General Assembly, Human Rights Council Texts Declaring Water, Sanitation Human Right ‘Breakthrough’; Challenge Now to Turn Right ‘into a Reality’, Third Committee Told
General Assembly, Human Rights Council Texts Declaring Water, Sanitation Human Right ‘Breakthrough’; Challenge Now to Turn Right ‘into a Reality’, Third Committee Told
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
28th & 29th Meetings (AM & PM)
General Assembly, Human Rights Council Texts Declaring Water, Sanitation Human Right
‘Breakthrough’; Challenge Now to Turn Right into Reality, Third Committee Told
Also Holds Lengthy Exchange on Report on Sex Education; Hears UN Experts
On Torture, Human Trafficking, Extreme Poverty, Physical and Mental Health
Recent actions by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council recognizing a human right to water and sanitation were a “breakthrough” and the challenge now was to turn that right into a reality for the billions of people throughout the world who still lacked access, a United Nations expert told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.
In July of this year, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that recognized the right to drinking water and sanitation as a human right. Then, in September, the Human Rights Council affirmed the decision, explaining that the right to water and sanitation was derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, which is contained in several existing human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Stating that these actions demonstrated the political will of the international community to address the global water and sanitation crisis, and confirmed the right to water and sanitation as part of international human rights law, Catarina de Albequerque, who has been an Independent Expert for the Council on the issue since 2008, said, “States have recognized that they are under a legal obligation to ensure, in a progressive manner and within available resources, that everyone has access to water and sanitation that meets the relevant human rights criteria.”
Ms. Albequerque went on to say that this “first step” could be turned into a reality by placing human rights, including the right to water and sanitation, at the core of Millennium Development Goals policy and implementation in order to ensure real, sustainable and equitable progress. Without human rights, the Goals risked masking continuing inequalities and inadequate access.
Referring to the Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to drinking water and sanitation, she said, “International human rights obligations do not stop at 50 per cent reduction or any other arbitrary benchmark. Whatever time period may prove realistic, international human rights law requires States to ultimately aim for universal coverage.”
She related the story of a man in a semi-urban area she had visited, who had showed her the tap in his kitchen, which produced black water that was unfit for human consumption, but was being counted towards the Goals, since the Goals only measured improved water sources and not quality.
“I have witnessed the unintended, but perverse, effect that MDGs can have, making Governments feel (justly) proud about their achievements regarding the MDGs, while unfortunately forgetting about the poor, migrants, refugees, slum dwellers and ethnic minorities who still lack access,” she said.
Improved tracking and monitoring of water quality, as called for by the recent Summit on the Goals, needed to be done in line with human rights standards, she said, noting that disaggregated data provided the basis to design interventions targeting those most in need. She also stated that it was vital for States not to limit participation, as everyone had the right to take part in decision-making concerning water and sanitation.
Also speaking today, Kishore Singh, in his first appearance before the Committee as Special Rapporteur on the right to education, presented the last report of his predecessor, Vernor Muñoz. The report addressed the issue of sex and reproductive health education, stating that the obligation to ensure such education was related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
“Sex education is a sensitive matter for all societies,” said Mr. Singh, relating that Mr. Muñoz, in his final report, had noted a “worrying lack of sustainable and comprehensive strategies” to ensure the adequate inclusion of sex education in educational and health policies and that, without accurate information, many people were exposed to abuse or risky practices, with potential consequences to their physical and physiological well-being. The many recommendations made by the former Special Rapporteur provided a point of reference for discussions, Mr. Singh added.
Mr. Muñoz’s report solicited a strong reaction from representatives of numerous organizations and countries. For example, the African Group rejected the report, saying that it was common knowledge that there was no universal agreement on the notions of sexual education, that Mr. Muñoz had flouted the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-Holders and that the group strongly rejected any attempt to undermine the international human rights system by seeking to impose concepts or notions pertaining to social matters, including private individual conduct. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) also stated its “wish to put on record our strong disapproval of this attempt by the Special Rapporteur to create a new right within the universally established right to education, far exceeding his mandate”.
The Committee today also heard presentations and held question-and-answer sessions with Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty; Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
During the course of the day, questions and comments for the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children were put by the representatives of Belarus, Chile, European Union, Switzerland, Republic of Moldova and Argentina.
The Independent Expert on the human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation also took questions and comments from the representatives of Bolivia, Switzerland, European Union, Spain, Australia, United Kingdom, Norway, Germany and Algeria.
Questions and comments for the Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty were also put by the representatives of Chile, Mexico, China, Peru, European Union, Zambia, Cameroon and Venezuela.
In the afternoon, other delegations addressing the Special Rapporteur on the right to education included Mauritania (on behalf of the Arab Group), Morocco (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Russian Federation, United States, Australia, South Africa, Canada, European Union, Sweden, Argentina, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Portugal, United Kingdom, Norway and Costa Rica, as well as the Observer for the Holy See.
In a dialogue session with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the representatives of the European Union, Algeria, Norway, Brazil and Switzerland spoke.
Questions and comments for the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment were made by the representatives of Greece, Jordan, Republic of Moldova, Jamaica, Pakistan, Egypt, European Union, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the United States.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 26 October, to continue its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights. It will conclude its dialogue session with the Special Rapporteur on torture, then hear presentations from, and engage in dialogue with, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression; and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
The Third Committee met today to continue its discussion of the promotion and protection of human rights. (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3983 of 19 October 2010.)
The Committee had before it the note by the Secretary-General transmitting the re port of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children (document A/65/288). The report is divided into three main sections: an introduction, an outline of the activities undertaken by the Special Rapporteur, Joy Ezeilo, from 1 October 2009 to 30 September 2010, and a thematic focus on the prevention of trafficking in persons, which includes an analysis of various aspects of measures aimed at preventing trafficking in persons, highlighting the importance of the active participation of trafficked persons in designing and implementing such measures. The report also discusses innovative public-private partnerships for the prevention of trafficking in persons and highlights the cross-cutting importance of collecting accurate data on trafficking, as well as of monitoring and evaluation, to ensure the effectiveness of prevention measures. The Special Rapporteur also offers recommendations to States in developing and implementing efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, focusing on addressing the root causes of trafficking, addressing the demand for exploitative labour and services, increasing opportunities for safe migration, and raising awareness about risks associated with trafficking.
