Experts also Discuss Hate-driven Speech and the Rise of Extreme Right-wing Parties; Detention of Migrants, including Children; Police Violence against Refugees and Migrants; and the Repatriation of Spouses and Children of Foreign Fighters
16 October 2019
The Human Rights Committee today concluded its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Belgium on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, during which the Experts discussed fundamental safeguards in the fight against terrorism, detention in the context of migration, excessive use of force and police violence, and the repatriation of wives and children of foreign combatants, among others.
The Experts commended the efforts to fight terrorism while maintaining human rights protection standards but were concerned about insufficient conformity of counter-terrorism measures with the principle of legality. They urged Belgium to strengthen safeguards and ensure that those measures did not erode individual protections or the right to privacy.
The delegation said that Belgium had recently adopted a law on terrorist organizations that had introduced a better categorization of the crime of terrorism and had defined a range of sentences, based on the principle of equality before the law. Safeguards existed for each of the available measures - wiretaps, collection and retention of passenger data, and use of intelligent cameras; they could only be used with a prior written warrant and were subject to an oversight by independent bodies.
Raising concern about the rise of extremist right-wing parties and the impact it had on the rights of minorities, an Expert remarked that according to non-governmental organizations, the authorities seemed powerless to stem the flow of hate-driven speech, particularly online, and to ban hatred-inciting organizations. Detention in the immigration context was another “hot button topic”, the Expert said, noting that the royal decree of July 2018 had introduced the detention for migrant families, including children.
A delegate stressed that the detention of asylum seekers was carried out based on the individual examination of files and was only applied if another, less coercive measure could not be applied, for example house arrest. All regulations were in line with European texts.
As for the detention of migrant children, the royal decree of July 2018 had established a separate and multidisciplinary system to properly respond to the needs of families staying illegally in Belgium. The Constitutional Court had found that the decree did not contravene with the relevant European and international legislation, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Police violence against refugees and migrants was cited as another problem. The delegation insisted that the excessive use of force and police violence, against migrants or any other person, was unlawful and that the use of violence was strictly regulated by the law on the police force and the Code of Ethics of the Police Force.
Concerned about the deteriorating situation in northeast Syria, the Experts asked how Belgium dealt with the “thorny issue” of the repatriation of wives and children of foreign fighters. Belgium, the delegation responded, had adopted the declaration of intention to allow the repatriation of children under the age of 10 should they fulfil the conditions to acquire Belgium nationality, while repatriation of children aged 10 to 18 was decided on a case-by-case basis, given a possibility of their involvement in ISIS operations. To date, six children had been repatriated, including one aged 10 to 18.
Geert Muylle, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in opening remarks, said that Belgium, as a member of the Group of Friends for the strengthening of the human rights treaty bodies, actively supported the implementation of United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/286.
Daniel Flore, Director-General of the General Directorate for Legislation, Freedom and Fundamental Rights, Federal Public Service for Justice of Belgium, introducing the report, said that the April 2019 law creating the Federal Institute for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was the first step in the establishment of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles. Following the 2014 and 2016 attacks in Brussels, Belgium had stepped up its fight against terrorism, which was, first and foremost, the fight for an equal and inclusive society.
Steps had been taken to strengthen the fight against gender-based violence, while a new law of May 2019 increased the transparency of public services, notably the Office for Foreigners, and enabled Parliament to exercise its function of control of the executive and the administration. Many initiatives had been taken to improve the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws and to effectively fight discrimination in the field of work and employment.
Mr. Muylle said in conclusion that the dialogue with the Human Rights Committee would trigger a significant thought process in all spheres of Government.
Tania María Abdo Rocholl, Committee Vice-Chair, in her concluding remarks, thanked Belgium for its unwavering support for treaty bodies and urged the Government to remove its reservations to the Covenant.
The delegation of Belgium was composed of representatives of the federal authorities, the French Community of Belgium and the Walloon Region, the Government of Flanders, as well as the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Belgium at the end of its one hundred and twenty-seventh session on 8 November. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.
All public meetings of the Human Rights Committee are webcast live at http://webtv.un.org/ while the meeting summaries in English and French can be accessed at the United Nations Office at Geneva’s News and Media page.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today to review the sixth periodic report of Mexico (CCPR/C/MEX/6).
