NZ's prisons and police cells face UN scrutiny

A United Nations torture-prevention delegation is visiting the south and other centres inspecting prisons and police cells for an international appraisal - the first time the UN sub-committee has visited New Zealand.

New Zealand is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) comprises 25 independent experts, including High Court Justice Lowell Goddard although she is not part of the delegation.

The protocol, which New Zealand signed in 2007, is designed to ensure the country meets obligations under international law to prevent torture or ill treatment of people detained by the state.

Sub-committee members visit participating countries to see institutions where people are detained including police stations, immigration centres, prisons and mental health facilities.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said the visit provided a valuable opportunity to get some independent, expert advice on how well New Zealand protected the rights of those in detention and whether improvements could be made.

"The SPT members are experts in their own right as well as having a good knowledge and understanding of best practices around the world. This is an excellent chance to benefit from that expertise."

A 10-person team led by sub-committee chairman Malcolm Evans, a British professor of international law, has already visited Cambodia and the Maldives during its Asia-Pacific trip.

Details of the delegation's itinerary are confidential but The Southland Times understands visits to police stations in the south were on the agenda.

Visits are conducted by at least two committee members alongside staff from the UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman confirmed it was the first visit to New Zealand by the sub-committee.

The Southland Times