Statement of Support for the Establishment of a National Monitoring Body for the Prevention of Torture in Places of Detention
Throughout the years, Balay has cultivated a strong partnership with the Commission on Human Rights in the promotion and protection of rights of persons deprived of liberty. We call to mind how, for instance, Balay and other civil society organizations under the United against Torture Coalition (UATC) have worked with the CHR in creating the momentum towards the passage of the Anti-Torture Law in 2009 which, among others, prohibited torture and ill treatment of persons under the custody of persons in authority.
Our organization has also been working with the Commission to develop the capacities of its prison monitors, raise the awareness of custodial authorities on torture prevention and the Mandela Rules, and develop a system for torture screening, documentation and reporting in places where child offenders are held in custody.
A major milestone of our partnership that we are also proud of is the successful campaign of the UATC and the CHR for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) in 2013. As we all know, this is the treaty that mandates State Parties to, among others, establish an independent system of monitoring visits in places of detention in order to address the conditions that may give rise to incidents of torture and promote humane treatment of persons deprived of liberty.
However, that state obligation to create a National Preventive Mechanism has remained unfulfilled. Meanwhile, despite its prohibition as a crime and as a human rights violation, many cases of torture go unreported as they happen away from the public eye, and because victims feel powerless to seek redress for fear of reprisal, lacked knowledge where to seek help, or harbor distrust in the justice system. Among the most vulnerable victims of torture are from the poorer sector of society and the children at risk.
We acknowledge the initiatives of the CHR to group together a pool of experts that will conduct preventive monitoring visits in places where persons are deprived of liberty. We also share its aspiration for the Philippine government to eventually comply with its obligation under the OPCAT to establish by law a National Preventive Mechanism. Balay and the United against Torture Coalition will support an NPM that is independent and a product of a multi-stakeholder consensus and made durable by a legislative act.
To date, the House Bill (HB) 2502 or the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) Bill authored and filed by Rep. Christopher Belmonte is pending upon the 18th congress. The NCPT Bill has incorporated a lot of inputs from previous consultations where the UATC and other stakeholders have participated in. It proposes an NPM set up that is independent and functionally distinct from investigative and prosecutorial agencies, and is compliant to the provisions, principles, guidelines as set out in the OPCAT. A similar process has to be initiated in the Senate.
We do realize that to enact a human rights law, under the present circumstances in the Philippines, is not a walk in the park. But this is not the time to be disheartened nor to stand apart from each other. We acknowledge that ideas and proposals from different stakeholders naturally have to be heard as part of the legislative process. The CHR can count on Balay and its CSO partners to actively participate in dialogues and legislative actions. We, as stakeholders, must reason together and engage with each other until we finally realize an NPM model that is truly effective and most suitable in the Philippine context.