New “invaluable” resource will play a part in the fight against torture around the world

New “invaluable” resource will play a part in the fight against torture around the world

A new “invaluable” resource for groups monitoring prisons and other places of detention around the world will play a key part in the fight around torture, experts have said.

Abuse in jails and other places of detention can now be recorded with greater accuracy than ever before. A new system for recording weapons and restraints will help human rights monitors better independently document and track the use of torture in without the need to be reliant on information from authorities.

Although many monitors have unrestricted access to places where persons may be deprived of their liberty, and many countries also have national bodies to prevent torture and ill treatment, there is a knowledge gap on how best to record the firearms, less lethal weapons and restraints often found in places of detention.

It is hoped the new guide for monitors will prompt them to assess places of detention in more detail, looking beyond just checking they meet national standards and broadening the scope of what they examine. The guide will equip detention monitors with skills to record cases of mistreatment in more detail, helping them to better recognise if weapons and restraints are being misused. The information will help to corroborate allegations of torture and ill-treatment made by detainees and could play a major part in fighting torture around the world.

The new guide Monitoring weapons and restraints in places of detention: a practical guide for detention monitors, was launched at the United Nations in Geneva, with a presentation to the Plenary of the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) during its 35th meeting.

The guide was developed by Dr Abi Dymond, from the University of Exeter, and by the Omega Research Foundation, a UK NGO which researches the manufacture, trade, and use of, military, security and police equipment.  It will be used by the SPT and others human rights monitors as they document torture, and help them compile evidence from survivors.

Dr Dymond said: “I hope the guide will help to reduce and prevent torture around the world, and enhance accountability for use of force.  Focusing on the equipment used in prisons can help corroborate evidence and testimonies and help give an independent way to document mistreatment, rather than just information authorities want to give.

“By helping to identify wrongdoing, and misuse of weapons and restraints, this guide has the potential to improve relationships between prisoners and staff. It will help start discussions about the appropriateness of current policy and practice, and whether less harmful alternatives could be used.”

The guide was developed as a result of requests from several torture prevention bodies, including the SPT. It helps such bodies to collate and monitor standards around the use of firearms, less lethal weapons and restraints in places of detention. It also shows them how to document what they see, what to ask, and key observations they should make in prisons, hospitals and other places of detention.

The guide informs monitors to particularly look out for inappropriate items such as weighted leg restraints or electric shock weapons and encourages them to speak to prison staff to check their understanding of when they may use weapons and restraints, their understanding of human rights and whether they have skills to help them avoid using force.

Sir Malcolm Evans, Chair of the SPT and Professor of Public International Law, University of Bristol, said: “While some equipment may have a legitimate role to play in places of detention under strictly controlled conditions, others have no place at all – being inherently cruel, inhuman and degrading – yet they continue to be promoted, marketed, bought and sold.

“Monitoring bodies are increasingly starting to recognise the importance of accurate documentation of weapons and restraints in places of detention, and of paying attention to the instruments used to inflict abuse. Enhanced awareness of weapons and restraints can help torture prevention bodies to recognise when inappropriate equipment is being used, or is being considered for use; to investigate the use of weapons and restraints where there are grounds for concern; and provide additional evidence around the allegations of torture and ill-treatment made by detainees.

“Having been closely involved in the development of this resource, I am confident that it will be of value to a wide range of detention monitors and torture prevention bodies more broadly, and will be an invaluable resource in the fight against torture.”

Date: 21 June 2018

Read more University News