The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or the Committee for the Prevention of Torture ( CPT ) is the anti- torture committee of the Council of Europe . It has been described as a striking inroad of the usually well-preserved domain of sovereign states.
The CPT was founded on the basis of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment(1987), which came into force in February 1989. It allows the CPT to visit all „places of detention“ of the member states of the Council of Europe. Places of detention, as defined by the convention, are held in which people are held without their consent. In the first place, this covers police cells, jails, prisons and closed psychiatric institutions, but also immigration detention centers, old peoples homes and the like. CPT members, who usually call in additional experts. After each visit, a report on the findings and recommendations is drawn up and sent to the respective government. The findings are not so much with individual cases of torture with the identification of situations at risk that may lead to torture. The CPT reports are confidential and are published only if the government so requests. But political pressure on the government is strong to make the public report. Only in the rare case in which governments refuse to publish and the CPT has clear evidence of a practice of torture, the CPT may make a unilateral „public statement“.
All 47 member states of the Council of Europe have ratified the Convention for the Prevention of Torture. Protocol No. 1 to the Convention, which has entered into force on 1 March 2002, provides for non-member States of the Council of Europe to accede to the Convention, but none has been invited to do so to date.
After 20 years of experience, this European model has been adapted and generalized by the United Nations through the OPCAT optional protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (2006).
Members of the CPT are independent and impartial experts from a variety of backgrounds, including law, medicine and the justice system. They are elected for the four-year term by the Committee of Ministers , the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, and can be re-elected twice. One member is elected in respect of each member state.
A system of visits
Visits are usually by delegations, usually by two or more CPT members, by the Committee and, if necessary, by experts and interpreters. The member elected in respect of the country being visited does not join the delegation.
CPT delegations visit Contracting States periodically but may organize additional „ad hoc“ visits if necessary. The Committee must be aware of the state of affairs, which may be carried out immediately after notification. Governments‘ objections to the time or place of a visit to the territory of national defense, public safety, serious disorder, the medical condition of a person or an urgent question concerning a serious crime is in progress. In such cases the state must immediately take steps to enable the Committee to visit as soon as possible.
Unlimited access, co-operation, and confidentiality
Under the Convention, CPT delegations have unlimited access to places of detention and the right to move up these places without restriction. They interview persons deprived of their liberty in their private lives.
The recommendations which the CPT may formulate on the basis of facts, are included in the report concerned. This report is the starting point for an ongoing dialogue with the State concerned.
The CPT has two guiding principles: co-operation and confidentiality. Co-operation with the national authority is at the heart of the Convention, since the aim is to protect persons deprived of their liberty rather than to condemn States for abuse. The Committee is strictly confidential. Nevertheless, if a country fails to co-operate or refuses to improve the situation in the light of the Committee’s recommendations, the CPT may decide to make a public statement.
Of course, the State may request publication of the Committee’s report, together with its comments. In addition, the CPT draws up a general report on its activities every year, which is made public.