Archive for category Latin America & the Caribbean
“You are here to speak about the theme of torture?”
The question comes loud and clear from the receptionist at the receiving desk of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights in Lima, where I just handed in the passports of our delegation and explained that we have a meeting with the Vice-Minister of Human Rights in Peru. I am positively puzzled by the frankness.
I am in Lima for the IRCT to support member centre Centro de Atención Psicosocial (CAPS) in following up on the implementation of the recommendations on rehabilitating torture survivors issued by the Committee against Torture (CAT) to the PeruvianState in November 2012. Following-up in this case essentially means discussing with the Peruvian government how they have received the recommendations and which steps they intend to take to implement them.
For this purpose, we had asked rehabilitation expert and researcher Dr Nora Sveaass to accompany us. Dr Sveaass is a well-known personality within the anti-torture movement. Her expertise is crucial in meetings like these.
Some days earlier I had met with Dr Nora Sveaass and Dr Carlos Jibaja, Director of CAPS. After a lot of coordination by email before the trip, we were finally able to sit down all three of us in CAPS’ yellow office building in Lima. The following week we would be meeting with the Vice-Ministry for Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health and the Ombudsman. All four are key players in respect to the implementation of the CAT recommendations and the broader objective of ending torture in Peru. We discussed the strategy for the meetings as well as the current political climate in Peru.
Back at the Ministry, sitting in a spacious meeting room with the Vice-Minister for Human Rights and four of his colleagues, we experience one of the sacred moments in the work against torture — a door of political will is opened. The Vice-Minister and his staff were very forthcoming, the discussion was constructive and a clear interest to cooperate was expressed. Although it is only words at this stage, these are the kind of moments you recall and repeat to yourself when things are stuck and human rights feels like a lost cause to the world.
If words are followed by action, the work in Peru might be a milestone in the realisation of the right to rehabilitation for torture survivors, which can be replicated by governments across the globe.
The past year the IRCT, in close collaboration with member centre CAPS, has been working specifically towards ensuring the availability and accessibility of rehabilitation services for torture survivors in Peru. About a year ago, in May 2012, we wrote about reporting to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) to demonstrate how torture is a direct violation of the right to health.
In November 2012, the IRCT and CAPS submitted another alternative report on Peru, this time to the Committee against Torture (CAT). In this report, we again assessed the rehabilitation services for torture victims provided by the Peruvian government and offered recommendations as to how the system can be improved to benefit all victims of torture in the country. To present the report before the Committee and to stress the importance of its content, a colleague from CAPS travelled to Geneva. The presence of our members in Geneva often has a powerful effect because this gives the opportunity for them to personally meet with the Committee members and give more detailed and concrete explanations about the situation in their countries. In doing so, we managed to bring to the Committee’s attention some of the shortfalls and the lack of access to specialised rehabilitation services in Peru.
In the end, CAT issued four concrete recommendations to the Peruvian government on rehabilitation access. This provided an important international expert validation of our work in pushing for torture survivors’ access to proper rehabilitation services at the national level in Peru. The meetings we had with officials of the Peruvian government provided for yet another step in the right direction.
With the adoption of General Comment No. 3 on Article 14 of the United Nations Convention against Torture, which clearly stipulates the obligations of states in respect to providing rehabilitation services for torture survivors, and with concrete recommendations on rehabilitation given to the Peruvian State, we have come a long way.
While all still remains on paper and in diplomatic words, opening doors for cooperation in the political sphere are crucial for creating change on the ground. Let’s see what 2013 brings in terms of implementing the talk.
Brazilian psychologist and human rights activist Vera Vital Brasil knows from experience what she is talking about when she tells about her years of work with torture victims. Joining with other survivors of torture, Vera was among the founders of the anti-torture organisation Grupo Torturo Nunca Mais that, beginning in 1991, provided medical and psychological treatment for victims of torture.
As a student of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in the late ’60s, Vera participated actively in the university student movement, a major focus of resistance to Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985). Because of her activism, in December 1969, she was arrested and tortured on the premises of the notorious DOI-CODI, the Destacamento de Operações de Informações – Centro de Operações de Defesa Interna (in English: Department of Information Operations – Center for Internal Defense Operations) in Rio de Janeiro, which was the Brazilian intelligence and repression agency during the military government. After three months in prison, Vera left Rio and went into exile in Chile. Her exile lasted six years and upon her return to Brazil, in 1976, she was determined to change the course of her career to try to turn the wrongs that others done to her into something good.
