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Case study: APT

The Association for the Prevention of Torture made police training in Madagascar accessible.


The Association for the Prevention of Torture works worldwide to reduce the risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

For the past 3 years, the APT has been hyper-focused on how to reduce torture and other ill-treatment in Madagascar.

The team determined that if new safeguards could be implemented within the first few hours of police custody, rates of torture and ill-treatment would drop drastically. One such safeguard is filling out a standard “custody register” record on whether detainees have been able to contact family and access legal counsel and medical aid.

The custody registers were ready to roll out across the country when Alex Comninos and his colleague Ben Buckland booked flights and planned 3 detailed, in-person training sessions educating officers on how to use and process Custody Registers. When COVID-19 hit and a smooth rollout out became a technological challenge, the two APT advisers were forced to rethink their training plan.

"By working with [Madagascar police officers] to develop these standard procedures and the standard custody registers, it helped them to achieve their objective of becoming more professional, but it also helped us to achieve the underlying objective of preventing torture and maltreatment and improving human rights."


APT finds SMS

While virtual education wasn’t new to the organization, getting police officers Internet and computer access would be no easy feat. Instead, Comninos and Buckland turned to text. When an APT colleague mentioned Arist, Comninos and Buckland knew it was the perfect fit for Madagascar.

"The reality of Madagascar is that the Internet is very poor. Most police officers won’t have more than a smartphone, if that."


Building the course

By sending a custody register training course in French directly through WhatsApp, the APT team could convey the necessary information in a comfortable, familiar way for officers. Working closely with the Arist team, Comninos and Buckland designed a course focused on applicable scenarios, with custom cartoon illustrations to match. Each day’s message provided information ranging from basic rationale for the new registers to specific situational guidelines for those at particular risk (such as how to handle detaining a child). After just a few days of messages, officers would know why this new process was so important, and exactly how to implement it.

"Through text-based learning, we were able to reach these different groups who are geographically in sometimes rather remote areas, or at least far away from each other, through one single platform."


"Now, we're thinking about what the next steps are going to be...we're in parallel with developing a whole bunch of e-learning tools and a whole new e-learning platform, and I think message based planning can be a really great compliment to that."

With the custody registers ready to pilot and the course ready to send, the APT team was finally able to bring about a long awaited change. After rolling out the course to police officers in the capital region, Comninos and Buckland received incredibly positive feedback, both on course comprehension and overall impact. Buckland was particularly excited to find that the registers likely reduced not only torture rates, but overall corruption and injustice as well: “Previously, some officers were charging detainees to be able to contact their families…[custody registers] reduce this opportunity for corruption. It has this kind of interesting side spin off impact.” With the help of Arist, the APT team is looking forward to continuing the rollout of custody registers across the country, and raising the entire Madagascar justice system to a new standard.

To view an interactive exhibition and explore the impact of the work APT are doing in Madagascar, click here.

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