The UK Government consistently and unreservedly condemns torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and it remains a priority for us to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs. We do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose. There is an absolute prohibition on torture in international law, which is both contained in various treaties and is a rule of customary international law binding on all states.
In 2012, we continued to pursue the three goals of the FCO Torture Prevention Strategy 2011–15: to ensure that legal frameworks are in place and enforced, to develop political will and capacity to eradicate torture and to give organisations on the ground skills to ensure its eradication. In November, the FCO hosted an event to mark the first year of the strategy. This was attended by Nick Hardwick CBE, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dr Phillip Tahmindjis, Director of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, and Philomène Uwamaliya of the “Survivors Speak Out” network. A podcast to accompany the event was released on 10 December.
Throughout the year we used our influence and diplomatic network to raise individual cases in public and in private and issued statements, alone and with others, about specific incidents. In January, then FCO Minister Jeremy Browne wrote an article for The Guardian setting out the FCO’s commitment and vision for tackling torture. To mark International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June he made a statement reiterating the Government’s commitment to combating torture and to encouraging states to sign and ratify the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol (OPCAT).
We also continued to pursue the prevention of torture in multilateral organisations. In the UN we successfully secured the re-election of Professor Malcolm Evans to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, where he has been serving as Chairman. We also pledged financial support to the Subcommittee’s Secretariat and contributed to the Special Fund for the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which delivered its first projects this year. The UK strongly supported the annual UN General Assembly Third Committee resolution on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which was once again adopted by consensus, and this year included better integration of the preventive agenda in the text.
In the EU we played an active role in the Torture Task Force, and our missions around the world implemented the guidelines on EU policy towards third countries on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Globally, we continued to work with local and international NGOs, prosecutors, prison services and other partners to prevent torture. Activities included:
- Encouraging governments to sign and ratify the Convention against Torture and OPCAT. In 2012, we welcomed the ratification of the convention by the Dominican Republic, Laos and the United Arab Emirates, as well as ratification of OPCAT in Hungary, Mauritania and the Philippines and signature by Chad. Projects included activities delivered by the Geneva-based Association for the Prevention of Torture in Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, Lebanon, Morocco, Nepal, the Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Tajikistan, Tunisia and Uganda. We judge that in the countries where we are funding projects positive progress is being made to put in place the frameworks needed to meet OPCAT’s requirements.
- Schemes to strengthen bodies that monitor places of detention to ensure that the National Preventive Mechanisms mandated by OPCAT are put in place, that individuals held in police cells can be visited and that prisoners are able to make complaints about their treatment without reprisals.
- Training for medical staff on the signs of torture and how to document it to a standard which increases the chances of someone being held to account. This training has taken place in Syria and in the Philippines. In Syria this is helping to produce evidence which will assist in holding the perpetrators to account and in the Philippines it is leading to better evidence being available for torture prosecutions.
The Advisory Sub-group on Torture Prevention, made up of torture prevention experts from academia, the legal profession and NGOs, is now well established and held two meetings in 2012. It provides the FCO with expert advice to help us implement the FCO Strategy for the Prevention of Torture. It has also provided advice on OPCAT, including on changes to the size of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and its working methods, and developments in the EU’s human rights architecture that might be used to strengthen torture prevention work.
FCO staff and all British government staff working in our offices abroad are required to report allegations and information they come across about torture and mistreatment. The majority of allegations that our staff see are of torture and mistreatment by police in the very early stages of detention or during pre-trial detention. This information has been used to prioritise where we focus our torture prevention work in 2013.