The Committee also had before it the note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the independent expert on the human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation (document A/65/254). In the report, the independent expert, Catarina de Albuquerque, focuses on how human rights, in particular, the human rights to water and sanitation, can make a contribution to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals, with a particular focus on target 7.C. She summarizes the history and defining attributes of the Millennium Development Goals and analyses their potential to help progressively realize economic, social and cultural rights. She examines how human rights can address a number of gaps in the Millennium Development Goal framework relating to universal access, international cooperation and assistance, the formulation of targets and indicators and aligning them with human rights standards, non-discrimination, and specific attention to the most marginalized and disadvantaged groups, participation, promoting intersectoral approaches and accountability.
The report concludes that neither water nor sanitation has yet been accorded the priority that is objectively warranted, if progress towards these and other closely related Millennium Development Goals is to be escalated and sustained. The independent expert encourages States to: develop national strategies for fully realizing the rights to water and sanitation for all, which should be endorsed at the highest political level and integrated within national poverty reduction strategies and expenditure frameworks; eliminate discrimination, inequalities and systematic exclusion, and develop disaggregated data for access to water and sanitation to target the most marginalized and vulnerable; promote genuinely participatory processes and empower people to actively take part in decision-making processes concerning water and sanitation; put into place accountability mechanisms; and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which concerns communication from individuals.
The Committee also had before it the note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the independent expert on human rights and extreme poverty (document A/65/259). The report by the independent expert, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, highlights the importance of social protection measures in the Millennium Development Goals agenda. It also stresses that social protection measures designed, implemented and evaluated within the framework of a rights-based approach are more likely to ensure the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and to result in long-term improvements. In addition, the report argues that the use of a rights-based approach to social protection can maximize synergies across the Goals and have greater effect in terms of reducing extreme poverty and inequality. The report pays particular attention to gender-related concerns as one of the core components of such an approach, calling on Member States to devote increased attention to the issue of gender equality while designing, implementing and evaluating social protection programmes within a human rights framework.
The Committee also had before it the note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education (document A/65/162). In his report, the Special Rapporteur, Vernor Muñoz, focuses on the human right to comprehensive sexual education, an issue that has been a source of interest and concern since the beginning of his mandate. He introduces the topic of the right to sexual education by placing it in the context of patriarchy and control of sexuality. He explains the interdependence of sexuality, health and education and the relationship of this right to other rights from a gender and diversity perspective. The Special Rapporteur also introduces the right to sexual education in the context of international human rights law and analyses international and regional standards. He then addresses the situation of the right to sexual education, taking State responsibility into account and analysing regional and national trends, differing perspectives and the key role of the family and the community.
The Special Rapporteur concludes his report by reiterating the necessity and the relevance of the right to comprehensive sexual education. He presents specific recommendations for States and the international community, including: adopting and strengthening legislation aimed at guaranteeing the right to sexual education; encouraging public policies aimed at ensuring the right to comprehensive sexual education; ensuring the inclusion of comprehensive sexual education from primary school onwards; establishing the curriculum of sexual education, providing high-quality teacher training; and encouraging the inclusion of families and civil society in curriculum design and implementation.
The Committee also had before it the note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (document A/65/255). The report of the Special Rapporteur, Anand Grover, considers demand-side measures related to drug control — those primarily concerned with the use and possession of drugs — and their various impacts on the enjoyment of the right to health. It discusses the need for an increased focus on human rights within drug control, instead of pursuing overly punitive approaches that result in more health-related harms than those they seek to prevent. The report recommends that human rights be integrated into the international response to drug control through use of guidelines and indicators relating to drug use and possession, and that the creation of an alternative drug regulatory framework should be considered. Additionally, Member States should ensure that harm-reduction measures and drug-dependence treatment services are available to people who use drugs, especially focusing on incarcerated populations. They also should reform domestic laws to decriminalize or de-penalize possession and use of drugs, and increase access to controlled essential medicines.
The Committee also had before it the note by the Secretary-General transmitting the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (document A/65/273). This final report by Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak addresses issues of special concern to him and draws attention to his assessment that torture continues to be widely practised in the majority of States, with impunity being one of its root causes. According to the Special Rapporteur, no further standard-setting is required, as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment contains a broad range of positive State obligations aimed at preventing and combating torture. In particular, the Convention requires its 147 States parties to criminalize torture, to establish broad jurisdictions, to investigate all allegations and suspicions of torture and to bring the perpetrators of torture to justice. Unfortunately, those specific positive obligations aimed at combating impunity have not been implemented by most States. If the commission of torture is established by a competent authority, the victims should enjoy the right to fair and adequate reparation, including the means for as full medical, psychological, social and other rehabilitation as possible.
States, therefore, have a legal obligation to establish, or at least support, a sufficient number of rehabilitation centres for victims of torture and to ensure the safety of the staff and patients of such centres. In order to further prevent torture, the Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to promptly ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and to establish, in accordance with its provisions, independent and professional national preventive mechanisms tasked with conducting regular and unannounced visits to all places of detention. They should be granted unrestricted access to all places of detention and the opportunity to have private interviews with detainees, as well as the necessary financial and human resources to enable them to conduct their work effectively.
Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons
JOY NGOZI EZEILO, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, presented her thematic report focused on prevention of trafficking in persons and her activities during the period under review. While congratulating the Assembly for the recent adoption of the Global Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons, she stated that trafficking in persons continued to pose serious challenges to humanity. She advocated a framework based on the “5Ps” (protection, prosecution, punishment, prevention and promotion of international cooperation), “3Rs” (redress, rehabilitation/recovery and reintegration of trafficked persons) and “3Cs” (capacity, coordination and cooperation).
“Violations of human rights are both a cause and a consequence of trafficking in persons,” she said, stating that efforts to combat the problem would not be effective unless they centred on universal respect for the human rights of all individuals. In considering strategies to prevent trafficking, her report highlighted supply and demand factors that created circumstances conducive to trafficking in persons. On the supply side, people left their homes due to lack of protection of their human rights, including freedom from discrimination, the right to work and freedom of movement. On the other side, there was a constant demand for commercial sexual services and cheap labour. While countries had strengthened immigration control and border security as a response to trafficking in persons, these measures were often counterproductive, as many prospective migrants were not deterred by them and relied on informal and clandestine channels, thus exposing themselves to the risk of being trafficked.
