COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE MEETS WITH STATES PARTIES TO DISCUSS WORKING METHODS
14 May 2012
The Committee against Torture this afternoon met with States parties to discuss its working methods in the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee, welcomed the open dialogue with Member States, which he said was an annual informal meeting to exchange views and allow States parties to discuss compliance. Last year the General Assembly granted the Committee against Torture an additional week per session, which had allowed the Committee to increase the number of reports considered, the handling of individual cases, and adoption of more lists of issues in each session. This year the Committee against Torture would again request additional meeting time from the General Assembly.
In the discussion, States parties asked about the Committee’s new procedure of sending out lists of issues prior to reporting and before receiving the report, and agreed that it was a positive reform that would allow a more efficient use of resources. Some States parties asked about the proposal by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to have a ‘master calendar’ which could increase the level of reporting without increasing the reporting burden on Member States, while another asked about issues related to the use of video conferencing of public meetings.
The Chairperson and Committee Experts, in reply to the issues raised by Member States, said the new procedure relating to lists of issues came about for three reasons: to focus on matters of importance, to allow for flexibility, and to deal with financial constraints. So far there had been a tremendously positive response from States parties to the reform. Experts spoke about the reasons for producing General Comments, including strengthening the Committee’s legitimacy, and compared States’ compliance to treaty body deadlines (16 per cent of reports were received on time) to that of Universal Periodic Review deadlines (93 per cent). Video conferencing and webcasting was the best way of publicizing the public meetings of the Committee and the main issue was that States parties who opposed the use of webcasting must explain their opposition.
States parties who addressed the meeting were Tunisia, Chile, United Kingdom, United States and Denmark.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 May, it will consider the initial report of Rwanda (CAT/C/RWA/1).
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, welcomed the open dialogue with Member States, which he said was an annual informal meeting to exchange views and allow States parties to discuss how they complied with their international obligations. Last year the General Assembly granted the Committee Against Torture an additional week per session, which had allowed the Committee, in each session, to increase the number of reports considered, the handling of individual cases, and adopt a minimum of ten lists of issues prior to reporting. The backlog of reports had been dramatically decreased, while the backlog of individual cases had not increased and currently stood at 100. This year the Committee against Torture would again go before the General Assembly, in October 2012, to request additional meeting time, while explaining to the General Assembly what it had done with the additional resources so far entrusted to it.
A representative of Tunisia raised the treaty body strengthening system, specifically touching upon the list of issues which were sent to State parties. The Committee said that they would evaluate the use of that list; could they possibly provide a preview of it today? A representative of Chile highlighted the importance of compensating victims of torture, which was not just a financial issue but also involved reparations of truth and recognition. The list of issues was very valuable and Chile would like to see other treaty bodies adopt the process.
The Chairperson replied that firstly, the list of issues allowed the expectations of the Committee to be highlighted and focus on matters of import. States were not students, and the Committee’s relationship to States was not that of a teacher. However, students always like to have the questions in advance, and it was helpful for States parties to know what matters were of importance to the Committee. Secondly, the list of issues prior to reporting was not a straightjacket. Thirdly, there were financial constraints: in the past the sequence would be a State party report was received, a list of issues was sent out, and then a report containing answers to the list of issues was received. That totalled three reports which all needed producing, translating and reproducing in paper form. The new procedure of sending out the list of questions prior to the report meant only two reports were needed, thus reducing costs and helping the planet. The metaphor of being a post office was no good for a treaty body. The new procedure was optional, but there had been a tremendously positive response from States parties.
A representative of the United Kingdom said that the Committee against Torture may say they were one of the smallest treaty bodies, but the United Kingdom regarded them as one of the most important. The efficient use of resources was a major concern and the new list of issues process was commendable; the United Kingdom would follow it in the future. Could the Committee provide frank accounts of how well the procedure worked for them? The United Kingdom referred to a proposal from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to distribute a ‘master calendar’ for reporting deadlines, which could lead to a greater level of reporting without increasing the reporting burden on Member States, and asked for the Committee’s thoughts on that.
A representative of the United States referred to the new list of issues procedure and said that they found the reform to be positive, and believed that it would focus interactive dialogues with reporting States parties. The representative asked whether the Committee had any experience of the use of video conferencing or webcasting for interactive dialogues with States parties, and what restrictions there were on it. A representative of Denmark also referred to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ proposal of having a master calendar, and said that would be a positive movement. Denmark commended the victim-centred approach favoured by the Committee and the Special Rapporteur, as seen in its General Comment. Could the Committee elaborate on the role of General Comments in its work?
The Chairperson said the conditions of legitimacy for an organ such as the Committee depended on several factors: the make-up of the Committee, the reasoning of what was done, the solidity of concluding observations, and communications. A General Comment really must increase legitimacy by stating publically to stakeholders the value of the Convention. Formulating a General Comment was not a vain pursuit that distracted the Committee; it was in fact extra work to improve legitimacy and value of its work. Only 14 per cent of States presented their reports on time to treaty bodies. A condition of legitimacy was no delay and everyone being treated equally. Currently, the treaty body system worked on a lack of compliance: if all States complied the system would collapse. Member States, the States parties, created the system and States parties were responsible for upholding it. Those were matters for debate, and very few counter proposals related to the collective obligation of States parties to comply. Harmonization of working methods was also a condition of legitimacy. The master calendar was one proposal, but what would happen to the States parties who did not meet those calendar deadlines? Regarding the United States’ question on video conferencing, the Chairperson emphasized that public meetings were public and what happened in them must be publicized: in many ways video conferencing and webcasting were the best way of doing that. Webcasting did raise questions of resources, but the main issue was that States parties who opposed the use of webcasting must explain their position: the burden of the proof was on them to explain why they opposed it.
A Committee Expert commented on the master calendar proposal, and agreed that State party compliance in submission of reports had been 14 per cent, although it had perhaps now increased to 16 per cent. Compliance of deadlines for State reports under the Universal Period Review was 93 per cent. The reasons for that considerable difference were many, but one of those was that the Universal Periodic Review procedure had a calendar, making it easier for States to plan their reporting obligations. A long-term master calendar would help avoid the problem within the treaty body system of some States reporting within their deadlines while other States did not report for 20 years. Another Expert commented that only two non-Western States had taken the floor so far and hoped that representatives of all continents would provide their views. The Committee was small with few resources, albeit one that had compounded the defence in the fight against torture and worked on a truly international level. The strengthening of the procedures to deal with individual complaints was very important. There were attempts to strengthen the prohibition of torture, and the diligence of States in the prevention of torture, as well as of universal jurisdiction. The fight against terrorism was another important area.
An Expert said he was impressed by the quality and numbers of attendees from States parties today and thanked all present. There was no need to play the ‘blame game’ while discussing compliance, it was not just a problem of individual, recalcitrant States, it was everybody’s problem. The Committee needed to hear what States parties’ practical difficulties were in compiling reports, figures and statistics. The prevention of torture was not a question of survival of any nation; it was a question of the manner that this civilisation chooses to survive. An Expert said he 100 per cent agreed with the United Kingdom’s comment on the efficient use of resources, citing examples of the use of budget travel by Committee members. The request for an additional week was much needed, however, otherwise it was almost impossible for the Committee to fulfil its work within existing resources.
The Chairperson said he understood that the need for an integrated approach to the allocation of resources was very important, but that the Committee was not asking for extra resources, it was asking to keep what had already been given to it.
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