Project Synopsis

The purpose of this research project, which began in August 2011, is to strengthen the capacity of NHRIs in Latin America -Defensorías del Pueblo, Procuradurías y Comisiones de los Derechos Humanos – to engage with the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council to promote State implementation of international torture prevention standards (CAT and OP-CAT).

The UN Secretary General has emphasised the crucial role of NHRIs ‘in the effective implementation of international human rights standards at the national level’ (A/64/320, 24/08/09). A recent OHCHR survey highlights the significance of NHRI engagement with the UPR – particularly in Latin America – but also underlines the need for more effective use by NHRIs of the UPR process.

NHRIs as torture prevention mechanisms are well placed to ensure better understanding of local context, monitor follow-up and facilitate implementation of CAT obligations. In Latin America NHRIs (Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay) have been designated as National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) under the OPCAT. A majority of States have ratified the OPCAT but are yet to fulfil their obligation to designate an NPM (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru). Other States have not ratified the OPCAT but have NHRIs actively working on torture prevention (Colombia, El Salvador and Venezuela). Torture prevention in Latin America is a priority area of concern for the representatives of the UN anti-torture mechanisms and the IACHR (IACHR press release, 30/11/11).

Objectives

The project has a number of objectives:

1. Establish networks among NHRI and government officials, local civil society organisations and external stakeholders within the UN and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights focused on implementation of international torture prevention standards.

2. Creation of a multimedia dissemination tool to facilitate regular communication of NHRIs and stakeholders and enhance transparency and exposure.

3. Preparation of meeting document, including specific action points for NHRIs on implementation of UPR recommendations relating to international torture prevention standards and State obligations under CAT and OPCAT.

This project is intended to strengthen the capacity of NHRIs in Latin America to engage effectively with the UPR and promote State implementation of international standards under the CAT and OPCAT. Focusing on countries yet to designate an NPM, key target areas for the project include: enhancing in-country NHRI expertise and best practices on torture prevention. It draws on extensive expertise on NHRIs within the Human Rights Consortium and established networks within the OHCHR, IACHR and NHRI offices in Latin America.

The project is conceived as a forum for practitioners from within and outside Defensoría institutions – or National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) – to engage in a constructive sharing of perspectives and insights related to the role of these novel institutions in the implementation of UPR recommendations as they pertain to the prevention of torture. It also incorporates a focus on other UN agencies and mechanisms including the treaty body system, the Committee against Torture, the Human Rights Committee and individual Rapporteurs, in particular the Special Rapporteur on Torture. The principal objective of the project is to increase knowledge of the obligations arising under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), its Optional Protocol (OPCAT) and the role of NHRIs in monitoring State compliance and Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedures.

Buenos Aires workshop December 2011

A key development to date in the project was the organisation of an expert meeting which was held in Buenos Aires in December 2011. This workshop explored in depth: How significant is formal design for understanding the role of Defensorías in the area of torture prevention? What contribution can Defensorías make in the transmission of UPR recommendations and the changing of government behaviour on the ground? What are the key strengths and challenges Defensorías face as a rights actor with regards to the prevention and responses to crimes of torture? It also reflected on the quality of relations between Defensorías and other accountability agencies within the state and civil society in eradicating this crime. Finally, the workshop was intended to spotlight best practice and lessons learnt among Defensorías offices with a view to facilitating effective working methods and operating procedures in preparation for the commencement of the UPR’s second cycle in 2012. The meeting concluded with the formulation of a joint declaration by participating NHRIs.

The workshop included a host of high-calibre stakeholders with an interest in Defensorías, international human rights standards and torture prevention, of considerable interest to policy and scholarly communities following this fast-moving arena. The workshop comprised six panels of Defensorías, experts, including policy-makers, legal practitioners and academics, who were invited to contribute short briefs for circulation prior to the meeting. A constructive appraisal of the potential role of NHRIs in this terrain at a time of growing domestic and international interest was provided as a result of the workshop. The workshop offered an invaluable opportunity to:

  • Deepen understanding of the eventful experience of Latin American Defensorías over recent years
  • Feed into current policy discussions around CAT, OPCAT and human rights compliance by Latin American governments
  • Discuss the future role of Defensorías in the area of torture prevention with international experts in the field
  • Evaluate the appropriateness and implications of designation of Defensorías as National Preventive Mechanisms under OPCAT
  • Assist in the development of a network of Defensoría practitioners, government officials, local civil society organisations and external stakeholders brought together by a shared professional and/or scholarly interest
  • Facilitate collaboration and communication of NHRIs and stakeholders within the policy, legal and academic world through the creation of a multimedia dissemination tool