UN rights expert urges ratification of treaty against torture, ahead of 30th anniversary

Torture victims undergo rehabilitation at the African Centre for the Prevention and Resolution of Conflicts, in Senegal. The centre is funded by the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Credit: OHCHR

3 November 2014 – As the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of an international legal framework to prevent torture and other types of inhumane treatment or punishment approaches, a United Nations rights expert urged the committee charged with monitoring its implementation to use the momentum garnered in the celebrations to accelerate efforts to move towards universal ratification of the treaty.

Speaking today at the opening in Geneva of the fifty-third session of the Committee against Torture, Ibrahim Salama, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stressed that events this week to celebrate the anniversary of the adoption of The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, should be seen as opportunities to address the achievements and challenges in the promotion of universal ratification and in the implementation of the Convention’s provisions by State parties.

“This session of the Committee comes at a time of reflection and a time of change: a time of reflection as we take stock of achievements and challenges in the 30 years since the Convention against torture was adopted; and a time of change as we move headlong into the implementation of the treaty body strengthening outcome,” he said. The Committee against Torture is a UN body of 10 independent experts that monitors the Convention’s implementation by its State parties.

The Convention, which was adopted on 10 December 1984 and entered into force on 26 June 1987, provides that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

It also obliges States that have ratified the Convention to refrain from deporting or returning people to countries where they would face the risk of torture, and requires ratifying States to extradite or prosecute perpetrators of torture.

As the Committee prepared to adopt its agenda for the current session, Mr. Salama said that the session also came at a time of change as the Committee moved ahead into the implementation of General Assembly resolution 68/268 from 9 April 2014 on the strengthening of the treaty bodies system, which had made numerous suggestions on the system’s harmonization and accessibility.

Commending the Committee for its “pioneering” work on the simplified reporting procedure, which he said had been accepted by at least other five treaty bodies, Mr. Salama stressed that a harmonized approach to the issue of reprisals should prove more effective in counteracting the “damaging effect” of reprisals on the free collaboration of civil society with the treaty bodies. In that sense, he welcomed the decision of the Chairs of the treaty bodies to prepare a joint policy on reprisals.

Taking advantage of the momentum created by UN General Assembly resolution 68/268, Mr. Salama said that OHCHR looked forward to further improving the quality and efficiency of the treaty bodies system and its delivery.

Also speaking at the opening of the Committee’s session, Chairperson Claudio Grossman underscored that the Convention’s anniversary represented an opportunity to renew the commitment to the full implementation of its provisions, as the world was still not free from torture.

Mr. Grossman also stressed that the simplified reporting procedure had been accepted by 86 countries, and underscored the need to evaluate its efficiency.

Further, he said that reprisals against individuals cooperating with treaty bodies are unacceptable, and that the Committee had zero tolerance to attempts of repression against those cooperating with it.

For his part, Mr. Salama reiterated that the Secretary-General had been tasked by the General Assembly to report back every two years on the progress achieved by the treaty bodies in achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness in their work.

“Our major aim that I trust you all share, is to demonstrate results,” he declared to the Committee.

“Taking advantage of the momentum created by the General Assembly resolution, we look forward to further improving the quality and efficiency of the treaty body system and its delivery,” Mr. Salama added.

On 4 November, two panel discussions will be held in Geneva to mark the anniversary of the Convention.

During its fifty-third session, the Committee will consider the reports of Australia, Burundi, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Ukraine, United States and Venezuela. The session will conclude on 28 November.


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