“What do we do with what others have done to us? Internalize this tormenting experience or fight to stop this happening again? I chose the latter,” she says to explain her choice for psychology and clinical work and her involvement with victims of torture.
While working as a chemistry teacher and studying Psychology, Vera participated in volunteer programmes aimed at securing human rights and health care to residents of Rio de Janeiro’s slums. Years later, again as a volunteer, she worked to support people infected with HIV.
This was only the beginning of a long story of work for the protection of human rights. In 1982, Vera joined other former political prisoners living in Rio de Janeiro in their reaction against the appointment to public office of people responsible for torture during the dictatorship. This initiative eventually led a group of former political prisoners, torture survivors and relatives of dead and missing people to found the Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais (GTNM/RJ, which in English stands for Never More Torture Group) in 1985. The group is a non-governmental organisation that was born with a mission to fight for human rights, including the clarification of the deaths and disappearances of political activists and remembrance of past abuses, and struggle against impunity, for justice and for the denunciation of torture and all forms of violence.
The GTNM/RJ was founded at a time when the memory of the deaths, disappearances and torture that occurred during the military dictatorship in Brazil was in danger of being forgotten: silence reigned. “Deeply painful experiences were being put in ‘the trunk of forgetfulness’ and the State had a policy of silence about these events,” says Vera Brasil. The fact that survivors of torture did not talk about their experiences due to feeling unsafe also contributed to the fact that many crimes were falling into oblivion. “Some patients blame themselves for what had happened to them. They thought, for example, that they had not been agile enough to escape the repression and attributed to their own mistakes the error of being arrested. But it was the State that had committed the crimes by killing, torturing, ‘disappearing’ the bodies of opponents and decimating the forces of opposition to the regime.”
In 1991, with funding from the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, the GTNM/RJ formed a clinical team to provide medical and psychological treatment and physical rehabilitation to victims of torture. Vera was part of the team from its creation up until this year.
Justice and redress
Throughout these years, her personal experience and dedication to other victims have convinced her that the trauma caused by torture can never be completely overcome but must be addressed through clinical treatment and proper redress.
“The damage caused by torture is accentuated if it is ignored, if there is no justice, or no redress. The fact that the state, which should guarantee and protect human life, is the agent of violence has a devastating effect on people’s psychological well-being. Our clinical practice is insufficient to cure this damage. But we can try to get people who have gone through this harrowing experience to feel better and give another meaning to this suffering, shifting it from a personal and private level to the collective and historical level, “she says.
In July 1993, when street children and teenagers were murdered by police in Rio de Janeiro, in what became known as the Massacre of Candelaria, the GTNM/RJ team members realized that their area of work should be expanded. “We were taking care of those affected by the state violence that occurred during the dictatorship and realized that another segment of society was being affected by state violence during the transition to democracy” says Vera.
The poor: today’s victims
Vera says that there has been a change in the main target of state violence. “In Brazil, there is no longer political persecution as there was during the military regime. Today the poor are the biggest victims of state violence and, unfortunately, torture and mistreatment are both serious and widespread throughout the country.”
“Every day we witness examples of grotesque brutality, execution, torture, violence and abuse in Brazil. Often the police enter the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro shooting indiscriminately, supposedly in pursuit of drug traffickers. In a prison in the state of Espirito Santo, dozens of inmates were crammed into shipping containers where the temperature reached 50 degrees centigrade. In São Paulo, a young motorcycle courier was recently tortured to death by police and who then threw his body into a city street”, she adds.
“Historically, the violence committed by the state, including torture, does not receive media attention, unlike cases of family violence or violence committed by criminals, which always gains prime time coverage on television news,” she says. “The reason is that the main victims of state violence are poor. And the poor in Brazil are invisible. It is as if there was an attempt by political and economic elites of erasing the violence that occur in this sector of the society “, she says
Despite this situation, Vera highlights the efforts of some sectors of the government and thinks that Brazilian society has gradually advanced in protecting human rights. “But it’s amazing to note the discrepancy between sincere concern for human rights from certain parts of the state and disregard from other state actors.,” she says.
