|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fourth General Assembly
20th & 21st Meetings (AM & PM)
Convention against Torture ‘Next Generation Treaty’ That Places Value
on Prevention over Cure, Third Committee Told
Hears from Three UN Experts - Chair of Convention Monitoring Body;
Chair of Subcommittee on Prevention; Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur
In an exchange of views with three of the United Nations’ top watchdogs on torture, speakers in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) expressed support for proactive measures taken by United Nations treaty bodies to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and said the Convention against Torture was a “new generation treaty” that placed value on prevention over a cure.
The discussion marked the start of a two-week period in which the Committee was expected to meet officials serving on United Nations human rights mechanisms across many fields. Addressing the Committee were Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture; Victor Manuel Rodriguez Rescia, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; and Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
According to Mr. Rodriguez Rescia, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, which performs regular site visits to examine the treatment of detainees, worked to build processes within States to combat torture. The Subcommittee did not dictate specifics, but worked in a complementary fashion with States to engender a sense of “co-responsibility”.
Aware of seven field visits conducted by Mr. Rodriguez Rescia’s group, the representative of Sweden asked to hear about lessons learned, and was told by Mr. Rodriguez Rescia that a majority of States had an “ombudsman-plus” strategy, where an existing ombudsman’s office was strengthened to include the prevention of torture. But, he stressed that there no single model to fit all situations.
He explained that the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture met with States confidentially to provide advice on necessary mechanisms to prevent torture. Only Switzerland and the Maldives had made their reports public, but he indicated that Honduras and Paraguay also had systems worth studying, that were different from the ombudsman-plus model favoured by most nations.
Mr. Grossman -- head of the Committee that oversees the general implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ‑‑ said that while more countries had incorporated provisions against torture, he observed that not all had entered into full compliance.
Stressing the importance of being consistent, he told the representative of Egypt during a question-and-answer session that States could not derogate their obligations even in emergency situations, such as after a natural disaster or even a manmade disaster. It was precisely in those situations that States must make doubly sure that the rules had to be fulfilled.
Mr. Grossman said meetings with country delegations, sometimes involving high-level Government officials, were good for learning about challenges faced by States. Increasingly, States had included police representatives in their delegations, as well as members of civil society. The Committee’s work was also enriched by its interactions with the Human Rights Council through the universal periodic review process.
Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak, who reported on his own visits to places of detention, deplored the conditions he had come across, saying the prisons and lock-ups he had been to were overcrowded, filthy and rife with disease. Among the most vulnerable in detention were children, some of whom were thrown in detention centres while as young as 9 or 10 years old. They were prone to fall victim to corporal punishment, or abuse by fellow detainees, which included rape.
He said there was an acute need for standard-setting, and while minimum and soft standards existed, the international community should define minimum standard rules in a binding way.
In response to questions about possible overlaps between his mandate and the work of the Committee against Torture and Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Mr. Nowak said there was no fear of duplication. When developing a programme of missions, the three bodies worked to ensure that they did not visit the same countries, and took account of each other’s findings in their follow-up with States.
Following their interaction with the three torture monitors, over 20 countries participated in a general discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights. These were New Zealand (also speaking on behalf Australia and Canada), Japan, Colombia, Sudan, Cuba, China, Costa Rica, Qatar, Syria, Algeria, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Mexico, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Republic of Korea, Congo, Iraq, Zambia, Honduras and Kuwait.
Like many, the representative of Japan stressed the universality of human rights, saying they applied to the entire international community. The Human Rights Council played a significant role in making sure human rights and fundamental freedoms could be assured, but to be a truly effective body, “there were still issues that need to be addressed”. He added that Japan was committed to participating in an upcoming review of the Council, in 2011.
Reports before the Committee were presented by Jessica Neuwirth, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Also today, the Russian Federation spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
Further, the representatives of France, Finland and Mongolia introduced draft resolutions under the Committee’s agenda item on the advancement of women.
The Committee will meet again at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, 21 October, to hear presentations by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms,and on human rights situations in specific countries and reports of Special Rapporteurs and Representatives.
In the afternoon, it is scheduled to hear presentations by the Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to begin its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights: implementation of human rights instruments.
The first document before it was a letter dated 12 May 2009 from the Permanent Representative of Namibia to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/64/81). In it was a resolution adopted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the role of parliaments in mitigating the social and political impact of the international economic and financial crisis on the most vulnerable sectors of the global community, especially in Africa.
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on the status of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (document A/64/306 and Corr.1). According to the report, the Fund received about 220 applications in 2008 for grants adding up to approximately $2.5 million. In the end, the Board of Trustees recommended $733,109 towards various projects. The Board also recommended a contingency list of 15 projects in India for a total amounting to $108,000. The following year, in 2009, the Fund received about 320 applications for grants amounting to approximately $4.3 million, showing an increase in applications. There has been a welcome increase in the contributions made by donors, but nevertheless the Fund continues to fall short of demand.
A report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (document A/64/264) says the Board considered requests for new grants amounting to $15.27 million for 167 ongoing projects and 28 new projects to be implemented in 2009, and also considered additional grant requests for priority regions amounting to $1.56 million for 29 projects. It recommended that grants be approved for 205 projects in over 65 countries, for a total amount of $10.62 million. It also recommended that $300,000 be set aside for intersessional or emergency grants.
The report mentions that a number of independent experts from several United Nations States made a joint statement on 26 June 2009 to commemorate the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. In it, they say persons with disabilities continue to run an increased risk of falling victim to abuse and neglect, and risk being exposed to medical experimentation and intrusive and irreversible medical treatments without their consent. They, therefore, called on States that have not yet done so to become parties to the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, as well as to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and to take measures to ensure that all persons with disabilities have the right to enjoy all human rights and are fully protected from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.
According to the report of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Optional Protocol thereto (document A/64/128 and Corr.1) there are 62 States parties to the Convention and 142 signatories. For the Optional Protocol, there were 85 signatories and 42 States parties. The report provides a summary of progress concerning the Convention and the Optional Protocol in 35 countries that responded to a request for information from the United Nations Secretariat. Several countries described efforts to harmonize domestic legislation in compliance with the Convention, such as (among many others), Australia, which introduced a parliamentary bill on Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill in 2008, and China, which drafted laws such as the Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons.
Also in the report, several States discussed progress in developing or strengthening national frameworks, while others discussed measures to implement the Convention in the areas of accessibility, community-based rehabilitation and other new policy initiatives. It also contains a section on measures carried out by the United Nations system to implement the Convention, and provides a list of non-governmental organizations that have played an active role in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The Committee also had before it a report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the equitable geographical distribution in the membership of the human rights treaty bodies (document A/64/212). Under the terms of the eight human rights treaties establishing a treaty body, the modalities for the nomination and election of treaty body members is a matter for the States parties. For the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, however, the nomination of candidates for election is a matter for States parties but their election is a matter for Economic and Social Council members, with geographical distribution being subject to Council resolution 1985/17. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recommends that States parties apply the provisions relating to nomination and election of treaty body members in the human rights treaties, as well as Economic and Social Council resolution 1985/17, when nominating and electing members. The High Commissioner also recommends that the present report be forwarded to the chairs of the meetings or conferences of States parties, as well as the Economic and Social Council, for the consideration of those forums during their next meetings.
The report of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (document A/64/48) says there are 41 States parties to the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The report provides details of country reports reviewed in April from Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, El Salvador, and the Philippines. An annex to the report lists due dates for country reports from States parties, showing that several reports are past due. The reviews cover: non-discrimination against migrants; right to an effective remedy; human rights of all migrant workers and members of their families; other rights of migrant workers and members of their families who are documented or in a regular situation; promotion of sound, equitable, humane and lawful conditions in connection with international migration of workers and members of their families; and follow-up and dissemination of observations made by the Committee at those reviews. The Committee uses those reviews to express concern, for example, at information that migrant workers and their families may be suffering from discrimination in employment, education, and housing. In one case, the Committee has encouraged the State party to strengthen efforts to inform migrant workers of administrative and judicial remedies.
The Committee also had before it a report of the Committee against Torture (document A/64/44), which is mandated by the United Nations Torture Convention to examine reports of torture being practised in the territory of a State party and to submit observations regarding the information concerned. The Committee also reviews periodic reports submitted by States parties to the Convention. A new reporting procedure was introduced in May 2007 in light of the harmonized guidelines on reporting under the international human rights treaties. Under it, a list of issues is transmitted to States parties and State party replies would constitute the Committee’s report.
The Committee reviewed reports by 81 States, requesting clarification on a wide array of topics. Generally, the Committee notes -- among several things -- a need for greater precision on the means by which police and other personnel guaranteed detainees their right to an independent doctor and lawyer and to have access to a family member. Because victims of torture and ill-treatment are unlikely to turn to the very authorities of the system allegedly responsible for torturing them, the Committee notes a need for independent bodies to examine complaints of abuse. In cases where the Committee had found violations of the Convention, States parties were requested to provide information on measures taken to implement the Committee’s recommendations. To date, Canada, Serbia and Montenegro, and Tunisia have not yet responded. In 48 cases where countries did respond, the Committee submitted replies; in one case, although the Committee did not find a violation, it made a recommendation.
The second annual report of the Subcommittee on Torture Prevention, describing site visits conducted by its members to various countries to examine national preventive mechanisms, is contained in an annex.
The Committee also had before it a report of the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies on their twenty-first meeting, transmitted to the Committee by the Secretary-General (document A/64/276). The Chairpersons of human rights treaty bodies had met in Geneva on 2 and 3 July 2009, to discuss, among other things, reform of the treaty body system, including harmonization of working methods. They discussed the universal periodic review mechanism of the Human Rights Council, as well as the work of the Council in general. They met with representatives of States parties and the President of the Human Rights Council. Some of the ideas discussed include improved disability access, the continued contribution of non-governmental organizations to the work of treaty bodies, and the need to promote active ratification of United Nations treaties.