The report explored various measures aimed at preventing trafficking in persons, such as addressing root causes of the phenomenon, reducing demand for exploitative labour and services, promoting safe migration and raising awareness of the risks associated with trafficking, she said. Noting such root causes of trafficking in persons as poverty, high unemployment and gender-based discrimination, she stated that Member States had the obligation to promote the human rights of all persons, so that they were not compelled to leave their homes through clandestine channels. The demand for exploitative commercial sexual services and labour occurred where there was no or little protection of labour rights. Thus, States must focus on the people who profited from trafficking and develop or strengthen the framework of labour protection and immigration policies informed by recognition of the demand for migrant labour. She further urged Member States to apply the concept of “safe migration” in accordance with human rights principles and standards, which did not restrict migration channels for young women, for example, and recognized the freedom of movement.
Continuing, she said the report also raised concerns that some awareness-raising campaigns resulted in discouraging people from leaving home and should, instead, be based on accurate information, so that potential victims had a realistic understanding of the risks of trafficking. Additionally, the report highlighted the cross-cutting importance of ensuring: the creation of effective methodologies and prevention programmes based on accurate data; the participation of trafficked persons in designing, developing and implementing prevention programmes; and the unique contributions that the private sector could make if Member States held businesses accountable and envisaged roles for them in national plans of action.
She also discussed her country visits to Egypt, Argentina and Uruguay, stating that full reports would be presented at the seventeenth session of the Human Rights Council in June 2011. Visiting Egypt from 11 to 21 April, she was impressed by the Government’s adoption of anti-trafficking legislation and amendments to the Penal Code to criminalize child trafficking, but she was concerned about a lack of knowledge and services regarding trafficking in persons and recommended conducting comprehensive training for all stakeholders and improving facilities, such as shelters and hotlines, to assist trafficked persons. In Argentina, from 6 to 12 September 2010, she noted the adoption of the Law on the Prevention and Punishment of Trafficking in Persons in 2008 and the establishment of a Special Unit within the Office of the National Prosecutor to assist the investigation of trafficking in persons, as well as a Special Office for the rescue and assistance of trafficked persons under the Ministry of Justice. However, to deal with existing challenges, her recommendations included: reform of the current laws to avoid “a definitional problem that hinders prosecution of cases of trafficking”; establishing a federal central agency to enhance coordination of anti-trafficking activities; and implementing a zero tolerance policy with respect to corruption of law enforcement agents.
Visiting Uruguay from 13 to 17 September 2010, she welcomed the enactment of Immigration Law that prohibited human trafficking and the establishment of the Inter-institutional Roundtable to address trafficking of women, as well as a National Committee to prevent sexual exploitation of children. Noting, however, that sexual exploitation in the country “occurs particularly amongst the most excluded sectors of the population, who resort to prostitution, even child prostitution, as a way to overcome their dire economic situation”, she recommended the establishment of a national agency to coordinate anti-trafficking activities and prevention strategies that tackled poverty and inequality. Finally, she took the opportunity to mention that, on 4 and 5 October 2010, she convened a consultation in Dakar, Senegal, with anti-trafficking experts from nine regional mechanisms from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East to discuss recommendations in her report to the fourteenth session of the Human Rights Council, which resulted in an agreement on the need to enhance information-sharing on experiences and lessons learned.
Question and Answer Session
During a dialogue, Ms. EZEILO expressed appreciation for the support she had received from States and the Human Rights Council. It demonstrated a commitment to end “this form of modern-day slavery”. The Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking, mentioned by the representative of Belarus, had been helpful to the Special Rapporteur, who was monitoring developments in that country concerning combating the trafficking in persons.
In response to the representative of Chile, who asked about the application of the principles of the Palermo Protocols on trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, Ms. EZEILO said that many States had not internalized their provisions. States rarely [complied] with the definition of trafficking, for example. Private-public partnerships were imperative. A “global compact” was in place that was part of “soft” international law; while not legally binding, it had been signed by many businesses. The Athens Ethical Principles concerning trafficking in persons had been business-driven; it was hoped that they would be strengthened and that more businesses would sign up. “When it comes to human trafficking, Governments cannot go it alone,” she said
In response to the representative of the European Union, who asked what practical measures could be taken to involve victims in the formulation of measures to combat trafficking in persons, and ways to encourage more States to ratify the Palermo Protocols, the Special Rapporteur referred to examples cited in her report. Victims were in a position to give “an informed perspective” on developing preventive measures; many studies by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had demonstrated the effectiveness of such an approach. It was also important that everything done vis-à-vis trafficking in persons was evidence-based. Governments were always urged by the Special Rapporteur to ratify the Protocols; she had met with parliamentarians and others to explore ways to facilitate ratification, and she was glad to see Japan moving in that direction.
To the representative of Switzerland, who asked a question about cooperation between countries of origin and destination for trafficked persons, Ms. EZEILO first noted the protection that Switzerland had been putting into place, particularly with regard to domestic workers. She went on to describe places where there had been a lot of useful bilateral cooperation, for instance, between the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Japan had put in place a programme in collaboration with countries such as the Republic Korea and China, in which persons were trained for two years in a skill, after which they returned to their home countries. Such a programme enabled open, safe migration and the transfer of skills. Despite its abuse by some employers, it should be continued.
In response to the representative of Moldova, who recalled the four pillars of her country’s “sound legislative framework” to combat trafficking in persons, the Special Rapporteur suggested the addition of a fifth pillar: punishment. Penalties for those convicted of trafficking were “trivial” with fines, sometimes as low as the equivalent of $50, far too low for a trade that involved a turnover of millions of dollars. “We have to make [trafficking] very high-risk and reduce the profit margin,” she said.
The representative of Argentina spoke briefly on the high priority that her country has been attaching to combating trafficking in persons.
Independent Expert on Human Rights Obligations Related to Water, Sanitation
The Committee then heard a statement from CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE, Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. She recalled how, earlier this year, the General Assembly and Human Rights Council had both recognized water and sanitation as a human right. This showed the political will of the international community to address the global water and sanitation crisis, and to confirm that the human right to water and sanitation was part of international human rights law. “The recognition of the right to water and sanitation is a breakthrough, but it is only the first step,” she said. Implementing that right for the billions of people who still lack access to water and sanitation was now the real challenge. “The [Millennium Development Goals] and human rights are not the same thing.” Targets set by the Millennium Development Goals, while important in improving access levels around the world, “were not enough”, as they did not measure quality. By way of example, she cited a man she had met in a semi-urban area; the water in his kitchen came out of a tap, and thus complied with the Goals, but it was also “black” and undrinkable.
