Atlas of Torture Project

"Despite the fact that torture constitutes one of the most brutal attacks on human dignity and one of the most serious human rights violations, and notwithstanding the absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment even in the most exceptional circumstances, such as war, internal disturbances and terrorism, torture and ill-treatment are widespread practices in the majority of the countries on our planet. Almost no society is immune against torture, but in many societies torture is practiced systematically, both in fighting ordinary crime and in combating terrorism, extremism or similar politically motivated offences."[1]

Torture and ill-treatment by state officials against persons deprived of their liberty remains a serious human rights concern in almost all countries around the world until today. Be it for the purpose of extracting confessions or information, for extorting money or for deliberate discrimination against specific groups, torture and ill-treatment take place everywhere and continue to be inflicted in a systematic and widespread manner in many places. The root causes of this worldwide phenomenon may differ from country to country, but it can always be traced back to individual as well as systemic factors such as insufficient legal frameworks, corrupt or dysfunctional criminal justice systems and widespread impunity, ineffective safeguards, and lack of effective monitoring and public scrutiny of the security sector; even in developed countries, torture and ill-treatment remains a problem due to one or more of these factors.

The Objective: Following-up on the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Under the umbrella of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (UNSRT) has developed as one of the strongest tools of the United Nations to address the phenomenon of torture worldwide. During his fact-finding missions to individual countries, the UNSRT conducts unannounced visits to places where persons are deprived of their liberty, inspects the conditions of detention and privately speaks to victims of torture and ill-treatment. Based on his fact-finding and consultations with state and non-state actors, the UNSRT presents country specific recommendations addressed to the respective governments, the security services, non-state actors as well as to the international community on how the situation of torture and ill-treatment can be improved.

The country specific reports and recommendations are a comprehensive and important tool to raise awareness, to help national and international actors to direct reform and capacity development efforts and to support civil society in promoting the fight against torture and impunity. Among international human rights experts, there is overwhelming consensus that the recommendations of the UNSRT merit a rigorous follow-up to ensure that the insights gained are not lost and indeed translated into strengthened preventive efforts and tangible improvements for detainees. However, no regular in-country follow-up is currently foreseen under the UNSRT's mandate, nor does the United Nations human rights system have the means to provide for systematic follow-up through other programmes.

Precisely to fill this gap, the outgoing UNSRT, Manfred Nowak, and his team of experts have developed the Atlas of Torture project to fill this gap by proposing a set of activities designed to strengthen the implementation of the UNSRT's recommendations in selected countries. The project thereby intends to contribute to strengthening the effectiveness of international human rights monitoring procedures through sustainable follow-up.

The project is funded by the European Commission under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and will be implemented in five countries during a period of three years. Taking the UNSRT's far-reaching recommendations as the substantive framework for a comprehensive and sustainable approach to torture prevention, the Atlas of Torture project’s overall objective is to support and strengthen civil society in their endeavours to promote and follow-up on the implementation of these recommendations.

The five project countries are selected based on a set of criteria which include indicators, such as the willingness of the respective government to improve the situation of torture, the availability of committed and largely unrestricted civil society organisations interested in cooperating with the Atlas of Torture project as well as potential synergies and overlaps with similar projects implemented by local or international actors.

The Methodology: Working with all stakeholders to ensure sustainability

The experience of the UNSRT has shown that his work is most effective and sustainable in countries with civil society organisations which have the means to effectively monitor, promote and actively engage in the implementation of his findings and recommendations. At the same time, those authorities directly responsible for the implementation of torture prevention measures, such as relevant line ministries, law enforcement, the judiciary as well as medical personnel and the penitentiary administration are crucial counterparts whose cooperation and active engagement needs to be ensured for any successful project in this field. The Atlas of Torture project therefore pursues a two-pronged approach: The ultimate aim of the project is to strengthen the transformative role of civil society in the institutional, legal and procedural context in which torture prevention needs to be addressed. Simultaneously, the project intends to encourage constructive dialogue between representatives of relevant State authorities and civil society to reduce scepticism and enhance mutual trust and cooperation.

The methodology applied by the Atlas of Torture project is designed to ensure that the comprehensive expertise and know-how gained by the project team throughout the UNSRT's fact-finding missions is adapted to the specific needs of each Atlas of Torture project country in a flexible way. The implementation starts with an assessment visit during which consultations are held with all relevant stakeholders to assess the specific needs of civil society organisations active in the field of torture prevention, follow-up on the recommendations of the UNSRT and identify the gaps in the implementation of the prohibition and prevention of torture. Based on this first assessment, an expert conference with participants from civil society and relevant state authorities will advance the discussion and help develop a detailed set of activities tailored to the specific needs of each country.

Based on the Atlas of Torture project's approach of inclusiveness and partnership, the activities will be implemented and continuously evaluated in close cooperation with local civil society partner organisations in order to ensure adaptation to local needs, local ownership and the broadest possible multiplier effect. Parallel to capacity development of civil society organisations in the substantive field of torture prevention, the implementation of the project intends to transfer management and training capacities from the project team to civil society partners who will work hand in hand during the implementation phases of the project. Sustainability of the project will further be enhanced through small grant schemes to support current torture prevention projects by civil society organisations or initiate follow-up activities.

Composed of international experts with global as well as country specific knowledge of the phenomenon of torture, the Atlas of Torture team offers the facilitation of a constructive dialogue between relevant state and non-state actors, the provision of independent expertise and the development of training and other materials specifically designed to address capacity development needs of civil society actors and relevant state officials.

What we offer: Four pillars of torture prevention

Due to the lack of regular follow-up within the framework of the United Nations human rights system, the Atlas of Torture team has frequently received requests by civil society and governmental counterparts for support regarding the implementation of measures designed to prevent and eradicate torture. When working in the field of torture prevention, there is of course no one-size-fits-all solution to the complexities of systemic factors contributing to the persistence of torture worldwide. However, our own research supported by findings of other relevant actors in the field suggests that torture prevention should aim at addressing four main systemic dimensions: a comprehensive legal framework, strong measures to fight impunity, effective procedural safeguards and the establishment of a system of preventive monitoring. The Atlas of Torture project therefore proposes a modular framework of activities relating to all four dimensions, which can be adapted to the specific needs in each project country.

Depending on the situation in each project country and the specific capacity development needs of civil society partners, activities in each of the four dimensions can include expert consultations on draft laws and regulations, dialogue and exchange of experience between different stakeholders, training of specific or mixed groups of stakeholders, development of training material etc.

Who we are: The Atlas of Torture team

The project is led by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, who provides his exceptionally comprehensive expertise to the project. Throughout the six years as mandate holder, Prof. Nowak has carried out 18 country missions and three joint reports and has provided advice to numerous governments and civil society actors on the implementation of sustainable torture prevention strategies. The project team is coordinated by the current Austrian expert member of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Julia Kozma, who has accompanied the UNSRT on several missions before acting as expert on the CPT. The team is further composed of several international experts with a multi-disciplinary background who have extensive practical and research experience in the field of torture and justice sector reform and have worked as experts on country missions and are acting members of national police monitoring bodies. At the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights in Vienna, the Atlas of Torture Team is embedded in an applied research institute well rooted in the European human rights community with a strong and reliable infrastructure.
Atlas-of-Torture Project
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights
Freyung 6, 1010 Vienna, Austria
Tel: +43 1 42 77 27 457 Fax:+43 1 42 77 27 429

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

[1] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Study on the phenomena of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in the world, including an assessment of conditions of detention, submitted on 5 February 2010 to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN-Doc. A/HRC/13/39/Add.5.