The Committee also had before it the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, transmitted to it by the Secretary-General (document A/64/215). The Special Rapporteur undertook visits to Uruguay and Kazakhstan, and also received an invitation from the Government of Cuba to visit the country this year. He is waiting for confirmation from Zimbabwe regarding his visit there in October. He hopes that dates for the visit to the Russian Federation, postponed from October 2006, will be forthcoming.
In the report, the Special Rapporteur asserts that conditions of detention in most parts of the world do not respect the dignity of detainees and therefore fail to live up to international standards. During the period from 17 December 2008 to 31 July 2009, the Special Rapporteur sent 28 letters of allegations of torture to 20 Governments, and 99 urgent appeals on behalf of persons who might be at risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment to 46 Governments. In the same period, 83 responses were received.
The Special Rapporteur not only looks for evidence of torture but also assesses the general conditions of detention, the report says. In many countries, places of detention are constantly overcrowded and filthy locations, and are rife with disease. Received wisdom has torture being primarily the fate of political and other “high-ranking” prisoners. In reality, most of the victims of arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman conditions of detention are ordinary people who belong to the poorest and most disadvantaged sectors of society, including those belonging to the lowest classes, children, persons with disabilities and diseases, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons, drug addicts, aliens and members of ethnic and religious minorities or indigenous communities.
In many countries, confessions are still regarded as the most important proof during criminal trials. Politicians, judges and prosecutors —- and also the media —- put considerable pressure on the police to produce confessions. Whether the victims confess or not depends less on what they have done, than on how strong they are, both physically and mentally, in resisting torture. A considerable percentage of the roughly 10 million prisoners and detainees worldwide may be innocent victims of arbitrary detention. They are often charged by prosecutors solely on the basis of their statements made during police interrogations.
The Special Rapporteur says that, one of the more surprising observations from his fact-finding missions is that police and prison authorities simply do not regard it as their responsibility to provide detainees with the most basic services necessary for survival, let alone for a dignified existence or what human rights instruments call an “adequate standard of living” -- food, water, clothing, a toilet and a proper place to sleep. In his recommendations to the Assembly, the Special Rapporteur says States should undertake comprehensive justice reforms and provide more resources to the administration of justice, with a view to legally empowering detainees so that they are able to challenge their situation. Conditions of detention should adequately address the needs of detainees, and no child should be detained unless as a last resort. He further called upon States to put the best interest of the child at the centre of their juvenile justice systems, also adding that the permanent separation of children from adults must be implemented vigorously. States were reminded of their obligation to prohibit corporal punishment.
The report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (document A/64/36) describes activities undertaken by it since the High Commissioner’s last report to the General Assembly in 2008. A successful Durban Review Conference was held in Geneva from 20 to 24 April, resulting in the adopting of a consensus document that acknowledges the existence of racism in all societies and the primary responsibility of Governments to approach the fight against racism through a victims-oriented lens. An in-house task force was established in May to ensure follow up.
The OHCHR continued its substantive support and guidance to the Human Rights Council, which evolved into a quasi-permanent body that meets around 35 weeks a year. During the reporting period, the Council held four special sessions on human rights situations in several countries, including one focused on the effects of the international economic and financial crises on human rights. With its institutional architecture in place and first operational experiences, the Council enters the phase of assessment. The Assembly will review the status of the Council before March 2011, and may also address unresolved issues regarding the Council’s relationship with the General Assembly.
On the universal periodic review process, she said the human rights records of 80 States had been reviewed, bringing the Council to over the one-third mark. Although not always visible at universal periodic review meetings, non-governmental organizations provided extremely valuable contributions to State reviews. Special procedures, of which there are 39, have gained a greater visibility and are regularly represented at special sessions. Since the establishment of the universal periodic review process, positive synergies have been created between that mechanism and the special procedures, with their recommendations systematically incorporated in reports prepared by OHCHR.
The report says human rights bodies had continued to work together to harmonize their working methods, with the annual meeting of Chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies serving as a forum for discussion. Some treaty bodies have been proactive in preventing situations of gross human rights violations from arising or escalating. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has an early warning and urgent action procedure, through which it engaged 14 States.
The report also lists the country missions undertaken by the High Commissioner in the reporting period, and discusses the work conducted by the OHCHR at the country level. Brief discussions are given of progress in various thematic areas: equality and non-discrimination; development, poverty reduction and Millennium Development Goals; economic, social and cultural rights; indigenous peoples and minorities; and migration and trafficking. Other themes are: rule of law and democracy; Global Compact and the human rights responsibilities of business; human rights education and training; climate change and human rights; women’s rights and gender work; and the right to development.
Other documents before the Committee include the report of the Human Rights Committee (supplement no. 40, vols. I and II) (document A/64/40 vols. I and II).
Introduction of Reports
JESSICA NEUWIRTH, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the report of the Secretary-General on the status of the United Nations Voluntary Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (document A/64/306 and Corr.1) provided information on the decisions adopted by the Board of Trustees of the Fund at its thirteenth session. It also provided information on policy decisions adopted by the Board with a view to implementing the recommendations made by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). The Board examined 181 applications for project grants for 48 countries amounting to $2,490,837. It recommended 71 projects grants for a total of $733,109, which will assist 71 non-governmental organizations in 45 countries.
She said the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (document A/64/264) contained information on the decisions adopted by Board of Trustees of the Fund at its twenty-ninth and thirtieth sessions. At the twenty-ninth, the Board examined applications for funding and made recommendations on grants for a total amount of $10,615,250 to 205 projects in 65 countries. At the thirtieth, it made recommendations of an additional $300,000 to be set aside for intersessional or emergency grants for 2009.
Turning to the report on the equitable geographical distribution in the membership of the human rights treaty bodies (document A/64/212), she said it updated the report on that membership from the period 1970 to 2005 (A/60/351) and contains an in-depth review of the composition of the members of treaty bodies since 2006 and whether each of the five regions as defined in the United Nations regional groups had been appropriately represented in these bodies. It also looked at election procedures among the nine committees and the criteria for election and qualification for nomination as members. Among other things, the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies noted the absence of African members on the Subcommittee on Prevention and the limited number of members from Eastern Europe. However, they stressed that the nomination and election of treaty body members was the responsibility of States parties. The High Commissioner recommended that States parties apply the provisions as set out in the human rights treaties, as well as Economic and Social Council resolution 1985/17.
She said the annual report of the Human Rights Committee (document A/64/40 vols. I and II) covered the period from 1 August 2008 to 31 July 2009, including its ninety-fourth to ninety-sixth sessions. During that period, the Committee considered 13 periodic reports under article 40 and adopted concluding observations on those reports. It also made final and public the provisional concluding observations adopted in relation to one country situation considered in the absence of a report. It also adopted 46 views on communications and declared 6 communications admissible and 29 inadmissible. Consideration of 13 communications was discontinued and a total of 88 communications were registered. By the end of the ninety-sixth session, 410 communications were pending.
Turning to the report on the twenty-first meeting of chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies (document A/64/276), she said the reports of eighth and ninth Inter-Committee Meetings of Human Rights Treaty Bodies were also annexed to that report. The entire report contained information on developments in the work of treaty bodies, including progress made to increase cooperation. Harmonization of treaty body working methods and the universal periodic review mechanism of the Human Rights Council was discussed. Among other things, it noted that the chairpersons of the treaty bodies met with the President of the Human Rights Council and recommended that each treaty body consider designating a focal point to enhance cooperation, facilitate more effective interaction on country-specific and thematic issues, and follow up with the special procedures mandate holders. Joint meetings should also be convened in the context of Inter-Committee Meetings, rather than the meeting of chairpersons.
Statement by the Chairperson of the Committee against Torture
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said his statement was the first time the Third Committee had been addressed by the Chair of his Committee since its establishment in 1988.
He explained that the Committee against Torture was mandated to consider country reports, undertake inquiries and adopt General Comments. Of the 146 States that had ratified or acceded to the Convention on Torture, 39 had never submitted a report. That constituted a violation of their obligations. Of the 107 States that had submitted at least one report, the Committee had adopted 267 sets of concluding observations. Only 64 of the 146 States parties had made the declaration recognizing the Committee’s competence to examine complaints presented by individuals, which limited its ability to supervise full compliance of the Convention. So far, 402 individual complaints had been registered. Of those, the Committee had considered 288 complaints and found violations in 48. As for General Comments, the Committee had adopted two: one in the context of individual complaints with respect to non-refoulement, and a second on States’ parties obligations to prevent torture.
He discussed States parties’ obligations under the Convention. That document codified a norm of jus cogens -- that is the prohibition of torture, and its absolute character, as a non-derogable right. It encompassed the duty to implement, de jure and de facto, provisions on non-refoulement of any person believing he or she was in danger of being subject to torture. It also encompassed the obligation to extradite or prosecute a person alleged to have committed acts of torture, and prohibited using confessions extracted under torture in legal proceedings. It obliged States to proceed to a prompt investigation whenever there was reasonable ground to believe that torture or other inhumane treatment had occurred in its territory or under its jurisdiction. States Parties must also provide witness protection.
He said if States failed to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators, they bore responsibility for acquiescing to such acts. The Committee had applied that principle in the case of failure to prevent and protect victims from rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and trafficking.
“As a member of the Committee, I have seen how, through our petition procedures, individuals have been protected from being sent to countries where they run the risk of being tortured, and cases of satisfaction for minority groups subjected to inhuman treatment,” he said. But, he added, despite the existence of an impressive international legal framework, “we cannot affirm that torture has decreased”.
He said there were numerous instances where the Convention’s provisions and recommendations were not implemented. In some States, there was a refusal to adopt a clear definition of torture, or to criminalize torture. They practised the expulsion, return and extradition of persons to States where there was substantial grounds for believing they were in danger of being subjected to torture. They engaged in the “rendition” of suspects with the purpose of submitting them to acts of torture in countries that continued to use torture as a means of investigation and interrogation.
