Special Rapporteur on Torture Tells Third Committee Use of Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Rise, Calls for Global Ban on Practice

18 October 2011
GA/SHC/4014

Special Rapporteur on Torture Tells Third Committee Use of Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Rise, Calls for Global Ban on Practice

18 October 2011
General Assembly
GA/SHC/4014
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Third Committee

21st & 22nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Special Rapporteur on Torture Tells Third Committee Use of Prolonged Solitary

Confinement on Rise, Calls for Global Ban on Practice

 

Committee Also Hears from Chairs of Monitoring Body for Convention

Against Torture; Subcommittee on Prevention, Created by Optional Protocol

The Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Torture today proposed to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) a worldwide ban on the practice of prolonged solitary confinement, which had increased throughout the globe, especially in the context of the “war on terror” and “threats to national security”.

Juan Méndez – one of three top United Nations officials to address the Committee today on the issue of torture – said solitary confinement was subject to wide abuse around the world.  Further, there was no universally agreed-upon definition for the practice – which was alternately known as anything from “segregation” to “Supermax”, or “the hole” - so he defined it in his report as the physical and social isolation of individuals who are confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day.

Given the absence of an international standard for its permitted maximum overall duration, he suggested 15 days as the limit between solitary confinement and prolonged solitary confinement, since at that point, according to his research, some harmful psychological effects of isolation could become irreversible.  “In my report, I propose a worldwide ban on prolonged solitary confinement,” he said.

Pressed by delegates for the rationale of a 15-day deadline for solitary confinement during a question and answer session, he said it was somewhat arbitrary, and subjective factors determined whether or not anything beyond that period was torture.  Some studies said confinement after seven days created a long-term psychological impact, but for practical purposes he proposed a 15-day limit.

Also today, Claudio Grossman, Chair of the monitoring body for the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said the Convention, which now had 149 States parties, had helped advance the unequivocal and absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

“Despite these important developments, we cannot affirm that torture has decreased,” he said, noting there were refusals to adopt clear definitions of torture, to criminalize it and to establish adequate penalties.  “Rendition” of suspects to countries that used torture was still a means of investigation and interrogation, and forced disappearances continued to deny basic legal safeguards.  At the same time, rehabilitation and redress were rarely provided to victims or their families.  “Achieving the goals of the Convention is doable.  Let us recommit ourselves to the full realization of those goals,” he urged.

He voiced serious concerns about reporting delays, noting that 30 States had yet to present their initial report, many of which were over a decade overdue.  He called on those States parties to promptly submit their overdue initial reports.  Additionally, past due periodic reports – of which there were at least 65 – should be submitted without further delay.

At the same time, insufficient resources continued to pose significant challenges to the Committee’s work.  Currently, there were 101 petitions pending, and States parties must play a leading role in finding permanent solutions to the resource and workload issues, he said.

Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, agreed that resources were not sufficient.  Although it was mandated to visit places of detention and assist national measures to prevent torture, the Subcommittee only had funds to visit three countries per year

“At a rate of three per year, a country might only receive a full visit from the Subcommittee every 20 years or so, and this is clearly not what was intended,” he said, adding that the Subcommittee had recently expanded its membership from 10 to 25, making it the largest of the United Nations human rights treaty bodies.

In the general discussion that followed, several representatives welcomed efforts to make treaty bodies more efficient and better equipped to deal with the growing number of States parties.  Costa Rica’s delegate said he awaited with interest the report on treaty body reform to be presented by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in early 2012.

The representative of the European Union said the independence and expertise of the members of treaty bodies needed to be guaranteed.  China’s delegate, however, said treaty bodies should, in accordance with principles of objectivity and impartiality, engage in dialogue with States parties to ensure that their conclusions and recommendations matched the conditions of States parties.

The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, who heads the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced the related reports today.

Also today, the Committee heard the introduction of three draft texts on promoting social integration through social inclusion, follow-up to the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family and beyond, and improvement of the situation of women in rural areas.

Also participating in the general discussion today were the representatives of New Zealand (also on behalf of Canada and Australia), Nigeria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, Pakistan, Morocco, India, Ukraine and Iran.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 19 October, to begin its consideration of human rights questions and situations and the reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.  It will hear statements from the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, as well as presentations from the Special Rapporteurs on Iran, Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to begin its general discussion on the implementation of human rights instruments and comprehensive implementation of follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

It had before it a letter dated 1 June 2011 from the Permanent Representative of Namibia to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/66/87) transmitting four resolutions adopted by the 124th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which was held in Panama City from 15 to 20 April 2011.  Those texts address:  transparency and accountability in the funding of political parties and election campaigns; providing a sound legislative framework aimed at preventing electoral violence; improving election monitoring and ensuring the smooth transition of power; strengthening democratic reform in emerging democracies, including in North Africa and the Middle East; and the role of parliaments in ensuring sustainable development through the management of natural resources, agricultural production and demographic change.

It was expected to consider the report of the Human Rights Committee (documents A/66/40 Supplemental Vol. I and A/66/40 Supplemental Vol. II) and the report of the Committee against Torture (document A/66/44 Supplemental), which are to be issued.

The Committee also had before it the report of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (document A/66/48).  The report contains information including:  organization matters such as the Committee’s meetings and sessions, membership and attendance, commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Convention, presentation and adoption of reports, cooperation with bodies concerned and reports by States parties under article 73 of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  Within the consideration of reports by States parties, in accordance with article 74 of the Convention, the document offers numerous suggestions and recommendations.

Also before the Committee was the report of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (document A/66/55), which summarizes its work over four sessions from February 2009 to October 2010.  At its fourth session, it decided to request the General Assembly provide financial support to expand its meeting time, as it faced a backlog of pending reports amounting to a five-year delay between their receipt and examination.

The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary-General regarding the status of the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (document: A/66/217), which receives voluntary contributions from Governments, non-governmental organizations and individuals, and provides aid to individuals whose human rights have been severely violated through contemporary forms of slavery.  The Fund received over 240 applications for grants amounting to approximately $3.75 million in 2010, but the Board of Trustees was only able to recommend grants amounting to $555,115, representing less than 15 per cent of the total amount requested.  To meet applications for 2011, the Fund will need at least $1.5 million in new contributions prior to the November 2011 session of the Board of Trustees.  Past donors were urged to increase their contributions, and those who have yet to donate to do so.

Also before it was the report of the Secretary-General on measures to improve further the effectiveness, harmonization and reform of the treaty body system (document A/66/344).  The report provides information on workloads of treaty bodies and current use of available resources, saying a lack of resources is weakening States parties’ accountability under international human rights law and that funding to treaty bodies should come from the regular budget.  It also provides recommendations on how to tackle backlogs in the short-term and how the system could work over the long-term without future backlogs.  In the short-term, current backlogs can be reduced through additional meeting time, based on actual workloads.  In the long-term, planning can be made through a fixed calendar, based on 100 per cent compliance with State party reporting obligations.  It concludes that the General Assembly may wish to undertake a comprehensive review of the resources for the treaty body system, taking into account its current and projected needs.

