10 November 2015
The Committee against Torture concluded this afternoon its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Liechtenstein on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Presenting the report, Martin Frick, Director of the Office for Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, stated that the simplified reporting procedure implemented by the Committee was of particular importance to Liechtenstein, due to its limited human resources. Liechtenstein was a longstanding supporter of a strong and independent treaty body system, which was amongst the main pillars of the United Nations human rights system. Significant legal improvements in accordance with the Convention had been achieved in recent years. The revised Code of Criminal Procedure expressly stipulated that every suspect and accused person might consult a lawyer prior to every questioning and that a lawyer could attend the questioning. The Code also provided that, at the express request of the questioned person, an audio and video recording of any questioning could be made. Due to the Dublin Rules and its geographic location, Liechtenstein was in most cases not in charge of asylum proceedings and therefore the number of persons who were effectively granted asylum was relatively low.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts praised Liechtenstein for the absence of any cases of torture since its accession to the Convention. They wanted to know about the existence of a separate offence of torture in Liechtenstein’s legislation and asked for details on the work of the national preventive mechanism. Questions were raised about the functioning of the asylum system and the list of countries of origin considered as safe by Liechtenstein, medical examinations and support provided to asylum seekers, conditions in the Vaduz National Prison, especially with regard to the situation of the often sole female prisoner, and the provision of health services. Other issues discussed included the acceptance of Syrian refugees, procedures for investigating police abuse, the non-existence of a national human rights institution, and bilateral agreements with Switzerland and Austria to accept Liechtenstein’s prisoners serving longer sentences.
Mr. Frick, in concluding remarks, said that the dialogue had provided an opportunity to review the implementation of the Convention. It was a useful tool to consider various contemporary challenges related to torture and ill-treatment. Liechtenstein would continue to attach great importance to the issue of torture and ill-treatment and would continue to pursue its policy of zero tolerance.
The delegation of Liechtenstein included representatives of the Office for Foreign Affairs, National Police, Office for Migration and the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 11 November, at 10 a.m. to start its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Azerbaijan (CAT/C/AZE/4).
The fourth periodic report of Liechtenstein can be read here: CAT/C/LIE.4.
Presentation of the Report
MARTIN FRICK, Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, stated that strengthening the rule of law and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms were the guiding principles in Liechtenstein’s national policy. The protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms was not mere rhetoric, but was rather embodied by all sectors in the society. Liechtenstein advocated for full compliance with human rights standards in regional and international fora.
Mr. Frick said that the simplified reporting procedure implemented by the Committee was of particular importance to Liechtenstein, due to its limited human resources. Liechtenstein was a longstanding supporter of a strong and independent treaty body system, which was seen as one of the main pillars of the United Nations human rights system. Since its entry into force in December 2006, Liechtenstein had attached great importance to the Optional Protocol of the Convention as a prevention instrument to the country’s legal framework for the protection against torture and other ill-treatment. The Corrections Commission, which was also designated as the national preventive mechanism, had added a key instrument for the review of the implementation of the country’s obligations under the Convention. In 2014, several visits had been paid to the Vaduz National Prison and the Schlossgarten Retirement and Nursing Home, largely without prior notice.
Significant legal improvements in accordance with the Convention had been achieved in recent years. The revised Code of Criminal Procedure expressly stipulated that every suspect and accused person might consult a lawyer prior to every questioning and that a lawyer could attend the questioning. The Code also provided that, at the express request of the questioned person, an audio and video recording of any questioning could also be made. Significant legal adaptations had also been achieved regarding the protection of victims from domestic violence, which was considered by many as a contemporary form of torture and ill-treatment. Victims of criminal offences had to be informed of their rights and notified of the release of the accused from detention and of the case’s progress. The revocation or non-renewal of a residence permit could be waived when the spouse was a victim of domestic violence. Women and girls who were victims of human trafficking and whose claims to international protection fell within the scope of the definition of refugees were recognized as refugees in Liechtenstein and granted asylum.
