UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Last UK CAT Milestone:
- 27 May 2013: Concluding Observations on the UK by the UN Committee Against Torture.
Next Projected UK Milestones for CAT:
- May 2017: UK to submit its 6th periodic report
Latest EHRC CAT Update:
- September 2014: Follow-up regarding the Concluding Observations adopted by the Committee Against Torture on the 5th periodic review of UK: A joint shadow report from the EHRC, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Scottish Human Rights Commission.
- April 2013: EHRC Submission to the UN Committee Against Torture: response to list of issues on the UK's 5th periodic report in PDF or Word
- August 2012: EHRC Submission to the UN Committee Against Torture: list of issues on the UK's 5th periodic report
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the Convention against Torture or CAT) is an international human rights treaty that bans the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Convention seeks to effectively support the struggle against the use of torture around the world. It makes it clear that torture is not justified under any circumstances. The treaty requires State parties to take steps to prevent, investigate and punish those who commit these practices. State parties must also ensure that any victim (or their dependents in the event of the victim's death) receive adequate compensation, including rehabilitation.
The UK ratified CAT in 1988, agreeing to be bound by its terms. CAT requires the UK to take ‘effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction;’ including in relation to:
- Returning, expelling or extraditing someone where there are substantial grounds to believe s/he will face torture;
- Arrest, detention and imprisonment
- Training law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment.
- Investigating allegations of torture
- Ensuring such offences are punished under criminal law, applying appropriate penalties to reflect the gravity of the offence
The full text of CAT can be found here.
When it examines a State, the Committee against Torture (the CAT Committee) makes a number of concluding observations which outline how the State can improve its implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). In May 2013, the CAT Committee raised concerns and issued concluding observations (recommendations) about many issues in the UK including:
- improving efforts to prevent violence and self-harm in places of detention;
- establishing standards and measures of compliance to prevent ill-treatment of patients receiving health care services;
- investigating alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held overseas under the State’s control or jurisdiction;
- taking steps to prevent vulnerable asylum seekers and torture survivors from being entered into administrative detention;
- ensuring that electrical discharge weapons (tasers) are used only in extreme and limited situations where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury;
- using restraint against children only as a last resort and to prevent harm rather than for disciplinary purposes; and
- directing children with mental disabilities to appropriate health institutions rather than police custody.
The 2013 concluding observations from the CAT Committee can be found here.
The CAT Committee
The implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) is monitored by the Committee against Torture (CAT Committee); a body made up of ten independent experts from around the world.
These experts are nominated by the Governments who have ratified CAT, and are elected to serve four-year terms. The CAT Committee generally meets formally twice a year (May and November).
Governments who have ratified CAT are required to submit reports to the CAT Committee every four years outlining the measures they have taken to give effect to the provisions of CAT. They should also provide information on any new developments complaints, inquiries and any other issues which are relevant to CAT. These reports are known as the ‘State Report.’ (See list of issues prior to reporting, below.)
The UK’s most recent State Report, from September 2011, is available here. (See State Examination below).
Other organisations like the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and civil society can also provide submissions to the CAT Committee. This can provide an alternative analysis of the impact of laws and policies, supported by different kinds of evidence. These reports are known as “Shadow Reports.”
The EHRC submitted its Shadow Report in August 2012 and is available here.(See State Examination below)
August 2012: EHRC Submission to the UN Committee Against Torture: list of issues on the UK's 5th periodic report
List of issues
At the session prior to the examination of the State Report, the CAT Committee draws up a list of questions that they want the State to provide further written information on. This is known as the ‘list of issues.’ This list is based on information provided to the Committee by the State party, NGOs and the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) as well as other relevant sources. The list of issues will usually form the basis of the public examination and it helps the State party to prepare for the types of questions it is likely to receive. (See list of issues prior to reporting, below.)
List of issues prior to reporting
Since 2007, the CAT Committee has trialled an optional reporting procedure known as the ‘list of issues prior to reporting.’ At least one year prior to the submission date of the State Report, the CAT Committee provides the State party with a list of issues it wants the State party to cover in its State Report. This approach aims to help the State party produce a more focussed State report and submit it to the CAT Committee on time. The CAT Committee will not issue any further list of issues prior to the examination.
