Fifty-seventh General Assembly
35th Meeting (AM)
SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS ON RELIGION, EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS, TORTURE
URGE THIRD COMMITTEE DELEGATES TO BUILD CULTURE OF DEMOCRACY
Need to Forge Dialogue Also Stressed to Eradicate Intolerance, Impunity
As the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) continued its dialogue this morning with experts from the Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs, with mandates on religion, extrajudicial killings and torture, all passionately urged governments to strive to build a culture of democracy and forge a dialogue among civilizations to eradicate intolerance and impunity, and ensure the protection of human rights for all.
Abdelfatta Amor, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, stressed that his major concern had always been to deal with manifestations of intolerance, and prevent them. Prevention was crucial -- even essential -- to nip intolerance in the bud. Education, knowledge and information were key to ensuring that people of different religions, beliefs and cultures began to understand each other. He added that respect for religion and belief must go hand in hand with the respect for women.
That the aftermath of 11 September 2001 had highlighted the vulnerability of religious minorities and the increase in religious obscurantism, he said. Intolerance and fear had been building up, and he urged religious communities to set aside dogmatic approaches. Reasoning must not be stifled as a result of the events of 11 September. In 2002, he had witnessed a mind-boggling increase in religious intolerance and prejudice. Despite appeals for dialogue among civilizations, profound anxiety had fueled waves of suspicion and hatred. In this connection, he stressed that change was required of people's hearts and minds.
Asma Jahagir, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said the focus of her work had revealed a grim reality, particularly in areas of conflict. Many of those conflicts were a result of ethnic and religious tensions, which remained either ignored or suppressed until they erupted in violence. Security forces slowly lost restraint during tensions, and the rule of law began to erode as a conflict dragged on. Subsequently, impunity became the norm, and the atmosphere bred militancy and protected perpetrators of serious human rights violations.
Her mandate allowed her to intervene when perpetrators were government agents or had a direct or indirect link to the government. She had followed those limitations, but warned of the increasing power assumed by non-State actors,
supported or protected in many cases by governments or recognized political authorities. The fact that impunity for extrajudicial killings had become institutionalized in some countries was a cause for grave concern. She was convinced that human rights could best be respected in a culture of democracy, and no democratic process was sustainable without the support of independent legal and judicial systems. Without this, the right to life could not be guaranteed.
Theo van Boven, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on torture, addressing the prohibition of all forms of ill-treatment in the context of anti-terrorism measures, said that legislative and other measures to combat terrorism and protect national security had been tightened in a number of countries in response to the need to prevent terrorism and punish those responsible for having supported or committed such acts. He stressed that greater respect for human rights, along with democracy and social justice, would in the long terms prove the only effective prophylactic against terror.
Turning to corporal punishment of children, he said according to information received, such punishment in the family, in school, and in penal institutions remained legally as well as culturally widely accepted in a large number of countries. He stressed the importance of developing positive and non-violent forms of discipline for children. He called upon States to take adequate measures, in particular legal and educational ones, to ensure that the right to physical and mental integrity of children was well protected in the public as well as in the private spheres.
When the floor was opened for dialogue, delegations expressed support for the work of all the special rapporteurs, but urged caution and circumspection in the execution of their respective mandates. Many delegations expressed grave concern at increased incidents of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim sentiment following the tragic events of 11 September. Others were concerned about the compatibility between the freedom of expression and religion. Delegations also addressed what they perceived as the tendency to punish women, often with capital punishment, for disobeying religious traditions.
Much of the dialogue centred on the difference of views that emerged during the presentation of Ms. Jahagir's report. Several delegations said the report had been very hard to accept, since the information presented went far beyond Ms. Jahagir's mandate. They noted with particular concern mention of allegations of honour killings and use of corporal punishment. They were also concerned that the report highlighted two concepts -- "sexual minorities" and "sex orientation" -- which they felt had not been elaborated or explained by any intergovernmental body.
Participating in the dialogue with the special rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights were the representatives of Denmark (on behalf of the European Union), Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, Mali, Iran, Malaysia, Switzerland, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Finland, Sudan, Sweden, Argentina, Benin and Suriname.
