Combating torture

The German Government’s engagement in the fight against torture and abuse is resolute and untiring. Together with its EU partners, it is striving to strengthen the international mechanisms to combat torture. It attaches paramount importance to the worldwide abolition of torture as well as the complete rehabilitation of torture victims.

UN Convention against Torture

Germany ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 10 December 1984, to which 155 states have now acceded, on 1 November 1990. The German Government is calling for the largest possible number of accessions to this Convention.

Compliance with the UN Convention against Torture by the States parties is subject to strict international control. The States parties must submit regular reports to the UN-Committee against Torture on the national measures they have taken to comply with the Convention. The Committee responds with recommendations aimed at improving the situation in individual countries. Germany has now submitted its fifth country report. A round table was held at the German Institute for Human Rights on 23 May 2012 to examine the recommendations made by the Committee. More than 40 representatives from federal and Land ministries, the Bundestag, the world of politics, academia, civil society, the National Agency for the Prevention of Torture and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees took part.

Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture

The adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture by the UN  General Assembly on 18 December 2002 represented a major step forward in the global fight against torture. The Protocol, which entered into force on 22 June 2006 and has now been ratified by 76 states, provides for the establishment of national and international mechanisms which are intended to have an early preventative impact. By ratifying the Optional Protocol, states undertake to establish independent bodies at national level which must be granted unrestricted access to detention facilities. In Germany, where the Protocol has been in force since 3 January 2009, the Federal Agency for the Prevention of Torture was established for this purpose. The Agency began work on 1 May 2009. A separate Länder Commission for the Prevention of Torture has been established for institutions which fall under the jurisdiction of the Länder. Together, the Federal Agency and the Länder Commission form the National Agency for the Prevention of Torture, Germany’s prevention mechanism under the Optional Protocol. The National Agency is an independent body, annexed to the German Institute of Criminology, a research institute of the Federation and Länder, in Wiesbaden. 

The National Agency’s task is to visit Federal detention facilities (such as Bundeswehr and Federal Police facilities) and Länder detention facilities (such as prisons, police stations and psychiatric hospitals) on a regular basis and unannounced, to point out shortcomings and issue recommendations. It is also required to report to the Bundestag, the Länder parliaments, and the Federal and Länder Governments on its activities. It does not process inquiries or complaints from individuals.

In addition to national agencies, the Optional Protocol also provides for an international monitoring mechanism, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. The German Government actively supported the candidature of a German expert for a seat on this body. In January 2014, Dr Margarete Osterfeld succeeded Prof. Christian Pross as German expert on the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. The Subcommittee officially visited Germany in April 2013.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

The special rapporteurs are an important UN instrument for protecting and promoting human rights. Their mandate includes observing the situation in the States parties, visits and reports, as well as recommendations. The special rapporteurs rely on receiving an invitation from the state in question. Germany has issued a standing invitation to all UN special rapporteurs.

In Resolution 1985/33, the UN Commission on Human Rights appointed a special rapporteur to examine all issues relevant to torture. His mandate covers all countries, irrespective of whether a State has (yet) ratified the Convention against Torture. Juan Ernesto Méndez, an Argentinean legal expert who promotes human rights and is engaged in the efforts to combat torture and genocide, has held this mandate since 1 November 2010.

EU guidelines on torture

With the adoption of the guidelines for EU policy towards third countries on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment on 9 April 2001, the EU created an instrument which strengthened its commitment to the worldwide abolition of torture. A jointly developed global action plan, whose key points were implemented during Germany’s EU Presidency, consisted of numerous demarches in third states in which the EU addressed the problem of the use of torture and called for its abolition. The EU guidelines also help ensure that the fight against torture and its abolition is a fixture in dialogues with third states which the EU conducts as an organisation and the member states at bilateral level. The German Government, too, is obliged to adhere to the EU guidelines in its actions. The focus is on individual cases.

European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Council of Europe also has a convention against torture: the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which entered into force on 1 February 1989. To implement the Convention, the Council of Europe established the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which comprises independent experts. The task of this Committee is to review the human rights situation of individuals in States parties who have been deprived of their freedom. To this end, visits are made to prisons, psychiatric institutions and other establishments in which people are detained. The reports on these visits, which contain concrete recommendations for action, are published with the consent of the state in question. The Committee’s last visit to Germany took place at the end of 2013.

Reports relating to Germany by the European Committee for the prevention of Torture

Last updated 02.12.2014

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