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COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE CONCLUDES THIRTY-NINTH SESSION

Adopts Concluding Observations on Reports of Latvia, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Norway, Portugal and Benin as well as General Comment on Article 2
23 November 2007

The Committee against Torture today concluded its thirty-ninth session and issued its concluding observations and recommendations on reports from Latvia, Uzbekistan, Estonia, Norway, Portugal and Benin, which it reviewed during the session.

Those countries are among the 145 States parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and are bound by the terms of the treaty to submit periodic reports on efforts to ensure that such human rights violations do not occur on their territories. In addition to submitting the reports, the countries sent delegations before the Committee of 10 independent Experts to answer questions.

Having reviewed the second periodic report of Latvia, the Committee noted with appreciation that Latvia had acceded to or ratified a number of international instruments, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Of concern to the Committee was the fact that Latvia had not incorporated into domestic law the crime of torture as defined in Article 1 of the Convention. The Committee recommended that Latvia should take measures to ensure that detention of asylum seekers was used only in exceptional circumstances or as a last resort, and then only for the shortest possible time and ensure that anyone detained under immigration law had effective legal means of challenging the legality of administrative decisions to detain, deport or return him or her.

Among positive aspects in the third periodic report of Uzbekistan, the Committee welcomed the adoption of a law to abolish the death penalty beginning 1 January 2008. The Committee was concerned about the information received about the intimidation, restrictions and imprisonment of members of human rights monitoring organizations, human rights defenders and other civil society groups and the closing down of numerous national and international organizations, particularly since May 2005. The Committee recommended that Uzbekistan should ensure that a fully independent monitoring of detention and other custodial facilitates was permitted, including by independent and impartial national and international experts and non-governmental organizations in accordance with their standard methodologies.

Among the positive aspects of the fourth report of Estonia that were welcomed by the Committee was the ratification by Estonia of several international treaties, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2006 and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, in 2003. Of concern to the Committee was the insufficient training regarding the provisions of the Convention for law enforcement personnel, including penitentiary staff, judges and prosecutors. The Committee reiterated its previous recommendation that Estonia should bring its definition of torture fully into conformity with Article 1 of the Convention.

Following its review of the fifth periodic report of Norway, the Committee welcomed with satisfaction the establishment by Norway of a new central unit for the investigation of alleged crimes by members of the police, with authority to initiate prosecutions, and the allocation of additional resources to the investigation of reports of crimes committed by the police. The Committee nevertheless regretted that the State party had not changed its position with regard to the specific incorporation of the Convention into Norwegian law. The Committee recommended that Norway should compile detailed statistics on the application of pre-trial detention and the use of solitary confinement so as to verify the effectiveness of recent amendments to its relevant legislation in practice.

Among the positive aspects in the fourth periodic report of Portugal, the Committee noted with satisfaction the implementation of a law under which no alien person could be expelled to any country where this person risked to be submitted to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The Committee was worried by information it had received on the persistent violence between prisoners in places of detentions, including sexual violence, and by the high number of deaths in places of detention, due in great part to HIV/AIDS and suicide. The Committee recommended that Portugal should pursue its efforts in its fight against human trafficking and adopt the necessary measures in order to take appropriate sanctions against the authors of such crimes.

Following its consideration of the second periodic report of Benin, the Committee welcomed the implementation of a plan to reinforce the judicial and legal systems and the efforts undertaken to improve the conditions in places of detention with the support of the United Nations Development Programme. The Committee was concerned by information concerning the existence of an agreement between Benin and the United States, under which nationals of the latter residing on the Benin territory could not be transferred to the International Penal Court to be judged for war crimes or crimes against humanity. The Committee recommended that Benin should create a fully independent complaints mechanism for every person who was the victim of torture and should be vigilant for measures to be adopted in order for all persons reporting acts of torture or ill-treatment to be protected as suitable.

During this morning’s meeting, the Committee also adopted its General Comment on Article 2 of the Covenant which requires States parties to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

The Committee also made public today the documents relating to the procedure it had engaged in with Brazil, in accordance with Article 20 of the Convention that permits the Committee, if it receives reliable information which appears to icontain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practised in the territory of a State party, to designate one or more of its members to undertake a confidential inquiry which may include, with its agreement, a visit to the territory of the State party concerned.