He said the Committee had adopted follow-up procedures in 2002 for decisions on individual complaints and, in 2003, was the first treaty body to establish a procedure for concluding observations. Rapporteurs had been assigned for that purpose. A new optional reporting procedure, set up in 2007, involved transmitting a list of questions to States, and their responses would constitute the State party’s report. Again, the Committee was the first to adopt such a procedure, and 20 such lists had been submitted to States with answers due in 2009 and 2010. More lists would be submitted at the upcoming November session.
Those measures, while innovative and enabling more frequent dialogue with States, placed an added burden on the Committee, which only had 10 members, he said. As a result, the Committee had requested additional meeting time.
He said the Committee envisaged discussing two new General Comments –- one on the issue of facts presented to the Committee and another on the right to redress, reparation and compensation.
He ended with a quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in which he said the most important things that had happened to mankind were first imagined and then translated into reality. The realization of the ideals behind the Convention against Torture was possible, he said, urging States to work towards achieving it.
Chile’s representative said his country had recently signed an agreement for a local office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to be set up soon. Chile had not set up the mechanism for the prevention of torture, but it looked forward to the visit by Mr. Grossman to get his advice on implementing that mechanism.
The representative of China said her country was firmly opposed to torture and had established a complete judicial system, in that regard. It had improved preventative and supervisory mechanisms on torture and it had set up mechanisms to punish perpetrators of torture, as well as to compensate victims of torture. It had also published a National Human Rights Action Plan. It had also fulfilled, in good faith, its duty under the Convention against Torture. It had submitted five reports on four occasions.
She said it was regrettable that, at the Committee’s consideration of China’s report last November, individual members, out of prejudice against China and in total disregard of the facts, deliberately politicized the consideration of the report, turning a blind eye to the detailed information provided by the Chinese Government. Also regrettable was the inclusion of misrepresented accusations in the concluding observations. That was unprofessional and ran counter to the purposes of the Convention. China hoped the Committee against Torture would strictly abide by the code of conduct for special procedures. It was willing to continue to cooperate with the human rights special procedures in future work.
Egypt’s representative said she wanted more information on torture in situations of armed conflict and foreign occupation. Why did the report not contain any information on that issue? Her delegation was also concerned about the details included on torture against children, and she asked for further clarification in that regard.
The representative of Sweden said the European Union strongly supported the Committee’s work. She asked for more information on the Committee’s work methods and wondered if there was a trend regarding the reporting or lack of reporting. How were the Committee’s relations with States parties progressing in this regard? Did the Chairperson foresee further cooperation with the Human Rights Council in the future? Did the Committee find any use for the General Assembly’s omnibus resolution?
Ethiopia asked what kind of assistance would be provided to States to support their reporting.
Responding, Mr. GROSSMAN said would pass on the concerns of the Chinese Government to the Committee, and voiced appreciation for its pledge to cooperate with the Committee.
To the representative of Egypt, he said that, in its General Comments No. 2, the Committee had stated that emergency situations, whether due to man-made or natural disasters, did not constitute situations where States could derogate from its obligations. That was explicit in article II of the Convention, whose principles had been reiterated in the Committee’s jurisprudence. Provisions relating to torture applied very much to situations of emergency. It was precisely in those situations that States must make doubly sure that the rules had to be fulfilled.
To the representative of Sweden, he said meetings with high-level delegations were a two-way street, enabling the Committee to learn of difficulties faced by Member States in implementing the Convention. Increasingly, States had included police representatives in their delegations, as well as members of civil society. While the Committee listened actively to all participants, that did not mean that it gave equal credibility to all members of a delegation. Having said that, he asserted that civil society had played an enriching role in the Committee’s work.
He said the Committee worked closely with the Special Rapporteur on torture, and that the two parties learned from each other. The Committee was also involved in preventive work with Member States in its recommendations, and frequently stressed the importance of ratification. There had been an increase in ratification and he expressed hope that that trend would continue. But, it would help if the Committee had more resources, so it could continue its work of promoting ratification.
Extraordinary renditions were now becoming less, he said. Renditions were a violation of article III of the Convention. But, while more countries had incorporated provisions against torture, he observed that not all had entered into full compliance. In upholding the law, consistency was key.
He noted that rehabilitation and reparations was increasingly on the agenda of many States.
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process had enriched discussions within the Committee against Torture, he said. But again, he stressed that treaty bodies were not given enough funds. There must be a balance between resources given to the Universal Periodic Review process and to treaty bodies. Nevertheless, the Committee would be open to ideas that would enable it to better contribute to the Universal Periodic Review process.
He added that resolutions were useful, in that they revealed what Member States think, and also fed into the Committee’s debates.
To the representative of Ethiopia, he explained that, after States had submitted their first report, the Committee would then raise whatever subjects of concern it might have. It would send guidelines to those States and a list of points that it would like States to cover in future reports. He said he understood that States had numerous reports to produce, but also reminded States that the United Nations was available for assistance. He said the Convention had provided States the possibility of extending their jurisdiction, and that it enabled points to be raised against Governments, which he found encouraging.
Statement by the Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture
VICTOR MANUEL RODRIQUEZ RESCIA, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, said it was an emblematic day since it was an opportunity to give a transparent account of what was being done to prevent torture. He was thankful that the human rights treaty bodies could submit information on their work, particularly on their complementary areas of competence. Indeed, that complementarity was essential to note, since, when it came to torture, efforts were being made to create synergies to combat torture. Now that Switzerland had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on 24 September 2009, the membership of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture could be expanded to its broadest membership.
He went on to emphasize the need to achieve objectives. During its first two years of operation, the Subcommittee had been giving an account of its work in order to enhance that work. It had a complementary mandate to the Committee against Torture. Its specific mandate was proactive: to prevent torture. Its main responsibility was based on two principles. First, it was meant to visit countries and to always take preventive action together with the State. The second principle related to the national mechanisms that States parties had established to help the Subcommittee fulfil its mandate. He noted that States that were not parties to the Optional Protocol were not precluded from taking preventive measures.
This preventive and non-reactive mandate distinguished the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture from other treaty bodies, he said. Among other aims, the Subcommittee sought to identify possible risks or weaknesses that would allow for torture or degrading punishment, including through the identification of specific legislation and practice. It also had a mandate to advise and cooperate with States parties to help set up the necessary mechanisms to prevent torture. These consultations were confidential, unless the countries wished to make them public. Currently, Switzerland and the Maldives had made their reports public.
He noted that the Subcommittee had visited a number of other countries and was cooperating with the United Nations system and with regional bodies. Its current report gave a general summary of its activities. It also outlined future challenges anticipated over the next two years. To date, there had been seven visits under the Optional Protocol. The eighth visit would be carried out later this year. Given its limited resources, the Subcommittee was only able to visit three or four countries per year. The Subcommittee had recommended that this be increased to eight per year.
He said the Subcommittee had, in its recommendations to the countries it had visited frequently, underlined the importance of civil society in the debate on national preventive mechanisms. Other recommendations addressed national legal frameworks, including the creation of legal safeguard clauses to prevent torture. Overall, it aimed to strengthen all mechanisms that prevented torture. With regard to police, it generally recommended the implementation of existing legal safeguards and an improvement of the general circumstances of detainment. Other specific recommendations were often made based on the country’s unique situation.
But, while it was an obligation under the Optional Protocol for specific mechanisms for prevention to be set up, a number of countries had not yet done so. While it had been said that the “jewel in the crown” of the anti-torture regime was the Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture, the Subcommittee itself believed that the jewel was actually the national mechanism for preventing torture. To this end, he exhorted States that had not yet done so to implement those mechanisms and emphasized that the Subcommittee made its advice available to all States parties in their efforts to do so.
He was grateful for the recommendation by the Committee against Torture urging States to ratify the Optional Protocol. He stressed the importance of the work of the contact group for the Optional Protocol, which was established last year, and the support of civil society, in general. In 2008, the members of the Subcommittee had participated in regional meetings. He noted this was outside that body’s budget, and suggested that these activities should be provided funding, so they could become full activities of the Subcommittee.
In its report, the Subcommittee had stressed the importance of interaction and coordination with other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations, including the regional commissions on human rights and those that dealt with the prevention of torture. He stressed that the Special Fund had been created to support specific activities, such as the implementation of recommendations made to specific states, not the functioning of the Subcommittee. Talks had begun with the United Nations Fund for the Victims of Torture to bolster this fund, which today had more than $30,000 from the United States. Spain and the Maldives had also made contributions.
He said that, to date, the Subcommittee’s achievements included the development of regulations, working methods and guidelines to help countries. Indeed, creative working methods had been made that prized efficiency. Preliminary guidelines had also been created to help strengthen national mechanisms. Moreover, an open discussion of the scope of preventing torture had been launched.
Turning to the challenges facing the Subcommittee, he reiterated that the number of its members would soon expand from 10 to 25. Since the mandate of the Subcommittee was different from other treaty bodies, sufficient support was necessary to ensure that it could fulfil its mandate. This was not just for the meetings of the Subcommittee, but to support the increased number of country visits that would result from an expanded membership. Indeed, the Subcommittee felt that adequate resources should be provided, so its work could be carried out effectively. Only by fulfilling both parts of its mandate would its recommendations be fully effective in preventing torture.
The representative of Mexico noted that his Government had received a visit from the Subcommittee in late August to early September, where it examined federal and state prisons throughout the country. The Subcommittee’s report was currently under study by the Government. So far, the Government had established a national mechanism to prevent torture, which had made 380 prison visits in a two-year period. Five supervisory bodies had been created to monitor prisons, and had the mandate to detect situations that could lead to torture or mistreatment. He asked the Subcommittee how it planned to optimize its work through visits to States parties, especially with the number of members expected to increase.