Liechtenstein, as an associated member of the Schengen/Dublin area, formed part of the European asylum system. Due to the Dublin Rules and its geographic location, Liechtenstein was in most cases not in charge of asylum proceedings and therefore the number of persons who were effectively granted asylum was relatively low. Liechtenstein ranked among the top donors with its current Official Development Assistance of 0.75 per cent. Compared to its small population of 37,000 inhabitants, Liechtenstein had made several commitments to host more than 65 asylum seekers and refugees. Liechtenstein was also the largest per capita donor to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and was a longstanding supporter of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. The State party had also established significant long-term relations with the World Organization against Torture and the Association for the Prevention of Torture. Liechtenstein’s broad and strong financial commitments complemented its efforts on the national and international level and underlined its full compliance in the fight against torture and other ill-treatment.
Questions by Experts
ALESSIO BRUNI, Committee Expert and Country Co-rapporteur for Liechtenstein, said that there were no allegations of torture concerning Liechtenstein, which was a rare and commendable situation in today’s world.
He asked about the current situation on the inclusion of a separate offence of torture in the Criminal Code. What was being done to abolish the statute of limitations to that crime?
Was audio and video recording not normally used, unless the arrested person asked for it explicitly? A clarification was sought. It was a useful tool for the development of an investigation by the police and a sort of protection for the police against false declarations of ill-treatment.
How did the Government guarantee the independence of members of the Corrections Commission as the national preventive mechanism?
Mr. Bruni asked whether Liechtenstein had a specific system of medical screening of asylum seekers aimed at identifying victims of torture. How did the authorities responsible for the decision on expulsion deal with an asylum seeker who claimed that he would be in danger of being subject to torture if he was returned to his home country or his country of origin? Which were the cases of asylum seekers for which Liechtenstein was responsible?
The Expert asked how the list of 17 safe countries, other than the European Union countries, had been drawn up.
What was the impact on Liechtenstein of the latest wave of asylum seekers fleeing the war in the Middle East? Had some of them been relocated to Liechtenstein?
A question was asked on the living conditions of asylum seekers in detention. Were they kept in the same premises as persons imprisoned under criminal law, and were women asylum seekers separated from men?
The official capacity of the only prison in Liechtenstein was 20 persons, and overcrowding there was practically inexistent, for which the Government should be lauded. The shortage of space in the prison had a negative impact on work and leisure activities of prisoners and their return to social life. Women detainees were often alone and did not have the possibility of interaction with other women.
How many prisoners were currently serving their sentences in Austria, in line with a 1982 bilateral treaty?
SATYABHOOSUN GUPT DOMAH, Committee Expert and Country Co-rapporteur for Liechtenstein, said that it was the first time during his tenure at the Committee that there was a case of a country without torture. Nonetheless, the world was in a flux, and efforts needed to be made to maintain the current situation. How could it be ensured that what had been achieved until today would be maintained?
The Expert asked about the information on the Convention against Torture provided to law and judicial officers. Had the courts in Liechtenstein ever invoked the Convention? Had there been a specific chapter on torture at the reported human rights round table?
A question was asked about improvements tried at the Vaduz National Prison. Had there been any changes regarding investigation rules and practices?
While there had been no allegations of torture in Liechtenstein, did this also include cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment or punishment?
Could the delegation provide information on the status of the law on torture being invoked as evidence in judicial proceedings?
Another Expert referred to the detention of minors and asked how that was implemented in practice. Could minor migrants be detained?
A question was asked about the number of appeals on decisions on asylum requests and the results of those. How about the number of people sent back?
Were investigators of police abuse always taken from the ranks of the police themselves?
The issue of training of forensic doctors in line with the Istanbul Protocol was raised by an Expert. What was the situation of the health staff in the prison?
Had there been efforts to establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles, another Expert asked.
A question was asked whether the national prison was under the authority of the Ministry of Justice.
Could the delegation explain why prosecutors did not receive training on the Convention? How about the police and new recruits? More information was sought about the organization of the court system.
The delegation was asked whether the women’s shelter was a non-governmental or governmental body.
Another Expert asked if any prisoners were placed to Swiss prisons, in line with a bilateral treaty. Could the National Preventive Mechanism from Liechtenstein visit those and the prisoners incarcerated in Austria? An update on the status of the two bilateral treaties from 1982 was sought.
Cases of human trafficking were also invoked by the Expert, who asked for an update. Did Liechtenstein investigate the background of persons who came to work from Switzerland and had Swiss working permits?