The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of Belgium (CCPR/C/BEL/6).
Presentation of the Report
GEERT MUYLLE, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in opening remarks, said that Belgium, as a member of the Group of Friends for the strengthening of the human rights treaty bodies, actively supported the implementation of the United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/286. In the unique federal structure of Belgium, the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was in the remit of several federal and federated entities. The large Belgian delegation reflected the structure of the country after different institutional reforms.
DANIEL FLORE, Director-General of the General Directorate for Legislation, Freedom and Fundamental Rights, Federal Justice Service of Belgium, introducing the report, said that in April 2019, Belgium had created the Federal Institute for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which represented the first step in the establishment of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles. Following the 2014 and 2016 attacks in Brussels, Belgium had stepped up its fight against terrorism. A shared database had been set up to coordinate the information on the fight against violent extremism, including terrorism, with a view to reconcile the protection of the society with the respect of the rights protected under the Covenant. The fight against terrorism was, first and foremost, the fight for an equal and inclusive society, Mr. Flore stressed.
Belgium had taken steps to strengthen the fight against gender-based violence. The law of 5 May 2019 facilitated the recourse to the temporary residence ban and additional resources had been allocated to fund centres for victims of sexual violence. The national action plan against gender-based violence 2015-2019 was aligned with the Istanbul Convention and the new plan for the period 2020-2024 was being prepared.
As far as the situation of migrants and persons in need of international protection were concerned, Belgium had adopted a new law in May 2019 which had increased the transparency of public services, notably the Office for Foreigners, and enabled Parliament to exercise its function of control of the executive and the administration. The respect for fundamental rights, including in forced return, was guaranteed by the general inspection of the federal and local police, which had been tasked with the oversight of forced returns, and which discharged its mandate independently. The general inspection had participated in the European Forced Return Monitoring (FREM) project since 2016, while Belgium was an official member of the FREM III since 2018.
The inter-federal plan for the fight against discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons 2018-2019 contained 22 objectives and 115 measures to be implemented at the federal and federated levels. Implementing the recommendation made by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, which had visited the country in February 2019, Belgium had organized an event in June to proclaim the International Decade for People of African Descent.
Mr. Flore stressed that many initiatives had been taken to improve the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws and to effectively fight discrimination in the field of work and employment. Legal amendments had been adopted to fight the legal void concerning employees who took positive measures to boost the employment of persons with disabilities, older persons, women and persons of migrant background.
In conclusion, Mr. Flore said that the implementation of fundamental rights was a continuing process and that Belgium hoped to advance with its fundamental and legislative reforms.
Questions by the Committee Experts
At the beginning of the dialogue, an Expert noted that the Committee received very few complaints from Belgium, mostly because the bulk went to the European Court for Human Rights, and recalled that the decision in Sayadi and Vinck v Belgium case had been issued in 2008. During the 2010 review of Belgium, the Committee had identified the lack of a mechanism to implement its concluding observations domestically. Was it possible for a judge to invoke the Covenant in decisions? Belgium had made several reservations to the Covenant – would it continue to maintain them?
The Committee welcomed the establishment of the Federal Institute for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights as an important step towards a national human rights institution as per the Paris Principles. The delegation was asked about the challenges in setting it up and the foreseen challenges in the implementation of its mandate, especially considering that the law which had established the Institute had been adopted by a vote of 92 in favour, 43 against and three abstentions. How would the activities be coordinated with the other three institutions with a mandate to promote and protect human rights?
The Committee took positive note of the legislative and policy developments in preventing discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and gender expression and remarked on the important divergence between the regions. Would there be an integrated gender equality approach across the State? What was being done to guarantee the protection of the rights of intersex persons, especially in relation to irreversible surgeries?
The Expert expressed concern about the persistent gender wage gap and asked what Belgium was doing to ensure that female members of the society were paid the same as its male members. How were companies and entities sanctioned for not meeting the gender quotas?
