The Committee Against Torture (CAT) oversees implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“Convention against Torture”) through its consideration of State reports, individual complaints, inter-State complaints, and inquiry requests, and its preparation of General Comments, statements and reprisal letters, and general discussions. As of October 2021, 172 States are party to the Convention against Torture.
- WORKING METHODS
- CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
- RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The CAT consists of 10 independent experts who are elected for a term of four years by States parties to the Convention. See Convention against Torture, art. 17. Each member must be a national of a State party, of high moral character, and have recognized competence in the field of international human rights. Id. Further information about the election process is found on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website on Elections of Treaty Body Members.
The CAT generally holds two sessions per year in Geneva, Switzerland, once in May and once in November, each generally lasting four weeks and examining approximately eight to nine State reports. The schedule of past and upcoming CAT sessions is available online, and the OHCHR maintains a Master Calendar of all UN Member States’ upcoming treaty body reviews.
State parties are required to submit an initial report within one year after acceding to the Convention against Torture. State parties to the Convention against Torture are then required to submit regular periodic reports on how rights are being implemented every four years. Periodic reports should be presented in three parts: (1) information relating to the implementation of articles 1 to 16 of the Convention and any national law or policies taken to implement the Convention, (2) any information requested by the CAT, and (3) measures taken to comply with the conclusions and recommendations addressed to it by the CAT previously. For more specific guidelines regarding the form and content of reports, the Secretary General has published a Compilation of Guidelines on the Form and Content of Reports to be Submitted by State Parties to the International Human Rights Treaties.
Following the submission of the State’s periodic reports, the CAT will first engage in a pre-session where a list of issues will be drafted by two members of the Committee chosen as rapporteurs for that particular State. The State party will then reply to the list of issues adopted by the pre-session working group. The State then sends representatives to the UN’s headquarters in order to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Committee. The CAT will then issue its concluding observations, which includes a brief introduction, a section noting positive aspects, and a section noting areas of concern and subsequent recommendations. A list of concluding observations can be found on the CAT’s webpage. CAT also requires that follow-up information to be provided on a limited number of recommendations within one year, and a rapporteur will be appointed by the Committee in order to monitor the State party’s compliance with such requests. See Other Activities of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies and Participation of Stakeholders in the Human Rights Treaty Body Process, UN Doc. HRI/MC/2013/3, 22 April 2013, para. 3.
Since May 2007, the CAT has also adopted an optional reporting procedure, also known as a “simplified reporting procedure,” consisting of preparing a list of issues prior to reporting, which is transmitted to each State before the submission of the regular periodic report. See CAT, Report of the Committee against Torture: Thirty-seventh session (6 – 24 November 2006) Thirty-eighth session (30 April – 18 May 2007), A/62/44, paras. 23-24. The optional reporting procedure is aimed at improving efficiency by removing the need to make further requests for additional information, which is traditionally requested by the Committee through the list of issues mechanism. Instead, the list of issues prior to reporting allows State party reports to be more focused on priority issues by asking tailored and pointed questions surrounding issues the CAT believes are of concern. The Committee has also included more information about the optional reporting procedure, including reports due in the upcoming year by various States. For more information about the new optional treaty-body reporting procedure, see the Overview on Treaty bodies’ List of Issues Prior to Reporting prepared at the Eleventh Inter-Committee meeting of the human rights treaty bodies.
The CAT may consider individual complaints that allege a violation of an individual’s rights under Convention against Torture if the State has made the necessary declaration under Article 22 of the Convention. See Convention against Torture, art. 22. Article 22 also identifies the requirements any complaint must meet in order to be considered by the Committee. As of October 2021, 68 States have accepted the Convention against Torture complaints mechanism.
In order to submit an individual complaint, a model complaint form can be used to provide: (1) basic information, (2) the State party in which the complaint is directed against, (3) a chronological list of facts on which the complaint is based, (4) the rights set out in the Convention against Torture that have been alleged to be violated, and (5) any potential remedies the complainant would like to obtain if the CAT agrees there has been a violation of the Convention. All individual complaints should be submitted to the Petitions Team mailing address:
Petitions and Inquiries Section
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
The CAT also has a searchable table of jurisprudence which documents its recent decisions by Convention article, subject matter, any procedural issues, and outcome. The CAT also keeps a full list of its jurisprudence. More information for the procedure on individual complaints can be found in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 23 Frequently Asked Questions about Treaty Body Complaints Procedure and Procedure for Complaints by Individuals under the Human Rights Treaties webpage.