The Committee will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m. to continue is dialogue with special rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights. it will also hear the introduction of draft resolutions on matters related to the right of people to self-determination, elimination of racial discrimination, and human rights questions.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of human rights questions and situations. Delegations were expected to hear presentations from and participate in dialogues with the Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Theo van Boven, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Committee will examine the Secretary-General’s note on the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance (document A/57/274), which transmits the interim report prepared by Mr. Amor. It deals with the 22 communications sent to States and six replies received during the reporting period. The Rapporteur also included the late replies to communications sent before the publication of his latest report. Another section of the report is devoted to in situ visits and follow-up, and the final section describes developments regarding follow-up of the International Consultative Conference, held in Madrid last November.
The Rapporteur opens the report drawing attention to the increasingly “inappropriate and counterproductive” restrictive limits imposed again this year on the special rapporteurs reporting to the Assembly. The decision to make 2 July 2002 the deadline for the submission of reports demonstrates a total ignorance of and even an indifference to the working methods and goals of special rapporteurs, he writes. Whereas the Commission on Human Rights finished its work in April this year, the Rapporteur was required to submit his activities covering only two months -– May and June –- which is not long enough to do justice to the task at hand and poses a problem in terms of cohesion of the reports.
Also before the Committee will be the report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (document A/57/138), which highlights the activities of Asma Jahangir undertaken from 1 August 2000 to June 2002. During the period under review, the Rapporteur transmitted communications to governments or took other forms of action in relation to situations involving violations of the right to life, including non-implementation of existing international standards on safeguards and restrictions relating to the imposition of capital punishment, death threats, deaths in custody, deaths due to excessive force by law enforcement, genocide, and violations of the right to life during armed conflict.
According to the report, during the period under review, the Rapporteur carried out missions to Turkey and Honduras. At the same time, she was concerned that the resources currently placed at her disposal do not always allow her to submit her mission reports in a timely manner, or to respond effectively to the calls and the need for field missions to be carried out in various parts of the world. She stresses among other things that the judicial system is the key in controlling human rights abuses. The judiciary must be independent, and investigations in cases of extrajudicial killings must be carried out impartially and without influence. She recommends non-governmental organization s (NGOs) must have free access to data and related information on death penalty cases.
Before the Committee there is a note by the Secretary-General on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/57/173). In the present report, the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on this issue addressed the prohibition of torture and of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the context of anti-terrorist measures.
The Special Rapporteur concludes that the following basic legal safeguards should remain in any legislation relating to arrest and detention, including any type of anti-terrorist legislation, as these safeguards guarantee the access of any person in detention to the outside world and thus ensure his or her humane treatment: the right to habeas corpus; the right to have access to a lawyer within 24 hours from the time of arrest; and the right to inform a relative or friend about the detention.
The Special Rapporteur addressed the issues of the places and length or pre-trial detention as well as the issue of international and national mechanisms for visits to places of deprivation of liberty. He recalls that any form of corporal punishment of children is contrary to established principles on the prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Special Rapporteur calls upon States to take adequate measures, in particular legal and educational ones, to ensure that the right of children to physical and mental integrity is well protected in the public and in the private sphere.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, introduced his interim report on discrimination based on religion or belief. His concern had always been to deal with manifestations of intolerance, and prevent them. Prevention was crucial and it was essential to nip intolerance in the bud. Education, knowledge and information were key factors in prevention. The Committee was told that he had carried out a study on women in the light of religion and culture, since women often occupied a second-class place in some societies. Respect for religion and belief must go hand in hand with the respect for women, he said. The study recommended giving more impetus to the issue of women.
It was high time to have studies on religious extremism or sects, he said. However, such initiatives could only be undertaken with the support of Member States. Concerning inter-religious dialogue he noted that there was a tendency to remain with proclamations of faith. Since 11 September, fears were building up and he urged religious communities to set aside dogmatic approaches to religion. In this connection, he stressed that action was required in the hearts and mind of people.
