The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today welcomed the entry into force of the new Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, and is urging the Irish Government to follow the UK Government's lead by ratifying the human rights treaty without further delay.
The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which will establish the first international system of detention monitoring of its kind, enters into force today. Adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2002, it has already been ratified by a number or EU countries including Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Poland and the United Kingdom. Following the simultaneous ratification by Bolivia and Honduras on the 23 May, the OPCAT now has the twenty ratifications necessary for it to come into effect.
According to Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, "The OPCAT is the most important development for the effective prevention of torture at the universal level." It will lead to the creation of a UN Subcommittee on Prevention as well as independent national visiting bodies which will conduct in-country visits to all places of detention.
"Regular and unannounced visits to places of detention are one of the most effective ways to prevent torture and ill treatment of prisoners and detainees," said Rick Lines, IPRT Executive Director. "By ratifying OPCAT, Ireland would enhance independent human rights monitoring of the living conditions and treatment of some of our most vulnerable people, as well as demonstrate our commitment to supporting UN human rights mechanisms."
Through ratification, countries effectively open their places of detention to independent national and international human rights scrutiny. The new Subcommittee and national visiting mechanisms will be able to access any place of detention, including prisons, police stations or psychiatric hospitals. Under the OPCAT, countries will have to ensure that these international and national bodies have access to all the information on the treatment and conditions of prisoners and places of detention, as well as allow private interviews with detainees.
"IPRT welcomes today's entry into force of OPCAT and urges the Irish Government to follow the UK Government's lead by ratifying the Protocol as soon as possible. This will not only harmonise accountability and human rights protections north and south, as mandated under the Good Friday Agreement, but will also demonstrate Ireland's commitment to enhanced human rights protections worldwide," said Mr. Lines.