The seventh of the Goals calls for halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, but international human rights obligations do not stop at 50 per cent or any other arbitrary benchmark, she said. International human rights law required States to ultimately aim for universal coverage. The Goals should be tailored to reflect diverse national conditions. Many countries could and should set targets beyond 50 per cent, and the Goals should not be used to justify the failure to achieve universal access. “In some of my missions, I have witnessed the unintended but perverse effect that [Millennium Development Goals] can have, making Governments feel justly proud about their achievements regarding the [Millennium Development Goals], while, unfortunately, forgetting about the poor, migrants, refugees, slum dwellers and ethnic minorities who still lack access,” she said.
In order for water and sanitation to be available, safe, acceptable, accessible and affordable, the Goals should complement, not undermine, human rights obligations, she said. People might have improved access to water, but because of economic constraints, that access was limited, or they could not afford other things to which they have a right, such as food, education and health. Similarly, while pit latrines might represent improved sanitation, people might be unable to pay for them to be emptied correctly, thus threatening a clean water supply. “The [Millennium Development Goals], as they are being pursued in practice, are blind to whether the water people are drinking is safe,” she said. Improved tracking and monitoring of water quality, as called for by the recent Summit on the Goals, needs to be done in line with human rights standards.
By focusing on averages, the Goals gave States an incentive to concentrate on people most easily reached, and that had the potential to exacerbate underlying inequalities, she said. “In fact, it would be possible for a country to be in full compliance with the Goals without having extended access to any person belonging to the lowest wealth quintile,” she said, citing the example of a country she had visited in which everyone had access to safe drinking water and sanitation with the exception of “some elements of a small ethnic minority”. That reflected a broader pattern of discrimination against that minority. Those living in slums were sometimes not reflected in official statistics because they were considered illegal, but human rights called for special attention for such people. Human rights standards called for “disaggregation”, not only according to rural and urban areas, but also on grounds of sex, race, disability, and political and religious belief. Such data could help to ensure that development strategies do not inadvertently only benefit better-served populations.
Everyone had the right to participation in decision-making concerning water and sanitation, and in that regard, it was therefore vital for States not to limit themselves to “a reductionist and technocratic understanding of participation”. Barriers to participation, such as poor literary and language constraints, had to be overcome. Human rights mechanisms should also complement human development data and quantitative assessment in promoting accountability. The Millennium Development Goals and the right to water and sanitation both had to be seen as consistent and mutually reinforcing, but in truth the potential for synergy had not been realized. Human rights must be fully integrated into the implementation of the Goals; doing so would improve the lives of all those who still do not enjoy the most basic human rights. It was also true that, once human right criteria have factored in, a bleaker picture of progress would emerge. However, such disappointment should not be a reason for ignoring that reality. Rather, “human rights demand the courage to recognize the existing challenges and the political vision to overcome them,” she said.
Question and Answer Session
The Independent Expert, then, fielded questions from the delegates.
Regarding the question from the representative of Bolivia concerning measures that should be adopted to implement guarantees of rights to water and healthcare, she said that the adoption of national legislation was welcome. By putting the right to water and sanitation into the Constitution, for example, it would promote the work of national tribunals. The core issue was will power and determination, which at the national level, could be implemented through adopting national plans of action.
Concerning the question of the representative of Germany about her priorities in upcoming months and the future of her mandate, she underlined that she wanted to work on national plans of action. Such plans should be adopted by States with view towards guaranteeing the right to water and sanitation.
As to how international cooperation could contribute, she stated that the role of the international community was huge, which was why she had meetings with bilateral agencies and United Nations agencies. She stressed the matter of integrating the human rights perspective in their work, promoting equality and preventing discrimination against the most vulnerable.
Regarding the question of the representative of Switzerland about indicators relating to access to drinking water and sanitation, she said that she will be working on such indicators within the framework of her work next year. As noted in her report, they already know how to measure these issues and had carried out certain exercises having to do with human rights, like the right to healthcare, as well as other human rights. She wanted to adapt this kind of work to water and sanitation, and to measure progress regarding water and sanitation in terms of human rights. That was costly, but had been done in places such as Bangladesh, where, she saw on a joint visit, that at the national level the country had adopted human rights criteria to measure the quality of water, going beyond the Millennium Development Goals. By measuring quality, that showed there were countries that were capable of integrating human rights considerations as they judged their water.
Answering the questions of the European Union, she said, with regard to approaches to be used to resolve the current water access crisis in a sustainable way, human rights called for a focus on the most vulnerable, poor and forgotten. She underlined that the crisis of water shortages and the lack of available water did not always affect human rights, explaining that people required a small amount of water — maybe 100 litres per day per person to drink, eat and wash — but that the water consumed in the world went far beyond that little amount, because of agriculture, which was the biggest consumer of water. The amount of water needed to realize the right to food was smaller, as agriculture often used water for the production of luxury foods, such as mangoes for the Western world or meat imported from other places.
The recognition of the human rights of water and sanitation might improve access, as States would have more consistent positions and would not be able to forget human rights when applying the Millennium Development Goals. They would have to make sure that human rights criteria were incorporated, to focus on those usually left behind, and to go beyond global averages to ensure that those in need were the targets of their measures. As to why human rights were more efficient than the Millennium Development Goals, she said that they were harsher and more frank, because they depicted the reality in the field. The Goals depicted a picture that did not reflect reality — such as when a water tap that produced black water still counted towards the Goals, but was actually “fake progress”, while human rights “called us to action”.
Regarding the question of the representative of Spain about the impact of the Optional Protocol of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, she said that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights was now empowered to receive individual complaints of alleged violations of rights to water and sanitation in relation to their rights to a decent standard of living.
Concerning the question of the representative of Australia about how the profile of water and sanitation could be raised globally with respect to the current emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals, she said she had managed to develop good relationships with UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board, which had recently tried to make sure that they integrated human rights in their work. She was also working on the “Sanitation and Water for All” initiative, raising funds for projects that incorporated human rights criteria and aimed at providing water and sanitation to all, not just a percentage of the population.