Another Expert commended the efforts to fight terrorism while maintaining the human rights protection standards. He raised concern about the ambiguity in certain provisions on terrorist offences and their conformity with the principle of legality. The changes in the laws and practices in the maintenance of professional secrecy might get in the way of allowing professional help to persons in need, he said. What changes had been introduced in the context of “case consultations” and “cellules de sécurité intégrale locales” and what safeguards were in place to ensure that they did not erode basic individual protections?
Belgium, as a matter of principle, did not extend consular assistance to foreign fighters, including in situations in which they were under a threat of serious human rights violations. How was Belgium dealing with the thorny issue of repatriation of women and children? Was Belgium monitoring the recently deteriorating situation in northern Syria?
In the Yaker v France case, the Committee had reviewed the question of the full-head coverage ban in public spaces in France, which it considered an unjustified restriction on the freedom to manifest religion and a form of discrimination against Muslim women. Belgium justified its facial ban also on the gender equality grounds, even though it recognized that the law might place more constraints on certain Muslim women in exercising some of their freedoms. Was it possible that the law was inspired by discriminatory motives, i.e. Islamophobia, and what was its impact on the marginalization of full-face veiled Muslim women? Another Expert denounced the continued discrimination against women and girls who wore headscarves.
Belgium had made remarkable efforts to harmonize the prosecution of negationism, racial discrimination and hate crimes, while the 2013 law had made it possible for authorities to increase penalties for any assaults triggered by discrimination. In 2017, the law on an incremental sanction regime in the area of work had been adopted - all those demonstrated political commitment to change things. The Institute for General Equality, however, had stressed the lack of effectiveness of the laws and the measures taken. Did the delegation agree with this assessment, and if so, what could the Government do to render the anti-discrimination laws more effective?
At the latest elections, extreme right-wing parties had scored high, putting at risk the rights of minorities. What mechanism was in place to manage the tension between the fragility of democratic electoral systems and the obligation to protect human rights? Regarding populism, on the one hand democrats could not deny what happened in elections, even though it was not always consistent with human rights, and that needed to be balanced with the protection of human rights.
At its last Universal Periodic Review, Belgium had stated that it would not adopt a general law that banned hatred-inciting organizations, arguing that its laws allowed it to act effectively to counter them. Belgium had launched an awareness raising campaign in this field, among other actions. Despite the laws in place, the authorities seemed powerless to stem the flow of hate-driven speech, particularly online. Press crimes were tried by criminal courts except when they were motivated by racism; thus, Islamophobic or homophobic speech were rarely prosecuted. Was this assessment correct?
Would Belgium ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe which it had signed in 2001?
The Committee welcomed the adoption of the law prohibiting all forms of violence against women and raised concern about the magnitude of gender-based violence and the under-reporting of these crimes.
Replies by the Delegation
Belgium believed that its interpretative declarations and reservations to the Covenant still applied, as recently established by a comprehensive review of the reservations that the authorities had conducted.
As far as the national human rights institution was concerned, the delegation confirmed that there were several institutions in the country that addressed specific human rights topics at the federal and federated entities levels. Those included the Institute for Gender Equality, the College of the Ombudspersons in Wallonia, and others. The Federal Institute for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights would be a national human rights institution that would be consistent with the Paris Principles and would cover all residual issues not already dealt with by the existing institutions, including freedom of expression, cultural rights and counter-terrorism.
A consultation committee would be set up in which each human rights protection body would be represented, and the progress in the setting up of this institution would be defined in the cooperative agreement between the federal and federative entities.
A representative of the Flemish Government said that a new coalition had been in place for 10 days and that the existing cooperation agreement would expire in 2023. At its end, the Flemish Centre for Equal Opportunities would be put in place and would pursue the Paris Principles accreditation. This decision would not have an impact on the setting up of the federal institution, another delegate said.
According to the 2019 law, intermediate support to terrorist organizations, participation in terrorist groups and the leading of terrorist organizations were prohibited. This law had introduced a better categorization of the crimes and had also defined a range of sentences, more in tune with the criminal behaviour based on the principle of equality before the law.
Recently, the law on the victims of crimes, including victims of terrorism, had been amended. It had introduced, inter alia, simplified procedures for the victims of terrorism, increased the compensation to €125,000, and provided support for legal costs. As per the 2017 law, the victims of terrorism, including those who did not live in Belgium, had the right to the statute of national solidarity which includes a card, reimbursement of medical costs, and support for the loss of disability of more than 10 per cent.