Additionally, the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General regarding the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (document A/66/276), which receives voluntary contributions from Governments, non-governmental organizations and individuals, and provides grants to non-governmental organizations for medical, psychological, social, financial, legal, humanitarian or other forms of assistance to victims of torture and their families.  The Fund received more than $9.5 million in contributions in 2010‑2011, but its Board of Trustees faced a shortfall of over $2 million for requests in 2010, and made cuts for the 2011 grants cycle.  Unless more contributions are received, the Board will still face a significant shortfall for the approximately $22 million in requests expected by organizations in 2012.  The biggest single contributor has been the United States, which provided $7.1 million in 2010.  Past donors were urged to increase their contributions, and those who have yet to donate to do so.

The Committee also had before it the Note by the Secretary-General on effective implementation of international instruments on human rights, including reporting obligations under international instruments on human rights (document A/66/175).  The report concerns the twenty-third meeting of the Chairs of the United Nations human rights treaty bodies (“treaty bodies”), which was held in Geneva on 30 June and 1 July 2011.

Recommendations include stronger guarantees for independence and competence of elections and terms of treaty body members; holding the meeting of Chairs in different regions every year to make treaty bodies more accessible to all stakeholders; and undertaking joint activities, including statements and general comments or recommendations.

The Committee also had before it the Note by the Secretary-General on the Special Fund established by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (document A/66/259).  The report contains information on the status of the Special Fund, including its financial situation and the process of making a contribution.  At the time of writing, the following contributions to the Special Fund had been received:  $20,271 from the Czech Republic, $5,000 from the Maldives, $82,266 from Spain and $855,263 from the United Kingdom.  The report concludes by strongly encouraging that Governments contribute to the Special Fund, in order to provide it with the resources to carry out its mandate.

Finally, the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (document A/66/36) provides an overview of the activities of the Commissioner’s Office in the past year.  It notes how developments in the work of the Human Rights Council, universal periodic review and initiatives to harmonize the methods of treaty bodies offered opportunities to strengthen the international system of protecting and promoting human rights.  With the review of the Human Rights Council completed in March 2011, the Commissioner urged it to respond to situations in a timely manner, including through more creative modes of work.  The report also gives an overview of the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the field through thematic priorities such as countering discrimination, pursuing economic rights, human rights in the context of migration, combating impunity, and strengthening human rights in situations of armed conflict.

The Office had sought to seize momentum created by the “Arab Spring” protests in North Africa and the Middle East, through interventions on the ground and in the Organization’s policymaking forums.  The Commissioner welcomes some promising steps to initiate long-overdue reforms, but emphasizes the range of issues that brought people into the streets need to be addressed.  The report concludes that the Office had been challenged to give its increasing number of mandates the attention they demanded and deserved.  Thus, the Commissioner welcomed the decision of the General Assembly to, during its current session, consider ways in which essential resources could be made more available in response to urgent Council mandates.

Statement by Assistant Secretary-General

IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and head of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said he was pleased to present several reports on implementation of human rights instruments.  The report of the Secretary-General on measures taken to further improve the effectiveness of, harmonizing, and reforming the treaty body system provided information on workloads by treaty bodies, current use of available resources and the ongoing treaty body strengthening process, he said.  The proposals from that process would be compiled in a report to be launched by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2012, but it would also be advantageous if a way could be found for the report to be presented to the General Assembly next year.

The report made two proposals on how to tackle current backlogs, he said.  In the short-term, to address current backlogs, it proposed that every two years a comprehensive request be presented for meeting time for all treaty bodies, based on their actual workload in terms of reports submitted.  In the long-term, it proposed planning be made through a fixed calendar based on 100 per cent compliance with the reporting schedule, he said.  The report also responded to the Assembly’s request for equitable geographical distribution in membership and chairs of human rights treaty bodies, he said.

But, he noted that the Third Committee did not address the operational requirements of treaty bodies systematically in one resolution, he said.  They were dispersed in a number of separate resolutions tabled on an annual or biannual basis.  It could be worthwhile to consider ways to address issues related to the treaty body system as a whole, such as this report and the proposals it contained, he said.

Presenting the report of the chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies on their twenty-third meeting, he said chairpersons discussed the expertise and independence of treaty body members, as well as ways to enhance their annual meeting.  They recommended their meeting be held every second year outside Geneva in a different region to raise the awareness about the human rights treaty bodies’ work, while strengthening links and implementation between international and regional human rights mechanisms and institutions.  To that end, they decided their twenty-fourth meeting would convene in Africa in 2012, he said.

On the subject of individual treaty bodies, he said the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance entered into force on 23 December 2010 and currently 30 States were party to the Convention.  On 31 May 2011, States parties elected the first 10 members of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which would hold its first session in Geneva in November this year.  It would also be beneficial for the Third Committee to hold dialogues with chairs of the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he said.

Lastly, he presented the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which, he said, described recommendations for grants to beneficiary organizations that were adopted by the Board of Trustees of the Fund.  The report also provided information on policy decisions adopted by the Board in implementation of recommendations by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), he said.

Statement by Chair of Committee against Torture

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chair of the Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, underlined the ongoing cooperation between the Committee, the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and the special procedure of the Human Rights Council, and noted that the 1984 Convention against Torture now had 149 States parties.  Recalling the scope of the Committee’s work, he said the body continued to have serious concerns about reporting delays.  It welcomed the submission of new initial reports during the past year by Madagascar and Djibouti, but deeply regretted that 30 States parties had yet to present their initial report, many of which were over a decade overdue.  He called on those States parties to promptly submit their overdue initial reports.  Additionally, past due periodic reports – of which there were at least 65 – should be submitted without further delay.

He stressed that the optional reporting procedure introduced in 2007, which was referred to as “the list of issues prior to reporting”, simplified the reporting process, while enriching the dialogue, increasing the timeliness and resulting in more specific recommendations.  States parties had reacted favourably to the new procedure and the Committee would evaluate and improve it going forward, taking into account suggestions from Member States and civil society.  Noting that the treaty body system as a whole was facing serious difficulties owing largely to the inadequate capacity of United Nations conference services to process and translate documents in a timely manner, he encouraged Member States to reflect on the need for significant additional resources.

Pointing out that State party acceptance of the individual complaints procedure under article 22 of Convention was optional, he said the Committee regretted that only 65 of the 149 States parties had made a declaration in favour of that procedure.  It, thus, called on the remaining 84 States parties to accept the procedure, which was an important tool for achieving the Convention’s goals by enabling torture victims to present their cases before the international community.  He further noted that the Committee had considered the merits of 17 cases in the last year.

To address its increased workload, the Committee had increased the number of reports it examined at each session from six to nine for the November session and to eight for the May session.  It had also increased the number of individual complaints reviewed, deciding 12 individual cases in the last session, in comparison to five at the previous one.  Currently, 101 petitions were pending, as a result of the growing number of complaints submitted.  While that increase reflected the positive development that individuals deemed it important to seek justice through the Committee’s complaint procedure, States parties must play a leading role in finding permanent solutions to the resource and workload issues.