Also, during its current session, the Committee on 19 November discussed the issue of follow-up to individual communications as well as letters received from civil society on how the Committee could improve its working methods. On 20 November, it held its first joint meeting with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and shared information and ideas of cooperation between the two bodies in order for them to pursue their common goal.

The Committee’s next session will be held from 26 April to 16 May 2008 during which it is scheduled to examine reports from Australia, Indonesia, Iceland, Zambia, Sweden, Algeria, Costa Rica and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Country Reports

Latvia

Having considered the second periodic report of Latvia, the Committee noted with appreciation that Latvia had acceded to or ratified a number of international instruments, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
The Committee also noted with satisfaction the ongoing efforts at the State level to reform its legislation, policies and procedures in order to ensure better protection of human rights, including the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and in particular the establishment of the new Ombudsman institution on 1 January 2007, replacing the Latvian National Human Rights Office.

Of concern to the Committee was the fact that Latvia had not incorporated into domestic law the crime of torture as defined in Article 1 of the Convention. Furthermore, the Committee expressed its concern at reports that the right of detainees for effective access to a lawyer was not always realised in practice. In this respect, the Committee was concerned at reports of a shortage of State-funded defence lawyers in several districts, especially rural areas, and that the working conditions provided for lawyers in detention and remand centres were not always satisfactory. The Committee was also concerned at the detention policy applied to asylum seekers and at the short time limits, in particular for the submission of an appeal under the accelerated asylum procedure.

The Committee recommended that Latvia should take measures to ensure that detention of asylum seekers was used only in exceptional circumstances or as a last resort, and then only for the shortest possible time and ensure that anyone detained under immigration law had effective legal means of challenging the legality of administrative decisions to detain, deport or return him or her. Latvia should also further develop educational programmes to ensure that all law enforcement officials, prison staff and border guards were fully aware of the provisions of the Convention, that breaches would not be tolerated and would be investigated, and that offenders would be prosecuted. All personnel should receive specific training on how to identify signs of torture and ill-treatment. The Committee recommended that the State party should continue its efforts to alleviate the overcrowding of penitentiary institutions, including through the application of alternative measures to imprisonment and the increase of budgetary allocations to develop and renovate the infrastructure of prisons and other detention facilities in the context of the Concept on the Development of Penitentiaries.

Uzbekistan

Having reviewed the third periodic report of Uzbekistan, the Committee welcomed the adoption of a law to abolish the death penalty beginning 1 January 2008. It also welcomed the Supreme Court’s directives to prohibit introduction of evidence including testimonies obtained under torture, resulting in courts referring “numerous criminal cases back for further investigation after evidence had been found inadmissible.” The Committee also welcomed the preparation and distribution to all detainees of a pamphlet prepared in conjunction with the American Bar Association to inform detainees of their rights.

The Committee was concerned at the numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations concerning routine use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment committed by law enforcement and investigative personnel or with their instigation or consent, often to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings. The Committee remained concerned that despite the reported improvements, there were numerous reports of abuses in custody, and many deaths, some of which were alleged to have followed torture or ill-treatment. The Committee was also concerned at the information received about the intimidation, restrictions and imprisonment of members of human rights monitoring organizations, human rights defenders and other civil society groups and the closing down of numerous national and international organizations, particularly since May 2005.

The Committee reiterated its previous recommendation that Uzbekistan take measures to adopt a definition of torture so that all the elements contained in Article 1 of the Convention were included. Uzbekistan should also ensure that persons who are not law enforcement officials but who acted in an official capacity or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official could be prosecuted for torture and not merely, as stated, charged with “aiding and abetting” such practices. Uzbekistan should ensure that a fully independent monitoring of detention and other custodial facilitates was permitted, including by independent and impartial national and international experts and non-governmental organizations in accordance with their standard methodologies.

Estonia

Among the positive aspects of the fourth report of Estonia that were welcomed by the Committee was the ratification by Estonia of several international treaties, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2006 and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, in 2003. The Committee further noted with satisfaction the important effort made for the renovation of detention facilities, the closure of old arrest houses and the construction of new prisons.

The Committee was concerned about the practical implementation of the fundamental legal safeguards of detained persons, including access to an independent medical doctor, as well as about the registration of all detained persons. Of concern to the Committee was also the insufficient training regarding the provisions of the Convention for law enforcement personnel, including penitentiary staff, judges and prosecutors. The Committee also noted with concern the lack of specific training of medical personnel acting in detention facilities to detect signs of torture and ill-treatment. The Committee was also concerned about the general living conditions in psychiatric institutions as well as by inadequate forms of treatment.