As to the question of the representative of the United Kingdom about the Independent Expert’s plans to explore the legal basis for how much States were obliged to provide with regard to water and sanitation, she said that she had worked for a year on this issue, including with consultants. She intended to continue to work on definitions and an understanding of what the right to sanitation was and, as stated, would focus next on national plans of action concerning water and sanitation.
Regarding the question of the representative of Norway about the relationship between the right to water and other rights, she emphasized that the right to water and sanitation was important for the realization of human rights, such as freedom from violence. She explained that children and women often had to go a long distance to fetch water or to defecate, because they did not have a proper toilet and, during those walks, they sometimes became victims of violence or rape. The right to water was also related to the right to work and education, as one father had explained how his daughter did not want to go to school anymore because she smelled, since they did not have water, and the other children teased her. Stating that it was important to look at the relationships with other rights, the Independent Expert noted that she had participated in a panel on the relationship between children’s and women’s rights and sanitation, and would continue to talk about those issues.
The Independent Expert then reiterated that focusing on human rights was more efficient because it depicted a more honest picture of progress. Human rights forced the international community to look at progress from another perspective. Some countries meeting the Millennium Development Goals did not understand why she criticized them, but she believed they must go beyond the Goals to focus on human beings. They should not be concerned with the overall statistic and gaining points, but about providing for every human being. With regard to her mandate, she said that she hoped it would be renewed.
Finally, with regard to the questions posed by the representative of Algeria regarding an invitation for the Independent Expert to visit Algeria, as well as how to assist areas that lacked funds to realize the right to water and sanitation, she said that, when she took up her mandate, she wanted a regional balance in her visits, which is why she went to Latin America, European Union countries, Bangladesh, Egypt and Japan. She intended to go to the United States, sub-Saharan Africa (either Namibia or Botswana) and possibly Senegal this year, as well as Uruguay in 2011. She noted that it would be a pleasure to go to Algeria in 2012, as her missions for the next two years had already been set. Concerning funding countries that lacked resources, she said that the existence of a national plan of action and a vision regarding the right to water and sanitation would attract funding from the outside. She saw this in Egypt, where there had been a political commitment by the Government, and that had attracted funding from other countries.
Independent Expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty
MAGDALENA SEPÚLVEDA CARMONA, Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, said since she assumed her role three years ago, the global food and financial crises had exacerbated the already difficult conditions of more than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty, with women disproportionately assuming the cost. The crises’ aftermath, however, gave the world “a historic opportunity to expand social protection systems, particularly in developing countries, to improve the situation of the most disadvantaged” and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. A rights-based approach to social protection with a strong gender component was more likely to ensure long-term improvements.
She shared the views of the Millennium Development Goals Summit outcome document, which promoted social protection and universal access to basic social services as key to achieving the Millennium targets, and recognized developing countries’ efforts to implement and expand such services, as well as the important role of South-South collaboration towards that end. Social protection systems were needed to shield the world’s poorest from the adverse impact of the financial crisis and climate change and to give people equal access to essential services and adequate standards of living. She was encouraged that, in the outcome document, States committed to create comprehensive social protection systems, universal access to social services and basic social security and health care for all. That was essential to ensuring human rights for people in extreme poverty. She expressed hope that all States would honour their domestic and official development assistance commitments to create and strengthen social protection systems worldwide.
In her report, Ms. Sepúlveda called on States to bolster attention on gender equality and women’s empowerment as part of rights-based social protection systems, which could reduce inequality, discrimination and social exclusion. Social protection systems were important because they helped people escape poverty, protected them from unexpected shocks, gave them access to health and education, housing, water and sanitation, helped them find decent work, and fuelled economic productivity.
States were also obligated under international human rights law to ensure basic social protection, she said. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, binding international and regional human rights instruments and conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO), recognized the right to social security, to an adequate standard of living and decent standards of work as basic rights for all. Poverty and extreme poverty where understood in economic terms. But that limited understanding hid the many other dimensions, such as gender discrimination, that caused people to fall into poverty and pass it on to future generations.
Gender concerns were largely ignored in designing and implementing social protection programmes, she said. Her report gave concrete recommendations to policy makers on how to give more attention to gender equality in such programmes within a human rights framework. States were obligated to integrate gender into all poverty-reduction policies under global human rights law and they had committed to do so in the Summit’s outcome document. Social protection initiatives could increase women’s participation in the workforce, give them income security in old age and improve their access to education. But, such measures must be complemented by other social policies to ensure women’s access to land, productive resources and credit, fair inheritance rights, full legal capacity, access to justice and freedom from all forms of violence. Social policies must also give incentives to better balance household responsibilities between men and women, promote the value of women’s care-giving role, and social and State responsibility for care-giving work.
“If women cannot, on an equal basis with men, benefit from development, participate in the labour market and in public decision-making, the achievement of the [Millennium Development Goals] will be seriously threatened,” she said. “Moreover, the absence of such equality would severely undermine the integrity of any overall positive outcomes.” There was a growing body of evidence that, over the last 10 years, the people who had benefited most from progress towards achieving the millennium targets were those already better off, rather than the poorest, who were often women and children. As 2015 fast approached, social protection measures provided an opportunity to expedite progress with equity.
Question and Answer Session
Responding to questions and comments from a number of delegations, Ms. SEPÚLVEDA welcomed South-South collaboration on society protection programmes, drawing on the “tremendous experience” in overcoming poverty in such countries as Brazil, Mexico and Bangladesh. The South had the knowledge and ability to share good practices. But, while much could be done at the domestic level, the international community must assume its responsibility to increase funding for the South. Money has gone to developing countries to help them expand and develop social protection programmes, but much still had to be done to improve programme coordination. Such assistance should also respect poverty-reduction priorities, rather than serve a political agenda. Recipient countries also had lessons to learn, because “there is still a lot of corruption” which most affected the poor. In many countries, more needed to be done to combat corruption; money diverted to the elite was money that did not go to social services that benefited the poor.
Responding to the representative of China, she acknowledged that social protection had different components. According to ILO, 80 per cent of the total world population had no social security benefits at all. In times of crisis, the lack of social security was liable to send people falling into poverty in both developing and developed countries. Another weakness was decent work; around the world, there were a great many workers whose incomes were not enough to provide a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. More needed to be done to improve working conditions, including minimum salaries and inspections of working conditions in private companies, and that would require political commitment. Social protection measures also protected a population against structural problems, such as those resulting from climate change. In a country such as Bangladesh, one of the countries most affected by climate change, those most vulnerable were the poor.
