Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Taking a stronger stand against torture

Something else I learned while browsing the select committee pages: the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, and concluded [PDF] that we should ratify. The Optional Protocol is intended to give the CAT some teeth, by establishing an international monitoring system for prisons and other places of incarceration and detention. It also requires parties to establish their own "National Preventative Mechanisms" for the same purpose. In New Zealand, this is already done by a combination of the Ombudsmen, Police Complaints Authority, and Human Rights Commission, and so ratification will not require enormous changes.

The Committee identified a number of reasons for ratification - chief among which is that we helped write the thing, and pushed hard for its adoption by the UN; it would therefore be good to be seen to be putting our money where our mouth is. Early ratification would also encourage others to do likewise, and boost efforts to eradicate torture and strengthen international law. The Committee also notes that

The inspection measures provided for by the Protocol, and the resulting increased transparency, will strengthen protection of persons deproved of their liberty in New Zealand... This will help to ensure that New Zealand maintains its reputation as a State free of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment..

While torture is non-existent in New Zealand, and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment very rare, it is always good to have a backstop to make sure we stick to our ideals.

Ratification will require legislation, and so will depend on the priority the government assigns it on the Parliamentary calendar. Let's hope they assign it a high one...


If you're curious, the current status of ratifications for the OP can be found here. Sixteen countries have ratified, so if we want to actually have a role in the OP coming into force, we need to do it quickly...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/20/2005 12:58:00 PM

Interesting that the preamble states "Recalling that articles 2 and 16 of the Convention oblige each State Party to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in any territory under its jurisdiction," and that Sweden is a signatory to the convention + option component, yet have allowed at least one state kidnapping (aka Rendition).
Also that becoming an early signatory will further extend the gulf between NZ and Australian attitudes and policy. That's a good reason alone to sign up.. ;-)

Posted by Anonymous : 12/20/2005 01:19:00 PM

Huskynut: and they got slapped for it, with the UN Committee Against Torture ruling that they had violated the CAT. Though public outrage had already forced the government to change its stance.

And yes, the fact that Australia hasn't even bothered to sign up is pretty shameful. But remember how they reacted to the prospect of a UN inspection of their refugee detention camps?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/20/2005 01:33:00 PM