To prevent radicalization in prisons, terrorism-related detainees were housed in specialized sections, where they were held separate from other detainees. This was not, by any mean, a solitary confinement and detainees had the right to maximum human contact.
As for the right to privacy in the fight against terrorism, the delegation said that safeguards existed for each of the available measures, such as wiretaps, the collection and retention of passenger data, the use of intelligent surveillance cameras, and others. The principles of subsidiarity and proportionality had been established and every recourse to such measures must be justified. Their use was subject to a prior written warrant and was subjected to an oversight by the independent bodies.
Belgium was clear in its position concerning foreign combatants in that it was preferable to try them where the offences had been committed. This was conditional on the defendant being ensured full compliance with fundamental safeguards and human rights, access to a lawyer and the non-imposition of the death penalty.
In 2017, Belgium had reviewed its anti-discrimination legislation and had made a list of those to be revised to strengthen the protection from discrimination. In September 2018, the expert committee had begun hearing from actors in the field in order to draft new recommendations on the legal amendments. A review of the Flemish and Walloon anti-discrimination legislation had been initiated in 2018 and its results were expected in May 2020. An anti-discrimination action plan based on the pillars of equality, diversity and public and community action was being implemented in the Francophone regions. The Greater Brussels Region and the Flanders also had anti-discrimination action plans.
The European Court of Human Rights had ruled that prohibiting employees from wearing religious symbols at work was not in violation of the European equality directive. It was up to the employers to demonstrate that the religious neutrality was a legitimate cause of concern. Prohibiting religious symbols should be equally implemented and should not focus on only one symbol, i.e. the Islamic headscarf.
Belgium had launched in 2016 the European Union Code of Conduct to counter illegal online hate speech, in cooperation with large Internet companies such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google.
The ratification of the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities required an agreement of all federal and federated entities. Belgium was at the moment between two legislatures; the Government was running at the local level but not yet at the federal level.
Responding to the questions raised on the face veil ban, the delegation said that everyone had to have their faces uncovered in public. Democratic society could only work when people could see each other’s faces because human communication ultimately went through the face. The priority must be on enabling a minimum level of facial contact between members, regardless of age, gender or faith. Sanctions for the violation of the facial veil ban were minimal.
Since 2017, social renters had to demonstrate a minimum level of the language in order to access housing. Previously, the renters had to demonstrate only the willingness to learn the language. The rule had been changed to achieve a legitimate objective to foster the communication between the social renter and the landlord and to ensure the safety and quality of life in social housing complexes. The was no language requirement before the signing of the lease and the renter had a year to demonstrate the minimum level of the language. Each renter enjoyed security of the lease and could not be removed even if the level of language was not obtained.
The gender wage gap in Belgium was the smallest in Europe and had been constantly shrinking since 2001. At the federal level, a campaign targeted fathers on the question of paternal leave, a Flemish committee to combat gender wage gap was in place, there was an online tool called gender click, and measures were being taken to improve the balance between family and professional life. Since 2017, private companies that were listed in the stock exchange had an obligation to ensure gender equality in the governing board; the implementation of the obligation was deferred to 2019 for small- and medium-size enterprises.
The delegation recognized the trend of under-reporting of rape and sexual violence and said that more awareness was needed to inform the victims of the tools they had to report the crime. There were three centres for the care of victims of gender-based violence; 68 per cent of victims who had received support in those centres had decided to press charges.
Questions by Committee Experts
Starting the second round of questions, an Expert referred to the dynamic databanks introduced after the Brussels terrorist attacks and raised concern about the introduction of a rather broad category of people - “hate preachers” – which included persons whose behaviour did not constitute criminal incitement. How could people ascertain that they were not included in the databank and what was the role of the Data Protection Authority – formerly the Privacy Commission – in the management of this databank?
The delegation was asked about the implications of the deteriorating situation in Syria on Belgian foreign fighters, their spouses and children. The Experts wanted to know what the policy was regarding the repatriation of women and children, the procedure in place and the timelines for its completion. Was the State monitoring the trials of Belgian foreign fighters abroad?
