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COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE MEETS WITH NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS TO DISCUSS WAYS TO ENHANCE COOPERATION
Discusses the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture with Romania
13 May 2013

The Committee against Torture this afternoon met with non-governmental organizations to discuss ways to enhance cooperation in the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  The Committee also met separately with the delegation of Romania to discuss a delay in the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the establishment of the national preventive mechanism in the country.

Opening the meeting with non-governmental organizations, Francis Gaer, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said that this annual meeting was an opportunity to discuss cooperation and hear the views of non-governmental organizations on the activities of the Committee. 

In the discussion, non-governmental organizations said that they closely followed the intergovernmental process in the General Assembly on treaty bodies strengthening and strongly encouraged the Committee to respond to those proposals made so far, particularly those that were not in the remit of the General Assembly on imposing a code of conduct.  Involuntary treatment and placement in psychiatric institutions, the list of issues prior to reporting and the Special Rapporteurs on reprisals were also discussed.

In reply to the comments and questions of the non-governmental organizations, the Committee Experts said that the rapporteurship on reprisals would act promptly in cases of reprisals against those cooperating with the Committee.  The Addis Ababa principles were under discussion and a decision on how to proceed would soon be made.  Experts said that there was no priority list of countries for confidential inquiry under article 20 and said that the Committee reacted to information received. 

Taking part in the dialogue were the following non-governmental organizations: International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Amnesty International, Association for the Prevention of Torture, World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry and Open Society Justice Initiative.

In April 2013, the Committee decided to grant the request of Romania and to extend the entry into force of the Optional Protocol for a period of two years, with the understanding that the national preventive mechanism would be established within that period according to a precise schedule.  During the meeting with Romania to publicly discuss this postponement of the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, the delegation said that the delay was due to the many changes at the political level in the country.  Romania was committed to have a national preventive mechanism in place by December 2014 and until then the Office of the Ombudsmen would be fulfilling the function. 

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 May to start its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of the Netherlands (CAT/C/NLD/5-6).

MEETING WITH NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS

Introductory Remarks

FRANCIS GAER, Committee Vice-Chairperson, welcomed the non-governmental organizations and said that this annual meeting was an opportunity to discuss cooperation and hear the views of non-governmental organizations with regard to the activities of the Committee.  The Committee members were due for re-election in October and Ms. Gaer informed those present that there was a robust conversation during the intergovernmental process on treaty bodies strengthening in which a proposal was made for the platform for States.

Discussion

International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims welcomed the appointment of the Special Rapporteur on reprisals and asked about the mandate and tools available to the mechanism.  Treaty bodies, including the Committee against Torture, were not very ready to respond to whatever decision was made in the General Assembly on treaty bodies strengthening, and this might lead to imposing decisions which were not best for the system.  Another issue of concern was that of involuntary treatment and placement of persons with psychosocial disabilities; the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims was finalizing a position paper in which it argued that those practices arguably amounted to torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and that it was necessary to individually evaluate practices falling under the umbrella terms of “involuntary treatment and placement” to determine whether they met the four criteria for torture.

Amnesty International said it was following closely the intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on the treaty bodies strengthening, adding that some of the recommendations under discussion could hamper treaty bodies in their work.  The possibility of a code of conduct and an accountability mechanism had been raised informally, even though the imposition of such a code was clearly beyond the scope of the General Assembly.  The Committee had welcomed the Addis Ababa Guidelines on the independence of treaty bodies and Amnesty International hoped that the Committee would swiftly move to address them.  Lists of issues prior to reporting helped States to provide more focused reporting and Amnesty International asked the Committee for an update on the further evaluation of the procedure and on the preparation of “guidelines for replies to the list of questions”.   

Association for the Prevention of Torture asked the Committee whether its strategy was to adopt general comments on all articles of the Convention and suggested that the Committee took up article 3 on non-reoufelment and article 15 on exclusionary role.  The Committee might consider establishing a working group to deepen cooperation with other treaty bodies on the development of those general comments.  Further guidance by the Committee on the criteria for the selection of States under article 20 on confidential inquiries would be welcomed.  The Association for the Prevention of Torture encouraged the Committee to engage with the treaty bodies strengthening process, to strongly reject the imposition of the code of conduct and to ensure its own rules were consistent with the Addis Ababa principles.

World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry expressed appreciation for the valuable recommendations the Committee had made to end the use of electroshocks and other treatments that might contravene the Convention, but was concerned about the coupling of those recommendations with others that assumed the continuation of involuntary confinement and treatment in psychiatric institutions as a general practice or as a permissible last resort measure.  The Committee should call for the outright abolition of institutional confinement and compulsory treatment.  The continuation of laws that allowed forced detention and treatment with procedural safeguards amounted to government approval of torture and ill-treatment, contrary to the obligations under the Convention to take all efforts to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment.

