Project “Monitoring the prevention of torture”

Under the mandate of the German member of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Margarete Suzuko Osterfeld

Background Information

The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) is a relatively new mechanism within the United Nations human rights system supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The SPT is composed of 25 independent and impartial experts from different backgrounds and various regions of the world. The Subcommittee was established pursuant to the provisions of the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 2002 and came into force in June 2006.

The Subcommittee’s work is based on a purely preventive mandate focused on an innovative, sustained and proactive approach to the prevention of torture and ill treatment. It implements its mandate in threefold ways: The SPT conducts regular monitoring visits to places of detention in countries that have ratified or acceded to the OPCAT. This includes prisons, juvenile detention, local and offshore immigration detention facilities as well as other places in which people are deprived of their liberty for whatever reason. Apart from such afore mentioned typical places of detention the SPT increasingly monitors such institutions in which especially vulnerable groups, such as mentally ill and disabled persons or children held in custody, often on a largely arbitrary and legally ill-founded basis. Mentally ill persons often are at the lowest level of social hierarchy.

Furthermore, the Subcommittee’s experts advise and assist OPCAT member states in the establishment of National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) responsible for ongoing detention monitoring at the national level and cooperates with other regional and international bodies.

As a result of all these visits reports are prepared and presented to the respective governments in order to then engage with them in a constructive dialogue concerning the improvement of detention conditions and better prevention of instances of torture and other ill treatment under their jurisdiction.

Objectives

The SPT still lacks knowledge regarding the monitoring of mental health institutions. The project seeks to fill this gap by linking stakeholder’s expertise and perspectives in order to strengthen the overall debate and further develop the SPT’s strategies of mental health monitoring.

Margarete Suzuko Osterfeld, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, took up its mandate in January 2014 succeeding Prof. Dr. Christian Pross, who was a member of the SPT for the last three years. She now manages the above-mentioned project “Monitoring the prevention of torture”.

Together with four other mental health professionals of the SPT, Ms. Osterfeld will further develop and improve the international and national monitoring of psychiatric settings. Here, Ms. Osterfelds long experience as a member of a governmental inspection body, which monitors human rights standards and involuntary and coercive measures in psychiatric hospitals in one federal state in Germany, is of particular value. In this context she will further provide her expertise on involvement of (ex-) mental health users and their families into human rights monitoring processes.

Another goal is to encourage networking and to strengthen the existing collaboration with numerous civil society organizations and related United Nations mechanisms, such as the Committee against Torture, the Committee for the Rights of People with Disabilities and the Committee for the Right of the Child.

The project associate, Katharina Kersten, holds a European Masters in Childhood Studies and Children’s Rights and is therefore able to significantly broaden the knowledge base of the project in total.

Members of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

With a membership of 25 experts, the SPT is the largest UN human rights treaty body.

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