The Expert brought up the exculpatory provision on marital rape in Liechtenstein’s legislation and asked for an update.
Details were sought on granting a residence permit in child custody cases.
An Expert asked about the gravity of sentences for State agents involved in degrading treatment and torture, and commented that they could be considered as too low.
The cases of two juveniles kept in long pre-trial detention in 2011 were raised – could the delegation provide more information in that respect?
The delegation was asked to provide its evaluation of the Magdalena prevention project.
Was there guidance on specific conditions for providing asylum for women?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said that the amendment to the Criminal Code was being examined, including on the definition of torture. It would explicitly prohibit torture and any other inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The Working Group’s report would be presented to the Government in June 2016. The Working Group was also analysing the issue related to the statute of limitations.
The equality of all citizens before the law had been the core of its system since 1921. The principle of equal treatment under the law applied to all foreigners.
For several of the international conventions it had ratified, Liechtenstein had accepted the right of individuals to submit complaints to treaty bodies. The Constitutional Court was the highest instance at the national level, which could accept and consider individual complaints. No constitutional amendment in that regard was being currently considered.
Liechtenstein had abolished the military in the nineteenth century, the delegation informed.
In 2012, the Government had adopted a proposal to establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles. After certain reservations had been expressed, the new Government had decided to revise the draft bill thoroughly.
On the list of secure countries of origin, it was clarified that it was updated periodically, the last time being in March 2015. Ukraine had been taken off the list of safe countries. There were 17 countries on the list of safe countries, in addition to the European Union Member States, for historical reasons as there had been no asylum applications from other countries. Each case of asylum was dealt with individually, even for those countries on the secure list.
Medical necessities were first checked when there was an asylum application. If there were signs of torture, psychosocial and medical treatment was provided.
There would always be an individual investigation to establish whether a deportation was possible or not, and if a person would face torture in his country, he would definitely not be sent back.
Until now, six Syrian families with 23 members had been resettled to Liechtenstein, in cooperation with the United Nations Refugee Agency. There had been cases of torture among them; they were receiving all the necessary refugee assistance.
The detention of minors under the age of 15 was not applicable; between 15 and 18, it was limited to a maximum of three months. There had been no cases of the administrative detention of minors since 2010.
Regarding the National Prison, the delegation stressed it was one single prison for the whole country with the capacity of 20 persons. Men and women were always separated and no facilities were mixed; there were 17 places for men and three for women. There had never been three women serving sentences at the same time. If there was a lone woman in the prison, some relief of restrictions were in place – for example, she would be allowed more visiting time and a psychologist would regularly come to talk to her.
There was no separate department for juveniles; they were detained in the same prison, usually for pre-trial detention. They were kept in the women’s section, as there were normally no women kept in the prison.
Different categories of prisoners could not be separated. Every prisoner had their own single cell; they mixed during the day when they worked or socialized together.
The bilateral agreement with Austria had been concluded because at that time Austria had had superior facilities which, inter alia, provided prisoners with educational opportunities. Those serving for up to two years would do so in the National Prison in Vaduz.
No permanent medical staff worked in the prison because it was too small. All doctors and nurses were private practitioners who had contracts with the State authorities and would come as needed.
The National Preventive Mechanism had five members, a delegate explained. At least two of them had to be independent, meaning not working for the State. No current State employee had ever been appointed a member of the Commission.
There was a special decision by the Government that as soon as the police received an allegation against its officers, it would be looked at by the prosecution service from the very beginning. The prosecutors would cooperate with three senior police officers on the investigation. There could be no independent police unit investigating police abuse of power, given the size of the country and the number of such cases, which did not exceed two per year.
The delegation stressed Liechtenstein’s strong and honest commitment to promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms. Strengthening and promoting human rights nationally was an ongoing process and there was always something more which could be improved. Liechtenstein was on the right track to maintain its very high standards, particularly with regard to the prevention of torture and other ill-treatment.
Civil society played a crucial role in the State party and had been informed about the current report.
The delegation said that ordinary jurisdiction was distinguished from jurisdiction under public law. The Court of Justice, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court constituted the three instances. The Constitutional Court could be appealed to as an extraordinary remedy, if constitutional rights were concerned. It closely followed the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. It also consulted decisions of the constitutional courts of Austria and Switzerland.
