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Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Torture

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

22 October 2013

Governments should endeavour to update the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted more than five decades ago, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment told reporters at a Headquarters press conference today.

However, Juan Mendez stressed that "any revision must not lower existing standards". His latest report to the General Assembly reflected on the current review process of the Rules. It also offered an updated set of procedural standards and safeguards from the perspective that the prohibition of torture or other ill-treatment should, as a matter of law and policy, be applied to all cases of deprivation of liberty.

Also present were Claudio Grossman, Chair of the Committee against Torture, and Malcolm Evans, Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Since their adoption, Mr. Mendez said, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners had retained considerable weight as an authoritative set of global principles and practices for the treatment of prisoners and the management of penitentiary institutions.

"However, the Rules have significantly lagged behind recent developments in international human rights law and some areas are outdated and even contradict binding human rights instruments," he pointed out. The very fact that the absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment was absent from the Rules demonstrated that they require considerable revision.

"It is rather obvious that unless the Rules are revised, to adequately reflect the recent advances in international law and best practices, it is unlikely that penitentiary staff will look beyond what the current Rules require," he underscored.

He went on to say that prison populations were increasing on all five continents, placing an enormous financial burden on States. That increase was now estimated at over 10 million prisoners worldwide. Further, the global prison crisis had an adverse impact on conditions of detention. The overuse of imprisonment constituted one of the major underlying causes of overcrowding, resulting in conditions that amounted to ill-treatment or even torture.

Among the areas subject to revision, Mr. Mendez stated, was the need to regulate the use of solitary confinement, including inserting an absolute ban on indefinite or prolonged durations, and prohibiting any use of solitary confinement against juveniles, persons with mental disabilities or women who were pregnant or nursing.

He also emphasized the need to extend the Rules' application to include places such as mental hospitals and police stations. The Rules must also contain guidelines for the proper, independent and impartial investigation of all incidents of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention centres.

Scheduled to visit Mexico, Thailand and Georgia next year, he said he regretted that his planned visit to Bahrain and Guatemala this year had been postponed by the respective Governments. In case of Bahrain, it had been the second time the trip had been called off, with the cancellation coming at very short notice.

Mr. Grossman noted that out of 193 Member States, to date 154 States had ratified or acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

However, he said that 27 have never submitted a report to the Committee, which violated their obligations and prevented the Committee from fulfilling its monitoring mandate. Other States had submitted an initial report, but had not reported to the Committee for more than a decade, despite their obligation to submit a report every four years.

Notwithstanding those violations, he said that since its establishment the Committee had adopted 328 sets of concluding observations, which identified concerns and provided recommendations to States parties in adopting effective measures to prevent torture and ill-treatment.

Mr. Grossman also disclosed that since 1988 the Committee had registered 651 complaints from individuals alleging violations by a State party. Unfortunately, persons from only 65 of the 154 parties could make such a complaint, as 89 States had not yet made the declaration recognizing the competence of the Committee. That situation limited the tools available to supervise full compliance with the Convention.

So far, he noted that the Committee had considered 438 complaints and found Convention violations in 76 of them, irrespective of the interim measures taken to protect individuals. He urged all States that have not ratified the Convention to do so, and those that were already a party to it to accept all the procedures of the Conventions.

Mr. Evans, in describing his work, said the Subcommittee solely focused within the ambit of the Optional Protocol on the Convention on Torture. Efforts aimed to engage in constructive dialogue with States parties on reducing the risk of torture or ill-treatment, and included visits to places where persons might have been deprived of their liberty. In addition, the Subcommittee was cooperating with other international, regional and national bodies and agencies to facilitate torture prevention.

Responding to reporters' questions, Mr. Mendez said he remained engaged with the United States on the situation of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and had reiterated his request for an invitation from the Government to visit those detainees, on conditions that he could accept and that were pertinent to his mandate. His request to visit a number of federal and state prisons in California and New York was still pending.

He thanked the Governments of Morocco, Tajikistan and Tunisia for their ongoing engagement after his country visits and said he planned to do follow-up visits in 2014 and 2015 upon the formal invitations.

Furthermore, Mr. Mendez said the Government of Ghana had invited him to conduct a country visit next month, and Uruguay had requested a follow-up visit, which he would undertake in early December.

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For information media • not an official record

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