Bringing crimes to justice
For her, the best example of progress in this area is the Third National Program for Human Rights, which resulted from the mobilization of civil society and was launched in December last year by President Lula da Silva. According to Vera, despite controversial changes recently made to the program, it still represents a breakthrough in efforts to protect human rights in the country.
Vera is no longer working at GTNM/RJ, but her activism against state violence continues. She participates in a group of therapists who are working on the creation of a national public policy for the care of those affected by state violence, and also in the activities of an organization that works to record and bring to justice crimes committed by the state.
Her current militancy reflects her concerns that reparation to victims of torture and other forms of state violence that should be comprehensive and not limited to financial compensation. “We need to expand our collective knowledge about what happened, send those responsible to trial and create memory of what happened,” she urges.
In recent years, thousands of people who were persecuted by the military regime have received economic compensation from the Brazilian state. Vera fears that the economic compensation ends up having a perverse effect. “The economic compensation can make people shut up and silence their cry for justice.” The 64-year-old Vera wants to continue working to prevent such silencing occurs.
Editor’s Note: The following is a blog post submission from our member centre in Mexico, Colectivo Contra la Tortura y la Impunidad (CCTI) (in English, the Collective Against Torture and Impunity). In the beginning of November, Mexico faced a review of their compliance with the UN Convention against Torture. During this process, CCTI with the IRCT and other Mexican and international organisations in providing their own reports on the situation of torture in Mexico. Here is a blog on their own experience in this process. Abajo, en español
On 31 October and 1 November, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) examined the Mexican state. This revision happened just before the departure of the current President Felipe Calderón, during whose administration it was reported a dramatic increase of human rights violations, including torture, forced disappearances as well as attacks against human rights defenders and journalists.
The Colectivo Contra la Tortura y la Impunidad (CCTI) participated in the elaboration of an alternative report about the situation of torture in Mexico and submitted another report, together with the IRCT, about the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol [PDF]. In both reports, the importance of the effectiveness and independence of torture investigations, including medico-psychological documentation, was underlined. The fight against impunity represents a fundamental aspect in the prevention of torture. However, Mexico is characterised by the total impunity for perpetrators, leaving the victims in a situation of double vulnerability.
In the examination, the CAT members questioned the state about the lack of investigation and sanctions against the offenders. Additionally, they highlighted the issues of arraigo detention, military law, the Istanbul Protocol and the situation of human rights defenders, migrants and women.
As expected, the state denied the inefficacy of its actions, offered partial and incomplete information and avoided several questions. The state presented itself as a promoter of human rights and justified arraigo detention, the opening of more high security prisons and the involvement of the military in public security matters.
The human rights organisations at the examination had the opportunity to meet with the Committee and raise their concerns. They were heard and their recommendations were taken in consideration in what concerns questioning the report by the Mexican state. CCTI, as well the other organisations present at the examination, hope that the recommendations by the Committee are compelling and detailed and help the work of exposing and fighting torture in Mexico.
Los días 31 de octubre y 1 de noviembre el Estado mexicano fue examinado ante el Comité Contra la Tortura (CAT) de la ONU. Esta revisión se dio poco antes de la salida del actual presidente Felipe Calderón en cuya administración se ha reportado un aumento dramático de violaciones a los Derechos Humanos, incluyendo la tortura, la desaparición forzada y agresiones contra defensores y periodistas.
EL Colectivo Contra la Tortura y la Impunidad (CCTI) participó en la elaboración de un informe alternativo acerca de la situación de tortura en México y entregó otro informe sobre la implementación del Protocolo de Estambul conjuntamente con el IRCT [PDF]. En ambos se destaca la importancia de la eficacia e independencia de las investigaciones por tortura, incluyendo la documentación médico-psicológica. La lucha contra la impunidad representa un aspecto fundamental en la prevención de la tortura. México se caracteriza por la total impunidad para los perpetradores, lo que deja a las víctimas en una situación de doble vulnerabilidad.
En la revisión los miembros del CAT cuestionaron al estado acerca de la falta de investigaciones y sanciones en contra de los agresores. Además destacaron los temas de arraigo, el fuero militar, el Protocolo de Estambul, la situación de los defensores, migrantes y mujeres.
