UN Committee Against Torture Examines Belarus, Bulgaria, Djibouti, Germany, Others in 47th Session

Ratification of the Convention against TortureCredit: OHCHR
Ratification of the Convention against Torture
Credit: OHCHR

The Committee Against Torture (CAT) completed its 47th Session on Friday, having adopted observations and recommendations on periodic reports from States party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. [UN]  Up for review during this session were: Belarus, Bulgaria, Djibouti, Germany, Madagascar, Morocco, Paraguay and Sri Lanka. The Committee  also requested that Syria to submit a special report on current events, which it will review during its next session in May 2012.

As summarized in its press release, the Committee made the following observations on the State reports:

In its conclusions and recommendations on the initial report of Belarus, the Committee welcomed the State party’s ratification of international instruments and ongoing efforts to reform its legislation. However the Committee remained deeply concerned about reports of poor conditions in places of detention and psychiatric hospitals, as well as allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and recommended that as a matter of urgency Belarus take immediate measures to prevent acts of torture through the country, establish independent prison-monitoring bodies and reduce prison overcrowding, and consider accepting the request for a visit by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Regarding the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of Bulgaria, the Committee welcomed the State party’s ratification of the Optional Protocol but remained concerned about the excessive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officers, about discrimination against vulnerable groups and the treatment of persons in social institutions, including those with mental disabilities and children. The Committee urged Bulgaria to amend legislation on use of firearms and to eradicate discrimination against the Roma and other national minorities.

Following its consideration of the initial report of Djibouti, the Committee welcomed the State party’s ratification of several international human rights instruments, but expressed deep concern about prison conditions, the rights of asylum seekers and lack of investigation into allegations of torture. The Committee urged Djibouti to establish a monitoring system for prisons, strengthen cooperation with non-governmental organizations and ensure all detainees and refugees received all fundamental legal safeguards.

Having reviewed the fifth periodic report of Germany, the Committee welcomed Germany’s ratification of multiple international instruments and the existence of a vibrant civil society that significantly contributed to the monitoring of torture and ill-treatment. The Committee’s areas of concern included trafficking of persons and alleged interrogation of terrorism suspects abroad by private security companies, and it urged Germany to prevent and thoroughly investigate and prosecute all cases of trafficking, and apply the ban on investigation of terrorism suspects abroad to all the authorities and entities engaged in law enforcement, including private security companies.

Concerning the initial report of Madagascar, the Committee noted the prohibition of torture under the Constitution, the de facto moratorium on the death penalty, and the signing of a “roadmap to end the crisis” following the 2009 political crisis. The Committee was concerned about the numerous allegations of human rights violations since the crisis, including torture, summary and extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances that had not been investigated and prosecuted, and recommended that Madagascar conduct thorough and impartial investigations into all violations, while ensuring all detainees received their fundamental legal safeguards from the outset of detention.

In its conclusions and recommendations on the fourth periodic report of Morocco the Committee welcomed the adoption of a new Constitution which included the prohibition of torture and the creation of a National Human Rights Council. It noted with concern that numerous and frequent allegations of torture were rarely investigated and prosecuted and that a climate of de-facto impunity had apparently been introduced for officials accused of such acts, particularly those committed during the period 1956-1999. It recommended that Morocco ensured all cases of torture or disappearance were thoroughly investigated and that anti-terrorism legislation be revised.

The Committee noted with satisfaction that the combined fourth to sixth periodic reports of Paraguay showed the State party had acceded to a large number of international instruments, and welcomed the recent visit to the country by the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture. The Committee expressed concerned about the lack of respect of the human rights of detainees in practice, and the maximum period of preventive detention, and recommended that Paraguay take immediate steps to eradicate any corruption in the police and prison system, and take action to prevent and fight against impunity, while ensuring that victims of torture received adequate compensation and rehabilitation.

Regarding the third and fourth periodic reports of Sri Lanka, the Committee noted the efforts undertaken by Sri Lanka to reform its legislation and the establishment of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to deal with issues rising from the 30 year conflict. The Committee remained seriously concerned about continued allegations of widespread use of torture to extract confessions, reports of secret detention centres, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. As a matter of urgency, the Committee called upon the State party to take immediate and effective measures to investigate all acts of torture and ill-treatment and prosecute and punish those responsible with penalties consistent with the gravity of their acts.

(emphasis added).  The Committee’s complete observations are available on its website.

During the session the Committee also met with NGOs from the States under review, held a public session on follow-up to articles 19 and 22 of the Convention (dealing with submission of State reports and individual communications), and met with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – the UN treaty body created by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and which is charged with visiting places of detention in States parties and advising States on preventive mechanisms.  Finally, the Committee privately considered reports of systematic torture in some States parties, and examined individual communications (which may be submitted against any of the 64 Statesto have accepted the Committee’s competency in this regard under article 22 of the Convention.  These States are: Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Rep. of Korea, Russia, Senegal, Serbia , Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela).

The consideration of Greece’s state report was postponed to the next session.  And, although Syria was not up for review, the Committee did issue a statement expressing its deep concern “about gross and pervasive human rights violations in Syria that were allegedly taking place in a context of impunity” and asked the State to submit a special report.  The Committee’s next session will be held from May 7 to June 1, 2012, during which it will review the reports from Albania, Armenia, Canada, Cuba, Czech Republic, Greece, Mexico, Russia and Syria.

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