Continuing, he said the Committee had dedicated more time to its confidential procedure under article 20.  He appealed to the nine States that had declared that they did not recognize that competence to withdraw their reservations.  At the same time, the Committee had accelerated its work on general comments, adopting a first draft on a general comment explaining and clarifying the obligation of States parties under article 14 of the Convention to “ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible”.  A second draft would be prepared at the Committee’s upcoming session.  The Committee had also been discussing, among other things, a document regarding facts and evidence designed to address important issues, such as the weight that should be accorded to domestic determinations and the proper standard of proof.

Turning to the consultation process launched by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen the treaty body system, he said measures that led to increased efficiency did not necessarily reduce costs.  Making the Committee’s work more implementable at the national level required more investment, more means of cooperation with States and more time.  Member States had an obligation to provide adequate resources, so that the system they created could perform effectively, he said.  Thus, the discussion should be continued in the Committee.

He further stressed that the unequivocal and absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment was set forth in numerous international and regional instruments, including the Convention against Torture.  That framework affirmed that there was no legal vacuum that would allow questioning the prohibition and had been essential in advancing, with legal legitimacy, the values of human dignity embodied in those treaties and conventions.  For its part, the Committee had, over the years, achieved important successes in transforming countries’ legal norms, investigating and punishing perpetrators of torture, and excluding confessions extracted through torture from legal proceedings.

“Despite these important developments, we cannot affirm that torture had decreased,” he acknowledged, noting that failures to implement the Convention’s provisions and refusals continued apace, with a refusal to adopt clear definitions of torture, to criminalize it and to establish adequate penalties.  “Rendition” of suspects to countries that continued to use torture was still used as a means of investigation and interrogation, and forced disappearances continued to deny persons their basic legal safeguards.  At the same time, rehabilitation and redress were rarely provided to victims or their families.

“These failures to realize the obligations laid down in the Convention should strengthen our resolve,” he argued.  “Achieving the goals of the Convention is doable.  Let us recommit ourselves to the full realization of those goals.”

He went on to note that torture was sometimes discussed in abstract terms, with statistics and normative challenges dominating the discussion.  Consequently, the human dimension was lost by language that failed to fully capture the absolute horror of torture. “We should not, however, lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with women, men and children,” he said, stressing that “the system that you have created, through the Convention against Torture, recognizes that crucial dimension.”

Emphasizing that the Committee’s work reflected that foundation, he highlighted a recent case in which the complainant claimed she would be imprisoned and tortured if returned to her country, in violation of article 3 of the Convention.  Among other things, she had been arrested and, while in detention, subjected to torture, beatings and multiple rapes due to her religious and political activities.  After consideration, the Committee concluded that there were substantial grounds for believing that the complainant would be at risk of being tortured if returned to her country.  The State party against whom the complaint was filed fully complied with the decisions, giving the person a chance at a new life.  “In 1984, with the adoption of the Convention against Torture, you created a system that made this possible,” he told delegates.  “You have contributed to the realization of its goals by saving numerous lives.”

Statement by Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture

Presenting the fourth Annual Report of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, MALCOLM EVANS said during the course of 2010 the number of States parties to the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention against Torture passed 50 and the number of members to be elected by States parties increased from 10 to 25.  That made the Subcommittee the largest of the United Nations human rights treaty bodies, he said.  Last year the Subcommittee conducted full visits to Lebanon, Bolivia and Liberia, and its first “follow-up” visit, to Paraguay.  The visit to Paraguay proved useful, confirming the belief that the best way to ensure implementation of recommendations was continuing face‑to‑face discussion with authorities who had day‑to‑day responsibility for detention issues.

The report contained Guidelines on National Preventative Mechanisms, which was the Subcommittee’s definitive statement regarding the establishment of such mechanisms.  It was greatly concerned that nearly half of all States parties had not designed those mechanisms, since that was the most significant single thing a State could do to prevent torture and ill-treatment.  The report also set out the Subcommittee’s approach to the concept of prevention, explaining that prevalence of torture and ill-treatment was influenced by a broad range of factors, including general human rights, the rule of law, the level of poverty, social exclusion, corruption and discrimination.

There were 61 States parties to the Optional Protocol, and that number was set to increase significantly, but the Subcommittee would only visit Brazil, Mali and Ukraine this year.  “At a rate of three per year, a country might only receive a full visit from the Subcommittee every 20 years or so, and this is clearly not what was intended,” he said.  The Optional Protocol envisaged far more dynamic engagement, and such a pace of visiting did not permit sufficient or appropriate use of the 25 members.  This problem could only be fully solved by increasing resources to support its work, but the Subcommittee was also aware much could be done by reordering its own methods to make better use of time and resources at its disposal.

Over the course of the year, he said, the Subcommittee had made changes:  the Bureau was now comprised of five members, the Chair and four Vice-Chairs, who were each responsible for an area of activity, improving efficiency; Regional Task Forces were established to oversee National Preventative Mechanisms; and a system of informal meetings during plenary sessions was established to make better use of meeting time.  The Committee was also exploring the possibility of using its visiting mandate more creatively, tailoring for the most pressing elements in the country concerned, and was seeking new ways of cooperating with United Nations colleagues for a comprehensive approach to tackling torture and ill-treatment.

Finally, he said he was pleased to report that the Special Fund, which was provided to assist in funding recommendation of the Subcommittee and education programmes of the National Preventative Mechanisms, was about to become operational, and could become another powerful tool of prevention.  The Subcommittee’s role was to act as a “catalyst for change”, and in the period under review it had increasingly focused on new partnerships to carry out its work.  “We do not seek to be dramatic, but we do intend to be effective,” he said.

Question and Answer Session

Chile’s representative noted that his Government had used a system of reparations to victims’ families on the belief that even symbolic reparations helped heal society.  He stressed that the Convention’s full implementation was needed, while further underlining that the definition of torture, as well as its criminalization and punishment, were topical issues.

The representative of the European Union requested further details on the scope of cooperation between the three mechanisms presented to the Committee today, as well as other United Nations bodies, victims, civil society and academia, as well as other mechanisms at national and regional levels.  Referring to the confidential procedures established in article 22, he requested a general evaluation on the use of facts and evidence under that procedure.  What did the Subcommittee do in the absence of national preventive mechanisms? How was the enhanced capacity of the enlarged Subcommittee used?

The representative of Liechtenstein, noting the Committee against Torture’s pioneering role in treaty body reform, asked about the benefits of focused reports.  He asked if the broad application of the Convention, including in efforts to prevent domestic violence, undermined the prohibition against torture.

Brazil’s representative highlighted a draft law currently being considered that called for the establishment of a national prevention mechanism in accordance with the Paris Principles.  That mechanism, which would have two stages and would be composed of 23 members, would have free access to places of detention without prior notification.  The Brazilian Government was also engaged in promoting state and local mechanisms, he said, adding that President Dilma Rousseff had sent a proposal to Congress to set up a national commission for truth.  In that context, he asked what measures could be taken to improve the country visits by the Subcommittee.

