What is the OPCAT?

The OPCAT breaks new ground within the UN human rights system as it emphasises prevention rather than reaction, and cooperation with national authorities rather than condemnation. Rather than reacting once violations have occurred, the OPCAT bodies are proactive: they can visit any place of detention at any time, without any allegation of abuse.

When a State ratifies, or accedes to, the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), its main obligation is to set up an independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to undertake regular visits to places of detention and formulate recommendations to the authorities. For the first time, an international treaty focuses on national implementation and provides a national body with specific powers to prevent torture and ill-treatment.

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) is the international component of the global torture prevention system established by the OPCAT.

The OPCAT is innovative in that it enables direct contacts between NPMs and the SPT. The cooperation and dialogue between States, the SPT and NPMs creates a constructive climate to find solutions to the causes of torture and other ill-treatment and ultimately a greater protection for person in detention.

"Torture prevention is not about asking what happened and how it happened, but asking why it happens and how we can stop it happening." Victor Rodriguez, UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

The OPCAT sends a clear message: the risk of torture and other ill-treatment exists in all situations where persons are deprived of their liberty. Therefore, prevention is needed everywhere and at all times.