Sweden’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked about national preventive mechanisms. How could the Committee help States in that regard? The Subcommittee was different from most treaty bodies; she asked to know about common features between it and others. As for the seven field visits carried out by the Subcommittee, she asked to hear about lessons learned from them. Could Mr. Rodriguez elaborate on its relationship with other actors, such as the European Committee on the prevention of torture or others? She also thanked him for the Subcommittee’s visit to Sweden.
The representative of Switzerland observed that there were 50 States parties to the Optional Protocol on torture, and that his Government supported the notion that the Subcommittee be given enough resources to visit at least eight States parties per year. He noted the Special Fund designed to help States implement the Subcommittee’s recommendations, but noted that it was suffering from a shortfall. How could States and the Subcommittee work together to encourage the international community to contribute more to that Fund?
Costa Rica’s delegate remarked that the mandate of the Subcommittee was sometimes misunderstood. He was impressed to see the work it did with so few resources. The Subcommittee needed resources to maintain its independence, as well. He also supported its request for funds, so it could step up its visits to eight per year. Would there be an automatic increase in the budget when the number of members rose to 25? As for work to help build capacity within States, how would the Subcommittee follow up on that issue, given the resource shortage?
The representative of Turkey said his Government had a zero tolerance policy on torture. It had signed the Optional Protocol and begun the process of ratifying it. It was also party to the European Convention against torture, and recognized the competence of the monitoring body associated with the European Convention.
The Czech delegate, aligning herself with the statement by the European Union, noted the professional manner in which the Subcommittee conducted its work. Eliminating torture was a thematic priority in Czech foreign policy. Visits to State parties must be frequent, in order to make a dent in the problem, and the three visits per year constituted a serious backlog. She welcomed the creativity of the Subcommittee in dealing with its constraints, and asked how States could better support its work.
The representative of Chile said it was more important to “prevent” than to “cure”, and voiced support for the request to increase the Subcommittee’s budget when its membership increased, so as to enable it to carry out more country visits. He asked about its work with regional bodies. Seminars and other things would be a useful way to overcome the practical difficulties that the Subcommittee was facing.
Responding to the representative of Mexico, Mr. RODRIGUEZ RESCIA said an increase in membership to the Subcommittee would not be meaningful unless it came with a budget increase. The Subcommittee conducted actual country visits; it did not just analyse reports. The best way to optimize on its additional membership was to rationalize the use of resources, as explained in its report. He acknowledged that, in some countries, the prison population was enormous, calling for a large delegation from the Subcommittee. That issue gave him pause.
To the representative of Sweden, he said it was often painful to tell States requesting assistance that the Subcommittee was unable to provide it. Some members of the Subcommittee had taken part in national or regional seminars in a personal capacity. When a national mechanism did not meet certain requirements, members of the Subcommittee would make the effort to point it out. That body had indeed mapped out the characteristics that national mechanisms should have, although there was no single model applicable to all. He noted that a majority of States had an “ombudsman plus”, where they had strengthened the independence of, and restructured the ombudsman’s office to include the prevention of torture. That model was a good one, but again, he stressed that different States had different requirements. Honduras and Paraguay had interesting systems that were different from the ombudsman plus.
On how the subcommittee was different from other treaty bodies, and how it was different from the Committee against Torture and the Special Rapporteur, he began by explaining that the treaty on torture was a “new generation treaty”. The Subcommittee aimed to engender a sense of “co-responsibility” on the issue on the part of States. Its work involved more than sending out reports, but also to build processes within States to combat torture in a proactive sense. The Subcommittee did not dictate specifics, but worked in a complementary fashion with States.
He said it did not wish to overlap with the work of the Committee on torture. The Subcommittee carried out risk studies. Its visits were strategic and were aimed at preventing torture. It did not work “ex-post”. It worked with regional organizations -- for example, with the Europe Committee on torture and the Inter-American Organization. The African Commission on human rights had a Special Rapporteur with guidelines on eliminating torture, and the Subcommittee was working to increase the synergy between them.
On lessons learned, he said the most important one dealt with the process of dialogue with States, and in building their capacity to prevent torture by sharing information on the issue. It had also learned lessons on how to properly diagnose situations, identify risk, and create legislation and practices that could have a bearing on the Subcommittee’s work.
He said States should be happy to hear that the Subcommittee was about to visit. Those visits did not require the consent of the States and, in that, the subcommittee was different from other treaty bodies. But, it was careful to notify those States before a visit.
He said the Subcommittee was eager to unify its efforts with that of the Committee, which had no mandate on facilitating the creation of national mechanisms, whereas the Subcommittee did. For example, the Subcommittee would like to see how national mechanisms in Europe could be put to best use.
He said he would take on board the concerns voiced by the representatives of Switzerland, Costa Rica and others. On the issue of encouraging States to pay into the Special Fund, he observed that States were first looking to see results. Most of the Subcommittee’s reports were confidential, so States that had not yet been paid a visit did not know what the Subcommittee did. He noted that, very often, States faced several risks in common. Switzerland and the Maldives had declared their reports public, and it would be good if more reports were to be made public, as well. But, that decision laid with States parties.
On the follow-up to recommendations, as raised by the representative of Costa Rica, he said the Subcommittee adopted reports containing recommendations. The State must provide answers on the basis of such a report. The subsequent answer may or may not remain confidential.
To the Czech Republic, he said the Subcommittee took up creative solutions to its problems, but that creativity alone was not enough. The Subcommittee was concerned when it could not provide enough advice to States. To the representative of Chile, he said the Subcommittee was following up on its establishment of a national mechanism.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Torture
MANFRED NOWAK, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, focused his address on conditions of detention. His time on country visits was often spent in closed institutions, such as prisons, pretrial detention facilities, police and military lock-ups, psychiatric hospitals and special places of detention for children and juveniles, aliens and other groups. Many of those interviewed spoke of having been beaten up during the early days of their police custody. Police resorted to such practices as a routine part of their work, in order to extract confessions. However, the suffering caused by those few hours of torture was often outweighed by the suffering endured for years, and sometimes for entire lifetimes, by victims as a result of living in inhuman and degrading conditions of detention. Detainees were practically forgotten by the outside world.
He said places of detention were overcrowded, filthy and rife with disease. Inter-prison hierarchies and violence was common. Guards often delegated their authority and responsibility to protect detainees against discrimination, exploitation and violence to privileged detainees, who in turn, used that power to their own benefit. In many countries, corruption within the administration of justice, whether by police, prosecutors, judges or prison officials, was rampant. The victims of arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman conditions of detention tended to be ordinary people, and not political or “high ranking” prisoners.
He noted that the Preamble of the United Nations Charter had been adopted in reaction to the systematic denial of human dignity during the Nazi Holocaust. Any deprivation of personal liberty carried the risk of interfering with human dignity. That was the reason why international human rights law established strict limits on States’ Powers to deprive human beings of personal liberty and guaranteed the right of detainees to human dignity.
He explained that detainees forfeited certain rights as a result of their lawful deprivation of liberty: the right to personal liberty and freedom of movement. But, there were certain relative rights that, due to the powerlessness of detainees, prison authorities had a particular responsibility to ensure. Among the rights most restricted by the rules and practice of prison life was the right to privacy, especially in overcrowded prisons. Another was the right to sufficient contact with the outside world, and the right to freedom of religion, expression, information, association and similar freedoms. In principle, detainees should also be able to exercise the right to vote. They had the right to an adequate standard of living, food, clothing and housing, which fell under the rubric of economic, social and cultural rights.
Detainees also had the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, he noted. That would include the need for medical services in detention facilities, including prison hospitals, psychiatric services, dental care, and women’s prenatal and post-natal care and treatment. The right to education should include vocational training.
He stressed that detainees had certain absolute rights, which they enjoyed in full equality with other human beings. That included the right not to be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It included the right to life, the right to equal access to justice and a fair trial, the right to equality and non-discrimination, and the right to an effective remedy for human rights violations.
He said among the most vulnerable in detention were children. He was alarmed by the low age of criminal liability in many countries, and had come across boys and girls as young as 9 or 10 in prolonged pretrial detention. They were prone to fall victim to corporal punishment or abuse by fellow detainees. He noted that it was prohibited to place children in dark cells, closed or solitary confinement, or any other punishment that might compromise their physical and mental health, such as reduced diet, and restriction or denial of contact with the family. A significant part of abuse was inflicted on them by other detainees, mainly by adults, but also by other children. It sometimes included rape. The international community needed to apply the international human rights framework to address children’s needs. He called on States to put the best interest of the child at the centre of their juvenile justice system.
He concluded by discussing his country visits. He announced that the Government of Zimbabwe had extended an invitation for a country visit from 28 October to 4 November. A visit was also scheduled for Jamaica from 13 to 21 February 2010. But, the Russian Federation had postponed its invitation; the recent murder of human rights defenders active in combating torture in Chechnya and other North Caucus Republics were of particular concern. The Government of Cuba had also not proposed or agreed to any dates. Dates for a visit to Iraq were being considered. He had also visited the United Kingdom and Germany, in the context of the study on secret detention, and would hold meetings with United States officials in the coming days.
Of his country visits in 2009, he talked briefly of visits to Uruguay and Kazakhstan. In Uruguay, he recommended reform of the criminal and penitentiary systems aimed at the re-socialization of offenders and moving away from a punitive penal system directed at “locking up people”. In Kazakhstan, he noted that many safeguards were not effective in practice. Violence against women was a widespread phenomenon.
Sweden’s delegate, referring to the Special Rapporteur’s comment that many States had not answered his requests, urged all States to cooperate closely with him. Not doing so indicated a careless regard for torture. She went on to ask about cooperation between his office, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Committee against Torture. How did he hope such cooperation would proceed in the future?
