3 November 1998

Press Release


Background Release Panel Scheduled To Consider Reports from Federal Republic Of Yugoslavia, Iceland, Croatia, United Kingdom, Hungary and Tunisia

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 3 November (UN Information Service) -- The Committee against Torture will meet at the Palais des Nations in Geneva from 9 to 20 November to review the measures adopted by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Iceland, Croatia, United Kingdom, Hungary and Tunisia to prevent and punish acts of torture. Representatives of the six countries are expected to come before the Committee to defend their records in implementing the rights enshrined in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

During the two-week meeting, the panel's 10 independent experts will also study, in closed session, information appearing to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practised in a State party. In addition, they will examine communications from individuals claiming to be victims of a violation by a State party of the provisions of the treaty. The large number of overdue reports from States parties on how they are applying the Convention will be another subject of discussion.

There are 107 States parties to the Convention, which requires signatories to outlaw torture and explicitly prohibits the use of "higher orders" or "exceptional circumstances" as excuses for acts of torture. The Committee was established in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions. The latest States parties to ratify the Convention since its last session in May are Kazakhstan, Bangladesh and Niger.

Of the six countries presenting a report at this session, Croatia, United Kingdom, Hungary and Tunisia have all previously submitted a report to the Committee.

In its observations and recommendations in May 1996 on the initial report of Croatia, the Committee recommended that the country enact the crime of torture in terms consistent with article 1 of the Convention. It recommended that Croatia ensure that all allegations of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment arising out of the events of 1995 and its aftermath be rigorously investigated by an impartial, independent commission and the results be reported back to the Committee. It said a vigorous programme of education of police, as well as prison, medical, prosecution and judicial personnel should be undertaken.

Concerning the second periodic report of the United Kingdom, reviewed in November 1995, the Committee recommended that the Government abolish detention centres in Northern Ireland and repeal emergency legislation. It suggested the re-educating and re-training of police officers, particularly investigating police officers, in Northern Ireland. It said that, given the need for prisons, the Government should continue the present policy of rebuilding in accordance with the most modern standards. It should also reconsider corporal punishment.

Following its examination, in April 1993, of the second period report of Hungary, the Committee expressed the hope that specific provisions of the Hungarian Criminal Code and new administrative measures would make it possible to more effectively prevent acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It also suggested to the Hungarian authorities that they should develop further training programmes for the various professions concerned with the application of the Convention.

In its conclusions on the initial report of Tunisia, considered in April 1990, the Committee welcomed the developments in the area of human rights that had taken place in the country since November 1987. The Committee expressed hope that the still existing discrepancies between the Convention and internal legislation could be remedied as soon as possible, and that replies on all unanswered questions would be provided in the next report, which was due in four years' time.

Provisional Timetable for Consideration of Reports

In ratifying or acceding to the Convention, States are obliged to submit reports on the measures they have taken to implement its provisions. States are invited to send representatives to attend the meetings during which their reports are considered. For this session, the Committee has drawn up the following provisional timetable for the consideration of reports:

Wednesday, 11 November Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, initial report CAT/C/16/Add.7

Thursday, 12 November Iceland, initial report CAT/C/37/Add.2

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Friday, 13 November Croatia, second periodic report CAT/C/33/Add.4

Monday, 16 November United Kingdom, third periodic report CAT/C/44/Add.1

Tuesday, 17 November Hungary, third periodic report CAT/C/34/Add.10

Wednesday, 18 November Tunisia, second periodic report CAT/C/20/Add.7

Background on Convention and Committee

The Convention, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in 1984, entered into force on 26 June 1987. States parties to the Convention are required to outlaw torture and are explicitly prohibited from using "higher orders" or "exceptional circumstances" as excuses for acts of torture. The Convention introduced two significant new elements to the United Nations fight against torture. First, it specifies that alleged torturers may be tried in any State party or they may be extradited to face trial in the State party where their crimes were committed. Second, it provides for international investigation of reliable reports of torture, including visits to the State party concerned, with its agreement.

Under article 20 of the Convention, if the Committee receives reliable information which appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practised in the territory of a State party, the Committee shall invite that State party to cooperate in the examination of this information.

Under article 21, a State party to the Convention may at any time declare that it recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications to the effect that a State party claims that another State party is not fulfilling its obligations under the Convention.

Under article 22, a State party to the Convention may at any time declare that it recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from, or on behalf of, individuals subject to its jurisdiction who claim to be victims of a violation by a State party of the provisions of the Convention.

The Convention has been ratified or acceded to by the following 107 States: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada,

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Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen and Yugoslavia.

The following 39 States have recognized the competence of the Committee under articles 21 and 22: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Senegal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. In addition, the United Kingdom and the United States have recognized the competence of the Committee under article 21 only.

The Commission on Human Rights, at its fifty-fourth session, invited States parties to the Convention to make the declarations under articles 21 and 22. It also invited parties to envisage withdrawing their reservations to article 20.

Other United Nations Activities against Torture

In addition to preventive measures, the United Nations has taken action to come to the aid of torture victims. In 1981 the General Assembly set up the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Torture. At its last session, the Commission on Human Rights appealed to all governments, organizations and individuals in a position to do so to contribute to the Fund in order to allow it to respond to the constantly increasing number of requests for assistance. On the same day, 17 April, the Commission extended the mandate of its Special Rapporteur on Torture, encouraging all governments to envisage inviting him to visit their countries.

The Commission also requested the working group charged with elaborating a draft optional protocol to the Convention against Torture to continue its work with a view to achieving a definitive and concrete text. The draft optional protocol would establish a system of inspection visits to places of detention. The Chairman of the Committee and the Special Rapporteur were requested to participate in the proceedings of the working group.

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Membership, Officers

The Committee members are elected by the States parties to the Convention and serve in their personal capacity. The current members of the Committee are: Peter Thomas Burns (Canada); Guibril Camara (Senegal); Sayed Kassem el Masry (Egypt); Antonio Silva Henriques Gaspar (Portugal); Alejandro Gonzalez Poblete (Chile); Bent Sorensen (Denmark); Alexander M. Yakovlev (Russian Federation); Yu Mengja (China); Bostjan M. Zuapancic (Slovenia); and Andreas V. Mavrommatis (Cyprus).

Mr. Burns is Chairman. Vice-Chairmen are Mr. Camara, Mr. Poblete and Mr. Zuapancic. Mr. Sorensen is Rapporteur.

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