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Formal Inspection of Detention Facilities

There are a number of bodies that may have the ability to conduct regular inspection of detention facilities. These could be monitoring bodies from withing the prison authority; governmental inspection bodies; independent ombudsmen; national human rights commissions; the office of the public defender or other bodies from within the legal system; international organizations; domestic non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits people deprived of freedom in times of armed conflict, to check that they are treated humanely and in accordnce with international law (both humanitarian law and human rights law). The ICRC undertakes visits under nonnegotiable modalities which include: access to all places of detention and all people detained and to make a register of all those who wish to have their details recorded; the possibility to select individual detainees to talk with in private, and the possibility to repeat the visits as often as is deemed necessary. During visits, the ICRC takes the humane treatment of detainees to encompass not only freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, but also general conditions of detention that maintain both the physical and mental integrity of the individuals. Their findings are communicated and discussed on a confidential basis with the concerned authorities.

Other bodies, particularly human rights NGOs, are sometimes more likely to gain ad hoc permission to conduct an inspection, rather than regular access. On occasion, inspections might be limited by restricted access to the detainees, or detainees may be wary of complaining for fear of retribution. In such cases it is nevertheless often possible for the inspection team to assess the likelihood of prevailing ill-treatment, especially in relation to the physical conditions of detention. Most often, existing national oversite mechanisms will have most access to prisons, but may have less access to police stations. Access to interrogation centers and military camps may be even more restricted.

Recognizing the vulnerability and need for enhanced protection of people incustody, the UN adopted an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture in December 2002. This instrument creates a mechanism for regular inspection, by independent international and national bodies, of all places where people are deprived of liberty, within countries that agree to be bound by this Protocol.