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European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) is the body set up to monitor the implementation of the 1987 European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (referred to as the European Torture Convention).
The CPT was created in November 1989, in accordance with Article 1 of the European Torture Convention. Its role is to “examine the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty with a view to strengthening, if necessary, the protection of such persons from torture and from inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Art. 1 of European Torture Convention).
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture is an integral part of the European system of human rights protection. Its monitoring is mandatory for all States that ratified the European Torture Convention.
The Committee is a non-judicial mechanism with the aim of preventing torture. It complements the judicial control carried out by the European Court of Human Rights, which has jurisdiction over crimes of torture committed in Europe by virtue of the 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which prohibits such practices.
The CPT carries out its examinations by means of periodic or ad hoc visits. These are generally carried out by two of the Committee’s members in “any place within its jurisdiction where persons are deprived of their liberty by a public authority” (Art. 2 of the European Torture Convention). Its mandate is thus relatively broad, extending to any place where individuals are being held, whether by administrative, judicial, or military authorities.
NGOs and individuals can transmit information relating to suspicions of torture to the CPT.
The Committee has as many members as there are parties to the European Torture Convention (currently forty-seven). They are elected by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe by an absolute majority of votes, from a list of names drawn up by the Consultative Assembly. The members, “persons of high moral character,” must be independent and impartial, and no two members of the Committee may be nationals of the same State. They are elected for four years and may be reelected once (Arts. 3 and 4 of the European Torture Convention).
Mandate: Visits and Reports
The Convention gives the Committee only a mission to prevent torture. It cannot render judgments or punishment if the European laws against torture are violated. ▸ European Court of Human Rights
The CPT carries out periodic visits to places of detention in the territory of the States Parties. It can also organize other ad hoc or surprise visits if the circumstances seem to warrant them (Art. 7). Since its creation in 1989—and as of 2012—the Committee made 334 visits. It may request the assistance of experts, such as doctors, during these visits.
The Committee enjoys relatively extended powers in the exercise of its functions. Article 8 of the European Torture Convention establishes that the CPT must have or be given
- access to States Parties’ territory and the right to travel without restriction;
- full information on the place where persons deprived of their liberty are being held;
- unlimited access to any place where persons are deprived of their liberty, including the right to move inside such places without restriction;
- any other information available to the State Party that is necessary for the Committee to carry out its tasks;
- the opportunity to interview persons deprived of their liberty, in private; and
- the opportunity to communicate freely with any person who it believes can supply relevant information.
After each visit, the Committee draws up a confidential report accompanied by any recommendations it considers necessary, although they have no mandatory force on States. However, if the State “fails to cooperate or refuses to improve the situation in the light of the Committee’s recommendations,” the Committee may decide to make a public statement on the matter (Art. 10). Between 1992 and 1996, the Committee made eight public statements against Turkey; from 2001 and 2007, three public statements were made against the Russian Federation; and in 2011, one public statement was made against Greece. The criticisms concerned the treatment of people detained by police. The Committee may also publish its report, with any of the concerned State’s comments, whenever requested to do so by that State. However, no personal data shall be published without the express consent of the person concerned (Art. 11).
Subject to the rules of confidentiality, the Committee submits a general annual report to the European Committee of Ministers, which transmits it to the Consultative Assembly before it is made public.
The CPT’s competence is mandatory for all States Parties to the European Torture Convention, at all times (peace, war, or state of emergency). However, in times of conflict, its jurisdiction is subsidiary to that of the ICRC. In such situations, the Geneva Conventions prevail, and “the Committee shall not visit places which representatives or delegates of Protecting Powers or the International Committee of the Red Cross effectively visit on a regular basis by virtue of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 thereto” (Art. 17.3 of the European Torture Convention).
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France
Tel.: (33) 03 88 41 32 54
Fax: (33) 03 88 41 27 72
For additional information: Cassese, Antonio. “The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment Comes of Age.” In Towards More Effective Supervision by International Organizations , edited by Niels Blokker and Sam Muller, 115–25. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1994.
Morgan, Rod. Combating Torture in Europe: The Work and Standards of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) . Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing, 2001.