Project "Organising, carrying out and reporting on preventive visits to various types of places of deprivation of liberty: An exchange of experiences between NPM, APT, CPT and SPT"
Dear guests and councils,
I am really glad to open today`s seminar dedicated to the tasks of national preventive mechanism (NPM).
Many ombudspersons tend to say when they have been nominated as NPM that they fulfilled similar tasks also before – so, there is nothing new for them. They protected the rights of those deprived of their liberty and made visits to places of detention also when they were acting just as an ombudsman. Yes, that is also true with regard to Estonia – we made visits and dealt with problems of detained people also before. However, I still claim that becoming an NPM brought with it a big change for us in Estonia.
If previously we made visits where, when and how we wanted (of cause making the best of ourselves), then now we have an obligation stemming from international treaty to do that. And under this obligation I do not mean obligation in a negative sense. Becoming an NPM was rather a good challenge for us. It
- obliged us to improve our working methods,
- obliged to have a deep and thorough thought of the reasonability and effectiveness of the visits to closed institutions,
- obliged to look for possibilities to bring the message of the absolute nature of prohibition of torture to relevant actors and wider audience.
In short, becoming an NPM brought with it an obligation to make qualitative step forward. Because making just visits to places of detention is not enough to make things change there, to make them improve. In this respect I have to agree with comments made by SPT in 2008 after its visit to Sweden concerning the need for a change in ordinary practices of ombudspersons.
We have made in Estonia many efforts to make this qualitative step:
- worked out methodology of visits,
- learned techniques of interviewing,
- made a clear plan of writing articles in order to raise awareness among general audience,
- made lectures to officials of places of detention etc.
Separate so called NPM part of the annual report of the Chancellor of Justice and separate sub-section dedicated to OPCAT on our website are the most recent examples of our efforts. How good or bad we have managed as NPM, I guess we are not the right ones to decide on it. Unfortunately the Committee against Torture has not been very satisfied with us in 2008. They claimed in their recommendation concerning the Office of the Chancellor of Justice that the Committee "remains concerned about its independence, mandate and resources, as well as its ability to investigate all complaints of violation of the provisions of the Convention" .
Many-many questions and unresolved problems (some more abstract, some very concrete) have arisen for us in Estonia during these 2 years acting as NPM. For example, what places come under the term "place of detention" – does e.g. obligatory military service come under that? We have decided that yes. Or does it depend on whether an official in a shelter of homeless locks the door at night or not (meaning that being the place of detention depends on a fact)?
Or another question related to annual report – what and how should it contain? Yes, mainly it depends on the aim of the report, but what is it and who should be considered to be the target group of the report? Should there be written only how we comply with the requirements of NPM (as many NPMs do) or should it reflect our substantial work? Should it have also some analytical articles concerning prohibition of torture or on other OPCAT topics?
And of cause, there also many, many other questions. We have tried to find our own way concerning all these problems. How good or bad we have managed, I guess the time shows.
We are in the Office of the Chancellor of Justice practitioners. You, dear guests, are more or less theoreticians with much practical experience. There is always some tension between theory and practice. However, through dialogue and debate between theory and practice the best solutions evolve. I am sure that this 4 days seminar is mutually good experience and is a basis for future co-operation.
I assure you that we are all in the Office if the Chancellor of Justice very proud to have you here in Estonia – we are just a small country, one of 49 member states of OPCAT. The fact that you have chosen us to have the first co-operation project with NPMs is much appreciated sign for us.
I really hope that we manage with our task and expectations from both sides – you and us – will be fulfilled!