PRINT PAGE SHARE THIS ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

News & Media

COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE DISCUSSES REPRISALS WITH SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON TORTURE, SUBCOMMITTEE ON PREVENTION OF TORTURE
15 November 2013

The Committee against Torture this morning discussed the issue of reprisals with the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.  Earlier in the morning, the Committee held a meeting on follow-up to Articles 19 and 22 of the Convention against Torture.
Claudio Grossman, Committee Chairperson, said that the most effective way of dealing with reprisals was to work towards creating an environment which did not allow reprisals to occur.  In that regard, training was extremely important, as was general and individual accountability.  The identification of principles on which to act, such as the principle of legality and the principle of adopting a victim-centre approach, was essential.

Wilder Taylor-Santo, Vice-Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, said that if reprisals occurred it was because the environment within which they occurred allowed that.  The issue of reprisals and the way it was handled by the Committee was now becoming a major operative obstacle, because if people did not want to testify for fear of reprisals it would be impossible to tackle major issues such as torture.

Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on Torture, said that threats of reprisals were as serious as reprisals themselves.  In such cases, making public condemnations would only make matters worse for the person receiving the threats.  A victim-centred approach was very useful, focusing on protecting the victim and making sure that they were not endangered in any way.  Witnesses were always vulnerable, so their anonymity should be guaranteed and every effort should be made to protect them from reprisals.

In the ensuing dialogue on reprisals, Committee Members and Members of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture discussed ways of preventing and tackling reprisals, including by utilizing national preventive mechanisms in order to ensure a victim-based approach to dealing with reprisals.   

The non-governmental organization International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims took the floor during the interactive dialogue on reprisals.
Presenting the report on the Committee’s follow-up activities earlier this morning, Felice Gaer, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said that of the 133 follow-up reports due by 22 November, 93 had been received by the Committee.  Ms. Gaer also updated the Committee on communications exchanged with Sri Lanka and Ireland.  No response had been received from Syria to a letter sent by the Committee.

In the interactive dialogue on follow-up activities, the “Magdalene Laundries” case in Ireland was discussed as an example of how the Committee’s work could move things forward in relation to a certain matter.  Suggestions were made on how to make the findings of the Committee’s follow-up procedure more widely available.

The following non-governmental organizations took the floor during the interactive dialogue on follow-up: International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and Alkarama.

The Secretariat updated the Committee on outstanding matters relating to on-going cases dealt with by the Committee.   

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 22 November at 10 a.m. when it will adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Poland, Latvia, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Portugal, Andorra and Kyrgyzstan, which were considered during the session, before closing the session.

Follow-Up to Articles 19 and 22 of the Convention

FELICE GAER, Committee Vice-Chairperson, presenting the report on follow-up to Articles 19 and 22 of the Convention, said that each State party had to provide within one year information on follow-up to recommendations made.  Whenever deemed necessary, the State might be asked to include additional information, for example on how the State provided remedies and redress to the victims.  Of the 133 follow-up reports due by 22 November, 93 had been received by the Committee.  Thirty-seven States had not provided follow-up information.  Since 2012 follow-up replies had been received from 12 States.  Since June 2013, another eight replies had been received.  Reports had also been received from non-governmental organizations.

Ms. Gaer informed the Committee that follow-up information had been received from Sri Lanka, on a request made by the Committee that the Special Investigations Unit investigate allegations of torture carried out by the authorities, and from Ireland, on concerns expressed by the Committee about financial issues facing Irish Human Rights Institutions and the “Magdalene Laundries” case.  Syria had not yet responded to a letter sent by the Committee requesting follow-up information on the recommendations it had made.  Ms. Gaer said that communications with Ireland were a good example of how effective the follow-up procedure could be, especially when States were responsive.

A Committee Member pointed out that all information received about the “Magdalene Laundries” case had initially been received from non-governmental organizations, although afterwards the Irish Government cooperated with the Committee and the case had since been investigated. 

Committee Members made suggestions about making follow-up information widely available and more visible on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner. 

Ms. Gaer said that sometimes the quality of information received from States was weaker than the implementation of the actual recommendations, and sometimes implementation was not as good as the information provided by States, so each country should be dealt with on its own terms rather than comparatively.

International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims said that the procedure of the Committee was getting increasingly complex and asked whether there were any initiatives taken to formalize the follow-up procedure and go more public with its findings.

