Human rights groups expressed regret in a joint communique issued on Friday that the issue of torture has been given short shrift in a judicial reform bill to be discussed next week in parliament. They asked Belgium to move forward on establishing a national mechanism for the prevention of torture, which the United Nations has been asking the country to do for 11 years now.
Parliament’s Justice Commission meets on Tuesday to vote the Potpourri 4 bill proposed by the Government, which is aimed at reforming the country’s judicial system under a plan prepared by Justice Minister Koen Geens. Human rights organizations including the Human Rights League, Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture and the Bruxelles Laique non-profit organization, feel the reform could have been an opportunity to set up the national anti-torture mechanism, known here by the Dutch acronym MNP.
“However, there has been no mention of the MNP in the text, which does not create or designate any such institution compliant with international demands,” noted the rights groups, which also included the Centre d’action laique, Defence for Children, and the International Observatory of Prisons.
Belgium is one of the last European states that are yet to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Prevention of Torture (OPCAT), which it signed in 2005. OPCAT requires ratifying states to set up a monitoring body that can conduct ad-hoc visits to ensure that torture and any other inhuman and degrading treatment are not practiced in any place of detention in the country.
“The Potpourri 4 bill is a catch-all proposal by the Government on judicial and correctional matters. However, neither the fight against torture nor Belgium’s international commitments in that regard have been reflected in the bill,” the rights groups noted in the communique. “Moreover, while Potpourri 4 proposes to strengthen the independence and professionalism of the Central Prisons Supervisory Council it does not grant it a legal identity nor does it make it – or any other actor – an MNP in keeping with the OPCAT requirements.
“As for the supervisory commissions, they have been given another mission – managing detainees’ complaints – that is incompatible with their present roles and capacities”.