The Committee had raised the issue of the full-face veil ban because it was discriminatory and exacerbated the marginalization of certain groups of women, the Experts said.
Turning to torture and ill treatment, they urged Belgium to harmonize the definition of torture with international standards. The Experts asked about the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and any steps taken to ensure that the use of evidence procured by suspected torture abroad would not be deployed in Belgian courts. Because of the fragmentation and lack of coordination between police oversight bodies, it was difficult to have a comprehensive overview of all complaints of torture and ill treatment filed against police officers, they noted with concern.
One of the Committee’s major concerns related to non-refoulment, to Sudan in particular. An Expert asked how the returned people had been treated subsequently, whether there was proper risk assessment, and about the role of Sudanese officials in selecting returnees.
Detention in the immigration context was another “hot button topic”, an Expert said, as Belgium had become de facto a transit country for migrants. The royal decree of July 2018 had raised concern as it had been seen as the introduction of detention for migrants’ families and migrant children. What changes would be introduced following its entry in force and how would the concluding observations by the Committee on the Rights of the Child on this issue be taken into account? Where did Belgium stand on the ending of detention of migrant children?
A Committee Expert referred to the report by Medicins du Monde and expressed concern about police violence against refugees and migrants. How could individuals file complaints about excessive use of force by the police in the occasional large-scale transit operations, such as the one in the Maximilian park against a group of migrants?
The Committee noted with concern the information that foreigners who were not regularised and had been arrested for administrative reasons did not have a lawyer during detention in police stations. Furthermore, the reforms of the legal system had made access to legal aid more difficult for some vulnerable categories, in particular persons with disabilities and foreigners. The reforms seemed to complicate access to justice, in particular for the most vulnerable individuals.
The delegation was asked about the prevalence of forced marriage and of female genital mutilation and measures taken to eliminate those harmful practices.
The Committee appreciated the system of authorization and training put in place to mitigate the risks of the use of Tasers and other electro-muscular disruption devices. But it expressed concern that the actual use of those weapons could lead to severe pain and life-endangering injury and even death. Was there a process in place to gradually move Belgium towards discontinuation of the use of those weapons in law enforcement operations? What was being done to accelerate the amendment of the legal and regulatory framework on the use of those weapons in law enforcement operations?
The 1965 Youth Protection Act amended in 2006 continued to worry the Committee as its referral orders allowed minors aged 16 to 18 to be tried as adults. Despite the recent juvenile justice reforms in the French Community, the Flemish Community and the Joint Community Commission, the use of referral orders remained applicable in all communities in Belgium.
While different communities had taken initiatives to address violence against children, Belgium still did not comply with the European Social Charter due to the lack of a clear legislation prohibiting the use of corporal punishment, particularly in the family. What was the Federal Government doing to address the legislative vagueness and prohibit the use of physical or psychological violence, including for educational purposes, and thus promote non-violent education?
Although Belgium was committed to reducing overcrowding and improving the conditions of detention, overcrowding remained a structural problem. Taking note of the improvements underway and the building of new prisons, the Experts asked whether those took into account the Nelson Mandela rules and other human rights standards related to conditions of detention. It was a matter of concern that one of the measures to reduce overcrowding was the expulsion of foreign prisoners – how did Belgium ensure that in their countries of origin they were not subjected to treatment contrary to Belgium’s human rights obligations.
The delegation was further asked about young people serving prison sentences with adults, whether a specific prison regime for young detainees would be adopted, and about the improvements and alternatives to pre-trial detention to be contained in the new Criminal Code.
Belgium had in place a general legal framework on peaceful assembly and on the use of force. Was it true that an authorization was required for peaceful public assemblies rather than a mere notification? Was there a regulatory framework on the use of less lethal weapons - apart from the general principles of necessity and proportionality – that would ensure that they were not used against peaceful protesters, as had been the case in the Extinction Rebellion protest on Sunday, 13 October?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said that the dynamic databank had a preventive role and did not have a criminal purpose. It aimed to collect information and was subject to the rules under the European Union Directive on data protection.
