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HHC comments on draft law on OPCAT

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee commented the draft law on the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The HHC welcomes the ratification of the OPCAT and the designation of the ombudsman as the national preventive mechanism. We are dissapointed however that the draft law does not cover all types of places of detention. We are concerned that NGOs which already acquired significant experience in monitoring detention are excluded from the national preventive mechanism which would start its operation only in 2015.

Hungary had made numerous statements on its intention to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) since 2006 at various international fora (UPR, CAT, UN), but no visible improvements were made in practice in the past 5 years.

In May this year, the Government – mainly thanks to the recommendations received in the UPR process – adopted a Resolution which acknowledged the necessity to ratify OPCAT and requested the necessary preparatory steps to be carried out until 1 January 2012. The Resolution clearly stated that the ombudsman will be appointed to fulfill the NPM’s tasks; however the ombudsman clearly stated on various occasions that he is only willing to undertake the tasks of the NPM if he is assisted by NGOs (and receives the necessary budget for the appropriate fulfillment of the task).

In the summer of 2011, in the framework of a project implemented by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) an external expert, Dr Elina Steinerte, a fellow-researcher at the Bristol University Human Rights Implementation Centre was invited. The expert’s task was to provide an independent overview of the current Hungarian situation concerning the ratification of OPCAT and the implementation of the NPM and to formulate recommendations regarding the necessary future steps in a study report.

In October 2011, without any consultation with civil society and with only four days allowed for commenting on the draft but not even waiting for this deadline to expire, the Parliament ratified OPCAT and at the same time amended the Ombudsman Act in order to adopt an OPCAT compliant law and provide the Ombudsman with those authorizations that are necessary for it to be the NPM.

The HHC welcomed the ratification itself and the designation of the ombudsman as the NPM. However the HHC assessed that – not independently from the hasty pace of the legislative process – the modifications are unsatisfactory and inadequate to fulfill all the requirements prescribed by OPCAT:

  • the law does not cover all types of places of detention and does not assure the possibility for the NPM to consult whoever it considers necessary;
  • NGOs which have already acquired significant experience in monitoring places of detention are excluded from the NPM;
  • the NPM will start its operation only in 2015;
  • the budget allocated to the operation of the NPM is highly insufficient.

Due to these characteristics the prevention of torture in closed institutions will not be assured effectively if the Ombudsman Act is not further amended.

Detailed comments of the HHC are found here.

In order to address these problems, the HHC is implementing a project advocating for an OPCAT compliant law. In the framework of this project – among other activities – we plan to organize an international seminar and invite international experts from the SPT, APT, Bristol University and from an ombudsman plus model in order to increase knowledge among the government agencies concerning OPCAT and NPM.

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Hungarian Helsinki Committee