Turning to the issue of the conditions of detention, as well as children in detention, she wondered if there were any general, norm-setting actions the international community could take. She also asked how his plan to issue a global report on torture was progressing.
The representative of Austria said his country regretted that a high number of the Special Rapporteur’s requests remained unanswered. Austria believed that all States should issue standing invitations to the special procedures. He welcomed the recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report and asked how follow-up mechanisms could be made better. The most recent resolution of the Human Rights Council on administration of justice invited all stakeholders to consider the gender-specific aspects on detention and he wondered if the Special Rapporteur could provide more information.
Noting the reports of the Special Rapporteur on torture, China’s representative pointed out the allegations made in the report on the situation in China’s detention centres and the re-education-through-labour programme deviated from reality. Unverified and false information was included. Re-education-through-labour was a legal mechanism and judicial remedies were provided for. It included training, such as computer training, which could help those subjected to the mechanism to re-enter life. The allegation that these detainees were kept for years and were subject to brainwashing was false. Moreover, every ward had their own bathroom. By providing this information, China hoped that the Special Rapporteur would act according to the code of conduct and carry out his office in a professional manner.
The representative of Switzerland said his delegation had read the report’s summary on the detention of minors and wondered how the determination expressed by certain States to reform their penitential systems so that detainees did not fall victim to poor conditions could be implemented. In general, Switzerland believed priority should be given to implementing and reforming special mechanisms that already existed. But, the Special Rapporteur had just mentioned the possibility of drawing up a draft convention on the rights of detainees. Could he provide more information?
Syria’s delegate said her delegation wanted to remind States that all individuals that were presently under the States jurisdiction were provided with such rights as mentioned by the Convention. Her delegation remained concerned that all recommendations in the report were devoid of that phrase.
The United States representative said that while some aspects of the report were controversial, it highlighted issues that were generally underrepresented and unrecognized in the torture debate. Indeed, the plight of ordinary people, who belonged to the poorest and most disadvantaged segments of society and were detained under poor conditions, were often out of sight and mind in the often politicized discussions. This was particularly disturbing in the case of children. Few would hesitate to condemn this practice and the international community should assist efforts to reform these systems. But, he wondered how donor countries could ensure their aid went to effective reforms? He went on to ask the Special Rapporteur if he considered the correlation between resource constraints weak or robust? Further, most criminal justice systems incorporated a punitive approach to justice. Was this approach incompatible to human rights?
The delegate from Uruguay noted that the Special Rapporteur’s visit had been the first by a human rights office. Her Government had had some disagreements with the conclusions, but it wanted to highlight the awareness the visit had engendered among the population. Uruguay planned to adopt rapid measures to follow up on his recommendations. Information had already been exchanged between the Government and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Steps were already being made and an action plan was being developed for reform. Three specific mechanisms had been created to prevent torture.
The representative of Liechtenstein underlined the findings on the high number of children in detention, as well as the deprivation of basic human rights in juvenile justice systems and requested more information on outstanding country visits.
Botswana’s representative noted the broad range of issues discussed in the Special Rapporteur’s report. On the prohibition of corporal punishment, however, his delegation believed the Special Rapporteur had failed to note that corporal punishment fell within the system of justice, which, in turn, fell within the sovereign right of States. It would only serve humanity well if the Special Rapporteurs were not overindulgent in implementing their mandates. His delegation did not agree at all that corporal punishment should be prohibited, or that national laws were in conflict with the Convention against Torture.
The representative of Nigeria expressed concern over the manner in which the Special Rapporteur referred to her country in paragraphs 44 and 77 of his interim report with regard to detainees and detention. Nigeria underwent its universal periodic review under the Human Rights Council earlier this year and none of those experts given access to the country during that process had raised similar issues. Her Government was concerned that these allegations were not raised with it before the report was completed. This “ambush diplomacy” did not augur well for the prevention of torture.
She stressed that the Nigerian Government did not in any way endorse torture. It was embarking on prison reforms to ensure that all citizens were given adequate treatment. It had no so-called “torture rooms”. It was a State party to the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. While it knew it had shortcomings, it stood ready to cooperate to remedy these. She called on the Special Rapporteur to bring any such findings to the Government’s attention, so they could be duly addressed.
The representative of New Zealand said that last year’s report had provided helpful advice on persons with disabilities. How was the Special Rapporteur ensuring follow-up to those recommendations?
Brazil’s delegate said his country was firmly convinced that the current, fruitful dialogue helped prevent torture. Noting that the Special Rapporteur had raised the vulnerable situation of children, he drew attention to the recent guidelines issued by the Human Rights Council on the rights of children without parental care.
Togo’s representative said the harmonization of domestic legislation was underway with international norms and standards to prevent torture and other degrading treatments. The Government had set up a hotline and urged that all such acts of violence be reported.
The representative of Libya thanked Mr. Nowak for his report, but noted that it did not include information on the imprisonment conditions in countries involved in armed conflict or foreign occupation.
Cuba’s delegate asked for more information on the issues raised in paragraphs 11, 12, 32 and 35 of the report.
Responding, Mr. NOWAK underlined the close relationship between his office and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. It was on the basis of his 15 missions to date that he had been able to compile the current report. Nevertheless, the issue of children in detention was very difficult, since there were differing norms and regulations regarding the age at which mothers and children could be detained.
Turning to Sweden’s question, he said there was no real fear of duplication with the Committee against Torture. Of course, they tried, when developing a programme of missions, to ensure that the different offices did not visit the same countries. They also took into account each other’s findings to follow up on the recommendations made by the other. He was in the process of compiling the global report in relation to his specific experiences in the countries he had visited. He would try to draw general conclusions in his next report to the Human Rights Council and identify what seemed to be global issues relating to torture and other cruel, degrading and inhumane punishment.
On norm-setting, he said he had felt, when he started his mandate, that the main goal was looking into torture and eradicating it. But, since he spent so much time in closed institutions, it was part of his mandate to assess the general conditions of those detention facilities. He had not considered it would be as bad as he had found it, so far. That was why the need for standard-setting was so acute. Minimum and soft standards existed, but he believed the international community should define, in a binding way, the minimum standards.
He stressed that Governments had no obligation to invite him to visit. It was up to States. He was grateful when they did invite him and he tried to solicit such invitations.
On gender-specific aspects in detention, he recalled that most of his 2008 report to the Human Rights Council had been devoted to the situation of women, including outside prisons. Within prisons, what was most important was the separation of women and men detainees. This was nearly always the case and was much more typical than the separation of adults and minors. Generally, the situation of women was better than that of men. This was one aspect where women were somewhat better off. There was also a smaller percentage of female prisoners.
Responding to Nigeria and China, he said he was not compiling the examples out of the blue. Indeed, they were based on missions he had taken to those countries. He had visited China in 2005 and Nigeria in 2007. All the issues they raised were already in his reports and he had taken them up with the Governments themselves.
In relation to China, the re-education programme was something he had discussed extensively. Certain agreements and promises had been made that these issues would be looked into, in the process of China developing its civil rights programme. However, in the re-education programme there was no judicial oversight, which was required by the Convention. Accusing him of violating the code of conduct was based on a misunderstanding.
In relation to Nigeria, he said he had discussed the use of torture rooms with the inspector of police and the President. Both had said that this practice was a clear violation and they would take action to close down these rooms. In later meetings he had been informed that they had been closed down and necessary action taken.
Responding to the United States, he said he recognized that poverty had an impact on inadequate prison standards. But, those standards and the potential for reform also had to do with political will. He saw his main mission as cooperating with the Governments to help improve the conditions. He often approached donors to help Governments in that effort. Uruguay had been extremely proactive in asking for help and recommendations. In fact, the Government immediately took action after he had made certain recommendations, with the President immediately ordering that certain facilities be closed down. For his part, he had asked the donor community, including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to assist these efforts.
Regarding country visits, he said he was going to Zimbabwe soon. The Government of Cuba had assured him a visit would be possible in 2010. He would be happy if the Russian Federation would come back to its original invitation, and a visit could be set up in 2010.
He strongly disagreed with Botswana’s delegation. Corporal punishment was prohibited and all case law in human rights bodies indicated this. It should not be used as a disciplinary sanction, particularly against children.
Responding to New Zealand, he said follow-up was the weakest part of his mandate and those of other human rights bodies. He tried to remain in contact with the countries he visited. He noted that the Governments of Moldova and Sri Lanka had asked for follow-up assistance. But, more resources were needed to be successful.
In relation to Syria and Libya, he had not focused in this report on armed conflict. But, of course, he had visited countries in the middle of armed conflict, including Nepal in 2005 and recently Sri Lanka. He was concerned that torture remains absolutely prohibited. He was also concerned about child soldiers, and noted that in Sri Lanka he had seen cases of their use.
He apologized that he had not completely understood the Cuban delegate’s question and asked her to explain which paragraphs she was inquiring about.
The representative of Cuba asked if the Special Rapporteur had any additional information on paragraphs 11, 12, 32 and 35, which mentioned the closure of the detention centre in Guantanamo Bay.
Mr. NOWAK said was going to Washington, D.C. tomorrow and had been in constant contact with the United States and other Governments in follow-up on the joint report on Guantanamo and to assist in efforts to close that facility.
He was extremely encouraged by the President’s directive to close it down by January 2010. He noted the situation was not easy, particularly where detainees could not return to their countries of origin under the principle of non-refoulement. He was encouraged by those States that had offered to take former detainees and urged all Member States to consider taking all those prisoners who needed a place to go.
Syria’s representative said her question may not have been clear. She wanted to ask about people living under foreign occupation. At the same time, she had asked why there was no reference in the recommendations to the State obligation to prohibit torture and all its forms, not only for a nation’s people, but for the people within its jurisdiction. Her intention was to address this question to the situation of people living under foreign occupation, which was never addressed.