Como era de esperar, el estado negó la ineficacia de sus acciones, proporcionó información parcial e incompleta o evitó contestar varias preguntas. Se presentó como promotor de derechos humanos, sin embargo justificó la figura del arraigo, la creación de más cárceles de alta seguridad y la participación de militares en tareas de seguridad pública.
Las organizaciones de derechos humanos que asistieron a la revisión tuvieron la posibilidad de reunirse con el CAT y plantear sus preocupaciones. Fueron escuchados y sus recomendaciones fueron tomados en cuenta al cuestionar el informe del estado mexicano. El CCTI así como las demás organizaciones esperamos que las recomendaciones del CAT sean contundentes, precisas y ayuden en su labor de denunciar y combatir la tortura en México.
The day saw an unprecedented number of organisations around the world come together to mark the day, to stand in solidarity with survivors of torture and to remind the world that rehabilitation for torture survivors not only works, it is a right to which they are entitled.
As Joost Martens, IRCT Secretary-General says in his foreword to the report,
Each year, on 26 June, we pause to commemorate and honour the victims of torture, both historic and present. The day has been marked since 1988, which was the first anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, signed on 26 June 1987.
Yet today, despite its absolute prohibition, torture continues to be a global phenomenon: both physical and psychological torture is prevalent in over half the world’s countries. This is a disgrace in the twenty-first century.
Its victims are men, women – often targeted by rape and other sexual torture, and also, children. Torture victims are disproportionately from marginalised groups, in particular the poor, but also minority groups, such as ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.
The day gives us a time to pause and remember those who have suffered, and stand with those who continue to suffer, for, the effects of torture continue long after the actual act has happened.
These are some of the photos we got from 26 June events around the world:
Early this year the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture stated in its review of Brazil that “impunity for acts of torture was pervasive” in the country.
However, following the recent conviction of a colonel for crimes of torture, a new wave of optimism and hope is sweeping the country. Paulo Vannuchi, the former minister who pushed for the establishment of the truth commission in Brazil, is spearheading the wave. He stated, “the impunity has been broken.”
And that wave is not small. The Brazilian truth commission, which began in May and has a two-year mandate, has already received hundreds of recommendations from civil society organisations around the country. These organisations are calling for the government to not only list but prosecute those responsible for the alleged crimes of torture committed during the dictatorship despite a 1979 amnesty that shelters military officials from prosecution.
Open the archives, don’t create new ones
Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais (GTNM), an IRCT member organisation based in Rio de Janeiro, has for many years been at the forefront of calls for the establishment of a truth commission in Brazil. However, the organisation, which has recently been threatened and seen its office targeted by burglars, is not being swept up in the wave of optimism about recent developments.
A little over a month after the commission’s work began, GTNM issued a statement which read: “the national truth commission has been showing their real objectives, and their perverse limitations”.
According to GTNM, the core of the matter is that the dictatorship archives have been kept hidden for years, and instead of making them public, the truth commission is creating new ones, in a measure thought to persuade the perpetrators to reveal details about the crimes of the military regime. GTNM asks whether the commission isn’t just helping to “cover the crimes and its perpetrators?”
Ultimately, the amnesty law remains untouched, and the truth commission won’t have the power to act against those involved in the crimes. Furthermore, the commission is not obliged to release its findings and an eventual list of torturers might be shared with the defence minister and the president only. To further curb the optimist, the small team of seven men and women has only two years to heal the wounds of more than 40 years and turn the page.
The dictatorship in Brazil killed an estimated 400 people; torture victims are estimated to number in the thousands, including, most notably, the nation’s president Dilma Rousseff.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part look at Brazil’s recent review by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. For more info, please read our earlier story, published just after members of the Subcommittee visited Brazil.
The United Nations examination of Brazil’s detention system is over, and in the spirit of transparency, Brazil has released the report produced by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT).
The SPT first examined the country’s legal and institutional frameworks, healthcare system, impunity, corruption, and reprisals. It then inspected Brazil’s detention system and the conditions of penitentiary institutions.
While the legal framework in Brazil is, according to the Subcommittee, “adequate”, there is a worrying gap between the legal framework and its application in practice; the Subcommittee saw most of the rights and guarantees within the legal framework being widely ignored.
As noted by the Special Rapporteur on Torture following his visit in 2001, many of the recommendations in their report would merely require the authorities to abide by existing Brazilian law.