Responding to comments from the representative of Venezuela, she invited other States to follow that country’s example and share their experience in poverty reduction with others.
Special Rapporteur on Right to Education
KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, began his first appearance before the Committee, since he took up his mandate, by presenting the last report of his predecessor, VERNOR MUÑOZ, which addressed the issue of sex and reproductive health education. The obligation to ensure such education was related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, according to the report. It directly contributed to the advancement of women. The Committee on the Rights of the Child had urged States to integrate sexual education into school curricula. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its general comment No. 14, had interpreted the right to health as including access to education and information on sexual and reproductive health, while the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had called on States to make sex education compulsory and systematic in schools, as a means to address high abortion, adolescent pregnancies and maternal mortality rates.
The importance of sex and reproductive health education had been stressed in public health studies, he said. Such education was important to prevent HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, especially for particularly vulnerable persons, such as women and girls exposed to gender-based violence. “Sex education is a sensitive matter for all societies,” but in his final report, Mr. Muñoz had noted a “worrying lack of sustainable and comprehensive strategies” to ensure the adequate inclusion of sex education in educational and health policies. Without access to accurate information, many people were exposed to abuse or risky practices with potential consequences to their physical and physiological well-being. The long list of recommendations made by the former Special Rapporteur and his call for reflection on the issue provided a point of reference for discussions.
Looking forward to his own term in the mandate, Mr. Singh said that no one questioned that education was a human right, or that education played a central role in human development. “Yet we are confronted with major challenges,” he said. It had been estimated that more than 70 million children, most of them girls, were out of school today, and for those who did go to school, the quality of education was a serious concern across regions. Why such a gap between commitments and reality, and what steps could be taken to ensure more sustainable progress? Those were questions that the mandate had been called upon to address since it was established in 1998.
Setting out his aspirations for his term in the mandate, Mr. Singh stated that equality and non-discrimination were core principles that called for special attention; to that end, he would seek to develop a clearer understanding on how human rights instruments could help eliminate discrimination and ensure equal opportunity. He would also focus on norms for quality education, in public and private schools, notably in improving conditions for teachers, and explore “innovative forms of financing education”. He looked forward to tackling several other issues, including violence against teachers and students; the freedom of individuals, entities and communities to set up and run their own educational institutions; and education in the context of emergencies.
Question and Answer Session
The discussion session began with a statement by the delegation of Malawi, on behalf of the African Group, that rejected the last report filed by Vernor Muñoz, the previous Special Rapporteur for the right to education, saying that it not only reflected an attempt to introduce controversial notions, but also indicated that he had flouted the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-Holders. In accordance with the decision of the African Union Assembly, the group strongly rejected any attempt to undermine the international human rights system by seeking to impose concepts or notions pertaining to social matters, including private individual conduct, which fell outside the internationally agreed human rights legal framework.
Stating that “it is common knowledge that there is no universal agreement on the notions of sexual orientation, sexuality or sexual education and gender identity under existing internationally agreed human rights instruments,” the Group expressed its concern about the “expanded interpretation by the mandate holder of his mandate”. The mandate of the special procedure did not include the right to declare a new human right, as the Special Rapporteur’s report attempted to do, according to the Group. Even if the mandate-holder thought it would be beneficial to expand his mandate, he should have made a request to the Human Rights Council.
Further, the Group expressed its dismay at the approach adopted by the previous Special Rapporteur to selectively quote general comments and country specific recommendations by treaty bodies to justify his personal point of view, and his failure to seek to establish the veracity of the information reflected in his report. Noting their hope that the report of the previous Special Rapporteur would have focused on the core issues that created his mandate in the first place, the African Group said it was disturbed that Mr. Muñoz had propagated for the controversial “Yogyakarta Principles,” knowing he personally advocated for such principles in his private statements, and that he had not exercised his functions in strict observance of his mandate with regard to his report.
The representative of Trinidad and Tobago, on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted with deep concern that the former Special Rapporteur had chosen to ignore the specific mandate given to him by Member States and to selectively focus his entire deliberations on a so-called “human right to comprehensive sexual education”. According to CARICOM’s understanding, a right to sexual education, a right to comprehensive sexual education or a right to sexuality education does not exist in any internationally agreed human rights instrument, nor indeed under international law. “We therefore wish to put on record our strong disapproval of this attempt by the Special Rapporteur to create a new right within the universally established right to education, far exceeding his mandate,” she said.
Noting that CARICOM recognized the need for sexual education, the group took umbrage at the license taken by the former Special Rapporteur in indulging his personal interests at the expense of Member States. CARICOM was also gravely concerned by the former Special Rapporteur’s attempts to undermine the following universally accepted rights: the right of parents to determine the quality of education and to provide appropriate direction and guidance to the child in the exercise of his rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the right of Member States to educate their citizens in a manner consistent with their own cultures; and the right of everyone to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Noting that the former Special Rapporteur had deprived the Member States of important information necessary for accelerating the achievement of agreed upon goals, CARICOM stated that it would appreciate it if a new report was produced that was consistent with the mandate set by the Human Rights Council.
The representative of Mauritania, on behalf of the African Group, said the former Special Rapporteur had overstepped his mandate and introduced erroneous perceptions that would be to the detriment of children. Education had to take into account the cultural and religious realities of each State. His counterpart from Morocco, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said OIC member States also could not accept the report, which fell beyond the scope of any special procedure and contained “controversial notions that do not enjoy universal recognition”.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the “unacceptable” report had promoted “confrontational, disputatious concepts” including an alleged right to sex education. The representative of the United States said there was no internationally recognized human right to sex education. The representative of South Africa, where HIV/AIDS and sex education were taught, said health was an issue that fell outside Mr. Muñoz’s mandate. The representative of Canada, the European Union and Costa Rica, among several others, spoke in defence of the independence of mandate-holders, as well as the importance of sex education.
