10 May 2013
The Committee against Torture this morning met with States parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to discuss its working methods.
Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee, welcomed the open dialogue with Member States which he said was an opportunity to exchange views and hear the States’ point of view on the activities of the Committee and the developments in its methods of work. Those were related to article 22 on communications, article 20 on indications of systematic use of torture, the list of issues prior to reporting, and the follow-up procedures. The Committee had adopted the General Comment on article 14 on redress where possible and had appointed a Special Rapporteur to assist it to deal with reprisals against those cooperating with the Committee, which was inacceptable.
In the discussion, States parties raised the issue of lists of issues prior to reporting and asked how negative experiences would be taken into account during a State’s evaluation. They wished to hear about the position of the Committee on the various proposals concerning the comprehensive reporting calendar and the procedure of examining States parties in the absence of a report and the State delegation.
The Chairperson and Committee Experts, in reply to the issues raised by Member States, said that the purpose of the list of issues prior to reporting was to facilitate a more focused dialogue and to avoid the old two-step process which was time and money consuming. Experts stressed that the key issue in the Addis Ababa process was the principle of the independence of treaty bodies, which must be respected, and raised the issue of non-reporting States which was ignored in the discussions on the reporting calendar.
States parties who addressed the meeting were Russia, United Kingdom, Venezuela, United States and China.
The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. this afternoon to continue its consideration of the initial report of Mauritania (CAT/C/MRT/1), which started on Wednesday, 8 May 2013.
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, said that meetings with States parties represented an opportunity to hear the States’ point of view on the activities of the Committee and to depoliticize the issues surrounding torture. So far, 66 States had accepted article 22 on communications which ensured that justice was done in individual cases and this was of great importance to the Committee. This article, together with article 3 on non-refoulement, had made a difference in many cases. The Chairperson noted other developments in the Committee’s methods of work, including the possibility to react under article 20 to indications of the systematic use of torture, the list of issues for reporting, and the follow up procedures. The Committee had also adopted the General Comment on article 14 on redress where possible. The Committee considered reprisals against those cooperating with the Committee to be inacceptable and that was why it had appointed a special rapporteur on reprisals during its previous session.
A representative of Russia raised the issue of the list of issues prior to reporting as a basis for a dialogue with the Committee and said that its experience in transitioning to the new system was slightly negative. How would negative experiences of States parties be taken into account during the evaluation? Russia noted that the Committee’s follow-up procedures were rather burdensome for States as they required almost daily interaction with the Committee and asked about developments in relation to the consolidated reporting calendar and in reducing the backlog in communications. What was the practice of the Committee in examining a State party in the absence of a report and a delegation?
A representative of the United Kingdom said that it would base its next report on the list of issues prior to reporting and asked about the position of the Committee on some of the proposals emerging from the ongoing treaty bodies strengthening process, particularly on the fixed reporting calendar or master calendar which the United Kingdom supported.
The Chairperson said that the purpose of the list of issues prior to reporting was to have a more focused dialogue and to avoid the old two-step process in which States needed to prepare their reports and then also answer the list of issues asked by the Committee on that report. This would reduce the time needed to report and translation costs. The Committee was always in the process of evaluating new methods of work and wished to hear about experiences of States in this regard. The Committee itself did not have a backlog on communications; the backlog existed in the Secretariat which did not have sufficient resources to deal in a timely manner with the communications it received. There was a need to discuss the reporting calendar as there were 26 States parties to the Convention against Torture which had a delay of 22 years in submitting their initial reports. This situation could not continue and the proposals by the High Commissioner and others were looking into finding a solution. The key issue in the Addis Ababa process was the principle of the independence of the treaty bodies, which must be respected.
A Committee Expert said that the list of issues prior to reporting was an innovation of this Committee as a matter of necessity in order to condense and speed up the dialogue; many States and other Committees liked this new method of work. The Committee had noted the proposal on the comprehensive reporting calendar which it found could help with reporting backlogs and thought it required adequate human and financial resources and the cooperation by States. The Expert raised the issue of non-reporting States and expressed concern that it was ignored in the discussions on the fixed reporting calendar. Another Expert proposed a clear agenda for future meetings with States parties. The reports examined in absentia were never a surprise and States parties were reminded well in advance to submit their reports, noted another Expert, adding that the issue of non-reporting should be brought to the attention of the meeting of States parties by States themselves.
A representative of Venezuela noted the progress in the international community with regard to protecting human dignity and preventing torture and inhuman treatment, largely possible due to the work of the Committee. The Committee and the Secretariat should respect geographical balance and equitable geographical representation. Venezuela was not in favour of a fixed reporting calendar which did not respect the conditions in individual States which varied from each other.
A representative of the United States reiterated that reprisals against those cooperating with human rights bodies and mechanisms were inacceptable and expressed support for the activities of the Committee in this regard. The United States also supported the independence of treaty bodies to set up their own rules of procedures and had serious questions on anything that could infringe on that independence.
The Chairperson noted that in addition to geographical balance, balance in gender representation must be considered.
A representative of China said that States parties were drivers in the implementation of the Convention and hoped that the Committee would give consideration to the proposals given by the States and accept them accordingly. The Committee’s working methods should be within the limits of the Convention itself. Concerning the list of issues prior to reporting, China noted that both the old and new systems had their merits and said that the choice of reporting methods should be optional and should be chosen by the Member State under review.
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson thanked the States taking part in the discussion and said that their views were indispensable for the legitimacy of the Committee’s decisions. The Committee would also hold a dialogue with civil society since it was another crucial actor and stakeholder.
For use of the information media; not an official record