Mr. NOWAK said that, legally speaking, it was a difficult question, but it was his conviction that the Convention against Torture created State obligations not only for a State’s own territory, but also every territory under occupation -- or what courts termed “under their effective control”. That meant that, if one State was occupying the territory of another State, it exercised effective control there and all conventions applied.
Thus, if you were running detention facilities outside your own territory –- and the classic example was Guantanamo, which the Bush administration had argued was outside United States control, but had the Supreme Court had determined was under United States control -- that would mean the State had the same obligations under the Convention.
Introduction of Draft Resolutions
The Committee broke from its discussion to hear the introduction of three draft resolutions.
The representative of France, speaking also on behalf of the Netherlands, introduced the draft resolution on the intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (document A/C.3/64/L.16). He said a previous resolution on the issue (resolution 63/155) had called on United Nations bodies, funds, programmes and agencies, as well as Bretton Woods institutions to coordinate their work on that issue. The General Assembly then called on the Secretary-General to submit a report on work done in that area. This year’s resolution was aimed at providing advice on further efforts that the United Nations and Member States could take. He called on States to support the resolution.
Next, the representative of Finland introduced the draft resolution on Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (document A/C.3/64/L.17). She said this draft was traditionally presented by a Nordic country on a biannual basis. The draft focused on the Committee’s work to eliminate the backlog of country reports and, in addition to highlighting that achievement, it also underlined the changes made to the Committee’s working methods which strengthened its ability to work in informal ways with other treaty bodies. In light of the anniversaries of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, it was hoped a wide co-sponsorship could be re-established. While a few open issues still needed to be addressed, it was sincerely hoped that the draft could be adopted by a wide margin this Thursday as scheduled.
Mongolia’s representative then introduced the draft resolution on Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (document A/C.3/64/L.19). She said the global economic downturn, the food and energy crises and the impact of climate change all negatively impacted the situation of women in rural areas. Enhancement of gender equality was crucial to economic growth and poverty reduction, but women and children still had less access to economic opportunities. Reproductive health care remained inadequate. Progress to improve maternal health was also lagging in rural areas. Improvements were needed to address this situation. Among others, financial resources should be increased and efforts to attain Millennium Development Goal 5 accelerated. More should also be done to ensure rural women’s access to decent work, economic and financial resources, and disability-sensitive infrastructure and services.
She said the resolution urges Governments, the United Nations system and all other stakeholders to identify and address the negative impacts of the current global crises on women in rural areas, including through legislation, policies and programmes that strengthen gender equality and the empowerment of women. In 2007 the General Assembly decided that 15 October should be observed as the International Day of Rural Women. To this end, the resolution invited Governments and relevant agencies to continue to observe this day as per General Assembly resolution 62/136.
NICOLA HILL (New Zealand), speaking on behalf of Canada, Australia and New Zealand (CANZ) and focusing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said the Convention had acquired 143 signatures and 71 ratifications in less than three years, a sign that the treaty was truly one with a “universal design”. Welcoming the first two meetings of the Conference of States Parties, she said the countries she spoke for had worked hard to ensure access by non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions. The platform for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities must be a robust domestic legislative framework and she welcomed the resolution on the Convention in the Human Rights Council, which focused on legislative measures.
She encouraged States to ensure that international cooperation, including development assistance, improved the quality of life of children, women and men with disabilities, built the capacity of disabled peoples organizations and national human rights institutions and assisted partner countries in complying with the Convention. Persons with disabilities in the developing world were among those who bore the brunt of the global economic crisis. Marshalling the unique and vital contribution of persons with disabilities and protecting their human rights should be part of any Government’s plan for stabilization and recovery. The Convention provided important guidance in that regard.
TAKASHI ASHIKI ( Japan) stressed the universality of human rights, saying they applied to the entire international community. Promotion of human rights formed an essential basis for political and economic development, and had a direct connection to whether the world was able to exist in peace and stability. For Japan, protecting and promoting human rights was one of the main pillars of its foreign policy. The Human Rights Council played a significant role in broadening areas within international society in which common values of human rights and fundamental freedoms could be assured. The Japanese Government had made positive contributions to the discussions that led to the Council’s establishment, and had served as a member since that time. But, to be a truly effective body, the Council must make progress in certain areas. Japan was committed to participating in an upcoming review of the Council, in 2011.
He said his Government implemented faithfully all the treaties it had ratified. It attached great importance to the role being played by the United Nations in establishing universal norms and standards. In July, it ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, under which parties were expected to work to prevent such crimes from occurring. It was currently seeking to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It also believed in taking measures to achieve human security, which involved protecting people from critical and pervasive threats to their survival, dignity and livelihoods, and helping them to realize their full potential. It saw the provision of assistance for the achievement of democracy as one of the most important objectives of its foreign policy, and had provided assistance to Cambodia, Viet Nam, Uzbekistan and Nepal.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia) said her country was up to date in the submission of reports and paid special attention to following up on recommendations of the various treaty bodies. The Colombian Constitution constituted a solid framework of fundamental rights, with effective protection mechanism that had led to important advancements in jurisprudence. The treaties that recognized human rights have a higher status in Colombia’s national legal system, meaning that lower-level rules of domestic law must be adjusted to them. The Congress had approved the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the subsequent law signed by President Uribe was currently under review in the Constitutional Court. Colombia intended to present a draft resolution aimed at proclaiming the United Nations decade of the people of African descent. It aimed at promoting the national and international agenda of policies and actions to strengthen the rights of such people, particularly in countries where they still faced challenges.
She stressed that international cooperation regarding relevant national actions should ensure that, in all contexts, people of African descent could benefit from the implementation of obligations provided under human rights instruments. Colombia considered it appropriate to propose the proclamation as a decade, rather than another commemorative approach with less scope. The purpose was to promote appropriate continuity in national actions and international cooperation to ensure the progressive and sustained realization of the rights and welfare of people of African descent. Likewise, a comprehensive approach would be proposed relating to the actors who should participate in the decade. In the definition of concrete actions, special attention should also be given to the recommendations made by the Working Group of Experts on people of African descent. The initiative was of great importance to a country like hers, where 10.3 per cent of the population recognized themselves as Afro-Colombians. The support of Member States would allow a positive agenda to be promoted for the realization of the human rights of millions of people of African descent living in different regions of the world.
HASSAN ALI HASSAN ( Sudan) said the Sudan was party to a wide range of human rights treaties, having signed the convention on political and civil rights, and also of economic and cultural rights. It was party to the convention on the elimination of racial discrimination, on the crime of genocide, and recently on the rights of the child and its two optional protocols. It had submitted national reports on its implementation of those conventions. The Sudanese Government wished to improve the situation of human rights in the country and was expending efforts to overcome the consequences of the civil war, which had its origins in Britain’s colonization of Africa. The Government of National Salvation, under President Al-Bashir, had brought peace to the country for the first time, with the signing of the Global Peace Agreement in 2009. The 2005 transitional constitution further ensured the Sudan’s position as a vanguard in human rights, including on the rights of women and rights of minorities.
He said progress in protecting human rights required that Governments approach the issue with the right intentions. He discouraged States from engaging in politics, in which the will of the strongest prevailed. The absence of effective dialogue in a discussion on the violation of human rights was itself a violation of the principle of human rights. The Sudanese Government had always found that, in the work of many bodies, some activities were not in line with their mandates. This led to fear by the Sudanese Government of a negative effect on transparency. The Sudan was committed to working with United Nations machinery to consolidate the protection and promotion of human rights in the Sudan, and supported a resolution of the Human Rights Council that sought to increase technical support to countries through an independent expert. He ended by expressing concern over the suffering of Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, who were deprived of their right to self-determination.
CLAUDIA PEREZ ALVAREZ ( Cuba) said that since 1959 her country had been committed to building a political, economic and social system where the human rights of its entire people were respected and where the right to self-determination was fully exercised, despite a policy of blockade by successive United States administration. Further, because of her country’s significant achievements in creating a just and vibrant society, thousands of Cuban health care, sports and educational professionals travelled around the world to provide services and expertise in over 100 countries.
In regards to international cooperation, Cuba was party to 42 main treaties relating to human rights, often being one of the first Member States to sign and ratify. A founding and current member of the Human Rights Council, her country also was one of the first countries visited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights after the post was established. Having recently engaged in the universal periodic review, and receiving excellent results, she hoped that sanctions against countries in the South and impunity for countries in the North would “not be repeated in the current United Nations human rights system”.
ZHENMIN LIU ( China) said his country fulfilled in earnest its obligations under international human rights treaties, of which it had joined many. His Government had –- in line with the principle of “one country, two systems” –- actively supported the Governments of Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Region in fulfilling relevant treaty obligations and protecting human rights. Saying that the combined third and fourth reports on the Convention on the Rights of the Child was being prepared, he stressed that the current reporting mechanisms were hampered by excessive complexity and heavy reporting burdens, with overlapping mandates and duplication of work among different treaty bodies. He supported, in that regard, reform efforts to streamline procedures and harmonize methodologies.
He said that, while in general all committees had acted with fairness, objectivity and neutrality, certain treaty bodies often exceeded their mandates. Some individual committee members had even abused their power. All treaty bodies should maintain the credibility of legitimacy of their work and act cautiously when dealing with unverified information from unreliable sources. The committees should: base their concluding recommendations on the specific conditions of State parties; make such opinions clearly targeted and practicable; and avoid politicization and selectivity in their work. He hoped that OHCHR and various treaty bodies would continue to strengthen communication with States parties and carefully listen to and respect their opinions.
RANDALL GONZALEZ ( Costa Rica) said his country had ratified all the international instruments in the human rights field and domestic case law gave them higher priority in national decisions. Costa Rica also invested more than half of its resources in building up its infrastructure, as well as its abilities to provide basic services, thus strengthening its solidarity and social protection networks. Moreover, these efforts served as the country’s calling card in international bodies. Costa Rica had, thus, supported the organs and bodies created by and dealing with these international treaties. It believed in the effective realization of human rights without double standards and applied an inclusive, rights-based approach, taking into account the needs of special groups such as the disabled, the elderly, women and children, and indigenous peoples.