Mr. SINGH agreed that open discussion was needed, with regard to issues such as the respect for human rights, sex education and empowerment of women. He noted that the comments of the delegates would be communicated to the author of the report, so that he could better clarify anything in that respect. Responding to the queries and questions that directly addressed him, such as the priorities of his work plan, he said that the centrality of education in the Millennium Development Goals was key and that education for all was the core of his mandate. Of vital importance was how to give a higher profile to the right to education and how to give new dynamism and new strength to accelerate progress towards that goal.
With regard to the question of the European Union about financing, he said that the right to education depended on financing, the majority of which came from domestic resources, as it was up to Governments to mobilize funding for their education systems. Yet, innovative mechanisms of financing in development and for education existed, such as tax levies, which were used in countries like China. It was necessary to look at those practices and, in that context, determine the possibilities for countries to mobilize resources through new innovative efforts, so the Millennium Development Goals could be realized.
Concerning the European Union’s question regarding equality of opportunities for education, he said that it was necessary to ensure that principle. Noting that Governments were failing to address the root causes of inequality of opportunities for marginalized groups, he stated that it was necessary to look at how the principle could be promoted through legislation and policies. There were a number of areas regarding marginalized groups when actions were needed, such as expanding entitlements, providing social protection programmes and redistributing public financing. At the Government level, they tried to promote equal opportunity and to secure the maximum resources in order to contribute and advance the right to education.
As to the question of South Africa regarding redressing past inequalities, he said that there were a number of new laws to combat existing inequalities and disparities in education, such as legislation passed in Germany, Brazil, Italy and South Africa. There was advancement towards a legal framework to advance equal opportunity in education, and great jurisprudence existed, such as Brown vs. Board of Education in the United States. Laws concerning marginalized groups and gender equality required particular attention.
Regarding the question of Portugal about his vision for his mandate, he said that the first thing he would do would be to return to the vision of 1990 and focus on State obligations and collective commitments, as well as why they were not able to be realized. He would try to conduct greater advocacy for State obligations made by the international community and stakeholders, in terms of advancing the right to education in the twenty-first century and life-long learning. In addition to equality of opportunity, he would focus on the quality of education.
Finally, he noted that he had studied gender parity carefully, contributed writings to it, and considered the issue of empowerment of great importance.
Special Rapporteur on Physical, Mental Health
The Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, ANAND GROVER, highlighted his report to the General Assembly which calls on Governments and international organizations to adopt a right to health approach to illicit drug control as a matter of priority. He noted that the international system of drug control had single-mindedly pursued one goal for the last 30 years or more — the creation of a “drug-free world”. But an assessment of the current overly punitive approach to drug control, he asserted, demonstrated the inadequacy of that method as it disregarded “the realities of drug use and dependence”. Therefore, human rights and a right to health approach had to be brought to the centre of international drug control policy to balance the human costs of the current system.
The right to health, he elaborated, sought to ensure access to quality health facilities, as well as goods and services without discrimination. All too often, he said, people who used drugs were deterred from accessing services owing to the threat of criminal punishment. “By driving people who use drugs away from health services and programmes and placing them ‘underground’, criminalization makes more likely the spread of HIV and other communicable diseases,” he stated. Further, certain countries incarcerated people who used drugs or imposed compulsory treatment upon them, or both. Not only was that an infringement on the right of a patient to informed consent, he noted, but the treatment concerned was often not evidence-based — involving crude forms of punishment such as hard labour, floggings, humiliating practices and even experimental treatment.
“In many cases, the current international drug control regime also unnecessarily limits access to essential medications that are treated as controlled substances,” he stated, a fact which violated the enjoyment of the right to health. He recalled that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had noted that access to essential medicines, such as morphine, was a core element of the right to health. However, the regulatory systems in place for certain controlled medicines were overly restrictive and tremendously confusing to regulators and heath-care workers. The result was that doctors and health-care professionals were dissuaded from making use of those medicines and barriers were created in accessing markets for the companies willing to produce them.
Many alternatives to the current system existed, he said. Numerous countries had adopted harm reduction initiatives with great success and decriminalization in certain laws governing drug control, he asserted, “would demonstrably improve the health and welfare of people who use drugs and the general population”. The recommendations included in his report, he noted, pertained to the integration of human rights, the formulation of guidelines for a right to health approach, a permanent mechanism at the international level, and an alternative drug regulatory framework.
Question and Answer Session
The Special Rapporteur, then, fielded questions from the delegates, grouping his responses to their queries and comments.
Regarding the invitation for a visit to Algeria, he said that he had received it, but had already accepted an invitation to visit Syria next month, so he had given instructions to approach the Government of Algeria regarding other dates and hoped that that could be arranged.
Concerning the question of the European Union about the most common rights violations, he said reports detailed them, but that they included forced detention and inappropriate compulsory or mandatory treatment. Compulsory treatment was not the answer, as evidence showed that, in compulsory treatment centres, the treated person had no rights. A second level of rights violation related to criminalization and the lack of harm reduction.
As to what could be done to make human rights and public health central to drug control, he discussed HIV prevention programmes and said there were harm reduction initiatives, including needle syringe exchange and condom promotion. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) used this as a platform for reducing HIV transmission and reducing incidents of HIV/AIDS, very heavily targeting harm reduction programmes. Injecting drug users required needle syringe exchange programmes, but they were not available.
With regard to rights violations because of criminalization, some agencies were supportive, while others were not. Therefore, there was an idea to bring the agencies together, as was done in response to HIV/AIDS and the creation of UNAIDS. A commission or body could be created to look into the issue and integrate human rights into drug control.
Concerning the establishment of an alternative regulatory framework of drug control, particularly regarding tobacco, he said that, in the long-term, there was a need to look at, in a different way, the framework on tobacco control. Some drugs were deleterious and some were of medical value, but it was still possible to have a framework concerning deleterious drugs. He added that, whereas there were deleterious substances that had medicinal value, tobacco had no medicinal value. It was, nonetheless, necessary to look at all the evidence and not have a knee-jerk reaction, or take political postures. Decriminalization was an answer, because in such situations where there was decriminalization, the demand decreased.
With regard to the the lack of accessibility of drugs with medicinal value, he agreed that drugs such as opiates were necessary for pain relief for cancer or HIV/AIDS. The accessibility of such medicine was an issue, as it was not accessible because of criminalization.
Regarding the question of Switzerland about criminalization of possession, he said there was no need to criminalize possession or consumption, because the ultimate long-term consequences were not in line with objectives. Whether criminalizing cannabis or ecstasy, it would not help because power was being handed over to police officers and there was a chance of corruption. Power was being given to the criminals, because they would do anything to benefit from the illegal profits.