Regarding the repatriation of women and children from Syria and Iraq, Belgium had adopted the declaration of intention to allow the repatriation of children under the age of 10 should they fulfil the conditions to acquire Belgium nationality. For children aged 10 to 18, who could have been involved in ISIS operations, repatriation decisions were made on a case-by-case basis. To date, six children had been repatriated, including one aged 10 to 18. Twenty-three individuals had gone to Turkey, where hotspot procedures applied. The Government closely followed the trials of foreign fighters abroad.
In 2019, the prevalence study on female genital mutilation had been updated. As of 31 December 2016, some 25,000 women and girls residing in Belgium had been either at risk of female genital mutilation or subjected to this practice. Of those, more than 9,000 were girls. Belgium had not carried a prevalence study into forced marriage at the national level, where obtaining reliable data was a challenge. It was, however, estimated, that 20 to 30 such marriages took place annually. Female genital mutilation and forced marriage were included in the national action plan to combat violence against women.
During the recent reform of the criminal legislation, an amendment that would bring the definition of torture in line with the Convention against Torture had been proposed and was being examined by Parliament. The law on the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture had not yet been published because the Government was still working out how to set up the national prevention mechanism for torture. Different authorities had agreed to build the national prevention mechanism on a body that already existed, but it had not yet decided which one.
On non-refoulment, the delegation said that, in cooperation with the General Commissioner for Refugees and Stateless Persons, the Office for Foreigners had put in place the new oversight procedure for the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights, including its article 3 concerning prohibition of torture.
The concept of safe third country had been introduced by the 2017 law which had transposed the European Directive on Asylum Procedure. The concept was to be applied on a case-by-case basis and in line with safeguards provided for by the law.
As for the independence of the Police Investigation Unit and its Committee P, the delegation said that its members were appointed independently for a period of five years, renewable for two terms. They had a very different status from police officers and were not governed by any police structures. The unit had been created by the Belgian Parliament in 2007.
Excessive use of force and police violence, against migrants or any other person, was unlawful. The use of violence was strictly regulated by the law on the police force, which clearly stipulated the specific conditions under which the police could resort to force. Those principles were also stipulated in the Code of Ethics of the Police Force. The use of force by the police must abide by the legal framework, human rights standards and the country’s international obligations.
The acquisition and the use of Tasers and other electro-muscular disruption devices was strictly regulated, and such weapons were used only sporadically. Belgium had carefully examined the studies on the use of those weapons, from Canada and other countries, before it had developed the rules governing its use. There were no plans to discontinue their use, which was limited to specific police units.
Prison overcrowding had been reduced due to a drop in the prison population, as a result of several factors, including better collaboration between the prison authorities and the Office for Foreigners and the institution of the “provisional release pending deportation refoulment”. Belgium had undergone the most significant reform of its criminal system and the changes had been introduced as a bill before Parliament, which was discussing it. The review of the Sentencing Code and the Criminal Code was in the pipeline.
The detention of international asylum seekers was done based on the individual examination of files and was only applied if another, less coercive measure could not be applied, for example house arrest. It was possible that the detention could be renewed if very strict conditions were met, in line with European texts.
As for the detention of migrant children, the delegation said that Belgium had set up family centres within detention centres in 2018, to enable the detained families to stay together. The royal decree of July 2018 had established a separate and multidisciplinary system to properly respond to the needs of families staying illegally in Belgium. For example, it allowed the children to attend school. The Constitutional Court had not rejected the royal decree as no contravention had been found with the relevant European and international legislation, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
GEERT MUYLLE, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Office at Geneva, concluded by reaffirming Belgium’s firm commitment to dialogue with human rights treaty bodies and this Committee, which would trigger a significant thought process in all spheres of Government. Belgium was convinced that human rights treaty bodies were important and must be strengthened.
TANIA MARÍA ABDO ROCHOLL, Committee Vice-Chair, in her concluding remarks, thanked Belgium for its unwavering support for treaty bodies and urged the Government to remove its reservations to the Covenant. The Vice-Chair listed the themes and issues discussed with the delegation of Belgium, including the need to repatriate the children of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, detention of migrants and psychiatric patients, the need to harmonize the definition of torture with international standards, and the excessive use of force by the police, including in the context of peaceful demonstrations, to mention a few.
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