The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture was created when the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) entered into force in June 2006. The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture differs from the UN’s other treaty monitoring bodies in that it works directly in Member States and with governments to prevent torture and ill-treatment in places of detention through monitoring and advice. As of October 2021, 90 States are party to the OPCAT.
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture has: (1) an operational function, which consists in visiting all places of detention to States parties, and (2) an advisory function, which consists of the Subcommittee providing advice to States parties and National Preventive Mechanisms, which are independent national bodies for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment established by the Subcommittee at a domestic level.
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture convenes three times a year, each session lasting approximately one week. The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture holds its session simultaneously with the Committee against Torture at least once a year. The schedule of past and upcoming Subcommittee sessions is available online, and the OHCHR maintains a Master Calendar of all UN Member States’ upcoming treaty body reviews. Following Article 16 of the OPCAT, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture also presents a public annual report to the Committee against Torture.
Rather than have States submit reports, the Subcommittee undertakes country missions and sends delegations to examine conditions of detention and other areas that may be related to ill-treatment and torture. Each visit is conducted by at least two members of the Subcommittee, and may be accompanied by experts of demonstrated experience and knowledge of the field as selected from a roster prepared by State Parties, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the United Nations Centre for International Crime Prevention. The Subcommittee has published the procedure of its visits in its Guidelines of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. After its visit, the Subcommittee will then draft a confidential report to the State and/or the National Preventive Mechanism. A list of previous visits can be found on the Subcommittee’s website.
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture does not hear individual complaints.
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture does not hear inter-State complaints.
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture does not have a mechanism in place for urgent interventions.
Complaints of Systematic Violations (Inquiry Procedures)
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture does not have a mechanism in place for undertaking inquiries.
The Subcommittee does not issue general comments on the OPCAT, but it does lay out its interpretation or understanding of States’ obligations on specific issues in its annual reports, presented each year to the Committee against Torture. A list of its prior annual reports can be found on its website.
Open Letters and Statements
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture does not issue open letters or statements.
Thematic Discussions and Conferences
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture does not host thematic discussions regarding the OPCAT.
CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture’s work is supported by an informal contact group that includes various civil society organizations that provide advice assistance to the Subcommittee. A list of the OPCAT Contact Group (also referred to as the OPCAT Contact Network) members is available on the Subcommittee’s webpage.
RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
Webcasts of the Committee’s sessions are periodically broadcast on either UN Treaty Body Webcast or UN Web TV.
Another useful resource is the International Service for Human Rights’ Simple Guide to UN Treaty Bodies (2010), which examines each treaty bodies’ reports, individual communications, State-to-State complaints, inquiry procedures, urgent interventions, general comments, and how NGOs can engage with treaty bodies.