Stressing that the real exercise of human rights was a prerequisite for relations between and within nations, he asked how much progress might be possible if the arms race was abandoned. He lamented that resources that could meet development needs were assigned to military purposes. Indeed, $3.5 million was spent on arms each day, while developing countries were unable to meet their needs. This was true of Latin America, where billions were spent on the military, while education systems lagged.
He said adhesion to the rule of law and human rights had served as the foundation for Costa Rica’s work over the last two years in the Security Council. It had called for human rights to be a permanent component of peacekeeping and peacebuilding and stressed that these rights were also inseparable from establishing the rule of law and ensuring good governance. This approach had served as the basis for Costa Rica’s support for resolutions 1820 and 1888 on sexual violence, 1882 on children and armed conflict and 1889 on peace and security. Costa Rica hoped that the Council would continue to take steps in that direction. For its part, as Chair of the Human Rights Council from 2011 to 2013, Costa Rica would seek to strengthen regard for human rights by promoting the development of concrete mechanisms in that regard. Rational indicators to measure progress in the human rights field were needed to shore up the practical dimension of human rights. Consistency, transparency and an ethical sense of responsibility must prevail.
KHALID AL MALKI ( Qatar) said the Qatari Constitution guaranteed the political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights of its people. As a demonstration of its interest in upholding all human rights, the Government had established various institutions to oversee that those rights were maintained. Qatar had a national committee for human rights and all Government bodies had units devoted to human rights. The Government had revised its national laws to ensure they were in line with international conventions. It had a procedure to receive and examine complaints and was seeking ways to address them. It was party to the Optional Protocol on trafficking to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
He said Qatar would submit its national report to the Human Rights Council next January as part of the universal periodic review procedure. The Government believed that preparation for the review was an opportunity to improve its understanding of human rights and to review its legislation. It was an opportunity, as well, to ensure civil society participation in the review. He said the Government had already submitted a report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In May, the Government had opened the United Nations training centre for information on human rights for the Arab region, following General Assembly resolution 61/153. It was thought that the exchange of information and experience between States would improve coordination among them.
Commenting briefly on the defamation of religion, he said the Qatar Government categorically rejected incitements to violence that were merely pretexts to defame religions. To combat intolerance due to ignorance, Qatar was a regular participant in the dialogue between religions, and had hosted the seventh conference between religions, at which participants examined the role of religious leaders in finding solutions to economic problems.
WARIF HALABI ( Syria) said the issue of human rights was related to the individual’s efforts to secure a life of dignity. These efforts had been witnessed throughout history, including in the fight against slavery and colonialism. They were universal aspirations and, as such, there could be no discrimination against them. In the light of the diversity amongst peoples, basic human rights continued to be the same. If the interdependence of these rights was agreed, then the world community needed to consider them in a fair, balanced way without double standards. Moreover, these rights must also be viewed through the cultural, religious, cultural, historical prism that obtained in each country.
She said Syria’s constitution set out human rights for all citizens and the Government promoted all seven international instruments ensuring basic human rights. It had submitted its first report on measures being taken to respect Syria’s commitments to the Committee against Torture. Despite the universality and noble goals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights were still selectively enjoyed in different States. Syria specifically regretted that some countries had opposed the “Goldstone report” because it was critical of Israel. The politicization of humanitarian efforts meant that some States were deprived of assistance. Moreover, crimes were committed during these humanitarian disasters. The Vienna Programme of Action called for measures to ensure human rights at the national level, including for those living under foreign occupation. It also called for measures to be taken against those violating the human rights of the people living under occupation. Since occupation was itself a violation of human rights, it should be ended.
REDOUANE YAHIAOUI ( Algeria) said his Government was party to most human rights instruments. Nationally, it had undergone a process of judicial reform in 2000 to update the legal system. The Government had introduced human rights education in its school curriculum. Also, in line with relevant United Nations principles, the national consultation commission for the promotion and protection of human rights, under the Office of the President, now had a more robust system of governance. It was on permanent alert for human rights violations, and human rights education was one of its major concerns. The commission had “a great capacity for listening”. Its members were elected by the public, but candidates were nominated by magistrates who ensured they were well equipped for the job. Civil society had a strong role in distributing information on human rights and to ensure a culture of human rights in the country.
He said Algeria had striven to promote all rights, without distinguishing between civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights, or rights such as the right to development. Indeed, all human rights should be upheld under the principle of non-selectivity. The Government had submitted its report to the universal periodic review process in April 2008, alongside 33 other reports to various international and regional committees. Returning to the principle of non-selectivity, he observed that migrant workers’ rights were under threat because the Convention on the rights of those peoples had not been ratified by most industrial countries. Those that had ratified it were mostly countries of origin for migrants, but not host countries. The international community must ensure that rights of entire peoples were not sacrificed in the pursuit of the rights of the individual. States must demonstrate their desire to implement and defend the rights of entire peoples, particularly their right to peace, self-determination, development and right to live in a safe world.
MARIA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO ( Nicaragua) said her country had aligned its legal frameworks to meet human rights norms and was a State party to the international human rights instruments. Article 46 of Nicaragua’s political Constitution guaranteed respect for human rights. Progress had also been made in ratifying the optional protocols of the different conventions. The Government had also established policies and programmes to meet the basic demands of the Nicaraguan people, including, among other things, free access to health care, water, food and housing. A national development plan had been created to eradicate poverty. The Nicaraguan Government was fully aware that the effective implementation of civil and political rights was necessary and stated once again to the international community its readiness to promote and protect human rights. Progress on the legal and administrative level had been made, with emphasis being placed on the most vulnerable sectors. Institutions and entities had been established, such as the Institute of Women, the AIDS Commission and a commission for women which addressed issues of violence and crime. The Commission for Development of the Atlantic Coast also sought to promote development in that region.
She stressed that Nicaragua’s system for the administration of justice had been modernized and legislative and administrative norms that protected human rights had been set up. The result of the Government’s collective work in the realm of human rights had led to important achievements, such as its becoming up-to-date with the submission of reports to various human rights bodies, which had been ignored for decades by previous Governments. Nicaragua was also currently preparing for the Universal Periodic Review.
INGRID SABJA ( Bolivia) said her country had undergone a process of democratic change since 2006, resulting in a new constitution that guaranteed people their economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. The Ministry of Justice was responsible for crafting human rights policies. The Government was guided by its “Living Well” philosophy, believing that “one cannot live well while others lived poorly”. That concept was meant to counter the philosophy of “living better”, where people always sought to acquire more and more, at the expense of others and the environment. Capitalist development was based on the latter, and constituted an enemy of human rights.
She said Bolivia’s national human rights action plan was enshrined in its national development plan, which was founded on the concept of community-based development. It entailed an alternative approach to development, unlike that applied by previous governments, and complemented all human rights -- economic, social and cultural rights, in particular. For instance, it had a zero malnutrition policy, provided ways to strengthen community participation in healthcare, and established schools to train health-care workers. It had a plan against poverty that sought to reduce unemployment by creating new jobs, and by providing people with basic services such as water and electricity. It provided subsidized housing in peripheral areas.
On indigenous issues, she said the Government had a development fund that supported the modernization of agriculture practices and infrastructure in land that had been newly allotted to indigenous communities. The Guaraní people, who were expelled from their lands, were now guaranteed their rights to their lands. The Government had set up education councils on the rights of indigenous peoples, which also helped to fight racism and discrimination against them. It sought to provide equal opportunity to the indigenous population by setting up three indigenous universities, and allowed indigenous women equal opportunity to participate in the army. However, certain radical groups continued to incite terrorism. The Government condemned the recent murder of indigenous workers, saying those acts would not diminish efforts to shape a new Bolivia.
SOCORRO ROVIROSA ( Mexico) said the rate at which the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been signed and ratified since its adoption demonstrated the will of countries to protect the rights of this vulnerable segment of humanity. It was hoped this would have a positive impact on the well-being of people with disabilities. Yet, a rapid but effective revision was needed of the policies that countries were implementing to ensure they were in keeping with the spirit of the Convention. Specifically a human rights-based approach was needed. This was a daunting task, since policies relating to the disabled had historically taken a custodial approach. It was her delegation’s view that legislative reforms were required to ensure the full exercise of the rights of the disabled.
She noted that Mexico had established a programme, through 2012, that recognized the legal standing of the disabled and sought to promote their standing in society. This programme had replaced its assistance-based approach, with a rights-based approach. It also promoted an alliance among the Government, the public and civil society, among others. A substantive discussion was, thus, possible regarding the implementation of this important instrument and the dialogue had entered a new phase. Mexico would continue to promote the protection and recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities. In that effort, civil society partnerships would be paramount. As in past years, Mexico would table a resolution calling for further ratification of the Convention.
FARHAD MAMDOUHI ( Iran) said that, although the treaty body system for monitoring international instruments was one of the most important achievements of the human rights mechanism, Member States should be careful that that system did not fall victim to overlapping articles of an increasing number of treaties. Duplication should be reduced, where possible. His country, State party to a number of international human rights treaties, had recently ratified and acceded to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
He said Iran fulfilled, in earnest, its treaty obligations under international human-rights instruments and had adopted a number of legislative, judicial and administrative measures for the implementation of those instruments. It also submitted the required periodic reports. He hoped that in the efforts by all for the promotion and development of human rights, all rights -– including the right to preserve cultural identity and respect for sovereignty and right of all States to freely determine their own approach towards progressive development –- would be preserved. His Government firmly believed in the importance of engagement on the basis of equality and mutual respect, with a view to increase mutual understanding.
