Preventive Mechanism Coordinator, explained the role of this mechanism in monitoring detention. With the ability to visit places at any time and analyse the detention system, they can make recommendations on how to improve the detention system so as to avoid the occurrence of torture or ill-treatment. Members include Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) and the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), both of which regularly monitor detention centres across the UK.

A panel discussion brought together Charlie Loudon from REDRESS, Chloe Setter from ECPACT UK, Emily McCarron from AGE UK, Andrea Simon from End Violence Against Women, and Iman Atta from Tell MAMA. A key point raised by many of them was their initial uncertainty around speaking on a panel on the Convention Against Torture, since their work does not directly address the issue of torture. What was interesting for them was seeing how their work related to the Convention. Similarly, it is interesting to see how it could be used to support the Detention Forum’s aims of ending the detention of vulnerable people and arguing for a time limit. Or indeed, in viewing the system of detention as inherently abusive, CAT could be used to highlight the need to pursue alternatives.

Following lunch, Carin Benninger-Budel from the World Organisation against Torture gave a talk on the role of civil society organisations in monitoring the Convention Against Torture. Such engagement is crucial in sustaining dialogue with the State and in ensuring a complete picture is painted, as the State can choose to withhold information. CSOs are crucial in the follow-up procedure and the implementation of recommendations, as well as also being important for the dissemination of information to the wider public. CSOs can contribute an alternative ‘shadow report’, the deadline for which is April 2019 and can be submitted to cat[at]

In a break out session, on behalf of the Detention Forum, I was joined by members of other organisations such as Freedom from Torture and Asylum Welcome and we discussed the issues identified by the Committee against Torture. Many of them overlapped with the Detention Forum’s key asks, for instance:

  • Ensuring that the detention of asylum-seekers and migrants is used as a last resort and for as short a time as possible
  • Implementing alternatives to detention
  • Identifying victims of torture to ensure they are not detained
  • Introducing a time limit on immigration detention.

Another issue raised by participants related to the definition of torture that the Government and Home Office accepts and how far that deviates from what the majority in the room would consider as torture. Last year, Medical Justice and others successfully challenged the Home Office’s attempt to narrow the definition of torture in the revised Adults at Risk policy. This demonstrates the need for CSOs to contribute to this submission to ensure a complete picture is given.

The Committee is now encouraging involvement in the reporting procedures; in contributing evidence, ensuring the Government is held to account and pushing for the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. If you are a civil society organisation and want to get involved, you can find out more here.