He said that the final document of the International Consultative Committee on Education in Madrid had been adopted. Its operative parts stated that there must be no intolerance based on religion or belief, and no ideological or religious propaganda. He was interested to hear the Third Committee’s opinion on the elimination of intolerance based on religions and beliefs and the manner in which to prevent it. It was necessary to ensure that people of different religions, beliefs and cultures begin to understand each other.
The assessment in the report linked to 11 September highlighted the vulnerability of religious minorities and the increase in religious obscurantism. Minorities had not only been victimized by States but also by non-State actors, such as the media. In 2002, he had witnessed a mindboggling increase in religious intolerance and prejudice, which affected religious minorities, particularly women of religious minorities. Despite the appeals for dialogue among civilizations, there was profound anxiety fueled by waves of suspicion and hatred since 11 September, he said. Islam-phobia and Arab-phobia had risen. It seemed that reasoning had been stifled as a result of 11 September, threatening the entire human rights community.
Concerning women and their suffering as a result of religion and belief, he referred to the incident in one of the Federal States of Nigeria which had attempted to use sharia law to stone a woman for adultery. These kinds of sentences were unacceptable to the international community, he said.
He reminded States that they must respond to requests by the Special Rapporteur to enable him to carry out his mandate. He was referring in particular to the Governments of Indonesia, Russian Federation, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Georgia as well as Israel.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur
In a subsequent interactive segment with the Special Rapporteur, the representative of Denmark, on behalf of the European Union, said she appreciated that the Special Rapporteur had highlighted the plight of women. The European Union was concerned about the tendency to punish women, often with capital punishment, for disobeying religious traditions.
The representative of Egypt asked whether the freedoms of religion and belief were increasing or decreasing. What was the contemporary trend? he asked.
The representative of Tunisia said the report was well developed and useful. Even though obscurantism had been rife in 2002, there had also been a push to increase dialogue between civilizations. Could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on the dialogue between civilizations? he asked.
The representative of Pakistan said his country had maintained a very close dialogue with the Special Rapporteur to do with the freedom of belief and religion in Pakistan. However, some of the incidents highlighted in his report did not reflect reality, but targeted attacks of extremist and regressive groups who did not enjoy popular support. They had a narrow and regressive agenda against Pakistan’s participation in the coalition against terrorism and were simply trying to undermine the Government.
He added that minorities in Pakistan were protected by the Constitution and that investigations were underway concerning some recent incidents. The culprits would be brought to justice. The Special Rapporteur had rightly highlighted Islam-phobia, he said. What forces were responsible for such international friction and tension? he asked. Questions were also raised concerning the compatibility between the freedom of expression and religion. Pakistan was disturbed by some aspects of the report which seemed to attempt to undermine the sacred values of Islam through the criticism of the sharia and the divine scriptures.
The representative of Mali asked whether there had been any fruitful cooperation between the Special Rapporteur on racial discrimination and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion.
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, Special Rapporteur, responding to the representative of Denmark, that despite the significant progress made here and there, the status of women remained unsatisfactory and sometimes tragic. The work carried out by the United Nations to protect and promote women was an enormous task, which unfortunately, continued to be insufficient. Action must take place at the level of management on discrimination against women on the basis of religion and belief, bearing in mind principles that were universally established.
The second level was that of prevention, to speed up the process preventing discrimination against women and ensuring their access to education. It was also necessary to guarantee that social practices were not an obstacle to women’s human dignity. He added that women’s liberation also meant economic liberation. In many countries, economic dependency for women was absolute and part of the social order. Such social orders must change, he said and added that the work carried out by the non-conventional mechanisms were quite useful.
To the representative of Egypt he said that everything was relative. Given the past, there had been enormous progress in freedom of religion, particularly on national levels. However, the more freedom of religion developed, the more freedom of expression developed, which might lead to increased tension and intolerance. Signs of intolerance and discrimination were however, less easily controlled today.
