A Fond Farewell for CTI Head of Secretariat Dr. Alice Edwards
Geneva-based Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) announces the departure of Dr. Alice Edwards, Head of the Secretariat, on 30 June 2021.
Since her appointment in January 2016, Dr. Edwards has steered CTI’s transition from an initial start-up project into a fully operational, collaborative and respected organisation founded on the finest principles of multilateralism. A veritable change agent, Dr. Edwards has shaped many of CTI’S strategies and interventions including advising States on reforming domestic laws to include torture as a prosecutable offence and utilising more humane approaches, which have ultimately resulted in the modernisation of prison and justice systems and the evolution of culture and mindsets in police and law enforcement, most notably in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific regions. Indeed, CTI’s alternative, State-led, equality-based initiative and the application of its no-name, no-shame philosophy, provides the confidential necessary space for previously reluctant countries to become signatories to the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT).
Over the past five and a half years, Dr. Edwards has expanded the CTI Secretariat’s capacity building and technical expertise capabilities, enabling confidential experience sharing among States that have helped improve institutional and legislative frameworks for effective legal and human rights institutions. Under her stewardship, 171 States are party to UNCAT – an increase of 17 (13 during her tenure) – a total comparable to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and just two ratifications shy of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UNCAT ratification rate is currently higher than almost all other core human rights treaties, and that can be attributed to the solid engagement of CTI. With the accessions of Oman and St Kitts and Nevis, UNCAT was the most ratified treaty in 2020, despite challenges wrought by the pandemic. Indeed, these recent ratifications and the imminent ratification by Sudan, CTI will have made possible the full UNCAT regional membership by Arab States – a momentous achievement. Elsewhere, in sub-Saharan Africa, only two states are not yet party to the Convention, while in Latin America, only one remains outside. There is high expectation that these final regional ratifications will occur in the near future. Only through global membership and full implementation of the Convention by all UN Member States will symmetry of obligations and understandings about how best to prohibit, prevent and take action against torture and ill-treatment be achieved.
We have benefited enormously from Dr Edwards’ wise counsel and outstanding expertise as a human rights lawyer and torture specialist. She has guided and advised us and tirelessly worked in front and behind the scenes, to raise our profile and reach our goals, which are closer to realisation today because of her dedication and drive. She has carried out visits on behalf of CTI to countries in all regions, working with small and large states alike, with officials at all levels, to bring her knowledge and skills so that states may prevent torture and ill-treatment at its source
H.E. Omar Zniber, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Morocco to the UN in Geneva, CTI Core State, speaking at CTI’s recent combined 2020 and 2021 online Annual Forum in June
She leaves in her wake a stellar legacy of the potential and benefits of multilateralism. Under her auspices, CTI Secretariat has documented more than 180 torture prevention responses to ill-treatment and nimbly leveraged new technological capabilities to institute an online Advice Hub where states may seek individualized, confidential advice.
Being a part of this dedicated group of countries has been one of the most inspiring and rewarding human rights experiences of my career. I thank the CTI Core States and partners for their trust in me and the wonderful opportunities for positive human rights progress that this position and this Initiative has been able to achieve. They have created a truly unique human rights project, a collaboration of strength because of its diverse parts, of which we can all be very proud
Dr. Alice Edwards, Head of CTI Secretariat (January 2016-July 2021)
Dr. Edwards introduced the opportunity of high level delegation visits to countries interested in learning about the Convention, accompanying visits to such places as Angola, The Bahamas, The Gambia, Sudan and Suriname, many of which have since gone onto ratify the Convention. She facilitated weeklong study visits to Geneva of delegations from Grenada and Malaysia, and has facilitated over twenty international and regional conferences and seminars. She has become a trusted confidante of governments all over the world.
Dr Edwards has been a stalwart companion in Fiji’s journey to ratifying and implementing UNCAT. Her constructive and collaborative style helping countries to implement UNCAT has become a symbol of CTI
Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji and current President of the UN Human Rights Council, and CTI Core State, addressing Dr Edwards’ departure
CTI remains committed to the goal of universal ratification by 2024 and will continue to support States in their journey toward ratification and subsequent implementation and reporting. To do so, the initiative will continue to harness the momentum of political goodwill of its Group of Friends and global supporters through capacity building and technical expertise. At the CTI’s recent combined 2020-21 Annual Forum, Dr. Edwards was inducted into the CTI Group of Expert Friends and will continue to provide expert advice in this capacity.
Before you leave, however, we want to celebrate you, all that your leadership has symbolized, and all that you have helped us to accomplish. And that cannot be quantified in numbers alone. You have placed CTI on a high pedestal within the UN family, and blazoned our image of achievers of a noble cause.
H.E. Ramses Joseph Cleland, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Ghana and CTI Core State, in a ceremony held at the Ghanaian mission to honour Dr. Edwards
A global search will be initiated to identify a new Head of Secretariat to build on CTI’s strong foundation and lead it forward. To ensure a smooth transition, Ms. Gayethri Pillay, CTI Senior Adviser, will be Acting Head of the Secretariat in the interim and will continue to consult with Core States and partners during the leadership transition.
The progress made and results achieved during Alice’s period as Head of Secretariat have been remarkable. The revitalisation of the support for the Convention against Torture, which was foreseen with the CTI, has been made a reality under her management. Alice’s dedication and efforts to promote the fight against torture has been greatly appreciated not only by Denmark, but also all the CTI Cores States as well as the broader anti-torture movement.
H.E. Morten Jespersen, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN in Geneva and CTI Core State
Dr. Edwards will be taking an extended sabbatical to pursue writing projects, university teaching and other opportunities. She will continue to offer counsel to the CTI Core States in her expert capacity.