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SAHRC’s Chris Nissen elected to UN body for prevention of torture worldwide

11 January 2023

Cape Town - In a move seen as global recognition of South Africa’s contribution to torture prevention, South African Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen has been elected to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT).

As the commissioner responsible for civil and political rights at the SAHRC, Nissen has for the last three years been at the forefront of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) for torture prevention.

The NPM carries out its mandate through a system of regular visits to what Nissen refers to as “places of deprivation of liberty.”

These include prisons and police cells in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Speaking to the Cape Argus about the NPM’s work, Nissen said it involved inspecting places of detention such as child and youth care centres (CYCCs), police stations and correctional centres to assess the treatment of those deprived of their liberty.

The NPM aims to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment from taking place through regular monitoring.

Members of the NPM are the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS); the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid); the Military Ombud; and the Health Ombud.

Nissen said his election to the SPT for a 3-year term was a direct consequence of South Africa’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Opcat) in 2019.

Nissen, whose tenure at the SAHRC ends on December 31 this year, said the work of the SPT is similar to that of the NPM but on a global scale no matter whether there was peace, an ongoing conflict or war.

Asked whether his election to the global forum would divert his attention away from issues locally, Nissen, who this year marks his seventh and final year as an SAHRC commissioner, said he would not be leaving the SAHRC as membership of the SPT was not a full time occupation.

Nissen was one of 13 members who were elected to the SPT towards the end of last year.

The others are from Nigeria, Greece, Spain, Senegal, Lebanon, Austria, Georgia, Panama, Latvia, Croatia, Peru and Moldova.

The Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), an independent NGO based in Geneva, is among the international organisations that congratulated Nissen and his colleagues on their election to the SPT.

APT Secretary-General Barbara Bernath said the work of the SPT was complex and members needed to have a broad mix of expertise and skills.

Welcoming the election of more members from Africa, Bernath said: “We were pleased to support member states and to get to know the candidates in the lead-up to the election so we can have a strong and effective SPT.

“We are now looking forward to cooperating with the new members when they commence their work from January 2023.”

Source: Cape Argus

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