Judges were not subject to any influence when exercising their duties. They were elected by the Parliament and appointed by the Head of State. If there was no agreement in the Parliament, candidates would be subject to popular vote.
On the question on how to decide if a person was criminally liable, a delegate explained that there was always a psychiatric report in that regard. Judges were then bound to that report.
Liechtenstein had been supporting activities of the Association for the Prevention of Torture, and since 2008, it had donated more than CHF 1.4 million to it.
Regarding the Magdalena Project, in 2006, the Round Table on Human Trafficking had been founded in order to link the agencies that were potentially concerned with cases of human trafficking and to coordinate the efforts in combatting that form of criminality. The Round Table dealt with any cases of human trafficking in Liechtenstein and increased the probability of exposing such cases significantly.
Regular inspections of nightclubs with dancers in Liechtenstein were conducted by the National Police and the Immigration and Passport Office. The dancers were regularly involved with the Round Table. There was no street sex business in Liechtenstein. If a nightclub dancer had worked in Switzerland before coming to Liechtenstein, there was no special investigation of human trafficking. Upon entry, all dancers had to attend an information session in order to be able to work and get the residence permit. As of 2016, there would be no more third country nationals coming to Liechtenstein as night club dancers.
Only two cases of human trafficking had been reported thus far – one had been closed and one was still under investigation.
The Liechtenstein Women’s Home was a shelter for women victims of domestic violence; it was run by a non-governmental organization, but supported by the Government.
The delegation said that the second opinion of an independent expert was consulted before compulsory hospitalization.
Courts could not reduce sentences for spousal rape if the victim decided to remain with the abusive spouse. There was no longer special treatment of spousal rape.
Turning to the questions on asylum, a delegate said that between 2010 and 2015, out of 186 asylum applications lodged by women, only nine had included gender specific grounds and/or violence against women. All asylum cases were dealt with individually and an in-depth analysis was always conducted. The Asylum Ordinance did not distinguish between men or women.
In the same period, 26 asylum seekers had been granted asylum in Liechtenstein, and an additional three persons with temporary admission had been granted a residence permit. Out of the 56 appeals against negative asylum decisions, three had been successful. Since 2010, 104 persons had been returned to their country of origin.
The revocation of a residence permit could be refrained from if there were important personal reasons, such as the wellbeing of children or domestic violence.
In general, asylum seekers did not face administrative detention as long as their application was pending. Such persons could be detained only if an asylum application had been finally rejected to secure the expulsion if there was a justified risk of absconding. It was difficult to elaborate on the reasons on why some asylum seekers had absconded.
A delegate said that the Government would ask eminent persons if they would be interested in serving in the national preventive mechanism. At least two had to be female and at least two could not be actively working for the State. The Government had no power to give them any orders. The Corrections Commission was financially compensated on the basis of the number of meetings held and expenses by the President and members of the Commission.
The mandate of the Corrections Commission was focused on the conditions of the prison in Liechtenstein. Austria had its own mechanism in place. If a Liechtenstein prisoner was serving his sentence in an Austrian prison and was treated unjustly, he had the right to complain all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights. Once a month, there were meetings between Liechtenstein and Austrian prison authorities.
In the National Prison, every personal detention room had the area of 12 square meters. Only one room was used as a double room for specific cases only. Three separate rooms were reserved for women or juveniles. As soon as the male inmate population rose to 14 persons, a transfer of prisoners to Austrian prisons started. There were thus no problems of overcrowding. The population in a referendum had rejected the project of expanding prison capacities; their decision was binding for the Parliament and the Government.
A political decision on the continuation of the bilateral treaties with Austria and Switzerland should be brought soon. Liechtenstein prisoners could serve their general sentences in nearby Innsbruck in Austria; violent and drug offenders, on the other hand, would serve their sentences in other, more appropriate prisons in Austria.
Only a medical doctor could decide which medicaments could be given to which inmates in the National Prison, the delegation informed.
Ill-treatment also covered humiliating treatment, including humiliating verbal abuse, and it could lead to between two and ten years in prison. Liechtenstein had been a member of the Council of Europe for decades, and thus was subject to the European Court of Human Rights.
