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55th Session of the Human Rights Council: Special Rapporteur against Torture

UN News - Unsplash/Matthew Ansley

55th Session of the Human Rights Council: Special Rapporteur against Torture

8th March, 2024 
Names: Elena Vallejo Secadas
Team UN Geneva Researchers,
Global Human Rights Defence. 

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Alice Jill Edwads, presented two reports to the Human Rights Council on its 55th session. The first one on the current situation in prisons with recommendations on their management, reference A/HRC/55/52 and the second one on her visit to Ukraine to learn about the situation of prisoners of war, reference A/HRC/55/52/Add.1.

In relation to the first report, she stated that there are difficulties in prisons in almost every country in the world with too many people incarcerated for too long, referring especially to those in pre-trial detention. She warned that prisons in poor conditions and without programmes become incubators of violence, corruption and new crimes.

She advocated the need for conscientious recruitment of staff, good salaries, professional training and career opportunities. She insisted that there is no standard staff/prisoner ratio, but that it has to allow for the creation of rehabilitation programmes that enable, especially for young people, to get out of the wheel of violence and on track for a professional career in the future. She recommended applying all international standards in this regard, citing specifically those of the European Commission, the IRC and the Bangkok standards, urging countries to focus on the most generous ones. She expressed that on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the rapporteurship she would issue further recommendations on this issue.

Regarding overcrowding situations in many prisons, she described it as a degrading treatment and advocated the need for such data to be shared among judicial institutions in order to make better decisions regarding prison management in line with respect for human rights. She stressed the need for States to include prisons, both public and private, in planning protocols against pandemics and infectious diseases, as well as in those relating to climate change, with regard to the refurbishment, rehabilitation and design of buildings. The rapporteur includes recommendations on all these issues in her report.

Likewise, in the report and during the presentation of the report, the Rapporteur made different recommendations regarding the situations of special vulnerability in which women, children, indigenous persons, persons with neurodivergent conditions deprived of their liberty find themselves. During the debate, some countries highlighted the lack of references to LGBT persons.

The Rapporteur highlighted the need to allocate resources for activities and programmes to enable these persons, especially those with special vulnerabilities, to get out of the wheel of crime and violence. Tailoring them to the needs of the communities to which they belong, referring to gaps in the labour market.

Regarding the second report, the visit of the Special Rapporteur took place from 4 to 10 September 2023 and she stated that it has been proven that torture is an element of war policy by the Russian Federation, non-random, but constant and used in many of the occupied territories. During her intervention she stressed on several occasions that the Russian Federation has not replied or has refused to allow her entry to visit these territories. She called on Russia to send an order to its army and other surrounding groups to cease this practice, which is inadmissible under any circumstances.

Regarding the situation of Ukrainians imprisoned on charges of collaboration, she is particularly concerned about the prison conditions in prison 19 where inmates suffer abusive treatment at the hands of Ukrainian officials. The Rapporteur calls on Ukraine to strengthen the training of these officials and to investigate these acts.

In its intervention as a concerned country, Ukraine raised the alarm about the systematic and widespread use of torture by Russia during the three years of war. They denounced the aim of intimidating, instilling fear and undermining civilians and prisoners of war by means of torture, rape, arbitrary executions and other proven practices. Ukraine considered as proved the existence of torture chambers in different places previously occupied by Russia and demanded the cessation of these practices, investigation and accountability, unrestricted access to the places of detention by the United Nations, as well as the return of all abducted civilians.

It should be noted that Russia waived its right to intervene as a concerned country, but did so like the other countries participating in the session. In its intervention, Russia raised the alarm about Ukraine’s impunity, claiming that the military itself is broadcasting videos of its atrocities. Russia also referred to the situation of prisoners accused of collaborating, of human rights defenders and accused the international community of turning a blind eye to these crimes and urged the rapporteur to fulfil her mandate impartially. The representant of the Russian Federation did not give any consideration to its refusal to cooperate with the rapporteur and allow access to the occupied territories.

It was surprising that most countries, including the US, referred only to the first report in their interventions and not to the report on the visit to Ukraine. Many of them called for more recommendations on best practices regarding the situation in prisons, but also on the prohibition and control of torture practices and the ratification of the convention on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.

In addition, both the US and UK representatives referred to the case of Jimmy Lai. Businessman with British and Chinese (Hong Kong) nationality, collaborator of the pro-democracy movement, an organization that defends liberal values, civil liberties and human rights. Arrested in 2020 on charges of violating Hong Kong’s National Security Law and colluding with foreign forces with the aim of endangering national security. On these charges he risks life imprisonment.

China, defended the total ban on the use of torture in the country, and insisted that all interrogations are recorded. China also referred to the use by other countries of third parties to outsource prisons, urged them to eliminate these practices and urged the Rapporteur to investigate them. Iran, Cambodia, Venezuela, among other countries suspected of using these practices, followed the same line, defending the prohibition of torture in the country and the existence of reintegration programmes and collaboration with other countries through visits to their prisons. Iran insisted on the need to investigate secret US prisons linked to the 9/11 attacks.

Representatives from Afghanistan at the session were alarmed at the situation of women and girls in their country, who are detained in barracks and subjected to torture and intimidation for violating Taliban-imposed morality. They called on international mechanisms to investigate and hold accountable those responsible.

In her last intervention, the Rapporteur referred to the case of Alexey Navalny, a Russian dissident and opposition leader who died in prison under strange circumstances, imprisoned after being poisoned by the Russian government. She also made reference to the situation of Julianne Assange and recommended participants to write and report to her office to proceed with investigations, stressing her intention to collaborate.



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