Anti-Torture Initiative

The Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) is a core project of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law that was created to expand the reach and practical implementation of the work of the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, and WCL Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence, Juan E. Méndez to fight and prevent torture worldwide. The need for concerted strategic efforts in this field is particularly important at the present moment as – and in spite of the solid normative framework prohibiting torture and other ill-treatment, and important practical achievements to date – we continue to witness a rise in incarceration rates around the world, exacerbated by broken criminal justice systems.

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Since its creation in 2011, the ATI has become an important player in the global movement against torture. From 2011 to November 2016, the ATI worked vigorously to complement the activities of Professor Méndez’s Rapporteurship, particularly in the areas of follow-up, implementation, and dissemination. From November 2016 onward, when Professor Méndez’s mandate as Special Rapporteur came to an end, the ATI has continued its mission by devising a new set of programmatic and country-specific activities in key thematic areas, which it continues to pursue.

The strategies employed by the ATI, the methods developed, and the targeted focus on both country-specific and thematic follow-up work have had a tremendous impact on the landscape of efforts to fight and prevent torture in a very short period of time. The ATI has created a variety of new mechanisms and strategies which enabled the SRT’s work to have unprecedented impact and reach, and has helped both deepen and broaden the scope of the global anti-torture movement. Significantly, the ATI has played a role in supporting the development of norms, promoting the implementation of reforms and best practices in different jurisdictions. It has also engaged in strategic advocacy around thematic issues not traditionally encompassed by the torture and other ill-treatment framework, whether in terms of abuses in healthcare settings or the treatment of women, LGBTI persons, and gender non-conforming individuals and children, including by private actors.

Through its work, the ATI has developed innovative outreach and follow-up tools to promote and implement key recommendations by the SRT (and other key human rights mechanisms) in both country-specific and thematic spheres at the local, regional, and international levels – ranging from follow-up country visits and the hosting of expert convenings, to the provision of technical assistance and research, writing, and publishing. It has also conducted strategic advocacy around topics of utmost relevance to the fight against torture worldwide, and contributing to breakthroughs in key areas, such as reforms and court settlements pertaining practice of solitary confinement and the death penalty; the development of revised international standards for the treatment of prisoners; and the adoption of national Action Plans and other domestic measures for the prevention of torture and other ill-treatment in target jurisdictions. Additionally, it has fostered partnerships and opened up spaces for dialogue among key stakeholders– ranging from governments, policy-makers, and international and regional organizations to representatives from civil society and academia – in support of diverse initiatives.

Central to the ATI’s mission and values is the understanding that a commitment to preventing torture and other ill-treatment is an essential litmus test for adherence to other fundamental principles of human rights, human dignity, and democracy.