Police were not allowed to hood arrested persons; black goggles could be put on them in only two exceptional cases. SWAT teams wore masks when carrying out dangerous operations.
The prosecutor led investigations in Liechtenstein, the delegation explained.
The penal system in Liechtenstein was based on classical interrogation in writing. Interviews were thus normally taken down in writing; persons involved would sign the document afterwards. Even if there were video or audio files, their transcripts would need to be prepared. Audio and video recordings were mandatory in some cases, such as minors, or with persons not cooperating, and to protect police officers against possible later allegations.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert asked for details on the mandate of the Working Group dealing with the definition of torture in the Criminal Code.
Which category of asylum requests was considered directly by Liechtenstein instead of being sent back to Austria and Switzerland?
A question was asked whether it would be possible to have a separation in the prison between inmates and those in administrative detention.
Automatic audio-video recording could serve as an automatic safeguard, the Expert said.
Another Expert said that Liechtenstein could serve as an example to the world as a country with zero torture that contributed significant sums to the global efforts against torture.
The Expert asked for clarification on whether Liechtenstein had a definition of torture as per the definition of the Convention.
Nurses were important liaisons between prisoners and doctors; in their absence, prison guards had to act as such, which was not recommendable. It could also sometimes lead to the breach of medical confidentiality, and they might not be qualified for maintaining the in-prison pharmacy. Thus, a revision of the current system could be advised.
More information was sought on the training of the police.
An Expert raised the issue of sentencing of foreign citizens and where they would serve their sentence. She expressed disapproval of covering the eyes of some persons in the course of their arrests, comparing it to Guantanamo Bay.
Was the Convention directly applicable in Liechtenstein?
The delegation was asked to provide further details on reasons for pre-trial detention and who would decide on that.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the Convention was an integral part of Liechtenstein’s legislation, which was based on a monist system. Specific provisions were thus self-executing and directly applicable.
The Working Group did not need to examine whether it was feasible, but whether it made sense to introduce a new provision into the Criminal Code. Liechtenstein shared the same legal culture and almost identical legal system with Austria; if Austria introduced a new provision to its Criminal Code, Liechtenstein was likely to follow suit. There were no linguistic barriers for Liechtenstein prisoners in Austrian prisons.
Liechtenstein was committed to working hard to keeping its human rights record intact.
There were no different categories of asylum requests: all foreigners had the right to apply for international protection. When somebody applied for asylum, it was first checked whether that person had already applied for asylum elsewhere within the Dublin Area. If that was not the case, Liechtenstein would conduct the regular examination of the claim.
Administrative detention might be decided by the Migration and Passport Office, but if it was longer than 96 hours, it had to be reviewed by the Court of Justice.
The delegation informed that police officers were trained in nearby institutions in eastern Switzerland, together with future Swiss police officers. Part of their curriculum was human rights training; during that course, students needed to pass three examinations. A special module was offered on human trafficking, ill-treatment and torture. Liechtenstein prison wards were also trained in Switzerland.
Having a prison system just for Liechtenstein without the use of the neighbouring countries’ systems did not make sense for objective reasons. In many areas, Liechtenstein was too small to develop professional solutions on its own.
The delegation understood the point made on the audio and video recording of interrogations. Making such a practice automatic should be possible in the future; an amendment to the Legal Procedures Code would be needed in that respect.
Doctors visited the National Prison quite frequently, at least once a week, or whenever there was an emergency situation. Nurses could indeed serve as a bridge between the prisoners and the doctor. Medical confidentiality was also a legitimate concern, which would be considered.
The delegation described as unacceptable the comparison with Guantanamo Bay. The practice during arrest procedures in Liechtenstein was in line with compliance with the European Court of Human Rights. Putting temporary eye cover on those imprisoned had been used in just three cases in recent years, more specifically for the Pink Panther gang, and the purpose was to protect the identity of police officers involved in the action.
MARTIN FRICK, Director of the Office for Foreign Affairs, said that the dialogue had provided an opportunity to review the implementation of the Convention. It was a useful tool to consider various contemporary challenges related to torture and ill-treatment. The rapporteurs were thanked for their detailed interventions. Liechtenstein would continue to attach great importance to the issue of torture and ill-treatment and would continue to pursue its policy of zero tolerance.
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