To the representative of Tunisia, he said there had been progress in the area of tolerance and in the dialogue between civilizations. The dialogue among civilizations had not started yesterday -- there had been many initiatives since the beginning of history. However, inter-religious dialogue seemed to have trouble getting off the ground since as soon as it began, fundamental issues were immediately raised. All in all, combined with trends of proselytizing, much remained to be done in the spheres of inter-religious dialogue.
In response to the comments made by the representative of Pakistan, he underscored the desire for cooperation with Pakistan on issues related to freedom of religion. He said that Pakistan had a remarkable political and social elite that defended freedom with great vigour. However, this elite often came up against other groups more easily mobilized by speeches of passion and intolerance. It was important that Pakistan continued its battle against this sort of phenomenon. He noted, however, that the discourse in some schools had become a discourse of hatred of the other. The Government must fight this kind of extremism and favour tolerance. Concerning the comment about the sharia, he said that it dealt with the social reality of the time and must respect human dignity, as defined today.
Concerning the suggestion of cooperation between the Special Rapporteur on discrimination and himself, he said that there had been some cooperation between the two before the Madrid conference. Through cooperation and a true dialogue, the future would be less gloomy than the reality of today.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings
ASMA JAHAGIR, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said during the period under the Committee's review, she had carried out four missions: Turkey (February 2001), Honduras (August 2001), Democratic Republic of the Congo (May 2002) and, just a few days ago, she completed a 10-day mission in Afghanistan. Her findings in Turkey were that incidents of extrajudicial killings had dramatically decreased, but there remained a serious problem of impunity for such killings committed by security forces.
In Honduras she focused mainly on extrajudicial killings and executions of children. She warned the Committee that overall, the right to life of children had not been the concern of many governments, and there was a huge gap between rhetoric on one hand and cohesive policy planning and action for the rights of the child on the other. She had presented a preliminary report on the mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Security Council last July. She had found sufficient evidence pointing towards the extrajudicial killings of civilians, police and members of the military by de facto authorities in Kisangani in the aftermath of a so-called rebellion.
On Afghanistan, she said she had come away with the impression that although during the last 12 months there had been remarkable improvement in the general human rights situation, extrajudicial and arbitrary executions continued to take place, and the judicial system, law enforcement and Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission were in serious need of technical human rights support. A climate of impunity with regard to past violations of human rights -- including numerous instances of mass killings -- continued. She had therefore recommended that an independent and impartial international commission of inquiry be established to take the first step in documenting a comprehensive account of the grave human rights violations committed during the past 23 years. That process would also be the first step towards reconciliation and accountability.
Since her last report to the Commission on Human Rights, the communications and allegations she had received had revealed certain patterns of violations. She noted governments' increasing intolerance for any sort of accountability. Journalists and human rights defenders were exposed to blatant violations of human rights. She added that information obtained regarding the death penalty had not been encouraging in many instances. While there were no reliable statistics available in a number of countries and there was little chance of monitoring domestic guidelines, she had observed a few positive developments. Courts in some jurisdictions were becoming cautious in passing, accepting or confirming death sentences.
The situation regarding extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions remained grim in areas of conflict. Many of those conflicts were a result of ethnic and religious tensions, which remained either ignored or suppressed until they erupted in violence. Security forces slowly lost restraint during tensions, and the rule of law began to erode as the conflict dragged on. Subsequently, impunity became the norm and the atmosphere bred militancy and protected perpetrators of serious human rights violations. She said her mandate allowed her to intervene when the perpetrators were government agents or had a direct or indirect link to the government. She had followed those limitations in her work, but had warned of the increasing power assumed by non-State actors, in many cases supported or protected by governments or recognized political authorities.
Violations of the rights to life were common in countries where the democratic system did not exist or was in its infancy. Poor governance made governments depended on security forces to control crime and even dissent through violent means, which invariably raised the risk of extrajudicial executions. She said the fact that impunity for serious human rights crimes and extrajudicial killings had become institutionalized in some countries was a cause for grave concern. During her country visits she had noted, among other things, that laws extending immunity to parliamentarians and other public officials had tempted many leaders of criminal gangs to enter politics simply to hide behind such laws, thus polluting democratic political systems.