Open Society Justice Initiative reiterated the position of other non-governmental organizations concerning the treaty bodies strengthening process and encouraged the Committee to respond to the proposals made by the Governments in the inter-governmental process.  This was important as some of the issues discussed were not within the remit of the General Assembly, such as the code of conduct, but were clearly within the remit of treaty bodies themselves.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, thanked all the non-governmental organizations for their comments and said that the two Special Rapporteurs on reprisals would act promptly in cases of reprisals against those cooperating with the Committee.  The Committee would be represented in the New York meeting of Chairpersons on the treaty bodies and Mr. Grossman believed that different Committees would reach a consensus on the treaty bodies issues and proposals and engage in dialogue with all the members of the international community.  The Committee was discussing the Addis Ababa principles and would soon reach a decision on how to proceed.  There was a need to talk about new general comments and this would be a decision of the Committee as a whole.

Responding to questions and issues raised by the non-governmental organizations, other Committee Experts said that there was no priority list for countries for confidential inquiry under article 20, but that the Committee reacted to information it received.  They noted the absence of non-governmental organizations from developing countries and said that mutual trust between treaty bodies and regional and global bodies was crucial for the development of other general comments, including on article 3 and on article 20 as proposed by a non-governmental organization.  Concerning the Committee’s policy on psychiatric institutions, the Experts said that this was an issue of great concern, and given its complexity it was being thoroughly discussed to decide on the best course of action.

DIALOGUE ON THE OPTIONAL PROTOCOL TO THE CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE WITH ROMANIA

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, said that the purpose of this meeting was to discuss publicly the postponement of the establishment of the national preventive mechanism in Romania, in accordance with the rules of procedures.

CATALIN BEJAN, Deputy Director General of the Romanian National Administration of Penitentiaries, said that regarding the postponement of the entering into force of the national preventive mechanism, Romania was aware it was late with the implementation.  This delay was due to the many changes at the political level in the country.  The country was on the verge of promoting the new law on the ombudsmen which would fulfil the function of the national preventive mechanism until it was in place by the end of 2014.  In terms of doing its best to implement its obligations under the Optional Protocol, Romania said that first and foremost a law was needed for the establishment of the national preventive mechanism within the office of the Ombudsmen; it was hard to give a concrete answer as to when the law might be in place.  Once the law was in place, the concrete calendar could be worked out.  The draft law would be forwarded to all the necessary institutions for comment before its entry into force, including to the Ombudsmen and the Parliamentary Commission.  Romania was committed to doing its best to have the national preventive mechanism in place by December 2014.

Committee Experts noted that the ratification of the Convention and its Optional Protocol brought with it certain obligations including reporting and said that although the Committee had approved the delay in establishing the national preventive mechanism, it was concerned about the 16 years delay in the submission of the second periodic report of Romania.  Could Romania commit to submitting the replies to the list of issues by next September 2013?  When would the Optional Protocol enter into force?

The delegation of Romania reiterated the importance of the enactment of the law and without such a legal framework planning would be hard to do.  Romania hoped that this new law would be adopted soon after which the steps would be made to implement its obligations.  Parliament was aware of the need to respect this international obligation.  In terms of the composition of the national preventive mechanism, several options had been discussed and Romania intended to have a mechanism staffed with experts from various fields which the national preventive mechanism needed to cover. 

Experts appreciated the intention of Romania to have a proper legal framework in place from the very beginning and noted that the Office of the Ombudsmen could have been enlarged with the national preventive mechanism function earlier.  What difficulties was Romania facing, for example were they political in the form of Parliamentary groups which were opposed to the establishment of such a mechanism, or were they financial constraints?

Mr. Bejan said that the draft law on the Ombudsmen was ready and only final comments by the Ombudsmen were needed, after which it would be sent on to relevant institutions and then on to Parliament for approval; there was political will and the only constraint was procedural.  The new law contained the provision on budgeting and resources.  Romania agreed to a simplified reporting procedure and was ready to submit its report by September 2013.

The Chairperson said that the objective of the Committee was the implementation of the Convention and that it was up to States to decide whether they wished to delay the entry into force of the Convention or its Optional Protocol.  The Committee had decided to extend the entry into force of the Optional Protocol for a period of two years on the basis that Romania would establish the national preventive mechanism within that period and according to a precise schedule.  Could the delegation send that precise schedule to the Committee?

A Representative of the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, which also served as the Secretariat for the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said it was ready to provide any assistance to Member States in the establishment of their national preventive mechanism.  Several principles needed to be respected in this process such as the Paris Principles and the Guidelines of the Subcommittee for the establishment of national preventive mechanisms.


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