The Committee against Torture (CAT) is currently holding its 54th session in Geneva which began on April 20 and will continue through May 15. According to the agenda, CAT is considering the State reports of Colombia, the Republic of Congo, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Romania, Serbia, Spain, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on their implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention). During the session, representatives from each State will engage in a dialogue with members of CAT regarding the list of issues, which consists of those topics the Committee had previously asked each State to address in its report to CAT. The Committee will also review reports submitted by civil society organizations and national human rights institutions (NHRIs) concerning the States’ implementation of the Convention. At the conclusion of the review process, the Committee will issue concluding observations for each State, containing its concerns and recommendations on each State’s implementation of the Convention.
During this session, CAT will also adopt lists of issues for China, Macau, and Hong Kong as well as “lists of issues prior to reporting” for Bahrain, Belgium, Cameroon, Estonia, Guatemala, Japan, and Yemen. This list of issues prior to reporting means that the State party will be provided with a list of issues before it submits its periodic report; its response to the items on this list will constitute its periodic report, and will fulfill the obligations of the State to report to CAT.
The Committee’s program also includes the following, some of which are public meetings and some of which are closed: a review of individual communications against States parties concerning alleged violations of the Convention; a meeting with the Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) and a presentation of the SPT annual report; a briefing by and discussion on the right to rehabilitation by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT); a meeting with the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture as well as with the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; a meeting on the inquiry procedure; and the adoption of the list of issues as well as the annual report.
Archived webcasts of the 54th session can be viewed on UN Treaty Body Webcast.
CAT’s list of issues for Colombia’s review requested Colombia to: explain the measures that have been taken to ensure that crimes of torture are punished and appropriately penalized; provide information about whether detainees receive legal assistance, are informed of their rights at the time of arrest, and have access to medical care while detained; explain measures to address the threat that illegal armed groups pose to, among others, human rights defenders, civilians, and displaced persons; and explain measures taken to prevent, combat, and punish sexual violence against women, and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. On the topic of immigration, Colombia was asked to indicate the number of refugees, asylums seekers, immigrants, and expatriates as well as the number of persons who have been offered asylum. The State was asked to explain measures it has taken to ensure that acts of torture are treated as universal crimes under national law; steps taken to train law enforcement officials on the Convention, as well as to train judges, prosecutors, forensic doctors, and medical personnel about how to deal with detainees and to detect and document signs of torture; and to provide information on the measures taken to protect human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders, teachers, trade unionists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, LGBT activists, and others who suffer violence as a result of seeking justice or restitution of their lands. See Committee against Torture, List of issues prior to the submission of the fifth periodic report of Colombia, UN Doc CAT/C/COL/5, 11 July 2012.
Several civil society organizations submitted supplementary reports for the Committee’s review. One such submission is a joint report submitted by a group of Colombian civil society organizations in conjunction with a U.S. based organizations and the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at the City University of New York. The Colombian Ombudsman’s Office, which is the national human rights institution (NHRI) in Colombia, submitted a supplementary report for the Committee’s review.
The Republic of the Congo
The Republic of the Congo presented its initial report on the implementation of the Convention. The report states that oversight mechanisms are being implemented in the form of judicial institutions such as tribunals, courts, and the Constitutional Court, and that all citizens have equal access to justice. The reports notes that the 2002 Constitution guarantees, among other rights, the right to equality, a fair trial, respect for life and protection of the human person, and freedom of expression. With respect to gender, the report notes that gender issues are a priority; that the State is in the process of drafting a bill to protect women from sexual violence; and that, in a message to the nation before both houses of Parliament, the President announced a plan to put effort towards gender parity in the political, elective, and administration realms. The report goes on to explain that the State is seeking to protect the rights of indigenous people through, among other initiatives, the National Action Plan to Improve the Quality of Life of Indigenous Peoples, 2009-2013. Additionally, the State has made improvements in its detention centers, including by allowing international institutions and NGOs to visit Brazzaville Prison and by providing this prison with a medico-social center that provides HIV/AIDS testing and antiretroviral treatment for HIV-positive individuals. Both governmental and nongovernmental organizations have reached out to the courts, police stations, public security posts, and non-governmental organizations to share information about the Convention. The report identifies several challenges to protecting and promoting human rights including the fact that despite holding trainings and awareness-raising campaigns geared towards law enforcement officials, victims often do not come forward to report complaints of torture out of fear. See Committee against Torture, Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 19 of the Convention, UN Doc CAT/C/COG/1, 1 May 2014.
Two civil society organizations submitted supplementary reports for CAT’s review of the Republic of the Congo.
In its list of issues, CAT requested the following information from Luxembourg: to provide detailed information concerning the competence of the Ombudsman with respect to responding to complaints under the Convention; whether it had rejected any request by a third State for extradition of an individual suspected of having committed an act of torture and if so, whether it has taken steps to prosecute the individual; to provide information on the measures taken to train law enforcement personnel, medical personnel, public officials, and others involved in the custody, interrogation, or treatment of anyone arrested, detained, or imprisoned; to provide information on measures taken to ensure that non-citizens in immigration detention are not placed in penal correction facilities; to describe the steps taken in response to overcrowding in the Luxembourg Prison Centre; and to ensure that minors are not detained in adult prisons. In regards to human trafficking, the State was asked what it has done to strengthen measures to address human trafficking, and, in particular, to adopt a human trafficking bill. See Committee against Torture, List of issues to be taken up prior to consideration of the periodic reports of the States parties, UN Doc CAT/C/LUX/Q/7, 19 January 2010.