The Committee reiterated its previous recommendation that Estonia should bring its definition of torture fully into conformity with Article 1 of the Convention. Estonia should also consider establishing a national institution for the promotion and protection of human rights, in accordance with the Paris Principles and provide it with the adequate resources to carry out its mandate. Also, Estonia should ensure that torture was punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account its grave nature, as set out in paragraph 2 of Article 4 of the Convention.

Norway

Following its review of the fifth periodic report of Norway, the Committee welcomed with satisfaction the incorporation of a new provision into the Penal Code that prohibits and penalizes torture, in conformity with Article 1 of the Convention. The Committee was also satisfied about the recent adoption of legislative measures to regulate the rights of persons staying at the Trandum Alien Holding Centre in accordance with the revised United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees’ Guidelines on applicable Criteria and Standards for the Detention of Asylum Seekers. The establishment of a new central unit for the investigation of alleged crimes by members of the police, with authority to initiate prosecutions, and the allocation of additional resources to the investigation of reports of crimes committed by the police was also noted with satisfaction.

The Committee, nevertheless, regretted that the State party had not changed its position with regard to the specific incorporation of the Convention into Norwegian law. Also, the Committee remained concerned at the absence of any external supervision or independent complaints mechanism that would reliably ensure that the rights of persons held at the Trandum Centre were respected at all times. Of concern were also reports on the use of unnecessary force by the police in some instances, and about reports of discriminatory treatment based on ethnicity.

The Committee recommended that Norway should further consider the possible use, in its Penal Code, of wording similar to that used in the Convention so as to ensure that the definition of torture comprises all types of discrimination as possible motives. With regard to the State party’s participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operation in Afghanistan, Norway should continue to closely monitor the compliance by the Afghan authorities with their relevant obligations in relation to the continued detention of any persons handed over by Norwegian military personnel. Norway should also compile detailed statistics on the application of pre-trial detention and the use of solitary confinement so as to verify the effectiveness of recent amendments to its relevant legislation in practice.

Portugal

Following its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Portugal, the Committee noted with satisfaction the implementation of a law under which no alien person could be expelled to any country where this person risked to be submitted to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The creation of a body for the inspection of judicial services was welcomed with satisfaction. The Committee also welcomed with satisfaction the elaboration of the police forces’ ethics code.

The Committee regretted that Portugal used detention for identification purposes, that could sometime lead to collective arrests. The Committee was also worried by information it had received on the persistent violence between prisoners in places of detentions, including sexual violence, and by the high number of deaths in places of detention, due in great part to HIV/AIDS and suicide. The Committee was worried that the use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use.

The Committee recommended that Portugal envisage to take the necessary legislative measures to amend its Penal Code in order to include discrimination as a possible motive for acts of tortures, as stated in Article 1 of the Convention. Portugal should continue efforts to improve the conditions in places of detention, particularly by maintaining an adequate rate of prison occupation and by reinforcing the measures taken to prevent violence between prisoners, especially sexual violence, and suicide of detainees. Also, Portugal should pursue its efforts in its fight against human trafficking and adopt the necessary measures in order to take appropriates sanctions against the authors of such crimes.

Benin

After its consideration of the second periodic report of Benin, the Committee noted with satisfaction the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Committee welcomed the implementation of a plan to reinforce the judicial and legal systems and the efforts undertaken to improve the conditions in places of detention with the support of the United Nations Development Programme. The Committee also welcomed the adoption, in 2003, of a law prohibiting the practice of female genital mutilation.

The Committee regretted that, according to reports it had received, persons suspected of having committed grave acts of torture and murder had benefited from impunity. The Committee regretted that according to penal law, minors above the age of 13 could be sentenced to deprivation of their liberty. The Committee was also concerned by information concerning the existence of an agreement between Benin and the United States, under which nationals of the latter residing on the Benin territory could not be transferred to the International Penal Court to be judged for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The Committee recommended that Benin should create a fully independent complaints mechanism for every person who was a victim of torture and should be vigilant for measures to be adopted in order for all persons reporting acts of torture or ill-treatment to be protected as suitable. Benin should also take the necessary measures to react to the dysfunction of the administration of justice, notably by allocating adequate resources and by pursuing its efforts to fight against corruption. All necessary measures should also be taken to improve conditions of detention of persons in death row in order to guarantee their elementary needs and fundamental rights. Also, Benin should urgently take measures in order to adopt a moratorium on the executions and to commute capital punishment sentences.