Alkarama said that the use of a classification system of individual cases would be useful because it would send out a clear message to States that implementation of the recommendations made to them was important.

In response to comments from non-governmental organizations, Ms. Gaer said that the issue of classification had been explored on a trial basis and would be discussed further with Committee Members.   

The Secretariat informed the Committee of developments in a number of cases followed up on since the Committee’s fiftieth session, including the Gerasimov and Abdussamatov cases in Kazakhstan, the Hanafi case in Algeria, the Eftekhary case in Norway, the Ristic and Dimitrov cases in Serbia, and the Saadia case in Tunisia.

Meeting with the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture

The meeting was co-chaired by Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, and Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the prevention of Torture.

WILDER TAYLOR-SANTO, Vice-Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, said that if reprisals occurred it was because the environment within which they occurred allowed that.  The issue of reprisals and the way it was handled by the Committee was now becoming a major operative obstacle, because if people did not want to testify for fear of reprisals it would be impossible to tackle major issues such as torture.   In Australia reprisals were penalized and the law contained a definition of a reprisal as an autonomous and independent crime.  Certain States did not hesitate to apply collective reprisals, so the issue had to be tackled more decisively.    

A Committee Member said that in the United Nations there was a general concern about reprisals against political activists.  Reprisals against those who collaborated with the Committee was a specific area within the general chapter of reprisals, so a joint statement should be drafted with the Special Rapporteur and the Committee, looking more closely at the issue of reprisals and focusing more on ways of tackling the problem.

FELICE GAER, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said that States had a responsibility to protect individuals from reprisals but, at the same time, supervisory committees should put more pressure on States to protect their citizens.  

A Committee Member said that the prohibition of reprisals by law was a good idea but it would be difficult to implement in prisons and detention centres, where sanctions could be imposed without necessarily looking like reprisals.  A senior focal point for reprisals should be established within the United Nations.

JUAN MENDEZ, Special Rapporteur on Torture, said that threats of reprisals were as serious as reprisals themselves.  In such cases, making public condemnations would only make matters worse for the person receiving the threats.  Mr. Mendez said that he based his engagement with States about reprisals on the terms of country visits, which were generally accepted by all, and stated that persons cooperating with the Special Rapporteur should not be subjected to reprisals.  A victim-centred approach was very useful in that regard, focusing on protecting the victim and making sure that they were not endangered in any way.  Mr. Mendez said that on a recent visit to Ghana, many persons had said they were afraid of reprisals.  Witnesses were always vulnerable, so their anonymity should be guaranteed and every effort should be made to protect them from reprisals, although the final decision on whether or not to talk was for the witnesses’ to make.
                                                                    
A Member of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, said that any information received by the Committee should be followed up on, regardless of any existing limitations.  If the Committee’s activity had triggered reprisals of any kind, then the Committee should deal with those issues as they arose. 

A Member of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture suggested that the Committee could establish a link with national preventive mechanisms as a means of preventing torture and reprisals in those countries.

A Committee Member said that the Committee should strengthen and expand its contact with national preventive mechanisms.

A Committee Member said that there were also countries without a national preventive mechanism.  In those countries, contact should be made with the national human rights institution, if there was one, to ensure a direct exchange of information about reprisals.  He asked the Special Rapporteur at what level reprisals were carried out.

A Committee Member wondered whether there was enough information online for those who wanted to report on reprisals.       

Concerning the criminalization of reprisals, a Committee Member said that the problem was that there was no clear-cut definition of reprisals and threats of reprisals, which made it difficult to deal with threats, in particular.  International bodies needed to be provided with clearer definitions so they could help States parties to identify and tackle such phenomena.  
 
International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims requested information on how the Committee and its mechanisms responded to complaints about reprisals, and asked what the timeframe was for replies to communications sent directly to the Committee.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, said that the most effective way of dealing with reprisals was to work towards creating an environment which did not allow reprisals to occur.  In that regard, training was extremely important, as was general and individual accountability.  The identification of principles on which to act, such as the principle of legality and the principle of adopting a victim-centre approach, was essential.

In response to the questions asked by the non-governmental organization representative, a Committee Member said that the type of reaction envisaged by the Committee largely depended on the circumstances and the person or persons concerned.  Communication with detainees was always more challenging.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CAT13/029E