Finally, she expressed deepening concern at the killings of children by law enforcement agencies. During the reporting period, her attention had been drawn to a number of atrocities, some even characterized as "social cleansing", in which street children disappeared or were murdered. Juvenile delinquency was often used as a justification for security forces to kill children. Reports also had shown that police routinely failed to report killing of children to judicial authorities, and those were often written off as incidents of gang violence or organized crime. The atmosphere of impunity was exacerbated by the lack of official condemnation of human rights offenders and the prejudiced attitude of the media, which portrayed victims as "troublemakers".
She reiterated her strong conviction that human rights could best be respected in a culture of democracy, and no democratic process was sustainable without the support of independent legal and judicial systems. Without those basic ingredients, the right to life could not be guaranteed.
Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur
The representative of Egypt said the report had been very hard to accept, since the information presented went far beyond the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. He noted that the report mentioned a study of allegations of honour killings, which he understood to be crimes committed by individuals, and not crimes committee by governments or government actors, which did fall under her mandate.
He also said that the Rapporteur had given her philosophical opinion of the death penalty, which was also not part of her mandate. He said the report also mentioned two concepts -- "sexual minorities" and "sex orientation" -- which had not been elaborated or explained by any intergovernmental body. What was her definition of "sexual orientation"?
The representative of Iran supported the statement of Egypt and reiterated that the Special Rapporteur should strictly follow her mandate. He specifically noted her work on the situation of honour killings, which might be better addressed by another mechanism. He added that if the Committee was to seriously examine the issue of extrajudicial killings of persons on account of sexual orientation, and he was not denying the existence of such practice, it might be necessary to better define all its aspects.
The representative of Malaysia agreed with the Rapporteur that creating a culture of democracy was the only sure way to guarantee the right to life. But that was as far as it went: the bulk of the remaining information in the report seemed to fall within the purview of other human rights mechanisms. Perhaps the answer was to terminate the current mandate and create a new one that would allow the issues presented in the report to be adequately addressed.
The representative of Switzerland supported the information provided in the report, particularly information provided on extrajudicial killings of children and impunity. On sexual minorities, he said his country was at the forefront of the international campaign to confront all crimes committed against persons on the ground of sexual orientation. At the same time however, the term "sexual minority" fell outside the internationally recognized definition of minority and should not be discussed in the report. Still, the issue was an important one, and if State actors were killing people based on sexual orientation, they must be confronted.
The representative of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the information provided in the report fell well within the Rapporteur's mandate. He wondered if she had met with other special rapporteurs or officials of domestic judiciary systems to discuss laws exempting persons from prosecution? He also asked what could be done to collect concrete data on death threats against or summary execution of persons based on sexual orientation.
Responding, Ms. JAHAGIR said that she had explained explicitly how honour killing fell within her mandate. She had also explained that the whole issue had not been examined -- she had only addressed patterns of impunity and patterns of government inaction or where justice had not been served on behalf of victims. The report highlighted institutionalized honour killings, exemplified by gender-based or government-assisted impunity, which certainly fell within her mandate.
She accepted that perhaps she should not include extrajudicial killings of persons on account of sexual orientation under the heading of "sexual minorities". Still, she would express grave concern about the impunity with which people who did not belong to the recognized sexual orientations or minorities were treated. Her report did not discuss the morality or immorality of sexual orientation, all it did was state that security forces should not carry out summary executions, drownings and killings against persons because of their sexual orientation, and the governments should be held accountable.
Delegations should be assured that she would not go beyond her mandate. She said she did cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers, as well as the Rapporteur on violence against women. On the issue of impunity, she said she had found that by and large, people had been worried that certain individuals were given immunity for carrying out extrajudicial killings, but at the same time, government systems were often held hostage by such persons.
She said that the fact that no one was willing to talk about sexual orientation was perhaps part of the reason that it was so difficult to collect information. Time and again she had received communications on incidents of death threats and killings. She had even received reports from NGOs that their staff members advocating on behalf of such persons had also been threatened. For her part, she was simply talking about law enforcement agencies killing and murdering people with impunity, she was not making any moral decisions or judgements. She could not look away form such matters. It was up to delegations to decide whether to ignore that important issue.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo thanked the Rapporteur for her visit, and drew attention to the fact that killings that had taken place in Kisangani had not been carried out at the hands of the Government, but by armed forces that had invaded the country.