The representative of the Czech Republic asked how the work of the Subcommittee had changed since Mr. Evans first took up his mandate.

Pakistan’s delegate noted the large number of overdue reports, on one hand, and the backlog of pending reports, on the other.  In that context, he asked for further details on how resources were initially allocated by the Committee and what mechanisms were in place to help it deal with the submission of reports, including with new parties joining the Convention.

Norway’s representative asked about the effect of the new optional reporting procedure.  What were the main trends on follow-up to the Committee’s recommendations?  To what extent did States parties submit information on follow-up?  What was the Committee doing to address the problem of overdue reports?

Denmark’s delegate recalled that the three torture mandate holders appearing today were not the only United Nations mechanisms working against torture.  The Human Rights Committee and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, along with some regional mechanisms, also played critical roles.  Her delegation wondered what the cooperation among those bodies was like.  Regarding the comprehensive review of the treaty body system, what was the most desired outcome by the Committee and the Subcommittee?  Given its recent enlargement and active mandate, what was the Subcommittee doing to train new members?

Responding, Mr. GROSSMAN agreed that the issue of reparations was essential, including regarding its impact on non-recurrence.  If institutions allowing for torture continued, even if the Committee had dealt with an individual case, the Committee would have largely failed in its main goals.  Generally speaking, human rights violations were not resolved in victims’ eyes, if compensation alone was paid.  Indeed, the saying that “money cures all ills” did not apply to human rights victims.  People wanted some kind of satisfaction.  Often their very identity had been challenged, and they wanted “integral, full reparation,” not just money.  While other treaty bodies dealt with these issues, too, the Committee against Torture felt a particular need to consider the matter, including in its general comments.

He heard in the question from the European Union an encouragement for greater cooperation and he fully agreed.  More could be done in that regard and he was particularly interested in combining efforts, so that the wheel did not have to be reinvented.  In addition, when State reports were considered, the comments of other treaty bodies were borne in mind.

Continuing, he stressed that questions of legitimacy were critical, particularly in the context of torture, which destroyed legitimacy and required that what was said must constantly be re-evaluated.  He noted that the Committee obviously met with the Subcommittee.  In addition, civil society could always enrich the discussion, as could national human rights organizations.  He was a bit “disturbed”, however, by “shadow reports”, because civil society should not be in the corridors shadowing the Committee.

The standard of proof was also very important, he said, underscoring the importance of looking into the eyes of the person who said they were tortured.  It was possible to use football jargon to speak about preponderance of proof and reasonableness – namely, that in the criminal courts you had to win the game five to one, which was a much higher standard of proof than in civil courts.  The next question was what value determination was given to national bodies.  That also applied to regional courts, where different standards of proof applied.  Thus, weighing legitimacy was very difficult and, as he mentioned in his presentation, the Committee was discussing a document on the standard of proof.

He agreed there was a timing problem in considering reports.  [At this point it was clear that reports shared be taken up within one year, not three, since by then reports became obsolete].  That impacted the resource question, while also introducing the temptation to request limits on State responses.  Yet, that latter option seemed rather “obscene”.  For example, could you ask a State party a question about torture and then limit the amount of pages of response?  Among other things, it was a question of priorities, he said, noting that while the Committee could draw up a list of issues, it had to consider how to list issues for a country that had not yet submitted a report.  He wondered what States thought the Committee could do to achieve more timeliness in its procedures.

He went on to suggest that there was always a question of how much could be covered by both the Committee and the Convention – including gender issues and domestic violence, which was also a kind of torture.  But, if the Committee tried to cover everything, it became too much.  The reality of the situation must be considered, he stressed.

Responding to Brazil, he said such serious issues had to be investigated.  As for Pakistan’s comments, he noted the Committee was always very happy to receive a report.  It then had to respond as quickly as it could given its resources.  He recalled that the Committee had two rapporteurs to follow-up to specific articles.  Some recommendations stipulated year-long deadlines for follow-up, although it was impossible to change a legal system in that time.  Thus, the Committee sought to have a continuing dialogue with States parties.

Before hearing from Mr. EVANS, Panama’s delegate said that her country ratified the protocol in July and it wondered what the procedures were for beginning a constructive dialogue with the Subcommittee and scheduling a country visit.

Next, Mr. EVANS said there was an annual joint meeting between the Subcommittee and the Committee against Torture, and the two bodies were experimenting on how to make it as useful as possible, including regarding its procedures and substantive consultations.  Careful attention was paid to all mechanisms working under the United Nations auspices in the Subcommittee’s approach to country visits.  Much of the focus was on building partnerships and building up the structures of national preventive mechanisms, which States parties were required to establish.

He noted that it was not possible to include all Subcommittee members in the visiting system, which was one reason why the Subcommittee was working to reform its internal work practices.  The membership could be used more effectively if the Subcommittee fashioned a variety of working tools.

He said the biggest advantage of confidentiality was that it allowed close relations to be entered into with States.  The Subcommittee could be open and honest, as could States.  One of the downsides of confidentiality, of course, was that recommendations were also secret, which potentially impoverished the results of a visit by the Subcommittee.

The Subcommittee was delighted that procedures for a national preventive mechanism had been put in place in Brazil.  He said follow-up could be improved if countries could respond to reports within the 6-month time frame stipulated by the Subcommittee and that they ensured, as far as possible, their responses mapped the questions.  Continuing follow-up could also be useful after the initial follow-up.

He said the responses over his term had been magnified by the increasing number of States parties to the Optional Protocol.  National preventive mechanisms were also helpful because they provided an interlocutor within the States.  That could potentially fill the gap between the “cycle of visits”, which was longer than wished.  Pointing out that each country visit commenced a new discrete process, he said in-country work was logistically and practically difficult, both for members of the Subcommittee and the Secretariat, which needed more support

He endorsed the suggestions for a broad and wide engagement with other partners, including throughout the United Nations family.  However, while such engagement was rewarding, it was also challenging, practically speaking.  As for the goals of strengthening the treaty body system, he hoped for enhanced compliance by States parties with their obligations.  Preventive visits required a wide skill set from the Subcommittee’s membership and the resource pool had been widened with the body’s enlargement.  Yet, training was critical in blending that experience in a common working practice.  The Subcommittee was also using smaller working groups to that end, although the absence of a common core language meant that working outside a plenary meeting was much more difficult.

Regarding Panama’s question, he expressed hope that in the future the Subcommittee would be able to meet with newly ratifying States possibly on an informal basis, to explain the visiting process.  He stressed that contact in the first year - during which the national preventive mechanism was supposed to be put in place - would be particularly helpful.

Special Rapporteur on Torture

JUAN MÉNDEZ, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said he wanted to present his findings on the use of solitary confinement, a practice which was global in nature and subject to wide abuse.  “There is no universally agreed-upon definition for solitary confinement; in addition, in many countries, it may also be known as ‘segregation’, ‘isolation’, ‘separation’, ‘cellular’, ‘lockdown’, ‘Supermax’, ‘the hole’, or ‘Secure Housing Unit’.  For the purposes of my report, I use the term ‘solitary confinement’ to allude to all of these practices and define solitary confinement as the physical and social isolation of individuals who are confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day,” he said.

