13 November 2013
The Committee against Torture today met with the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture to discuss ways of collaborating in their work to eliminate torture, addressing the challenge of reprisals against human rights defenders, as well as obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture such as the establishment of national preventative mechanisms.
Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, said a key issue emerging across the human rights system concerned the issue of reprisals, and the increasing concern and realization they imposed on many human rights defenders, as well as people in places of detention being visited by members of civil society. The issue was increasingly in the spotlight, and the Subcommittee sought to collaborate with as broad a range of people as possible in order to find the most effective way of addressing the problem of reprisals. One recent change was that the Subcommittee tried to provide more advance notice of their visits, within a framework of one year, after which specific notice was given to a State approximately two months in advance.
Regarding the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, Mr. Evans said that as membership included countries from the smallest, by population, Nauru (10,000) to the fifth largest, Brazil (200 million), there were national preventative mechanisms against torture dealing with a huge variety of population sizes, and he hoped in future to have States parties that had populations numbering billions as well. Mr. Evans noted that several countries that were not party to the Optional Protocol were starting to establish bodies that looked like national preventative mechanisms, which was a positive step.
Speaking about ratifications of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, Mr. Evans said the highest number of ratifications of the Optional Protocol came from States that were party to the European Convention against Torture (35 States – 50 per cent of the total) and the Council of Europe area. A frequent question asked was why the United Nations bodies should replicate work in Europe when the European Convention already carried out similar work. The reason was that much of the Subcommittee’s work was in advising and assisting national preventative mechanisms. The Subcommittee may be carrying out fewer visits to European States, but had intense engagement with those States in other ways, which put together amounted to a fairly uniform level of attention to all States worldwide. The Subcommittee tried to give equal focus to all regions in the world, as per the universality of the treaty.
A representative of a non-governmental organization, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, took the floor to ask how the Subcommittee, the Committee and the Special Rapporteur on Torture could improve the sequencing of country visits and country views. In recent years there had been a lot of overlap. The representative asked what was being done to support human rights defenders in the process of submitting their reports on reprisals.
Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, responded to points raised about reprisals. He welcomed the views of non-governmental organizations on what the Committee and the Subcommittee could do to support human rights defenders facing reprisals. Of course if a State party engaged in reprisals it was violating the Convention, while another important principle was the confidentiality of the victim. The question about sequencing of visits and the need for coordination was an important one, and an issue that was often discussed. He also noted that ratification of the Optional Protocol was promoted at all country reviews.
A Committee Expert commented that national preventative mechanisms in some countries were in serious danger, particularly at times of a change in political leadership or to the institutions to which they were attached. Another Expert said that the fear of reprisals was another important factor that should be discussed, especially where the complainer was about to be expelled or deported to their country of origin, as that was a time when the threat of reprisal was manifest.
The next public meeting of the Committee against Torture will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will meet in public at the Palais Wilson to complete its consideration of the second periodic report of Kyrgyzstan (CAT/C/KGZ/2).
For use of the information media; not an official record