The SPT expressed the concern that “the current institutional framework in Brazil does not provide for sufficient protection against torture and ill-treatment.”
On the one hand, the public defence system lacks autonomy, as well as the necessary financial and human resources. On the other hand, the country’s judges aren’t asking questions about detainees’ treatment during interrogation, and continue to use evidence obtained through torture.
Furthermore, the country’s forensic doctors are subordinated to the state, undermining the independence of forensic medical documentation, a powerful source of evidence against torture.
In terms of healthcare, the situation is “extremely worrying”. The overall concerns include the lack of financial, material and human resources and the subordination of health services to the security services. All detainees should be offered a medical examination as soon as possible after their initial detention, and such examination must be independent, free of charge and conducted in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol, writes the SPT.
“Impunity for acts of torture was pervasive and was evidenced by a generalized failure to bring perpetrators to justice, as well as by the persistence of a culture that accepts abuses by public officials.”
The SPT was seriously concerned about the allegations of corruption. Examples included “detainees bribing policemen 10,000 Brazilian reais (approx. 4000 Eur) to be freed; police officers stealing evidence; detainees paying bribes in order to satisfy basic needs, such as access to fresh air, relatives having to pay in order to be able to visit detainees; etc.”
Look for Part 2 of Brazil’s torture exam next week.
Fabio is a Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal at IRCT.
Editor’s Note: We would like to thank Centro de Prevención de la Tortura (CPTRT, in English: Centre for the Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors and their Relatives) for submitting this blog post on a recent visit of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to Honduras, in particular focusing on the conditions of prison and the functioning of the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM). See below for the version in English.
Nota del editor: Queremos dar las gracias al Centro de Prevención de la Tortura (CPTRT) para este blog sobre la reciente visita de la ONU Subcomisión para la Prevención de la Tortura (SPT) a Honduras, que sobre todo enfocó en las condiciones de los lugares de detención y el funcionamiento del Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención (MNP). Véase a continuación la versión en inglés.
Honduras: Después del incendio de Comayagua – siguen las condiciones deplorables y el hacinamiento
371 personas murieron en el incendio que ocurrió en la cárcel de Comayagua en Honduras en febrero de 2012. Muchos han culpado a la sobrepoblación de la razón por la que tantos detenidos murieron. Sin embargo, los sobrevivientes del incendio aún se quedan encarcelados en terribles condiciones de hacinamiento.
El Centro de Prevención de la Tortura (CPTRT) es organismo no gubernamental, fundado con el apoyo de organismos de Derechos Humanos de Dinamarca en 1995, y un miembro de la red del IRCT. El CPTRT se ha establecido cercanas relaciones con el Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención y su Comité Nacional contra la Tortura (CONAPREV), fundado para examinar periódicamente el trato de personas privadas de libertad en lugares de detención, con miras a fortalecer la protección contra la tortura y otros tratos crueles inhumanos o degradantes, y emitir recomendaciones y propuestas de ley. En el marco de estas cercanas relaciones, el Director del CPTRT, Dr. Juan Almendarez, y el Equipo de Salud, realizaron vistas conjuntas con CONAPREV a la cárcel de Comayagua.
El grupo, formado por CONAPREV, el Dr. Almendarez y el Equipo de Salud del CPTRT, pudieron observar las terribles condiciones de hacinamiento en que permanecen los sobrevivientes del incendio de Comayagua. Visitaron también el modulo de máxima seguridad, un espacio diseñado según los modelos de las cárceles norteamericanas. Desde su puesta en funcionamiento, más de cuarenta personas han ingresado a este lugar de cuyas celdas solo pueden salir durante una hora para recibir el sol enjaulados.
El CPTRT considera que el modulo de máxima seguridad es un testimonio elocuente de tortura física y psicológica en el país y debe ser clausurado. También, se considera fundamental la reconstrucción inmediata del centro penal de Comayagua y la construcción del centro penal de San Pedro Sula, así como la revisión de las cárceles del resto del país que se encuentran en condiciones deplorables y potencialmente pueden ser objeto de futuros incendios o desastres sociales.
