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Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes report on 2013 visit to Belgium

The Council of Europe's European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published today the report on its September/October 2013 visit to Belgium, together with the response of the Belgian authorities.
31/03/2016
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One of the objectives of the visit was to examine the situation of inmates in various Belgian prisons, including in psychiatric annexes. In this context, the Antwerp, Forest, Merksplas and Tournai Prisons were visited.
 
Despite the "Masterplan" for renovating and constructing new prisons, overcrowding was still a major problem at the time of the visit.  In the establishments visited, many prisoners held in multiple-occupancy cells had only 3 m² of living space per person, or even less, with some having to sleep on mattresses on the floor.
 
Other shortcomings in terms of material conditions were also observed.  Prisoners at Forest and Tournai Prisons did not have toilets in their cells and had to use a bucket at night.  Further, most of the prisoners spent 21 hours a day in their cell because there were too few activities on offer in the prisons visited.  The CPT recommends that the Belgian authorities provide at least 4 m² of living space for each prisoner, improve detention conditions, particularly at Forest and Tournai Prisons, and increase the number of activities and work opportunities available to prisoners.  
 
The report once again highlights the adverse effects of strikes and other industrial action by prison staff on prisoners’ daily lives (cancellation of visits and activities, limited health care, interrupted transfers or even ill-treatment, sometimes of a serious nature).  Since its previous recommendations on these points had not been acted upon, the CPT decided in March 2014 to open a procedure which could lead to the issuing of a public statement, as provided for by Article 10, paragraph 2, of the Convention establishing the Committee.  The CPT believes that a guaranteed minimum service should be implemented in prisons while respecting the rights and freedoms of prison staff.
 
The delegation received a substantial number of allegations of provocations, insults and even physical ill-treatment at Forest Prison, carried out in particular by a group of custodial officers in Block D of the establishment.  The report calls upon the authorities to initiate an independent and thorough inquiry in this regard.  Staff-prisoner relations appeared to be appropriate in the other three prisons visited.
 
The situation of inmates (“internés”) held in the psychiatric annexes of Belgian prisons has once again given the CPT cause for concern.  These structures are intended for temporary and transitional care and not suited, in principle, to prolonged care for psychiatric patients. However, the latter often spent more than two years in these annexes.  The Committee notes that, despite its previous recommendations, the necessary steps have been not taken to provide suitable treatment for all inmates held in psychiatric annexes.  It calls upon the Belgian authorities to fully revise their policy on the detention of inmates accommodated in psychiatric annexes and also to close down the "crisis" unit for such persons at Merksplas Prison.
 
The delegation visited eight police establishments in different parts of the country.  In general, the detained persons did not allege physical ill-treatment during their deprivation of liberty. There were many allegations, however, notably by minors, of excessive force being used by police officers, particularly upon apprehension.
 
With regard to the circumstances surrounding the death of Jonathan Jacob at Mortsel Police Station in January 2010, the CPT deplores the fact that this person was not looked after in a health-care establishment and notes shortcomings in the intervention method chosen by the special police units.  The report recommends that measures be taken to prevent a recurrence of such incidents in the future.
 
The detention conditions in the police stations visited were on the whole satisfactory.  However, rapid improvements should be made to the holding cell area at the Brussels court building, particularly concerning the lack of natural light, the inadequacy of the artificial lighting and ventilation and difficulty in accessing the toilets.
 
The report also analyses the arrangements made for minors at the Saint-Hubert closed federal centre for juveniles and patients who have been involuntarily hospitalised in civil hospitals, particularly at the Brugmann University Hospital Centre in Brussels.
 
In their response, the Belgian authorities provide detailed information on the measures taken to implement the CPT's recommendations.
 
The CPT's main findings are set out in the executive summary of the report (in French).

The CPT’s report and the response of the Belgian authorities have been made public at the request of the Belgian Government and are available on the CPT's website: http://www.cpt.coe.int. 


Preventing torture in Europe
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