The representative of Finland, supporting the statement made on behalf of the European Union, defined extrajudicial and summary killings, and noted that his delegation would be sponsoring the Committee's resolution on the matter.
The representative of Sudan, said that even though the Special Rapporteur had answered the Committee's questions on sexual minorities, she could not resist continuing the dialogue on that matter. She was concerned that issues related to sexual orientation were grouped under a heading on crimes against "sexual minorities". She also had concerns that the Rapporteur was addressing issues that fell outside her mandate.
The representative of Sweden, supporting the statement made on behalf of the European Union, fully supported the way the Rapporteur's mandate was being carried out. Sweden would only be able to consider terminating the mandate when the horrible crimes of extrajudicial killings had been totally eradicated. Sweden supported all efforts to address the issue of impunity. She said that it was within the Rapporteur's mandate to address the issue of extrajudicial killing of homosexuals of both sexes and transsexuals. Her delegation believed that the human rights of all persons must be protected.
The representative of Pakistan said his delegation would seek assurances that when the Committee considered its resolution on the matter, the controversial issues that had been discussed today, particularly honour killings, should be defined as being within the scope of the Rapporteur's mandate, or they should not be included.
Responding to the second round of comments, Ms. JAHAGIR said experts and special rapporteurs were always open to discuss their mandates with the Assembly. When victims came forward with allegations, she looked very carefully to be sure those allegations fell within her mandate. That was not only to ensure the sanctity of her mandate, but also to ensure that the very serious concerns of the victims were properly addressed.
Returning to the issue of sexual orientation, she went on to say delegations were perhaps running behind definitions used by NGOs and other agencies. But since she was guided by the Assembly, she would no longer group such matters under the heading of "sexual minorities". She urged delegations however to look at human rights developments that were taking place outside the room.
On extrajudicial killings by security forces, the main consideration should be transparency. Governments must constantly remind those carrying the guns that they must exercise restraint and that they must operate within international norms. She added that citizens must be assured that they could report extrajudicial killings without fear of reprisal. She was happy to report that in some countries, such killings were exceptional and when they did occur, they were punished.
She reiterated that the situation concerning children was particularly grave. She stressed that only by generating the political will could very vulnerable groups such as children be protected. She went on to say that she had addressed the caste system in other reports and hoped to do so again.
The representative of Argentina stressed the notion that international mechanisms to promote and protect human rights did not aim at pointing the finger at particular States, but urged all governments to improve the situation of human rights. In that regard, she supported the work of the Rapporteur to raise awareness about important issues.
The representative of Benin said the term "two major sexes" had come up in the dialogue. She wondered if another sex existed?
The representative of Iran said addressing consistent patterns of impunity for committing extra-judicial killings, including against persons with different sexual orientation, or religion, was part of her mandate. What was the definition of "sexual orientation"? In absence of a definition, governments may not be able to comply with resolutions or mandates.
Ms. JAHAGIR said what she had put in her report incidents that persons had been killed by security forces simply because they were gay, lesbian or transsexual. Had there been patterns of impunity? Yes. She had grouped those cases together, but if it was the will of delegations, she would be more specific in the future, and she would separate the cases based on sexual orientation, and there were many such cases. She would reiterate that her job was not to point fingers but to take the weight of the Assembly out into the world in order to ensure the protection and promotion of the human rights of the most vulnerable members of society.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Torture
THEO VAN BOVEN, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on torture, presenting his report, said the main activities of the Special Rapporteur on torture fell into three categories: the transmission of letters of allegation to governments with a view to receiving their response and observations thereon; the dispatch of urgent appeals seeking clarification about the fate of persons alleged to be at risk of being subjected to torture; and visits to countries. In the period under review more than 100 letters had been transmitted to some
60 countries, and more than 250 urgent appeals had been dispatched to some
70 governments. In transmitting allegations or sending appeals, the Special Rapporteur on torture did not associate himself with or condone in any way, the activities of the persons on behalf of whom he intervened. No matter how wrongly, dangerously or even criminal a person might act, every human being was legally and morally entitled to protection of internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Concerning the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in the context of anti-terrorism measures, he said that legislative and other measures to combat terrorism and protect national security had been tightened in a number of countries in response to the need to prevent terrorist acts and punish those responsible for having financed, planned, supported or committed such acts. He stressed that greater respect for human rights, along with democracy and social justice, would in the long term prove the only effective prophylactic against terror. Some of the anti-terrorist measures mentioned in the report did not provide sufficient legal safeguards as recognized by international human rights law. Confessions or evidence extracted by illegal means during interrogation must be made inadmissible in court.