Article 21 of the Convention against Torture provides a mechanism for States to complain about violations of the Convention made by another State. See CAT, art. 21. This procedure for inter-State complaints, however, has never been used.
Article 30 of Convention against Torture also provides a mechanism for States to resolve inter-State disputes concerning the interpretation of application of the Convention. See Convention against Torture, art. 30. This procedure allows for disputes to be resolved in the first instance by negotiation, and should that fail, by arbitration. If the parties then fail to agree to the arbitration within a period of 6 months, then one of the States may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice unless a State opted out of the procedure by making a declaration at the time of ratification or accession to Convention against Torture.
The CAT does not have a mechanism in place for urgent interventions.
Complaints of Systematic Violations (Inquiry Procedures)
The CAT can also consider inquiries on grave or systematic violations of any of the rights set forth in the Convention against Torture. See Convention against Torture, art. 20. State parties may opt out of the inquiry procedure at the time of signature, ratification or accession of the Convention by declaring that the State does not recognize the competence of the CAT to undertake inquiries. See id. art. 28.
The inquiry procedure is confidential and the State party’s cooperation is sought at all stages. Generally, the inquiry procedure proceeds in five steps.
- The CAT receives information that the rights contained in the Convention against Torture are being systematically violated by the State party.
- The CAT invites the State party to submit relevant observations.
- Based on the relevant submissions and observations, the CAT may then designate one or more of its members to conduct an inquiry and then submit an urgent report to the CAT. With the State party’s consent, the initial inquiry may involve a visit to the State’s territory.
- The CAT examines the report and then transmits any findings, along with comments and recommendations to the State party.
- The State party is then requested to submit its own observations and any measures it took regarding the CAT’s findings, comments, and recommendations within a specified time period.
The Committee Against Torture publishes general comments on thematic issues regarding the content of Convention against Torture provisions. The CAT maintains a current list of general comments on its website.
Open Letters and Statements
The CAT adopts statements to clarify its position with respect to international developments and any issues that bear upon the Convention’s implementation. A list of past Committee Against Torture statements can be found on its webpage.
The CAT also sends reprisal letters to State parties in accordance with article 13 of the Convention against Torture, as a mechanism in which to protect individuals against retaliatory measures by the State. A list of past CAT reprisal letters can also be found on its webpage.
Thematic Discussions and Conferences
The CAT will periodically hold general discussions at its Session with interested stakeholders prior to the Committee’s adoption of a general comment.
CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
NGOs and other civil society groups do not require ECOSOC consultative status to engage with the CAT. Furthermore, any group may submit information to the CAT or prepare an individual complaint on behalf of a victim. Certain requirements, including prior registration, regulate civil society organizations’ participation in-person in the Committee’s sessions, however.
The CAT invites NGOs and other civil society stakeholders to provide submissions about the States whose reports are before the CAT, for both the pre-session where a list of issues is drafted, and for the actual session itself. The State-specific information must be submitted in writing and will be published online in order to bring it to the attention of the State party implicated.
NGOs that have submitted written submissions may also make oral briefings to the Committee when the CAT is in session. Representatives can meet with State rapporteurs and relevant members in a private meeting. More specific guidelines regarding deadlines and how to make in-session briefings with the CAT can be found on the Committee’s webpage on Information for Civil Society Organisations and National Human Rights Institutions.
If a NGO or other civil society stakeholder wishes to attend a CAT session, the organization is required to be duly registered. Participants must create an account and register through the United Nations Indico system.
More information can be found on the CAT webpage for Information Note on Accreditation to attend sessions of Treaty Bodies.
RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The Committee’s outputs can be found on its website and are linked to in the relevant sections above. The UN Treaty Body Database also collects these documents, which may be searched by several criteria, but not by keyword or subject matter. For additional research tools, view the Research Aids section of this Online Resource Hub.
Another useful resource is the International Service for Human Rights’ Simple Guide to UN Treaty Bodies (2010), which examines each treaty bodies’ reports, individual communications, State-to-State complaints, inquiry procedures, urgent interventions, general comments, and how NGOs can engage with treaty bodies.