What is the OPCAT?
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) is an international human rights treaty designed to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in all places of detention. It introduces a combined system of national and international monitoring of all places of detention.
For an easy to understand guide to the OPCAT, click here to view content produced by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and Inclusion Ireland.
How does OPCAT prevent mistreatment?
The OPCAT recognises the central importance of inspection as a way of preventing human rights violations. These inspections create transparency and accountability, which in turn act as a deterrent against future cruel treatment.
The national part of the monitoring system introduced by OPCAT is a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM). NPMs conduct regular visits to all types of places where people are deprived of liberty. NPMs must be independent from the government, have access to all places of detention, all information related to such detention and to be able to talk privately with the people who are detained.
The international part of this monitoring system is the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT).
Who benefits from OPCAT?
Places of detention are not limited to prisons. The OPCAT applies to anywhere people are deprived of their liberty. The ratification of OPCAT would positively impact the lives of vulnerable children and adults. Examples of places of detention include, but are not limited to:
- Psychiatric units
- Children detention schools
- Nursing homes
- Social care units
- Immigration detention centres
- Special Care Units
- Pre-trial detention facilities
- Garda stations
For Ireland to meet its international obligations, we must put in place sufficient and effective safeguards to ensure that vulnerable individuals are not victimised. The Convention recognizes that it is in closed spaces where the most serious violations of human rights can take place.
Ireland has a troubling history of failing to protect those we have placed in closed spaces. By failing to ratify OPCAT, Ireland perpetuates a situation that increases the vulnerability of all persons currently in detention.
It is essential that Ireland moves towards the creation of an NPM which can ensure that no place of detention is beyond the reach of comprehensive and rigorous inspection.