Pacific SIDS meet to discuss building effective anti-torture frameworks for fair systems of justice

From 18 to 20 May 2021, 11 Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) took part in an important online workshop hosted by the Government of Fiji and organised by the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Pacific Community’s Human Rights and Social Development (HRSD) Division. The workshop aimed to support Pacific States to ratify, legislate for and report under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

Over the course of three half-days, governmental participants from Pacific SIDS learned about UNCAT’s provisions and ratification and legislative requirements; reviewed and compared their country’s anti-torture legal frameworks; assessed legislative gaps in their compliance with UNCAT obligations; and exchanged best practices in the implementation of UNCAT and on their national journeys. Among the participants were senior level officials from Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Attorney General’s Chambers and National Human Rights Institutions.

Opening remarks were provided by Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Attorney General of Fiji as host State of the event, who highlighted Fiji’s strong constitutional protection against all forms of torture, whether physical, mental or emotional, and the ways in which UNCAT has strengthened Fiji’s national policy priorities to live in a country free from torture and other disproportionately severe treatment or punishment. He encouraged all Pacific SIDS to ratify the Convention and offered Fiji’s support to its neighbours in this process. The other opening keynote speakers were Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, and Ms Heike Alefsen, Regional Representative for the Pacific, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Through international collaboration to agree and codify rights which ought to be the inalienable birth-right of all, and by providing mechanisms for these to be upheld universally and for redress when they are not, we are able – multilaterally and progressively – to achieve advances which prevent or punish abuses of power, reduce suffering, and empower all people – particularly those who tend to be most marginalised and vulnerable.

Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth

The Pacific is at the halfway mark of achieving full regional ratification to UNCAT, with six States being party to the Convention, while the six non-States-parties have positively stated their commitment towards UNCAT ratification. In this context, participants at the workshop discussed Cabinet submissions proposing UNCAT ratification, including how to frame and advocate for ratification.

We all know that effective legal and institutional frameworks to prevent, prohibit and punish torture play a central role in contributing to fair and well-functioning systems of justice. This workshop gave space for Pacific States to discuss and strategise on how to align their existing justice frameworks with the important goals of preventing and prosecuting acts of torture and ill-treatment, a scourge in all societies that calls for collective eradication.

Dr Alice Edwards, Head of CTI Secretariat

In view of building States’ capacities to strengthen their legislative frameworks to prevent and respond to torture and ill-treatment, participants at the workshop were provided an overview of the primary, recommended and optional legislative elements of UNCAT; shared good practices of legislation in the region; and were introduced to certain methods and techniques on drafting legislation. It was noted that the legal systems of Pacific SIDS are rooted in strong democratic and rule of law traditions, enhanced by solid constitutional human rights frameworks and safeguards. Ten of the 11 States attending the workshop have enshrined the prohibition of torture and/or other forms of ill-treatment in their Constitutions or legislative Bills of Rights, which provide strong starting points for those States to implement  the legislative aspects of UNCAT. What remains missing in most Pacific SIDS however is a specific criminal offence of torture, which was discussed in detail at the event, while noting that several countries have laws that criminalise torture as a form of genocide, as a crime against humanity and a war crime.

After three intense days of discussions, participants brainstormed about possible next steps their countries may take to ratify and/or implement UNCAT. Closing remarks were delivered by CTI Core State representatives H.E Karim Medrek, Ambassador of Morocco covering Australia, New Zealand and Pacific States, H.E. Hugo Ignacio Llanos Mardones, Ambassador of Chile to New Zealand, and Mr. Sharvada Sharma, Solicitor-General of Fiji (delivered on his behalf by Ms Seema Chand, Principal Legal Officer at the Attorney General’s Chambers of Fiji).

As a follow-up to the seminar, CTI will be scheduling one-on-one advice sessions with participating States to offer more specialised guidance.

To read more about the CTI Pacific workshop, download the Seminar booklet here.

*Participating States were Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu.  

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