Prolonged solitary confinement was a particular concern of his, given that the practice had increased, especially in the context of the “war on terror” and as “a threat to national security”.  There was no international standard for its permitted maximum overall duration, even though it may amount to torture.  “Being aware of the arbitrary nature of the effort to establish a moment in time in which an already harmful regime becomes prolonged, I suggest that 15 days is the limit between ‘solitary confinement’ and ‘prolonged solitary confinement’.  It is at that point, according to the literature surveyed, that some of the harmful psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible.  In my report, I propose a worldwide ban on prolonged solitary confinement,” he said.

It was important, however, to ensure a clear distinction between solitary confinement and various forms of segregation within places of detention, he said.  Physical segregation might be necessary, but should not adversely impact a detainee’s social regime.  Given its serious psychological and physiological effects, he concluded solitary confinement was a harsh measure contrary to the essential aim of the penitentiary system to rehabilitate offenders and facilitate their reintegration into society.  Juveniles, given their physical and mental immaturity, should never be subjected to solitary confinement, he said.  Equally, individuals with mental disabilities should under no circumstances by subjected to solitary confinement, even when there was reason to believe they might be a threat to themselves or others, as it only aggravated their state of mental health and the risk of harm.

He proposed that solitary confinement be banned when used as a penalty, in pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities and for juveniles.  Depending on the severity of physical conditions in a place of detention, the length of a solitary confinement regime and absence of such factors as family visits, access to media or religious counselling, isolation of inmates amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or – in more severe cases – to torture.  He went on to urge States to review their practices of solitary confinement, reinforcing it should be used only in very exceptional circumstances, for as short a time as possible.  Detained persons in solitary confinement must also be afforded genuine opportunities to challenge the nature of their confinement and its underlying justification through courts of law, with free access to competent legal counsel.

He concluded with a brief update on the status of his country visits; with full cooperation of Tunisia’s interim Government, he conducted a visit in May 2011 to examine violations during the Ben Ali regime, assess abuses committed during and after the recent revolution there and identify measures needed to prevent torture and ill-treatment in the present and future.  He looked forward to continued engagement with Tunisian authorities and key actors during this period of transition and would present his final report of that mission to the Human Rights Council in March 2012.  He described planned visits for the remainder of this year or in 2012, and the results of his first regional consultation, held in Santiago, Chile in June.

Question and Answer Session

Tunisia’s representative confirmed her country’s full commitment to advancing human rights.

The European Union’s delegate asked how he cooperated with other players in the area, what was the overall trend in preventing the use of torture, and what was the difference between solitary confinement and being kept incommunicado and were they approached the same or differently.

The delegate of the United States said her country’s Constitution said solitary confinement should not be used without careful analysis of the reasons and psychological effects.  She asked whether the Special Rapporteur would indicate what areas he would focus on this year, and whether the concerns of protesters would remain a priority focus for the coming year.

Switzerland’s delegate asked what was the basis for the 15-day limit for solitary confinement, what could be done to encourage changes to States’ approach to solitary confinement and would he have a report on the link between torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in States moving towards democracy this year.

Norway’s delegate asked for examples of control measures that could provide alternatives to solitary confinement during pre-trial detention.

Denmark’s delegate asked if he had practical suggestions on how States could better assist his mandate and could comment on how States had received him.  She also asked him to elaborate on his victim-centred approach, particularly in respect to States’ obligations to rehabilitate torture survivors, and whether that also pertained to a separate State where torture survivors could find themselves afterwards as refugees.

Responding, Mr. MÉNDEZ thanked the representative from Tunisia for her statement and the country’s broad cooperation with his mandate.  In response to questions, he said there was much cooperation with other mandates.  Many communications sent to States were in fact joint communications with other working groups and Special Rapporteurs, which they had found was an effective way to convey the concerns of the international community.  But, he was still working on further cooperation with other mandates.

On how to prevent torture, he said it was important to support the work of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.  States who ratified the Protocol should establish National Protective Mechanisms.  There had to be full investigations of cases, along with examination of required reparations and rehabilitation to help deter future cases of torture.  On the subject of holding detainees incommunicado, he said it also had to be shorter than the 15-day period.  Incommunicado detention had to be monitored by a judicial authority and for a short time.  It was an exceptional step, with very strict guarantees.

States needed to look at their domestic laws to identify problems and place strong protective measures, so there was no excessive use of solitary confinement, he said.  But, many countries did not have safeguards for those procedures.  So, good practices needed to be promoted from one country to another to make torture and inhuman treatment less common, he said.  The 15-day deadline for solitary confinement was “totally arbitrary”, and subjective factors determined whether or not anything beyond that period was torture.  Some studies said confinement after seven days created a long-term psychological impact, but for practical purposes he proposed a 15-day limit.

On the question how to encourage States to end solitary confinement, he answered that his report was just an attempt to start a dialogue on the subject; he would like to hear criticism and comments from States and civil society to get clearer guidelines on the issue.  He also said he realized that when some dictatorial countries moved towards democracy, it was a good time to move away from torture for the future.

On alternatives to solitary confinement in pre-trial detention when a case is being investigated, he said such people should be held for very short periods of time, with access to legal counsel.  There may be a justification for limiting access to the outside world, but they should have access to legal counsel, he said.

Statements

BERNADETTE CAVANAGH (New Zealand), speaking also on behalf of Canada and Australia, called on States to ratify and fully implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a matter of priority.  Her delegation had participated in the Human Rights Council’s annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities and looked forward to work on the theme of participation in public and political life by persons with disabilities.  This year’s Fourth Conference of States Parties to the Convention had drawn welcome attention to a core principle of the Convention:  that facilitating the full participation of persons with disabilities in society benefited entire communities.

She went on to say that Australia and New Zealand had deposited their initial periodic reports on the Convention’s implementation to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while Canada was preparing to do so in April 2012.  The large number of States that had joined the Convention meant that the Committee faced a backlog of work.  It met for only two weeks a year and she requested that more time be allocated to that Committee’s annual meeting time, commensurate with its workload, to ensure the rights of all persons with disabilities were treated equally within the United Nations.  She also urged that business be conducted efficiently, and that the Committee Chair appear in an interactive dialogue in future sessions, placing the Committee on par with other treaty bodies.

FRIEDERIKE TSCHAMPA, Delegation of the European Union, said 2011 had been marked by some advancement towards the universal ratification of core human rights treaties.  The implementation, at the domestic level, of the provisions of human rights treaties, however, remained the key challenge.  A key component of the obligations of States parties to the treaties was the genuine and sincere cooperation with treaty bodies in the follow-up to both concluding observations and views of individual cases.  Last September, the Union, as a party in its own right, to the Disabilities Convention, participated in the Conference of States parties and shared its experiences in implementing the Convention.  She also welcomed the entry into force of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which marked a significant development in human rights standard-setting.

Welcoming the consultations on how to make treaty bodies more efficient and better equipped to deal with the growing number of States parties, the increasing number of tasks they had to perform and increased coordination, she said the independence and expertise of the members of treaty bodies needed to be guaranteed.

