Reducing incidence of torture

Dr Richard Carver

Dr Richard Carver’s research into effective torture prevention has changed the practices of law enforcement and human rights organisations worldwide, and protected thousands of potential victims from harm.

By advocating for greater focus on the safeguards in place for when people are first arrested, his work has challenged previous policy based mainly on monitoring detention facilities, leading to greater protection for those at risk.

As a result, United Nations anti-torture bodies and prominent international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have changed their approach to torture prevention to focus more closely on protection of people in police custody. Policy and practice in torture prevention in the UK, Uruguay, Georgia and Ethiopia has also been shaped by the research findings.

A landmark study

Independent research led by Richard on behalf of the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) looked at the effectiveness of existing torture prevention measures in 16 countries over a 30-year period.

The study found practice in torture prevention varied by country, with risk highest outside official custody, where no legal safeguards applied. The next highest risk was in police custody, but the research team found safeguards in the first hours after arrest significantly reduced incidence of torture. The most important of these were: 

  • ending unofficial and undocumented detention
  • notifying a third person of arrest and detention
  • prompt access to a lawyer
  • a right to independent medical examination.

International impact

Richard’s research led the UN and other intergovernmental anti-torture bodies to change their policy and practice, shifting away from monitoring detention facilities towards a focus on prevention at the earliest opportunity.

He and his research partner, Dr Lisa Handley, were invited to discuss their findings at the relevant committees of the UN and Council of Europe, and consulted closely with then UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Méndez. In 2018, Richard gave the keynote speech at an international seminar bringing together more than 20 member states of the Council of Europe, discussing the project findings.

As a result of its influence on the training and advice given by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Association for the Prevention of Torture, Richard’s research has positively influenced the work of several national preventative mechanisms established under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, including those in the UK and Georgia. In Uruguay, the findings form the basis for monitoring police custody; in Ethiopia, Arba Minch University law school modified its legal aid strategy to emphasise provision of duty lawyers within police lockups; and the South-Eastern Europe group of national preventative mechanisms has established a training programme based on the research.

Several leading NGOs working against torture also changed their strategic priorities to increase focus on the monitoring of people in police custody. These included the APT and the Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY). In 2016, strongly influenced by Richard’s findings, the torture prevention department of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights (BIM) in Vienna set up a research programme on the procedural rights of suspects, which reinforced the importance of procedural safeguards not only as components of the right to a fair trial, but also as a measure to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment. 

Encouraging civil society action

Barbed wire

Closer to home, Richard has also worked with anti-torture organisations in the UK.

London-based Freedom from Torture – one of the largest torture rehabilitation centres in the world – drew on his expertise in formulating new strategies for its work treating and rehabilitating more than 1,000 torture survivors each year.

Richard’s research was also the catalyst for the formation of the UK Torture Prohibition Network, a group of scholars, activists and NGOs working in the anti-torture field. The network’s inaugural conference in November 2017 featured him as keynote speaker, and went on to discuss strategies for implementing his research findings.

Richard was also keynote speaker at the Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture conference in November 2018, which further increased engagement with Government partners on a variety of issues related to torture and ill-treatment.

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