Las cárceles y otros lugares donde hay personas privadas de su libertad, son a menudo lugares de tortura y otros tratos crueles, inhumanos o degradantes. Es por eso que vigilar las condiciones de las cárceles y otros lugares de detención es tan importante para la prevención de la tortura en Honduras. Para ello, el CONAPREV se creó como un organismo independiente en cumplimiento de las obligaciones internacionales del Estado de Honduras como Parte en el marco del Protocolo Facultativo de la Convención contra la Tortura y Otros Tratos o Penas Crueles, Inhumanos o Degradantes (o Protocolo Facultativo), que Honduras ratificó en 2006.
En el plano internacional, el Protocolo Facultativo también se creó el Subcomité para la Prevención de la Tortura (SPT), que tiene el mandato de visitar los lugares donde hay personas privadas de su libertad en los Estados que son Partes en el Protocolo Facultativo. El Subcomité también asiste y asesora a los Mecanismos Nacionales de Prevención (p. ej. el CONAPREV) sobre las formas de fortalecer la protección relativa a la detención, además de reforzar sus poderes y independencia.
Con este objetivo, el SPT visitó Honduras del 30 de abril al 4 de mayo de este año y se reunió con los actores gubernamentales y no gubernamentales relacionados con la prevención de la tortura en Honduras, incluyendo el CPTRT y el CONAPREV. El objetivo principal de esta visita, fue asesorar técnicamente y fortalecer al CONAPREV, así como revisar la puesta en práctica de las recomendaciones relativas al trato de las personas privadas de libertad que el Subcomité realizó tras su primera visita al país en 2009. Como parte de su revisión de las condiciones en los lugares de detención, la delegación del SPT visitó la cárcel de Comayagua, la escena del trágico incendio a principios de este año.
La misión estuvo integrada por:
Maria Margarida Pressburguer, de Brasil
Mario Coriolano, de Argentina
Zbigniew Lasocik, de Polonia, y
Hans Draminski Petersen, de Dinamarca.
Aunque la visita anterior del SPT a Honduras se tuvo lugar en 2009, el CPTRT observa con pena como el Estado Hondureño prácticamente cumplió una de las 53 recomendaciones que se le hizo en la visita del 2009 y fue la relacionada con la armonización del concepto de tortura con el de la Convención que de paso no quedo completa porque le falto el concepto de imprescriptibilidad.
Teniendo en cuenta el incumplimiento por parte del Estado de llevar a cabo la mayoría de las recomendaciones, el CPTRT opina que la segunda visita del SPT fue de alta importancia para la Sociedad Hondureña, Organizaciones de Derechos Humanos y los Privados de Libertad por siguientes razones:
- Las personas privadas de libertad sienten que este tipo de visitas como una oportunidad para que sus circunstancias sean conocidas por las instancias internacionales de Derechos Humanos lo cual genera esperanza en el cambio de sus circunstancias.
- La visita constituyo un fuerte apoyo para que se finalizara la aprobación de la Ley del Sistema Penitenciario.
- El MNP/CONAPREV salió fortalecido con esta visita pues el Estado se comprometió a mejorar sus condiciones presupuestarias. Hace falta mayor conciencia para reconocer al Mecanismo como una instancia independiente.
El CPTRT espera que para la próxima visita del Subcomité, el Estado Hondureño ofrezca un panorama de cumplimiento.
From our members: Honduran prison conditions inhuman and deadly
In February 2012, 371 people died in a fire in Comayagua Prison in Honduras. Many have blamed overcrowding for the reason so many were killed; however, the survivors of the fire, inmates at the prison, continue to live in terrible conditions of overcrowding.
The Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT), is a non-governmental organisation, founded with the support of Danish human rights organisations in 1995, and is a member of the IRCT network. The CPTRT has built close relations with the Honduran National Preventative Mechanism (NPM or CONAPREV in Spanish), which was established to monitor Honduran detention centres. As a result of this close relationship, the CPTRT’s Director, Dr Juan Almendarez, and the Health Team accompanied the NPM on visits to Camayagua Prison.
The group, consisisting of the NPM (CONAPREV), Dr Almendarez and the CPTRT Health Team, were able to witness the terrible conditions of overcrowding in which the survivors of the Comayugua fire are kept. They also visited the maximum security wing, the design of which is based on North American prisons. More than 40 detainees have been incarcerated in the maximum security wing since its establishment. Detainees are only allowed out of their cells for an hour each day.