Turning to the OHCHR she said that the independence of the Office was crucial for performing its tasks in an efficient and impartial manner.  She stressed that the free and unhindered contact and cooperation with individuals and civil society were also indispensable to enable the United Nations and its mechanisms to fulfil their mandates.  Echoing previous calls of the High Commissioner for States to stop any act of intimidation or reprisal against individuals and groups who cooperate with the Organization, she called on States to facilitate and encourage such cooperation instead.

GWENDOLYN NWACHUKWU ( Nigeria) said that her country had concluded the first cycle of its Universal Periodic Review – an important process in promoting and protecting fundamental human rights – and the modalities had been put in place for the commencement of the second cycle.  She also pointed out that similarities existed between the Review and the African Union’s Peer Review Mechanism, which had in fact been in practice prior to the adoption of the Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council.  For too long, she said, the world had concentrated on the promotion of civil and political rights to the detriment of economic and social rights.  It was imperative that an “agreeable balance” be reached in that regard, she went on, warning that any discussion of human rights in their civil and political contexts alone would be meaningless to the vast majority of people around the world.  Those people increasingly saw their human rights in the rapid improvement of their livelihood.  Increased developmental and financial assistance to developing countries was needed, as was the redirection of human rights mechanisms towards the achievement of economic and social rights, in order to realize the Millennium Development Goals.

Poverty, conflict and diseases remained some of the world’s biggest problems, she continued, especially in developing countries.  Additionally, it was clear that an “umbilical connection” existed between security and development, with obvious consequences for the full enjoyment of human rights.  In spite of the concerted efforts of the international community, it was also regrettable that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance remained major challenges for the international community.  Nigeria was, therefore, committed to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action as a viable platform, and urged others to do likewise – including through the establishment of appropriate political and social conditions to foster national cohesion and tolerance, and the creation of dynamic networks for sensitizing all segments of society on the evils of racial discrimination.  Nigeria had also implemented its Transformation Agenda, which encompassed political and economic reforms and aimed at improving the livelihood of all Nigerians in the shortest possible time.

LI XIAOMEI ( China) said her delegation had paid close attention to the work of the human rights treaty bodies and their reform.  While it was necessary for those bodies to improve efficiency, they must work strictly in accordance with their mandates, avoiding any act that exceeds those limits and steering clear of politicization and selectivity.  In accordance with the principles of objectivity and impartiality, they should engage in dialogue with States parties to ensure that their conclusions and recommendations matched the conditions of States parties.  That would facilitate the implantation of the treaty in question.  Further, treaty bodies should widely seek inputs by all bodies, including in drafting general comments, which should be faithful to the original treaty.  Treaty bodies must also pay close attention to the suggestions of member States in drafting general comments.  In that regard, her delegation noted its written response submitted to OHCHR to the Committee against Torture on article 14 of the Convention.  China also called for the establishment of an open-ended working group to seek broad consensus on treaty body reform.

She further noted that China had acceded to 25 human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture.  It had signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and was carrying out the necessary reforms to create conditions for its ratification.  The Government was also paying great attention to aligning domestic laws and policy measures with treaty provisions.  At the same time, it was making active preparations for the consideration of its first compliance report on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Preparations were also under way for its combined seventh and eighth periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The Government was actively supporting both the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions in fulfilling their relevant treaty obligations under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”.

JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO ( Venezuela) said his country was fully committed to freedom, justice, equality and solidarity.  It had, in practical and concrete steps, enshrined all human rights.  Mechanisms to broaden the enjoyment of human rights were being set up, with greater power being given to the people every day.  The norms contained in the human rights treaties and conventions ratified by the State had constitutional legitimacy and were paramount in the constitutional system.  Venezuela had ratified nine major human rights instruments and had recently acceded to three more – namely, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the Migrant Workers Convention and the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Roughly $38,000 was being donated to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which was collected at a concert by the Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra.

He stressed that the exercise of human rights should be based on objectivity, impartiality and non-selectivity.  The rights were universal and must also take account of national values and systems around the world.  Above all, Venezuela oriented its public policies around poverty eradication and had cut its rates of extreme poverty from 21 per cent in 1998 to 7.1 per cent last year.  Unprecedented levels of social investment had allowed the country to attain nearly all of the Millennium Development Goals.  It was, therefore, moving towards a “quality democracy” where freedoms were being exercised.  Indeed, there were no political prisoners, no impunity, no death sentence, no torture, no political persecution and no secret jails.  Protection was not offered to international terrorists and freedom of expression was not limited.  People were allowed to make public protests.  Nonetheless, some powers and their allies tried to accuse certain countries by invoking the war against terrorism.  Those same powers launched fratricidal wars to satisfy their geo-political appetites, while flagrantly violating the human rights of poor people.

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

In the afternoon, the Committee heard the introduction of several draft texts.

The representative of Peru first introduced the draft resolution on promoting social integration through social inclusion (document A/C.3/66/L.8).  He stressed that social inclusion was a prerequisite for promoting peaceful, stable and just societies.  Economic growth did not guarantee social inclusion; thus, social inclusion must be a focus in the Third Committee.  Stressing that social inclusion formed the basis of democratic institutions, he noted that the current text aimed to promote the social inclusion of all, including the most marginalized.  Times of economic crisis particularly called for measures to ensure social inclusion, making the text especially relevant.

Argentina’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, then introduced the draft resolution on follow-up to the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family and beyond (document A/C.3/66/L.12).  He recalled that 1994 was proclaimed the International Year of the Family to emphasize the contribution of the family to social development and on the basis of the need to focus on people-centred policies.  In 2004, the tenth anniversary of the Year was celebrated and a decision made to support follow-up to the Year, as well as to celebrate its anniversaries at 10-year intervals.

He emphasized that this biannual resolution had always received wide support and was always adopted by consensus.  The Group of 77 and China had ensured, as it did every year, that no controversial elements were inserted into the text.  However, last year’s text had been updated to reflect preparations for the upcoming 2014 twentieth anniversary of the International Year, based on the Economic and Social Council resolution 29/2011, which was adopted on 28 July 2011.

Finally, Mongolia’s representative introduced the draft text on improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (document A/C.3/66/L.19).  Noting that this biannual resolution was traditionally sponsored by her delegation, she noted that it was being co-sponsored this year by Guatemala.  She stressed that women played a vital, yet not fully acknowledged, role in agriculture and rural development.  They continued to be economically and socially disadvantaged.  They had limited access to economic resources and opportunities, while also being excluded from planning and decision-making processes.  That state of play demanded that more efforts be directed towards their empowerment.  Outlining the draft text, she noted that new operative paragraphs, based on the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s recent report, aimed to help adopt gender-responsive rural strategies and budget frameworks, incorporating the needs of rural women’s needs and priorities.

Statements

MARÍA ELENA MEDAL ( Nicaragua) said her country had established a legal framework enshrining the human rights of all its citizens, while its Constitution also guaranteed respect for human rights, and the country had ratified international human rights instruments.  Free access to health care and education as well as plans for employment and housing were important targets in its national plan for human development, since rights could not be discussed without first and foremost tackling poverty.