General Comment on Article 2 of the Convention

The Committee adopted a General Comment on the implementation of Article 2 of the Covenant by State parties (CAT/C7GC/2/CRP.1/Rev.3, as amended), which requires States parties to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. In the General Comment, the Committee underscores that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked by a State party to justify acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. Also, State parties are obliged to eliminate any legal or other obstacles that impede the eradication of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and take positive effective measures to ensure that such conduct and any recurrences thereof are effectively prevented.

It was also a matter of urgency that each State party should closely monitor its officials and those acting on its behalf and should identify and report to the Committee any incidents of torture or ill-treatment as a consequence of anti-terrorism measures, among others. The Committee also underscored that “any territory” in Article 2, referred to prohibited acts committed not only onboard a ship or aircraft registered by a State party, but also during military occupation or peacekeeping operations and in such places as embassies, military bases, detention facilities, or other areas over which a State exercised factual or effective control.
Report on Brazil Produced by the Committee under Article 20 and Reply from the Government

The Committee decided today to make public the documents (CAT/C/39/2) relating to the procedure it had engaged in with Brazil under Article 20 of the Convention. This Article permits the Committee, if it receives reliable information which appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practised in the territory of a State Party, to designate one or more of its members to undertake a confidential inquiry which may include, with its agreement, a visit to the territory of the State party concerned.

In 2002 the non-governmental organizations World Organization against Torture and Action by Christians against Torture (ACAT-Brazil) had submitted information to the Committee on the alleged systematic practice of torture in Brazil and requested the Committee to examine the situation in Brazil. Thus, in November 2003, the Committee had decided to undertake a confidential inquiry and designated three of its members to conduct the inquiry. The visits had taken place in July 2005.

In its 2006 conclusions the Committee had noted that it had found filthy conditions of confinement, extreme heat, light deprivation and permanent lock-ups (factors with severe health consequences for inmates), along with pervasive violence as well as lack of proper oversight, which led to impunity. In fact, there was widespread impunity for the perpetrators of abuse. The Committee had noted that the Government of Brazil, had fully cooperated with the Committee’s visit and had constantly expressed its awareness and concern with the seriousness of the existing problems.

In the light of these considerations, the Committee had made several recommendations, including that complaints alleging torture by public officials should be promptly, fully and impartially investigated and offenders should be prosecuted. The State’s Public Prosecutors’ Offices should be empowered to initiate and carry out investigations into any allegations of torture and should be provided with the necessary financial and human resources to allow them to fulfill this responsibility. Accused officers should be suspended from their duties pending the outcome of any investigation into alleged torture and ill-treatment and any subsequent legal or disciplinary proceedings. Only statements or confessions made in the presence of a judge should be admissible as evidence in criminal proceedings. Brazil should carry out awareness-raising campaigns in order to sensitize all sectors of society about the issue of torture and ill-treatment and on the existing conditions of detention centers. The material conditions of detention centers had to be improved without delay as a matter of highest urgency and importance. And Brazil had to allocate sufficient financial resources to improve these conditions so that all detainees may be treated humanely.

Brazil sent its replies to the Committee in 2006 and updated it on the steps it had undertaken to implement the recommendations of the Committee.

The full report can be found on (www.ohchr.org) and at the request of the Government of Brazil on (www.presidencia.gov.br/estructurapresidencia/sedh).


Membership and Officers

The Committee's members are elected by the States parties to the Convention and serve in their personal capacity. The current members of the Committee are: Essadia Belmir (Morocco); Luis Benigno Gallegos Chiriboga (Ecuador); Guibril Camara (Senegal); Felice Gaer (the United States); Claudio Grossman (Chile); Fernando Mariño Menendez (Spain); Andreas Mavrommatis (Cyprus); Nora Sveaass (Norway); Xuexian Wang (China); and Alexander Kovalev (Russian Federation).

Mr. Mavrommatis is the Committee Chairman; Mr. Camara, Mr. Grossman and Mr. Kovalev are Vice Chairmen; and Ms. Gaer is the Committee Rapporteur

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