The CPTRT considers that the high security wing is a telling testimony of the physical and psychological torture suffered by detainees and should be closed down. It also believes that the immediate rebuilding of the Comayagua Prison and the building of a prison in San Pedro Sula is essential, as is a review of all other prisons in the country that are in a deplorable condition and potentially could be the object of future fires or social disasters.
Prisons, and other locations where people are deprived of their liberty, are often places of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. That’s why monitoring prison conditions is so important in the work to prevent torture in Honduras. For this purpose, the NPM (CONAPREV) was set up as an independent body by the Honduran State under the Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) which Honduras ratified in 2006.
At the international level, the OPCAT also created the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) which has a mandate to visit places where persons are deprived of their liberty in the States that are party to the OPCAT. The SPT also assists and advises the NPMs about ways to strengthen safeguards relating to detention and reinforce their powers and independence.
The SPT visited Honduras for this purpose, from 30 April to 4 May of this year and held meetings with the Government, non-governmental organisations and the NPM (CONAPREV). The main objective of the SPT visit was to give technical advice and help strengthen the national mechanism, CONAPREV, to prevent torture and to review the implementation of recommendations for the treatment of detainees that the SPT made after its first visit to Honduras in 2009. As part of its review of the treatment of detainees, the SPT delegation visited the Camayagua Prison, the scene of the tragic fire earlier this year.
The following members participated in the visit:
Maria Margarida Pressburguer of Brasil;
Mario Coriolano of Argentina;
Zbigniew Lasocik of Poland; and
Hans Draminski Petersen of Denmark.
After the SPT visited Honduras in 2009, the State regretfully only accomplished one of 53 recommendations made by the SPT; the recommendation related to harmonising the definition of torture with the definition in the Convention against Torture. However, even that recommendation has not been fully accomplished as the definition still lacks any reference to applicability.
In light of the State’s failure to accomplish the changes recommended, CPTRT believes that follow-up visits by the SPT, such as the recent one, are of vital importance to Honduran civil society, human rights organisations and detainees, for the following reasons:
- Detainees understand that visits by these types of delegations offer an opportunity to raise awareness of prison conditions in Honduras in international human rights fora, thus giving them hope that things will change.
- The visit provided strong support for the completion and approval of the national legislation on the reform of the prison system.
- The visit proved beneficial to the NPM (CONAPREV) as the Honduran government agreed to give more financial support to the institution. However, there is still a need to raise awareness that the NPM (CONAPREV) is an independent mechanism.
The CPTRT hopes that there will be an improvement in the State’s compliance this time around, and in preparation for the SPT’s next visit.
 This is an unofficial translation by the IRCT of the original text in Spanish, provided by the CPTRT.
The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) recently visited several Brazilian penitentiary and police institutions, as well as detention facilities for children and juveniles in the states of Espírito Santo, Goiás, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Four months after the visit, its confidential preliminary observations were presented to the Brazilian government.
At the time of the visit, President Dilma Rousseff, a torture survivor herself, was being pressed to get on with a national mechanism to fight torture. This mechanism is based on the recommendations by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, following his visit to Brazil in 2000. His report pointed out the need to end the Brazilian cultural tolerance to torture and highlighted the poor treatment of prisoners in “massively overcrowded” police jails.
Nearly a decade on, the 2009 UNCAT report again raised concern about the systematic practice of torture in Brazil along with “endemic overcrowding, filthy conditions of confinement, extreme heat, light deprivation and permanent lock-ups”. Earlier reports also highlighted the inefficiency of police investigations and to the extreme impunity that prevails in the country, to which judges contributed by ignoring the law defining crimes of torture. According to Conectas, a human rights organisation, the Brazilian government admits a serious problem of torture in the country and admits its own fault in failing to produce systematic data on this abuse.
Many things have changed in Brazil in the past decade. Most notably the consolidation of its status as a global economic power and the outstanding poverty reduction that came with it. While in 2003, 36% of Brazil’s population lived below the national poverty line, that rate fell to 21% in 2009. Torture is, in fact, a cause and effect of poverty. Does this mean we can hope for positive signals in the SPT report? We shall see. That is, if Brazil decides to make the SPT recommendations public.
In the spirit of transparency, which should be a cornerstone of any detention system, we call on the Brazilian government to do so.
Fabio is a Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal at IRCT.