Nicaragua was committed to guaranteeing the promotion of human rights, and it had moved forward within its legal framework.  The country had opened institutions, such as the Counsel for the Defence of Human Rights, which had offices for groups such as women, children, the disabled and indigenous peoples, ensuring protection of their rights within the legal system.  Major efforts had been made for administrative and legislative standards, including establishing an office for legal defence, she said.

HATEM TAG-ELDIN ( Egypt) said the international community must respect efforts to defend freedoms and support national endeavours towards democracy, good governance and respect for human dignity, and cultural and religious diversity.  It must avoid imposing new controversial notions or rights through a confrontational approach.  Recent developments reaffirmed that real democracy was born from the values of its societies.  It was important to increase attention on the right to development and the right to food as fundamental rights.  The increased participation of developing countries in the international financial institutions was needed and respect for cultural and religious diversity should be promoted.  Commitments must be made to fully respect all human rights, while countering terrorism.  Institutional balance must be restored among the principal United Nations bodies.  A code of conduct was needed for special procedure mandate holders.

He noted that General Assembly resolution 65/281 on the review of the Human Rights Council reaffirmed that body’s subsidiary status to the Assembly and the Third Committee.  The full and objective implementation of the institution-building package must be ensured, particularly by guaranteeing unequivocal adherence by the special procedures to their given mandates.  He recalled the foundation laid by the 2005 Summit Document, which stipulated that protecting human rights was, primarily, the responsibility of national Governments.  The Assembly must work to elaborate a comprehensive international understanding of the “responsibility to protect”.  Following its revolution of January 2011, Egypt was considering new legislation to promote freedom of religion and combat any acts that constituted incitement to religious hatred and violence.  New legislation for the establishment of trade unions and societies had been approved.  An inter-ministerial working group had been established to evaluate Egypt’s possible accession to the few remaining human rights treaties and protocols to which it was not yet party.  The restructuring process of the National Council for Human Rights was also being supported.

MOURAD BENMEHIDI ( Algeria) said his country made every effort to protect human rights and take up its share of responsibility in African and Arab efforts to promote those rights.  Its institutional and political reforms included new constitutional laws and a new law on information.  A review done on political parties, civil society and the rights of women showed the Government’s firm commitment to promoting human rights through an inclusive approach that brought together all political and social elements of society.  Algeria was also concerned about the future of its youth, and had created a number of programmes so they could join the workforce.  Also, advancing women’s rights would enable them to be full agents of change in society and allow them greater involvement in decisions within institutions.

The principle of universal human rights should allow individuals to see that their fundamental rights and freedoms were protected and acknowledged – and that also meant there was no one world social or political model.  There must be respect for the political and social system created by each State.  Promotion and improvement of human rights situations in countries was currently going through a crisis, because specific characteristics must be taken into account when trying to advance human rights.  Accession to international human rights instruments should not be a selective process.  For example, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers had mostly been ratified by countries from which migrants flowed.

MOHAMMAD ALI AL NSOUR ( Jordan) said that his country’s Parliament had, a few weeks ago, approved comprehensive constitutional reforms to ensure more human rights protections, enjoyment of freedoms and enhancement of political participation for all citizens.  The amended constitution emphasized the importance of the family, youth and persons with disabilities, and stressed the need to protect them from exploitation.  It prohibited any act of torture and banned detention outside those places designated by the laws regulating prisons.  Any statement extracted under torture was barred from consideration.  Guarantees were explicitly granted to the freedom of opinion and the right of expression.  All postal, telegraphic and telephonic communication would now be treated as private and not subject to censorship, suspension or confiscation.

“In the last few months, the country witnessed unprecedented shifts in terms of exercising the rights of expression and public assembly, where hundreds of peaceful demonstrations were conducted every Friday in very organized and responsible manners,” he noted, stressing that the new Constitutional Court was an extremely significant step in accelerating national efforts to apply democracy in a manner compatible with the highest international criteria.  As a critical and impartial body that was binding on all, the Court maintained a balance that was reflected in the protection of all human rights.  An important amendment was also made to establish an independent election commission to conduct and supervise fair, transparent and impartial elections.  All of those efforts were, he said, part of a comprehensive, home-grown and home-led process that aimed to enhance democracy and political participation.

ATSUKO HESHIKI ( Japan) said her country had long recognized the protection and promotion of human rights as one of its most important diplomatic policies and had provided many countries with support aiming to establish democracy, including assistance to build legal systems.  Recent movements pursuing democracy could help promote fundamental freedoms, human rights and dignity of individuals, and the international community should respond to that new development positively.

The Human Rights Council played a critical role in protecting human rights around the globe, and Japan had continuously cooperated to strengthen its functions, providing full support to its Special Procedures.  Japan was standing as a candidate for the Human Rights Council in 2012, and believed it could enhance the Council’s ability to tackle new human rights issues flexibly and responsively.  It was also faithfully implementing international conventions on human rights, and had set concrete performance objectives for the priority fields in the basic plan for gender equality.

AZAMAT KADYRALIEV ( Kyrgyzstan) recognized the need to support human rights and the full compliance with human rights standards contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  His Government advocated strict compliance with the decisions of the Human Rights Council.  As a member of that Council, his Government planned to fairly protect and promote human rights and to ensure that the Council worked efficiently.  He welcomed the report of the Committee against Torture.  To reinforce its interaction with the special procedures of the United Nations, Kyrgyzstan had been implementing specific concrete measures aimed at the development of its judicial system.  It had joined the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and it was looking at establishing a national preventative mechanism to ensure the transparency of its detention centres.

He further stressed that the Kyrgyz Government was interested in enlarging the dialogue on human rights with the special procedures mandates holders.  It was planning to organize a country visit for the Special Rapporteur on Torture.  As a member of the Group of Friends combating human trafficking, Kyrgyzstan fully supported the efforts of the international community to combat that modern form of slavery.  He appealed to all Member States to continue to work towards carrying out the Global Plan of Action on Trafficking in Persons.

MARGARITA VALLE CAMINO ( Cuba) said that, in 1959, her country began the construction of a social system that made the dream of universal human rights a reality.  Today, it had made significant progress in human rights, including the right to self-determination, despite the serious threats by the Government of the United States for over 50 years.  Through participatory democracy designed by its own people, Cuba had promoted selfless cooperation in human rights.  Today, thousands of Cuban professionals provided services in developing countries, no matter their political or ideological stripe.  Besides being State party to the 42 most important treaties on human rights, Cuba was fully disposed to frank and open dialogue.

In compliance with its obligations for rights, Cuba was preparing reports along with the calendars of treaty bodies.  It had always defended the noble causes of the people, providing for their economic and social rights, so they could be at the same level as their civil and political rights.  Cuba was firmly committed to Special Procedures and hoped the sanctions regimes against the countries of the South, which went hand-in-hand with impunity of the countries of the North, would not be repeated in the framework of the United Nations.

