Caribbean Countries Convene to Exchange Experiences on Torture Laws

On 1-3 December, nine Caribbean countries*, involving 23 government representatives, took part in an online workshop organised by the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI), in partnership with REDRESS and the Commonwealth Secretariat, and hosted by the Governments of Chile and Grenada. The workshop was designed to support Caribbean governments to ratify, implement and report under the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and focused specifically on drafting cogent legal provisions for the criminalisation, prosecution and prevention of acts of torture and other ill-treatment.

A sound anti-torture legislative framework sends an irrefutable message to all that torture and ill-treatment are not condoned. Establishing a legal basis for the prosecution and punishment of offenders, these important laws, when fully enforced, fortify confidence of citizens in their public officials, offer remedies and justice for victims, and end impunity for serious misconduct. Based on UNCAT’s guiding provisions, the workshop enabled countries to identify priority areas for legislative reforms, and to share good drafting techniques and examples.

Over the course of three mornings, workshop participants reviewed and compared their country’s national legal frameworks, assessed legislative gaps, and benefitted from hearing about various ways to consult the public and experts on draft texts. Among those participating were senior-level Caribbean officials from Ministries of Justice, Legal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Attorney General’s Offices. In the CTI spirit of peer-to-peer exchange, the workshop was facilitated by several experts and officials, sharing their national experiences from the Bahamas, Chile, Ghana, Grenada and Uganda.

The Convention against Torture provides a robust global set of parameters that rejects unlawful violence by State authorities in all its forms as well as the promotion of efficient, fair and transparent systems of justice. Indicative of its influence, 88% of the world’s States – including six of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean countries and most recently, Saint Kitts and Nevis, have joined the Convention.

As Honourable Oliver Joseph, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Grenada put it during the opening of the event:

For non-State parties contemplating ratification of UNCAT, I respectfully submit that upon closer self-examination, you may very well find that you already have a strong constitutional and regulatory basis for the protection of citizens against torture and ill-treatment.”

Most participating Caribbean countries possess strong constitutional and regulatory frameworks that protect citizens from torture and ill-treatment in various guises. Participants agreed that there was a need to augment protection against such treatment via specific domestic laws incorporating UNCAT-inspired provisions. Workshop participants also addressed various factors that inhibit Caribbean countries from reporting and implementing the Convention fully, and were encouraged to continue engaging with CTI and its partners on next steps.

Eloquently explained by Ms. Jewel Major, Chief Counsel in the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Legal Affairs of the Bahamas, sharing her Government’s experience of ratifying UNCAT in 2018:

UNCAT is not inflexible in how the obligations should be achieved. This is deliberate, and encourages States to develop laws, policies, practices and mechanisms that conform to their own unique context and character while complying with the obligations of the Convention.”

The event was opened by H.E. Carolina Valdivia, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Chile and Hon. Oliver Joseph, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business and CARICOM Affairs of Grenada. The closing remarks were delivered by CTI Core State Ambassadors H.E. Ramses Joseph Cleland, Permanent Representative of Ghana to the United Nations in Geneva, and H.E. Frank Tressler, Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations in Geneva.

CTI and REDRESS will now be scheduling one-on-one advice sessions with each country participating, to offer more tailored guidance.

To read more about CTI Caribbean workshop, download the Seminar booklet here.

* Participating Commonwealth Caribbean States were Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. Suriname (not a Commonwealth member) was also in attendance.

For any other queries, feel free to contact the CTI Secretariat at [email protected] and REDRESS at: [email protected].