At a conference held by Amnesty in London, one of the speakers was Prof. Malcolm Evans of Bristol University. He spoke on the subject of #torture and its use around the world with the particular perspective of the UN Convention Against Torture [full title: Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatments or Punishment, SPT].
One of the problems with the issue of torture and its use is that many countries have signed up to abolish its use but nevertheless continue to practise it. Another speaker pointed out that 155 countries have signed the protocol but as far as is known there are credible reports of its use in 141 countries around the world. It’s easy when reading statistics sometimes for one’s eyes to glide over such figures. But just ponder that figure -141 countries.
SPT gives the right of the UN to go to any country, which has signed the optional protocol, without prior warning. It is the only UN body able to do this. They are not there to investigate individual instances but to ‘get ahead’ of violations and to stop something from happening rather than holding individuals to account.
Their purpose is to get preventative safeguards established which include issues of legality, and knowing who is in detention. They work alongside authorities and discussions are held, sometimes with people one would rather not have discussions with.
He made the point that it wasn’t just dictatorial regimes who engaged in this activity but that it was more a matter of how it has always been done. There was a kind of routineness to it. It was as much to do with corruption as anything else. In trying to advance change, you have to work with what is practical to achieve and to establish relationships to achieve momentum.
He also raised the intriguing point that it was all very well writing to presidents and the like asking them to stop this practice, but since most of them had signed up not to do it anyway, how effective is that as a campaign method?