Created by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1985 [Resolution 1985/33], the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (SRT) is an independent human rights expert tasked with investigating and reporting on cases and issues involving torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment worldwide [Resolution 16/23]. The SRT operates today under the United Nations Human Rights Council, together with the other UN Special Procedures Mechanisms.
The SRT is not bound by a specific treaty, but rather, covers a wide range of thematic and country specific issues relating to the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. As a result, the mandate covers all UN state members, regardless of whether the state is a party to a specific treaty, and follows informal procedures for receiving complaints. These characteristics allow the flexibility to react quickly to cases of human rights abuse, to cover a broad scope of issues, and to work with a wide range of international and domestic entities.
The methods of work of the SRT include three main activities, which are each described in detail below:
- Transmitting urgent appeals and allegation letters to States;
- Undertaking fact-finding country visits; and
- Submitting annual reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
A compilation of all Communications, Country Visit, and Thematic Reports can be found in the Reports section of our website.
The SRT’s Methods of Work
I. Urgent Appeals and Allegation Letters
The SRT transmits urgent appeals and allegation letters to States, based on complaints of past, ongoing, and future risk of torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment received from victims or their representatives. On average, the SRT submits two hundred communications every year, covering a wide range of issues and States.
Urgent appeals are submitted where individuals or groups are facing an imminent risk of torture or mistreatment in a particular state, or where imminent legislation or policies threaten to undercut the prohibition of torture. The purpose of these communications is to call on Governments to provide adequate protection and safeguards for potential victims, and to ensure that all future state policies comply with international standards on the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Allegation letters are submitted when abuses have already occurred, or where a pattern of past violations has been detected. These communications aim to clarify the circumstances surrounding the allegations, and to call on the Government to investigate, prosecute, and punish all perpetrators, as well as to provide adequate redress for victims, and to prevent future recurrence of such acts.
While the initial communication process with governments is confidential, the complaints, as well as the governments’ responses, or lack thereof, are made public three times a year through the Special Procedures joint communications report. In addition, a final assessment and conclusions of all complaints and all government responses are published annually in the “Observations Report,” which is presented to the Human Rights Council. All Observations Reports can be accessed through the Reports section of the website.
Complaints should be submitted to the Special Rapporteur at the following address, using the model questionnaire as guidance.
The conclusions and final recommendations of the SRT are communicated to the concerned government, and are later made public and presented before the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly as country visit reports.
Follow-up visits are also conducted to evaluate the implementation of the SRT’s recommendations, and to facilitate collaboration between governments and civil society in strengthening human rights protections. The SRT issues follow-up reports based information collected from follow-up visits, as well as additional information received from government and civil society representatives through questionnaires. The Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) assists in these follow-up endeavors by engaging with government and civil society to promote the implementation of the SRT’s recommendations.
To date, the Special Rapporteur on Torture has conducted Country Visits and follow-up visits to 46 states, and has 31 pending visit requests. The SRT averages about 3 visits per year.
Read more about Recent Country Visits here.
More information on the follow-up work of the ATI can be accessed here.
III. Thematic Reports
Twice a year, the Special Rapporteur on Torture produces thematic reports on a wide range of issues relating to the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, which are presented to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council. Through these thematic reports, the SRT conducts research on different global trends and practices pertaining to the selected issue, assesses how such trends and practices impact the prohibition of torture, draws conclusions about possible emerging human rights norms, and issues recommendations to prevent such treatment.
Read more about the Special Rapporteur’s Thematic Reports here.