Research

 

You will find a complete range of our monographs, muti-authored and edited works including peer-reviewed, original scholarly research across the social sciences and aligned disciplines. We publish long and short form research and you can browse the complete Bristol University Press and Policy Press archive of over 1,500 titles.

Policy Press also publishes policy reviews and polemic work which aim to challenge policy and practice in certain fields. These books have a practitioner in mind and are practical, accessible in style, as well as being academically sound and referenced.
 

Books: Research

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The experience the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture gained through its visits is that there are many serious problems which are not considered to be problems at all and accepted as being ‘just the way things are’. As a result, completely unacceptable forms of ill-treatment are allowed to pass not only unchallenged but even unnoticed by those who are responsible for them. The currently fashionable expression ‘hidden in plain sight’ might seem to sum this up: that we do not notice what is going on right in front of us. This is despite its not being hidden at all and being clearly visible. It is just accepted as acceptable when obviously it is not. This chapter explores this phenomenon and why it can be that states which routinely condemn forms of ill-treatment fail to even recognise it as occurring at all.

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This chapter sets out the background to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and how it developed over a 25-year period from a proposal to be incorporated into the text of the UN Convention against Torture itself into a freestanding legal instrument establishing the largest and most distinctive of the UN human rights treaty bodies. Along the way, the difficulties faced in bringing this project to fruition also resulted in the adoption of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, and at a very late stage the addition of ‘National Preventive Mechanisms’ into the OPCAT system. It provides an important case study concerning the generation of international human rights instruments over time and provides essential background for understanding the work of the OPCAT system today.

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There is a very close connection between ‘accepting the unacceptable’ and ‘excusing the inexcusable’. This chapter highlights how, even when something is known to be wrong – or accepted to be unacceptable – it may just not be considered sufficiently serious to merit notice, attention or comment. As a result, when challenged, often bizarre excuses are offered to justify what those offering them know to be inexcusable. The plausibility of the excuse is less important than the fact of making it, and having been made, it then becomes difficult to accept the need for change at all. A classic and stark example is the extent to which some continue to try to excuse the continued use of torture and ill-treatment itself, despite its prohibition. Critically engaging with such excuses can entrench them, yet the very structure of international human rights protection prompts excuse-making, thus rendering the prevention more complex.

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This book is about the prohibition and the prevention of torture. Its purposes are twofold. The first is to give a frank account of what the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has been able to achieve over the first 15 years of its existence. This also involves being honest about what the SPT has not been able to achieve too, and – more importantly – the reasons for this. The second purpose, and perhaps the more significant, is to expose some of the myths which permit torture to continue to flourish, despite the plethora of international prohibitions that surround it. To that end, the first part of the book considers what, legally speaking, torture is. The background to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) is presented and the practical working of the SPT and how it seeks to prevent torture and ill-treatment is explored. The second part of the book draws on the author’s personal experience and aims to explore the challenges of working preventively, by considering examples of the SPT’s work. This is used to highlight some of the less predictable barriers to effective torture prevention. The book concludes with reflections on what could be done to make torture prevention more effective.

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When problems or failings are identified, there is tendency to resort to stereotypical solutions, which reflect established standards or human rights orthodoxies. Yet these may sometimes be hopelessly inadequate, cannot realistically be done or, if done, might not be able to make a difference and, in the worst cases, even make matters worse. Such responses are considered in this chapter, which highlights the importance of tailoring interventions to the practical realities of the situation. Difficult situations may call for unusual solutions, and numerous examples are given. There is a need to retain sufficient flexibility to be able to come up with solutions which may actually work – which may actually prevent – even if this goes beyond, or outside of, the established repertoire of responses.

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This book is about the prohibition and the prevention of torture. Its purposes are twofold. The first is to give a frank account of what the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has been able to achieve over the first 15 years of its existence. This also involves being honest about what the SPT has not been able to achieve too, and – more importantly – the reasons for this. The second purpose, and perhaps the more significant, is to expose some of the myths which permit torture to continue to flourish, despite the plethora of international prohibitions that surround it. To that end, the first part of the book considers what, legally speaking, torture is. The background to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) is presented and the practical working of the SPT and how it seeks to prevent torture and ill-treatment is explored. The second part of the book draws on the author’s personal experience and aims to explore the challenges of working preventively, by considering examples of the SPT’s work. This is used to highlight some of the less predictable barriers to effective torture prevention. The book concludes with reflections on what could be done to make torture prevention more effective.

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This book is about the prohibition and the prevention of torture. Its purposes are twofold. The first is to give a frank account of what the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has been able to achieve over the first 15 years of its existence. This also involves being honest about what the SPT has not been able to achieve too, and – more importantly – the reasons for this. The second purpose, and perhaps the more significant, is to expose some of the myths which permit torture to continue to flourish, despite the plethora of international prohibitions that surround it. To that end, the first part of the book considers what, legally speaking, torture is. The background to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) is presented and the practical working of the SPT and how it seeks to prevent torture and ill-treatment is explored. The second part of the book draws on the author’s personal experience and aims to explore the challenges of working preventively, by considering examples of the SPT’s work. This is used to highlight some of the less predictable barriers to effective torture prevention. The book concludes with reflections on what could be done to make torture prevention more effective.

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Prevention in Practice

How big a problem is torture? Are the right things being done to prevent it? What does the UN do, and why does is appear at times to be so impotent in the face of torture?

In this vitally important work, Malcolm D. Evans tells the story of torture prevention under international law, setting out what is really taking place in places of detention around the world. Challenging assumptions about torture’s root causes, he calls for what is needed to enable us to be in a better position to bring about change.

The author draws on over ten years’ experience as the Chair of the United Nations Sub-Committee for Prevention of Torture to give a frank account of the remarkable capacities of this system, what it has achieved in practice, what it has not been able to achieve – and most importantly, why.

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Chapter 12 takes stock of what all these reflections might mean for improving existing systems of torture prevention, whether they are adequate and whether more fundamental or systemic change is necessary. Much can be done through existing systems and structures, and they probably have within them all that is necessary to bring about meaningful change. The real question is how to release that potential. Some of the answers lie in rather mundane but nevertheless important changes in working practices, but others are of a more profound nature and require rethinking some of the fundamental assumptions about the operation of detention systems, states and the human rights system itself. Doing so also allows us to understand better why it is that torture remains so prevalent and why the ways in which are trying to address this seem to be deficient.

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A central element of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture system is that every state party must establish an independent ‘National Preventive Mechanism’ (NPM) which must have access to all places of detention in a manner similar to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT). The SPT is to work with states as they set up the NPM, offering them its advice and expertise. It is then to support the work of the NPMs. This has proven to be one of the SPT’s most important and challenging tasks. This chapter considers the guidelines the SPT has developed for both states and NPMs and how it has gone about exercising its mandate in relation to NPMs over time.

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