The CAT Committee asks the State party in advance whether it wishes to receive a list of issues prior to reporting or whether it prefers to report against the full list of CAT articles. The CAT Committee has received positive feedback on the optional reporting procedure from State parties and plans to continue offering it to them. The UK will use the list of issues prior to reporting procedure for its next examination.
UK Government officials will attend the examination, usually including representatives from the devolved administrations for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The examination takes the form of a constructive dialogue, where the Committee seeks to gain a better understanding of the situation in the State party and advise on how to improve on the implementation of CAT in the State. As an NHRI, the EHRC is entitled to attend the examination and make oral submissions to the Committee highlighting particular areas of concern or recent developments.
Following the examination, the CAT Committee produces a report which includes recommendations for the State to implement. These are called the ‘Concluding Observations’. The last concluding observations on the UK can be found here. States are required to publish these recommendations and follow them up. The State is required to report to the Committee on progress on the most serious recommendations in one year’s time. The UK Government submitted its follow-up reports in May 2013 and in May 2014. which can be accessed here.
In The EHRC submitted its shadow follow-up report in partnership with The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission.
The State must report on how it has implemented the remaining recommendations in its next periodic report, four years later. The UK Government is due to submit its next State report in May 2017.
For more information on how CAT is monitored, please click here.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) has an optional protocol. Unlike other treaties, CAT's optional protocol is a UN treaty in its own right. The UK ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in 2003.
OPCAT recognises that people deprived of their liberty are more vulnerable to the risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Whilst CAT contains an obligation to prevent torture, OPCAT provides for the independent monitoring of places of detention in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
OPCAT does not provide for a new set of rights or require States parties to report on how these are implemented on a domestic level. Rather, OPCAT establishes a two-tier system of prevention of torture:
- It obliges every State party to establish one or more national preventive mechanisms (NPMs) who visit places where people are detained by the State, or under the State’s control or jurisdiction. For example, prisons, secure mental health units, secure children's accommodation, military detention settings and immigration detention settings.
- NPMs are supported and advised by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT). The SPT also carries out visits to places where people are detained by the State. It issues recommendations to State parties and cooperates with other international mechanisms that have a role to play in preventing torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
The Committee Against Torture and the SPT liaise closely together.
More information about OPCAT can be found here.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons coordinates the UK NPM. More information can be found here.
The Convention against Torture Committee (CAT Committee) periodically drafts general recommendations which offer clear guidance on the application of the CAT articles in particular situations. Such recommendations include guidance on:
- redress and compensation for torture victims
- effective action to prevent torture
Statements and decisions
The CAT Committee can adopt statements and decisions to highlight the importance of major developments and issues that relate to CAT. In recent years the CAT Committee has made Statements on CAT membership and concluding observations. CAT Statements and decisions can be found here.
Under Article 20 of the Convention against Torture, the CAT Committee can receive information regarding the systematic use of torture in a State party. If the CAT Committee believes the allegations to be well-founded, it has the power to conduct a confidential inquiry and ask the State to co-operate with it.
More information about confidential inquiries is available here.
Under article 22 of CAT, the CAT Committee can receive and consider complaints that the rights of individuals under CAT have not been respected by a State party. In order for the CAT Committee to be able to do this, the State party in question must have declared that it recognises that the Committee can do this. The UK has not done so. The UK considers that individuals can seek more effective remedies in domestic courts that the CAT complaints procedure offers.
If an individual alleges that they have been tortured in any territory under the State party’s jurisdiction, the State must impartially and promptly investigate the case. The State must ensure that the individual and witnesses are not subject to intimidation or ill-treatment as a result of the complaint or any evidence that is given. The CAT Committee has designated rapporteurs to follow-up on any allegations of reprisals that may occur. For more information, please see here.
October 2014: EHRC Consultation Response: Intelligence and Security Committee Further Inquiry into the role of the UK Government and Security and Intelligence Agencies in relation to detainee treatment and rendition – Call for Evidence
September 2014: Follow-up regarding the Concluding Observations adopted by the Committee against Torture on the 5th periodic review of UK: A joint shadow report from the EHRC, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Scottish Human Rights Commission.
August 2014: Mid-Term Universal Periodic Review Report
February 2014: Response to Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Deportation with assurances: call for evidence
August 2012: EHRC Submission to the UN Committee Against Torture: response to list of issues on the UK's 5th periodic report.
Last Updated: 09 Dec 2014