Mr. Palma, who has himself visited many detention facilities as a member of CPT delegations, also pointed to the growing problem of overcrowding in prison systems throughout Europe.
“Simply building more prisons is not the solution; interrelated measures looking at, for example sentencing guidelines, community sanctions, conditional release should be put in place to overcome the phenomenon of overcrowding. Otherwise, overcrowding will continue to jeopardise both the safe running of prisons and the rehabilitation of individual offenders,” he said.
With around half a million irregular migrants entering European countries annually, the issue of safeguards for immigration detainees has become another priority area of activity for the CPT.
“Irregular migrants are particularly vulnerable to various forms of ill-treatment and unfortunately there are still far too many instances where the CPT comes across places of deprivation of liberty for irregular migrants which are totally unsuitable,” said Mr. Palma.
“States should be selective when exercising their power to deprive them of their liberty and every effort should be made to avoid it when it comes to minors,” said the CPT President, adding that in the most recent General Report, the Committee has set out its views on the safeguards that should be adopted for this group of persons.
During the briefing, Mauro Palma also acknowledged that States sometimes see a tension between their obligation to protect their citizens, for example, against acts of terrorism, and the need to uphold basic values. “For the CPT, striking the right balance is misguided when talking about the prohibition of torture. It is only by defending those values which distinguish democratic societies from others that Europe can best guarantee its security.”
In response to a question, Mr Palma recalled that the CPT had examined the application of surgical castration on sentenced sex offenders in the Czech Republic, and found that it amounted to degrading treatment. The Committee has called upon the authorities to end immediately its use. He added that it was an “invasive, irreversible and mutilating” measure which had no place in Europe today.
Mr. Palma also stated that the issue of restraints in psychiatric establishments remained of particular concern for the CPT. “A patient should only be restrained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period possible. The time is ripe for every psychiatric establishment in Europe to have a comprehensive, carefully developed, policy on this question,”
Finally, Mr Palma reflected on the 20 years of the existence of the CPT and the reputation of the Committee as an independent professional body monitoring places of detention in Europe. “The total eradication of torture in the European continent may never come but it can certainly be combated successfully and reduced to a marginal phenomenon. The CPT will continue to play its part working with the relevant actors in the countries it visits.” he concluded.
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The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment or shortly Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) is the anti-torture monitoring body of the Council of Europe. The CPT was founded on the basis of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1987), which came into force in 1989. It consists of independent and impartial experts, who are elected by the Council of Europe’s decision-making body Committee of Ministers. According to the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics from 2007, it is estimated that there are more than 1.8 million of prisoners including pre-trial detainees in Europe. This number does not cover the people in other places of detention such as the closed psychiatric institutions, social care homes and the like which also fall into CPT’s monitoring area.
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