In its list of issues to New Zealand, CAT asked the State to provide information on: measures taken to enact legislation to incorporate the Convention into domestic law; steps taken to ensure the rights of those in police custody; measures to protect the rights of minorities; statistical data on violence against women; steps taken to eradicate physical and sexual abuse against children; and information on the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Act of 2007, according to which courts can receive or hear classified security information against groups or individuals designated as terrorist entities, even in their absence. With respect to asylum and immigration issues, New Zealand was asked to provide information on the number of asylum applications registered and accepted, the number of asylum applicants in detention, and the detention of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in correctional facilities and whether they are separated from convicted prisoners. Additionally, New Zealand was asked to provide information on whether training has been provided to law enforcement officials and judges on the provisions of the Convention and jurisprudence of the Committee, particular with respect to protecting minorities and integrating a gender perspective into their work. Finally, New Zealand was asked for information on how many cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment have been processed, whether through civil or criminal procedures or through other government bodies. Committee against Torture, List of issues prepared by the Committee prior to the submission of the sixth periodic report of New Zealand, UN Doc CAT/C/NZ/Q6, 12 July 2012.
Many civil society organizations as well as New Zealand’s NHRIs, the Human Rights Commission and the National Preventive Mechanism, made up of several bodies and established under the Optional Protocol to CAT, submitted reports to the Committee concerning New Zealand’s implementation of the CAT.
In its list of issues to Romania, CAT asked for information on: steps taken to ensure that all detained persons are afforded fundamental safeguards from the moment they are detained; the length of pretrial detention, what steps the government is taking to reduce the length of pretrial detention, and whether alternatives to pretrial detention are being put into place; the legal framework and measures to combat trafficking of persons, especially the trafficking of women and children; educational training programs to ensure that law enforcement officials, prison staff, and border guards are aware of CAT treaty provisions and what steps will be taken when the Convention is breached; information on the investigation of allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force against members of the Roma community by law enforcement officials; steps to ensure that victims of torture and other ill-treatment are provided with compensation and rehabilitation, as well as medical and psychological assistance; and measures that have been adopted to make sure that evidence that is obtained as a result of torture is not used for evidentiary purposes in any proceedings. Committee against Torture, List of issues prior to the submission of the second periodic report of Romania, UN Doc CAT/C/ROM/Q/2, 16 February 2011.
CAT, in its list of issues to Serbia, asked the State to: provide information on the steps taken to ensure that all detainees undergo a medical examination within 24 hours of detention and that prosecutors are informed of any medical records showing ill-treatment; explain steps taken to guarantee free legal aid to anyone deprived of his or her liberty; provide details on the steps taken to establish an independent and external oversight mechanism for alleged unlawful acts that are committed by police; and steps taken to ensure the independence and impartiality of judges and prosecutors. Additionally, the State was asked to provide statistical data on the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences issued in cases of violence against women, as well as measures adopted to address violence against women, including domestic violence and the lack of adequate measures to protect victims. Serbia was also asked to provide information on its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and, specifically, what efforts it has made to find two remaining individuals against whom indictments have been brought. Serbia was also asked to provide information on the extent to which war crimes and past human rights violations have been investigated, prosecuted, and sanctioned. Committee against Torture, List of issues prior to the submission of the second periodic report of Serbia, UN Doc CAT/C/SRB/Q/2, 25 February 2011.
In its list of issues to Spain, CAT asked the State to: provide information on steps taken to amend the Criminal Code to conform with the Convention; give details on the work of the Ombudsman; explain what has been done to abolish incommunicado detention; share data obtained from the National Human Rights Plan computer application which gathers data on complaints of police conduct that might be considered torture or ill treatment; provide information on measures taken by the State to address violence against women in the family as well as more broadly in society; and to share information on the provision of free legal aid as well as shelter and compensation to individuals who have been trafficked. In addition, the State was asked: to provide information on what steps have been taken to address the excessive use of force and ill-treatment by the police; to indicate what measures have been taken to ensure that all allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials made to prosecutors or judges are recorded in writing and subsequently investigated, including through a forensic medical examination; and to provide information on what has been done to stop the practice of conducting identity checks based on ethnic or racial profiling. Committee against Torture, List of issues prior to the submission of the sixth periodic report of Spain, UN Doc CAT/C/ESP/Q/6, 12 July 2012.
Several civil society organizations have submitted reports to the Committee concerning Spain’s implementation of CAT.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
In its list of issues to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the CAT Committee requested information about: whether the State’s penal code is in conformity with the Convention; what steps have been taken to ensure that the Public Prosecution Office is both independent and effective and that allegations with respect to torture and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment are investigated; what measures have been taken so that a gender-sensitive approach is incorporated into the process of granting asylum/refugee status; how Roma and other vulnerable people who are deprived of their liberty are protected; and, also with respect to the Roma population, what the State has done to address ill-treatment and discrimination. The Committee also asked the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia about training programs directed at medical personnel so that they are equipped to identify and document cases of torture and what steps the State has taken to ratify the Optional Protocol. Finally, in light of the recommendations made by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the State was asked to provide information on steps taken to: put into place a strategic plan to reform the prison system; improve the conditions in one particular prison; and put into place a system to allow remand prisoners at least one hour of exercise outside per day. Committee against Torture, List of issues prior to the submission of the third periodic report of Macedonia, UN Doc CAT/CC/MKD/Q/3,16 February 2011.
A coalition of various civil society organizations as well as the European Roma Rights Center submitted reports to the CAT Committee with respect to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s compliance with the Convention. The State’s NHRI, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Macedonia, also submitted a report.