MANDATE OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON TORTURE
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is one of the thematic special procedures overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The mandate holder examines questions related to torture, relying on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment for guidance. The Special Rapporteur conducts fact-finding country visits, communicates with States regarding allegations of torture, and submits annual reports on his or her activities to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.
The Special Rapporteur must apply a gender perspective throughout the work of his or her mandate.
COMPOSITION AND WORKING METHODS
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur lasts for a period of three years. The mandate is filled by one highly qualified individual.
The UN Commission on Human Rights established the Special Rapporteurship in 1985 with Resolution 1985/33. Most recently, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate in 2008 (Resolution 8/8), 2011 (Resolution 16/23), and 2014 (Resolution 25/13).
In fulfilling the mandate, the Special Rapporteur undertakes country visits, communicates with governments concerning information and complaints received regarding alleged rights violations, and submits activity reports to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council.
One important function of the Special Rapporteur is to conduct country visits, which it does on the basis of an invitation from the country concerned. Country visits provide the Special Rapporteur an opportunity to gain a firsthand understanding of the situation of torture in a country, including institutional and legislative factors that contribute to the practice of torture.
The Special Rapporteur undertakes an average of two visits per year, to States that have extended an invitation. View the list of previous country visits and the Special Rapporteur’s subsequent reports here.
More than 100 countries have extended standing invitations to country visits by all thematic special procedures. View the list of countries that have extended standing invitations here.
Receiving Information & Complaints
The Special Rapporteur receives information and complaints about alleged violations of the right to be free from torture. Importantly, the Special Rapporteur does not issue decisions concerning individual complaints and cannot require the State to remedy any alleged violation; rather, the Special Rapporteur raises the issue of concern with the relevant State. The Special Rapporteur may contact the government concerned to invite comment on the allegation, seek clarification, remind the government of its international obligations, or request information on steps being taken by the government to redress the situation. Generally called “communications,” these exchanges with the government can take a variety of forms of varying degrees of significance. Specifically, the Special Rapporteur contacts a government through either an allegation letter or an urgent appeal.
The communications sent by the Special Rapporteur and other special procedures are also compiled in periodic reports submitted to the UN Human Rights Council at each of its regular sessions.
In all communications, the Special Rapporteur is careful not to draw any conclusions about the facts of the case. Instead, the Special Rapporteur simply presses for the government to ensure that the right to be free from torture is not violated.
Generally, the Special Rapporteur sends an allegation letter in circumstances where the alleged violation has already occurred, or is not so pressing as to warrant sending an urgent appeal. An allegation letter generally contains a request for the government to clarify the substance of the allegation and to forward any information related to the allegation to the Special Rapporteur.
The Special Rapporteur may send allegation letters with regard to systematic patterns of torture involving:
- specific group of victims or perpetrators;
- the use of particular methods of torture; or
- detention conditions amounting to ill-treatment.
The Special Rapporteur may also send an allegation letter concerning legislation relevant to torture, including:
- criminal sentencing provisions;
- criminal procedure legislation; and
- legal provisions granting amnesty, and other measures providing for de facto or de jure impunity in violation of the prohibition of torture.
The urgent appeals procedure is reserved for cases in which there are sufficiently reliable allegations that a person is at risk of torture at the hands, consent, or acquiescence of public officials. If it appears that the allegation letters procedure is unlikely to address the situation in a timely enough manner, the Special Rapporteur will send an urgent appeal to the government concerned.
The Special Rapporteur may send an urgent appeal with regard to individuals who are at risk of torture and other forms of inhumane treatment, including:
- corporal punishment;
- means of restraint contrary to international standards;
- prolonged incommunicado detention;
- solitary confinement;
- “torturous” conditions of detention;
- the denial of medical treatment and adequate nutrition;
- imminent deportation to a country where there is a risk of torture; or
- the threatened use or excessive use of force by law enforcement officials.
Urgent appeals are also transmitted concerning the enactment of legislation that will allegedly undermine the prohibition of torture (e.g. providing impunity for acts of torture).
Reports to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council
The Special Rapporteur reports annually to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly on all of its activities relating to its mandate. These reports are not yet available on the Special Rapporteur’s webpage.
SUBMITTING INFORMATION OR COMPLAINTS
Complaints should be submitted to the Special Rapporteur via the online submission form. Complaints submitted to the Special Rapporteur should include the information requested on the model form (“questionnaire”), including:
- the identity of the person(s) subjected to torture,
- the date, place, and detailed description of the circumstances of the incident(s) or alleged violation,
- any remedial action taken, such as domestic remedies pursued by the victim or his or her family or representatives, and
- the identity of the person(s) or organization(s) submitting the communication, which will be kept confidential.
In the case of legislation related to torture, the communication should identify the relevant criminal procedure or sentencing legislation or other legal provisions, such as those granting amnesty or allowing impunity for torture.
The Special Rapporteur may also be contacted by:
Special Rapporteur on Torture
c/o Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH-1211 Geneva 10
- Email: [email protected]
- Fax: +41 22 917 90 0
Other information may be submitted via email using the address [email protected].