Chile seminar underlines that clear laws prevent torture – report out

Geneva, 21 June 2017 – Report from the CTI regional seminar in Santiago, Chile, 5-6 April 2017, is now available in English and Spanish.

La Moneda Palace, Santiago, Chile.

Twenty-two States from Latin America and the Caribbean participated in a regional seminar hosted by the Government of Chile and the CTI with the support of the Association for the Prevention of Torture. The event explored ways to prohibit and respond to incidents of torture and ill-treatment through the development of legal and institutional frameworks. The seminar was opened by Chile’s President H.E. Michelle Bachelet, Minister for Foreign Affairs H.E. Heraldo Muñoz, and Minister of Justice H.E. Jaime Campos.

Representatives from 13 Latin American States* and 9 Caribbean States** engaged in lively discussions over the two-day meeting on fundamental issues related to rule of law and good governance with the programme being framed around the elements and obligations in the UN Convention against Torture. The report, released today, captures many of the experiences and good practices shared on these matters, and identifies possibilities for follow-up actions by the CTI and our partners.

The report notes that legislative reform is an ongoing process. Although meeting participants acknowledged that there is no single model that will work for all States, many good examples of anti-torture laws were shared. In some States, the prohibition of torture is embedded in constitutions and general laws while other States have made torture a criminal offence by either amending their criminal codes and other relevant laws or adopting specific anti-torture legislation. A good practice highlighted in the report is to engage relevant stakeholders in the legislative process, allowing the final law to reflect political, social and legal contexts, traditions and priorities. Some key challenges for countries in the region identified in the report include the prevalence of excessive use of force during detention, overuse of prison as a way of punishment and structural violence. 

In criminalising torture, some States explained why and how they had included torture committed by non-State and private actors in their national law; and in the region, it was observed that sentences for the crime vary from 18 months up to 30 years or life imprisonment in certain cases. The report emphasizes that there was general agreement among participants that the definition of torture needs to be clear and that torture should be distinguished as an offence from other crimes. The important role of courts in elaborating a definition of torture was highlighted by Caribbean common law States.

The report details the discussions on gender perspectives where recognition was given to particular forms of torture targeting or affecting women and girls due to the impact of entrenched gender discrimination and socialized gender stereotypes. Some good practices on how to address these obstacles are included in the report, such as reflecting certain forms of gender-based violence in national anti-torture legislation and policies, undertaking trainings to sensitize relevant stakeholders, and establishing legal and policy frameworks that seek to prohibit discriminatory treatment.

On the issue of exclusion of torture tainted evidence, the report notes that most States have provisions in their national legislation but that they still face a number of challenges: the existence of public discourses supporting the use of torture, the prevalence of a so-called “confessions-based culture”, which can encourage police abuse, a lack of capacity to investigate crimes, and concerns around the independence of judiciaries. Possible solutions to these challenges are also highlighted such as using electronic recording of interviews; strengthening the right to have prompt and regular access to doctors and lawyers; reducing reliance on confessions as primary evidence by developing other investigative techniques; and providing adequate training on the judicial evaluation of evidence.

The report also covers other matters that were discussed at the seminar, including statutes of limitations, criminal accountability, the right to redress and the role of various actors – such as NHRI or civil society – in legislative reform processes.

Finally, the report outlines specific recommendations and requests made by participants including to organize and facilitate sub-regional meetings and workshops on, for example, processes for developing  national anti-torture legislation and strengthening national approaches on gender perspectives, trainings for national actors as well as sensitization and awareness campaigns so citizens understand their rights.

The report is available here in English and Spanish.

The seminar programme is available here in English and Spanish.

* Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. 

** Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname

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