SAUD SAAD ALTHOBAITI ( Saudi Arabia) said his country’s efforts in the field of human rights originated from its commitment to implementing the Islamic Sharia, which called for the preservation of human dignity. The country had been elected member of the Human Rights Council in 2006 and re-elected as the representative for Asia for three years, starting this year. That was a reflection of the international community’s respect for Saudi Arabia and its confidence in the country’s efforts to promote human rights.
He said the Government of Saudi Arabia pledged to promote effective coordination and mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system in accordance with Assembly resolutions, and based on the principles of the United Nations Charter, such as the development of friendly relations among States. It had acceded to four international conventions: on the elimination of racial discrimination; on the elimination of discrimination against women; on combating torture and other forms of cruelty; inhuman or degrading treatment; and on the rights of the child. It had also acceded to several International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions: on forced labour; against discrimination in job hiring; and on prevention of child labour. It had also acceded to various regional human rights conventions, including the Arab Charter of Human Rights.
He said that, at the national level, the Government had established a National Society for Human Rights with 41 members, including 10 women. Along with the Government body on human rights, that body had activated mechanisms to monitor and follow up on rights violations, and to receive and investigate complaints. The country had received several commendations for its efforts in the field of human rights; the King was named to receive the first Lech Walesa Prize in recognition of his charitable and humanitarian deeds, and his effective contribution to inter-faith dialogue. He was also commended for his decisions on the deportation of foreign prisoners to their home countries under a set of safeguarding procedures. Although Saudi Arabia was itself a victim of terrorism, it strove to ensure a proper balance between freedom and security. It left its door open to all who wished to repent and return to the right path.
SANG-WOOK KOH ( Republic of Korea) said the human rights instruments played a great role in the international mechanisms on the advancement of human rights and served as a guide in the common journey towards the respect for human rights. This was particularly true for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which laid the groundwork for the development of international human rights treaties. For its part, the Republic of Korea had striven to join all major human rights treaties, and had recently ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As a State party to seven core human rights treaties, it discharged its treaty obligations in earnest. In November, it would undergo review on its third periodic report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
He said that, despite progress, international human rights instruments did not automatically guarantee the protection and promotion of human rights. The gap between the ideals pursued through these instruments and reality should be closed. In this, implementation mattered and States should translate the treaties into domestic law. Human rights education should give people a better understanding of their rights. Various stakeholders should also engage in the process of implementing the human rights treaties.
He stressed that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which was adopted at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, had had a significant impact on the development of human rights standards and human rights machinery. Among others, the creation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was a milestone and had played a pivotal role in elevating human rights standards on the ground. His delegation supported strengthening that Office’s functions and activities. With the Human Rights Council set to review its work, function and status, it should enhance its credibility and reinforce its impact by making that review as effective as possible. To that end, the review should be carried out in such a way as to ensure the Council maintained its focus on pressing human rights issues and specific situations.
RUBAIN ADOUKI ( Congo) said, following the dark chapters of its history, the Congo had undergone a process of reconstruction, so as to establish the rule of law based on respect for human rights. The Ministry for Human Rights and the National Commission for Human Rights operated at the same level as Parliament to promote the protection of human rights. The Government had signed all universal and regional human rights instruments and ratified them, the most recent being the protocol to the Convention on economic, social and cultural rights. A new law stated that citizens or agents of the State had no duty to obey orders that constituted a clear violation of human rights and public freedoms. An order by a superior or authority could not be used to justify such practices. Any individual or agent of State, or any public authority, responsible for the torture or cruel treatment of others under orders would be punished.
He said that, in order to step up efforts to promote and protect human rights, the country had approved 50 of 59 recommendations made to it by the Human Rights Council. The other nine were no longer relevant, since they had already been accounted for by Congolese law. The Government was striving to implement those recommendations and was reorganizing its efforts in certain fields. The Government, despite its dire financial situation, had taken it upon itself to fund the National Human Rights Commission, to allow it to fulfil its mandate effectively. In addition, there were efforts to promote human rights through an “education for peace” programme, aimed at educating the populace on their rights and responsibilities. Through such action, the Government sought to modify people’s behaviour to prevent violence before it started. In addition, he said the justice system was being modernized, including its detention centres and prisons. He thanked various United Nations bodies, such as UNDP, OHCHR and ILO, for their support.
GORAN SAAD ABDULLAH ( Iraq) noting the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, highlighted his country’s accomplishments in its efforts to fulfil international commitments and obligations. Among them, Iraq acceded to the additional protocols of the Convention on the Rights of Child and implemented legislative procedures for accession to several Conventions, including the Convention against Torture. His country also allocated over $200 million to help internally displaced persons and refugees, as well as externally displaced refugees return to their homes in Iraq.
He also said that, despite security challenges, progress in rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure had been initiated. Incomes increased and employment opportunities grew. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs had begun a program assisting vulnerable groups, such as the unemployed, low income and people with disabilities. The Parliament had successfully introduced into law legislation based on international conventions, which contributed directly or indirectly to the strengthening of human rights. Anti-corruption legislation was currently being drafted, as well.
He noted that remarkable progress had been made in building a national system to control and monitor human rights violation through the Ministry of Human Rights. Significant improvement had been made concerning prisoners, missing persons and mass graves. Further, the media and press in Iraq worked in extensive freedom. His country was committed to achieving and enhancing a democratic process and he offered appreciation to United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and all the international organizations that supported Iraq at this crucial juncture.
KALUBA GLORIA KAULUNG’OMBE ( Zambia) said that, as called for under the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, her country continued to ensure that the implementation of civil and political rights was at par with that of economic, social and cultural rights. At the same time, its inability to guarantee the latter was due to serious financial constraints. Her country had, however, continued to improve access to health services and the promotion of free basic education. Other programmes included food relief and agricultural subsidies. Although her country was finalizing her report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, she noted that the multiplicity of reporting obligations to the various treaty bodies had limited Zambia’s ability to submit its reports on time. Technical and material assistance from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in that regard, would be welcome.
She said Zambia had made substantial progress in “domesticating” the provisions of various human rights instruments, including measures to eliminate child labour and to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. The National Constitutional Conference was aimed at adopting a new constitution with a comprehensive bill of rights. Her country also endeavoured to provide legal services to the underprivileged. Through her membership of the African Peer Review mechanism, Zambia continued to protect and promote human rights at the regional level. Lack of knowledge of human rights entitlements under the Constitution and other laws being a major challenge in her country, she said more needed to be done to ensure better education on that subject. The Government supplies financial aid to the Human Rights Commission to educate people on fundamental rights and freedoms.
JORGE ARTURO REINA ( Honduras) said his country had sought to fulfil its obligations towards the protection and promotion of human rights and social rights. But, at this point in time, the situation in Honduras was dramatic given the coup d’etat that had ruptured the constitutional order and launched a bleak demobilization of human rights. Indeed, the report of the rapporteur on human rights in Honduras indicated shameful acts that had taken place. For his part, he had seen his own rights undermined. Indeed, he could not enter or leave the country freely, and the legitimately-elected President of Honduras had also more or less been confined. Due to the brotherly solidarity extended by the Brazilian Government, he remained in that country’s embassy. The interim Government had trampled the rights, as well as the Constitution. He condemned the coup, which had disrupted the country’s Constitutional order -- which, in turn, was the source of human rights in Honduras. The legitimate and rightful Honduran Government must be restored.
Turning to the discussions between the interim Government and the legitimate one, he emphasized that the interim Government was engaged in lengthy discussions intended to delay progress. The violation of human rights in Honduras was something that had been progressively addressed by successive Honduran Governments, which had signed all international instruments. Those actions were taken out of the deep conviction of Governments that were freely elected by the people. Now, a Government that took power by a coup was subjugating that will. The legitimate Government was fully prepared to support the Cuban proposals regarding the use of mercenaries. He hoped that legality would return to Honduras this week. This would allow not only for the President to be reinstated, but for human rights to flourish once again.
On a side note, he said there could not be a legitimate electoral process if the army was still in the streets and the President had to seek refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Unless the legitimate Government was reinstated, there could be no guarantees for the electoral process.
MOHAMED AL-MATARI ( Kuwait) said progress was measured by how far nations promoted human rights. Thus, the international community must strive to achieve, fully, the tenets of the United Nations Charter. For its part, the Government of Kuwait provided health care, education, and other cultural and social privileges to its people on an equal basis. Its Constitution was based on the principles of justice, equality and primacy of law for all citizens. Aware of the importance of human rights, the Government had acceded to several United Nations conventions relating to human rights, including ILO conventions, as well as various regional conventions.
He added that it was the duty of the international community to recall the suffering of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation, particularly in light of the Goldstone Report, which had confirmed the violation of Palestinian people’s rights. He highlighted the importance of respecting international human rights agreements. He said Kuwait would spare no effort in protecting human rights in all national, regional and international forums. The Government of Kuwait was convinced that cooperation and coordination on human rights issues was the way forward.
When the floor was opened for consideration of agenda item 69 (a) “Comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action”, no speakers were in the room. Thus, the CHAIR concluded consideration of that item.
Rights of Reply
Speaking in the exercise of the right of reply, the representative of the Russian Federation said her delegation wished to respond to comments made during the morning discussion with the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Specifically, she wanted to respond to Mr. Nowak’s comment on the recent killings in the North Caucasus. Investigations into those events were being controlled by the investigating committee of the Russian Federation. The information had been given to the High Commissioner for Human Rights. If necessary, that information could be provided again. Moreover, the Russian Federation tried to support the protection and promotion of human rights. As an example, she described the support it had given to the Memorial Group after its workers were threatened during recent work in Chechnya.
With respect to the planned visit of Mr. Nowak to the Russian Federation, she stressed that it had been moved due to constraints on the part of both parties. A mutually agreeable solution was being sought that would both satisfy the Special Rapporteur and not subvert Russian law.
* *** *For information media • not an official record