The moment decriminalization took place, there was an opportunity to educate people about why not to smoke or why not to drink alcohol. He also noted the impact of culture, such as how cannabis used to be taken in India on a particular religious occasion, but how it was now criminal — yet people continued to use it. He advocated depenalization and decriminalization, because only then would it be possible to educate and talk of prevention.
Special Rapporteur on Torture
MANFRED NOWAK, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said he was making his sixth and final report to the General Assembly. His mandate had provided him with the opportunity to get to know countries through the eyes of detainees with a broad variety of backgrounds. The irregular migrants he had seen in Greece, the armed robbers in Nigeria, trafficked women in Moldova, drug offenders in Indonesia, suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, child soldiers in Sri Lanka and motorbike gang leaders in Denmark, all shared one element: they were deprived of personal liberty. Some were held in humane conditions, but the “vast” majority of the estimated 10 million convicted or remanded prisoners and millions more of detainees in police custody were held in inhuman conditions and were deprived of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Regardless of what they had done, “detainees are among the most vulnerable groups in society”, he said, adding that the way in which societies treated their most marginalized groups was one of the best indicators for overall commitment to democratic values. To see the most dangerous criminals and most marginalized outcasts of a society as humans with the same needs as others, including the wish to not be treated “worse than animals”, was a learning experience. Despite the warning of security officers, there had been no attacks when he had gone into prison cells without guards. Once prisoners understood the mandate, they responded with a welcome and respect. The right to human dignity had a much clearer meaning for detainees than other human beings.
A cornerstone of his mandate had been the implementation of fact-finding missions, he continued. During his six-year tenure, he had conducted 18 country missions and two follow-up missions. He had found that his mandate could only be carried out if the working methodology required for investigation were respected in practice. Since torture overwhelmingly took place in detention, hidden from the outside world and with no witnesses, it was “common sense” that investigation would require the investigator to make unannounced visits to the places of detention. Free access to records was also a requirement, as was the conduct of private interviews with detainees free from fear of reprisal and the use of forensic medical experts to document evidence of ill-treatment.
The involvement of forensic specialists was all the more vital as torture methods got more sophisticated in the fight against terrorism and claims of detainees about torture were dismissed as lies, he said. And finally with regard to missions, the Assembly and the Human Rights Council should formally confirm the specific working methods of the Special Rapporteur on torture and should strongly urge Governments to fully respect them.
Recalling his previous report on the “deplorable” conditions of detention, he said he had urged Governments at the recent Crime Congress in Brazil to adopt a specific convention on the rights of detainees to define, in a legally binding manner, the extent to which human rights can be restricted and to ensure minimum standards of detention, including light and air and living space. The present report had returned to the more narrow sense of torture and drew attention to the most important positive obligation of States as set down in the 1984 Convention against torture and its Protocol: the need to eradicate and prevent torture and ill-treatment. Through his mandate, he had come to realize that most States parties had failed to live up to their obligations. New standards for the eradication of torture are not needed; “We need Governments to unite the political will” to implement existing standards. Unfortunately, he had seen a trend in the opposite direction. In the various “wars” on terrorism, drugs and other social ills, torture had come to be viewed as “the lesser of two evils” by both governments and the general public. In fact, torture was one of the most horrendous human rights violations because it was a direct attack on the core of human dignity. Awareness needed to be raised about the fact that the absolute prohibition of torture did not call for any balancing against other interests.
Impunity was a root cause of the practice of torture, he said, noting that the Convention had been the first human rights treaty with detailed obligations to criminalize torture. The Convention aimed to eliminate safe havens for torturers worldwide and it provided victims with the right to remedies, reparations and access to rehabilitation centres. The ultimate goal, however, was to establish effective mechanisms to prevent such treatment since “prevention is always better than a cure”. There were many ways to eradicate torture, but the most effective preventive mechanism was the regular inspection of places of detention through unannounced visits by an independent body. All States should promptly ratify the optional Protocol on torture and should establish, through legislative action, an inclusive and transparent national preventive mechanism that was independent and professional.
Among the situations he had investigated during the last year, he said he had visited Greece, Jamaica and New Guinea and had found conditions of detention to be of “deep concern”. Detainees in Jamaica and New Guinea were locked for months — or years in Jamaica — without ventilation or light and no regard was shown for their dignity as people. In Greece, an acute crisis of detention was due to a huge influx of irregular migrants. In other areas, Cuba had not lived up to its 2009 commitment to the Human Rights Council to allow the conduct of a fact-finding mission and Kazakhstan had made progress with the implementation of recommendations. In fact, Kazakhstan’s frank and constructive attitude could constitute that they were in a “best practice” in dealing with special procedures.
Finally, he said torture and inhuman conditions of detention were the result of many factors, including overall deficiency in the administration of justice, rampant corruption in the justice sector, poverty, lack of legal safeguards, insufficient training of officers, lack of political will and lack of empathy with persons deprived of liberty. However, torture could be eradicated if government had the political will to fight impunity and corruption, invest in criminal justice, take effective measures to prevent torture and improve conditions of detention. He congratulated the next Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, and expressed hope he be more successful than predecessors in “making torture history”.
Question and Answer Session
Mr. NOWAK then took questions and comments from a number of representatives, including that of Greece who noted that, despite an overall decrease in migration flows to the European Union since 2009, the number of migrants entering Greece remains high, putting considerable pressure on an already overburdened national asylum system. An action plan was being put in place to implement reforms, but the financial crisis had deprived Greece of the resources needed to set up a national migration management system. Greece agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the problem was a collective European one that needed a joint European solution.
Among others who spoke, the representative of Jordan said that concerns expressed by the Special Rapporteur about his country were being received “in a very positive manner”. The representative of Jamaica disagreed with sections of the Special Rapporteur’s report which referred to his country. It had invited him to visit and make an objective assessment of its penal and custodial institutions, but in many instances, he had made sweeping assessments as well as conclusions which were not necessarily supported by evidence, the representative said.
Stating the “time is our enemy,” the Chairman of the Committee, MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE ( Cameroon) invited delegations which had yet to put questions to Mr. Nowak, to put them in writing or to put them at the start of tomorrow’s meeting.
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