ASIM AHMAD ( Pakistan) said the implementation of international human rights instruments remained an uphill task, as millions of people continued to endure conflicts that were often sparked and sustained by the politics of scarcity, greed and exploitation.  Millions also continued to suffer the yoke of foreign occupation and were denied fundamental freedoms and the right to self-determination.  The Vienna Declaration recognized the inherent link between poverty and human rights violations.  Poverty alleviation must, therefore, become the central theme of the human rights machinery. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development, the world community should reaffirm that its implementation was the best way forward to address the plight of millions aspiring to be lifted out of poverty.  Pakistan also welcomed the consensus adoption in the Human Rights Council of a resolution providing practical steps to combat incitement to intolerance, negative stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of religions or belief, and looked forward to its adoption in the Assembly.

He went on to say that Pakistan’s constitution was built on the principle of equal rights and equal treatment of all citizens and persons without distinction.  It directed the State to take appropriate measures to enable women to participate in all spheres of life and community, and to safeguard the rights and interests of minorities.  As a whole, the constitution’s aspiration was for a modern, moderate and democratic polity that would uphold all human rights and foster respect, especially for the rights of women, children and minorities.  Pakistan was a State party to seven core human rights instruments and, among other steps, had recently withdrawn its reservation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.  Its Ministry of Human Rights monitored and addressed human rights violations and trends.  Further, Pakistan’s media was one of the freest and most vibrant in South Asia.

SAID AHOUGA ( Morocco) said his country was a Muslim State that attached great importance to tolerance and dialogue with mutual understanding of all civilizations.  The Moroccan Government was pursuing a society of solidarity, he said.  The Constitution had granted the Amazigh language status as a State language and would integrate it into all areas of public life.  The Hassaniya language was also a very important part of that policy, which promotes teaching the language to encourage the openness of all of society.  In that commitment to cultural rights, Morocco last September hosted the independent expert on cultural rights.  Morocco was also working towards gender equality through formation of a special authority.

Under the new Constitution, torture, arbitrary or secret detention, or enforced disappearances were all made the gravest of crimes, for which perpetrators would be punished at the most severe levels, he said.  To implement institutional reforms and preserve the dignity of citizens and protect their rights, Morocco had established a number of new independent institutions responsible for human rights and good governance, such as the office of the Ombudsman and the national body on fighting corruption.  It also recognized without ambiguity the supremacy of international law and the need to harmonize its legislation with human rights principles.  It had started to ratify a number of international human rights instruments, such as the Optional Protocol.

EDUARDO ULIBARRI ( Costa Rica) voiced support for the six thematic priorities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and underlined the importance of fortifying human rights mechanisms and continuing to combat poverty and impunity.  Underlining the importance of recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, he stressed that demands for change must be followed up on.  At the same time, sufficient funding to meet unexpected requirements by the Human Rights Council was required.  The mechanisms for the submission of reports to the treaty bodies provided an opportunity to review human rights policies openly and comprehensively.  Efforts to strengthen the human rights treaty bodies were critical, given their difficulties in responding to the growing bodies of work, despite efforts to raise efficiency.  Solutions that responded to the real problems must be sought and should strengthen those bodies, not weaken them.

He stressed that the independence of the treaty bodies must also be guaranteed.  Some of the initiatives undertaken by OHCHR were very positive, he said, citing the human rights index in particular.  For its part, Costa Rica awaited with interested the report to be presented by the High Commissioner in early 2012 on treaty body reform.

DUSHYANT SINGH ( India) said that the mission of the promotion and protection of human rights within the United Nations was put on a firm footing with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  The Human Rights Council was an important body that the international community had carefully constructed to strengthen the protection of human rights around the globe.  India considered the Universal Periodic Review to be a positive and unique mechanism that enhanced its commitment to making a genuine difference to the improvement of human rights on the ground.  India acknowledged the important role played by treaty bodies in monitoring the implementation of the treaty obligations by the State parties.

The international community took a major step in the promotion and protection of human rights by adopting the Vienna Declaration and Programme of action in 1993, he said.  It was explicitly recognized for the first time that gross violations of human rights anywhere was a matter of grave concern for the international community.  India attached much importance to the Right to Development, and recognized that development was a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process.  Lasting progress in this respect required effective development policies at the national level, as well as equitable economic relations at the international level.  For its part, India has made important strides in facilitating the enjoyment of human rights of its citizens in the last two decades.  India established an Independent Human Rights Commission in 1993, and had also enacted the “Right to Information Act” to ensure transparency and accountability of the Government’s activities.  A National Commission for Women was also created to investigate and register complaints of violations of rights of women.  Recently, India began implementing the Right to Education Act, which applies to all schools whether private or public.  Various laws relating to human rights were underway in parliament, including the national food security bill and the national rural employment guarantee bill.

YANA BOIKO (Ukraine), underlining the importance of universal adherence to and full implementation of the international human rights treaties, called on State parties to fully comply with their obligations, including those related to reporting.  Ukraine strictly adhered to its international obligations, including full and comprehensive cooperation with the relevant treaty bodies and worked to achieve the highest standards in that sphere.  Noting her Government’s submission of a number of reports, she reiterated its commitment to further cooperation with United Nations treaty bodies through its prompt action on their recommendations.

Saying the Human Rights Council had proved its necessity, she pointed to the Universal Periodic Review as an extremely important tool that, when working properly, could improve the situation of human rights globally.  She was pleased to see the increased attention within the Council on prevention, which was a pragmatic alternative to combat human rights violations.  The Council’s adoption of a resolution on the role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights, which was initiated by Ukraine, demonstrated the strong potential of preventive strategies, policies and measures to ensure respect for human rights.  Her delegation emphasized the need for enhanced interaction between the United Nations and regional organizations to intensify common efforts to prevent human rights violations.  As Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from May to November 2011, Ukraine had chosen the issue of “human rights and the rule of law in the context of democracy and stability in Europe” as a priority theme.  In addition, it had hosted an international conference on the role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights from 20-21 September.

TAGHI M. FERAMI ( Iran) said the promotion and protection of human rights could only be realized in the spirit of genuine dialogue and constructive cooperation.  Iran had fully engaged in the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the Human Rights Council by submitting a detailed and substantiated national report to the Council and sending a high-level delegation to it in February 2010.  Iran was also an active member of many of the core international human rights treaties.  Capacity-building in the field of human rights was needed and must pay due attention to national and domestic particularities, levels of development and existing internal infrastructures.  Barriers obstructing the natural development of countries, such as embargoes, internal armed conflicts, wars and foreign occupation should also be considered.  Further, universality, indivisibility and inter-relatedness of all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights should be fully respected.  In that regard, countries must refrain from adopting selective policies.

He noted that Iran had submitted its third periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and was defending that report on 17-18 October before the Human Rights Committee in Geneva.  The second periodic report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had also been submitted to the Committee overseeing that covenant.  It was in the last stage of preparing its third and fourth reports for submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  His delegation stressed that national and regional particularities, as well as the various cultural, historical and religious backgrounds of States must be fully taken into account in joint efforts to promote and strengthen human rights.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.