On international and national mechanisms for visits of places of deprivation of liberty, he said he had stressed the importance of external supervision of all such places by independent officials, such as judges, prosecutors, ombudsmen and national or human rights commissions, as well as by independent monitoring institutions. Law enforcement officials and other detention personnel and authorities who were aware that their behaviour might be scrutinized at any point by internal and external monitoring bodies were certainly much more inclined to follow existing rules and procedures pertaining to arrest and detention that existed in most legal systems.
Finally, on corporal punishment of children, he said he had joined the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. According to information received, corporal punishment of children in the family, in school, in penal institutions remained legally as well as culturally widely accepted in a large number of countries. He stressed the importance of developing positive and non-violent forms of discipline and punishment for children. He called upon States to take adequate measures, in particular legal and educational ones, to ensure that the right to physical and mental integrity of children was well protected in the public and in the private spheres.
Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Torture
Following the introductory statement of the Special Rapporteur, the Committee held another interactive dialogue segment, where the representative of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the report highlighted many important issues. In the report, the adoption of the Optional Protocol had been advocated at this year’s General Assembly. The European Union supported this call but wondered how it would be coordinated with visiting mechanisms as outlined in the report. He also asked how the coordination between the various mechanisms and bodies on torture was functioning -- was there a need for a strengthening of coordination? The Special Rapporteur was also asked to elaborate on the Istanbul principles and future travel plans.
The representative of Suriname congratulated the Special Rapporteur on his position and thanked him for the important work he was undertaking. She said that human rights education was the answer to the battle against torture, particularly concerning the punishment of children. Her delegation was in favour of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and had co-sponsered the draft resolution.
THEO VAN BOVEN, Special Rapporteur, responded to questions raised by delegations. On the coordination with his mandate and the mechanism of the Optional Protocol, he said he could not predict when it would enter into force. The Optional Protocol was a visiting mechanism of a preventive nature and would apply to the countries that had ratified the instrument. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the other hand related to all countries in the United Nations system. When negotiating on visits, he said he would take into account whether the countries were already being visited by other bodies investigating torture. Even though the tasks of the mechanisms were different, it was important to avoid duplication.
Concerning the Istanbul principles, he said they were of great importance. The question was whether governments were adhering to these principles. In replies received, it was difficult to assess whether these principles played a role. Quite recently, the Attorney General of the Government of Mexico had organized a training seminar for forensic experts where the Istanbul principles had played a role.
As for the coordination of anti-torture mechanisms, such as the Voluntary Fund for Assistance to Victims of Torture and the Committee against Torture, he had made efforts to increase coordination. When the Committee against Torture was carrying out fact-finding missions to countries, he did not visit the same countries. When dealing with special countries on reporting, the Committee used information from the Special Rapporteur. There was basically a type of mutual understanding, which made the activities more efficient.
He intended to visit Uzbekhistan and Bolivia, and he was in consultations with Georgia, China and Nepal. Due to the limited resources of the United Nations regarding the special mechanisms, no more than three visits per year could be carried out. However, visits were essential to see the reality, observe and assist.
In response to the representative of Suriname, he said that as a preventive measure, human rights education was essential. States were expected to train law enforcement personnel, public officials and other people involved in the custody or detention of people.
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