GDP Hosts Third Interactive Webinar: The Role of OPCAT in Preventing Harmful Immigration Detention

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    Global Detention Project

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On Monday 5 September, the GDP hosted the third in its series of interactive webinars aimed at building stronger connections between local civil society organisations and international human rights instruments and exploring how these instruments can be applied to protect the rights of detained refugees and migrants.

Examining the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), this webinar explored the role of the OPCAT bodies—the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) and National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs). Focusing on their unique structure and mandate, the webinar delved into the bodies’ pivotal roles in preventing torture and ill-treatment in immigration detention. Moderated by Veronica Filippeschi (Association for the Prevention of Torture), the event benefitted from the insight of eight speakers who provided first hand experiences of implementing the OPCAT mandate around the world.

In his introduction to the event, the GDP’s Michael Flynn highlighted challenges facing immigration detention monitoring: Can monitoring be positioned in such a way as to lead to less immigration detention rather than more? And is it possible for monitoring bodies to overcome official apathy when it comes to the treatment of immigration detainees to ensure that calls for reforms lead to lasting changes? “Are immigration detention officials inured to abuses in detention because of apathy that stems from who they are detaining: migrants who they intend to permanently remove from their societies?” asked Flynn. “If so, the challenge we all face, both civil society and detention monitoring bodies, is to find ways to overcome this apathy to ensure that reforms are implemented in sustainable ways.” 

During the first part of the session, we welcomed Sir Malcolm Evans, former Chairperson of the SPT and Professor of International Public Law at the University of Bristol, and Hindpal Singh Bhui, Inspection Team Leader at the UK Inspectorate of Prisons. Among various issues explored by the speakers were the functions of the OPCAT treaty mechanism, the distinctive roles of the SPT and NPMs, challenges associated with their work, and the vital role of civil society organisations in supporting the OPCAT bodies’ work. Sir Malcolm Evans said: “I want to highlight the vital work that civil society does – critical for those in detention but also a source of information for bodies such as the SPT and NPMs and for following up recommendations and continuing oversight through awareness raising and advocacy for change.”

Part two heard from representatives from National Preventive Mechanisms in Serbia, Italy, Turkey, and South Africa, as well as from an adviser involved in setting up Australia’s much-delayed NPM. These speakers discussed practical experiences of monitoring immigration detention and developing preventive methodologies. Kwanele Pakati (South African Human Rights Commission), Marko Anojčić (Serbia Ombudsperson), Massimiliano Bagaglini (NPM Italy), Steven Caruana (Australia OPCAT Network), and Habibe Kara (NPM Turkey) discussed how visits are conducted and publicised, the issues that are commonly assessed, and the challenges faced in monitoring detention and ensuring recommendations are implemented. Speakers also emphasised the valuable contributions that civil society organisations (CSOs) offer, and shared advice on how organisations can cooperate and coordinate with NPMs.

Offering his thoughts, Marko Anojčic, Serbia Ombudsperson, said: “CSOs provide us with important information about the situation in different places of detention under the NPM mandate. NPMs cannot be everywhere and cannot know everything that is happening in the field. … So my advice to CSOs is to find your national NPM, write to them, engage with them, be proactive and initiate a meeting and present to them the issues that you consider problems.”

Watch a recording of the webinar HERE (Passcode: MGBu4#2b)

PDFs of individual presentations are also available:


“The Role of OPCAT in Preventing Harmful Immigration Detention” – GDP Agenda

“Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture” – OHCHR

“National Preventive Mechanisms” – OHCHR

“Monitoring Immigration Detention – Practical Manual (2014)” – Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT)

“Can Inspection Produce Meaningful Change in Immigration Detention?” – Hindpal Singh Bhui, GDP Working Paper No.12, May 2016

“Sovereign Discomfort: Can Liberal Norms Lead to Increasing Detention?” Michael Flynn, in Immigration Detention, Risk, and Human Rights (Springer 2016)

“Be Careful What You Wish For,” Michael Flynn, Forced Migration Review, 2013

“Immigration Removal Centre Inspection Reports” – HM Inspectorate of Prisons

“The UN Committee on Migrant Workers as a Venue for Protecting the Rights of Migrant Detainees: A GDP Briefing with CMW Member Pablo Ceriani”

“The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as a Venue for Challenging Arbitrary Immigration Detention: A GDP Briefing with Elina Steinerte”