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Intensifying the fight against torture - CTI core group members meet the UN Committee against Torture (CAT)

 On 7 August the Geneva-based Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) met with the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) in order to present the CTI ongoing efforts to achieve its stated goal of universal ratification and implementation of the UN Convention against Torture by 2024. So far, 158 of the UN's 195 member countries / observers (incl. the Holy See and Palestine) have acceded to the UN Convention against Torture from 1984 - with Vietnam as the latest state party. The CTI core group (Denmark, Chile, Morocco, Indonesia and Ghana) presented CAT with a very comprehensive and substantive overview of the initiatives launched by the CTI. All members of the CAT spoke at the occasion, and all expressed great appreciation of the CTI initiatives. The focus for the discussion was especially on a number of upcoming regional CTI seminars in Asia, Africa and Latin America/Caribbean.

The discussion signaled a broad acceptance of the political approach underlying the CTI: That the efforts to get the 37 countries which remain outside the Convention against Torture to ratify the Convention should in particular draw on political dialogue with, and the practical experience of, neighboring countries and regional organizations. If Fiji can ratify, as it’s in the process of doing, other small Pacific countries should also be in this position - and no one would be better qualified to inform them than the Fijian authorities, who have already been through the process, if necessary with the support of either the UN and/or interested donor countries. The challenge is thus to a large degree to mobilize knowledge sharing and collaboration regionally - and especially between Ministries of Justice, police, prison and hospital authorities, which are the key players on the government side in relation to the fight against torture and degrading treatment or punishment.

In March 2014 Denmark took the initiative to establish Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) on this basis, and the initiative was devised in collaboration with Ghana, Chile, Morocco and Indonesia, thus covering all regions. The five countries have since formed CTI's core group.

The report by the core group representatives to CAT focused on the key achievements of CTI so far:

- General advocacy efforts, not least through well-attended side events during both the main session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2014 and in March 2015, as well as under the Ministerial week of the UN General Assembly in September 2014 - and another side event planned for the Ministerial week in New York next month.. These efforts have contributed to raising the profile of CTI and keep the initiative on the Secretary-General's agenda as well. As did CTI participation in the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Torture Convention in November 2014.

- The establishment of a cross regional Group of Friends of CTI, with 25 members who are all willing to help with the operational aspects of initiatives also on regional basis - and a corresponding Group of Friends with participation of  NGOs and other key stakeholders.

- Targeted initiatives aimed at those countries that have not yet ratified the Convention – not least a seminar in New York in May 2015 – the elaboration of Ratification tool to use of the dialogue with the countries concerned to make it clear what participation in the Convention actually entails and how to tackle the key challenges in this context; and also the organization of a study visit to Geneva from an interested country  with the participation of representatives of key ministries - similar plans for country another visit to Geneva is under discussion.

- Regional seminars: the first in Bali this week, with Indonesia as the host, to discuss ratification and implementation of the Convention in the Asian region, particularly focusing on the Pacific Island states, which have still not joined the Convention. In connection with these regional seminars it is crucial to get attendance of representatives from Interior and Justice Minister and other authorities who are directly involved in the management of police and prison services.

- The next regional seminar will take place in Costa Rica in October for Latin America and the Caribbean, and will also invite the states in the Caribbean who have not yet ratified. This will be followed by a seminar in Morocco in December for Middle Eastern and North African countries, focusing on the prevention of torture in police custody - and yet another seminar planned in Ghana in the first quarter of 2016 for African countries. At European level - with Denmark as initiator – efforts take place under the auspices of the OSCE; there are still a number of EU countries that have not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Torture Convention (OPCAT). Next step will be a side event in the context of the OSCE meeting on the human dimension in Warsaw in September.

- Managing the initiative: A small Secretariat for CTI has been established in Geneva, dedicated to assisting the core countries in implementing the various initiatives, with the regional seminars as the main features. The Secretariat is embedded with one of the main NGOs in the field: The Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) ensuring the best use of collaborative efforts and drawing on the vast experience of APT. The CTI Secretariat and APT's support to it is funded by the Danish Government with an annual contribution of 5 million Danish kroner.

- CTI has quickly gained a high political profile internationally and has undoubtedly hit the right political 'wave' at the right time: With 37 countries having still not ratified the Convention, and with over half of these located in the Caribbean and the Pacific, it is likely that significant progress in the ratification process can be achieved over the next few years, thus putting an even greater pressure on those countries who – for one reason or another – seem unwilling to ratify the Torture Convention.  

All ten members of the CAT took the floor and expressed their strong support for CTI – their kind words at times almost bordering on outright praise for the initiative. But there were also a number of questions and proposals to expand the initiative's focus: The questions from committee members focused on what CTI could do to help countries to report on their efforts every 4-5 years, as they are required to do under the Convention? Of the 158 members of the Convention, the 27 have never reported which makes it difficult for CAT to require their presence in Geneva for the regular country 'examinations' which are a main feature of the Convention mechanisms.

A similar question raised concerned what CTI could do to get State Parties to accept individual complaints procedure in Article 22, allowing their citizens to present their grievances directly to CAT? Only 66 of the 158 State Parties have so far accepted this procedure. In the same vein only 79 countries have yet ratified the Optional Protocol and thus committed to the establishment of national prevention mechanisms against torture (NPM’s), which is a key element in OPCAT. Overall the discussion thus provided a clear call from the members of CAT that both the individual complaints procedure and OPCAT ratification should become part of the overall political 'package' whenever a country acceded to the Torture Convention.

Another important point by CAT members were how to make more - and better - use of the many UPR recommendations to countries that had not yet ratified the Convention against Torture or the Optional Protocol to do so as soon as possible? This recommendation is one of the most frequent recommendations in the UPR reviews.

The representatives of the CTI core group expressed their basic agreement in all these suggestions from CAT and in the reasoning behind them. It was important to see the fight against torture and the platform which was created by the Convention as a ‘package’ containing both the ratification of the Convention per se, that it was without reservations, and with access to individual redress, and that it led to speedy ratification of OPCAT and was subsequent follow-up by timely reporting. But CTI core countries also stressed that ratification was often both an incremental and an iterative process and that no country could be expected to be perfect from the very beginning. In many cases, the most important would be to get the countries 'into the tent' and then take it further step by step. Also in this context, we should be aware of not making the best the enemy of the good.