‘Outdated’ Prisoner-Related Standards Need Revision, Says Special Rapporteur as Third Committee Discusses Human Rights

22 October 2013
GA/SHC/4075

‘Outdated’ Prisoner-Related Standards Need Revision, Says Special Rapporteur as Third Committee Discusses Human Rights

22 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/SHC/4075
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Third Committee

21st & 22nd Meetings (AM & PM)

 ‘Outdated’ Prisoner-Related Standards Need Revision, Says Special Rapporteur

as Third Committee Discusses Human Rights

 

Members Also Hear Presentations by Expert Chairs of Monitoring Entities

United Nations standards for the treatment of prisoners were outdated and required revision in the areas of solitary confinement and investigation, the Special Rapporteur on torture said today, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) began its discussion on human rights.

“Solitary confinement could amount to torture if used intentionally,” said Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, referring to cases in which isolation was used as a means of punishment, intimidation and coercion, or as a way to obtain information or a confession, resulting in pain or suffering.  The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners should, therefore, prohibit the imposition of indefinite solitary confinement, either as part of a judicially imposed sentence or as a disciplinary measure.  They should prohibit solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, physically and mentally disabled persons, those with health conditions, pregnant women, those with infants or breastfeeding mothers.

Noting that the lack of prompt, thorough and impartial investigation remained a major challenge in fighting impunity for torture or ill-treatment, he declared: “The decision to conduct an investigation is not discretionary, but rather an obligation, irrespective of whether a complaint was filed or not.”  All allegations should be investigated by an independent external investigative body, he said, adding that the Rules should provide detailed guidance on the purpose, modalities and overall parameters of effective investigations, as well as documentation of the violations involved.

Also briefing the Committee today were five other United Nations experts: Claudio Grossman, Chair of the Committee against Torture; Malcolm Evans, Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; Zdzislaw Kedzia, Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Nigel Rodley, Chair of the Committee on Human Rights; and Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Grossman said that, out of 193 Member States, 154 had ratified or acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to date, but 27 had never submitted a report to the Committee, violating their obligations and preventing that body from fulfilling its monitoring mandate.

Mr. Evans noted that one of his most successful undertakings had been “national preventive mechanism visits”, which according to his Subcommittee’s mandate, had helped countries — including Honduras, Republic of Moldova and Senegal — establish such preventive procedures.  Due to a lack of resources, however, full visits could only take place every 20 years, he said, adding that the Subcommittee had a 10-year backlog of visits.

Mr. Kedzia recalled that the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had entered into force last May, allowing victims to seek justice at the international level.  He emphasized the importance for States parties of ensuring that any austerity or retrogressive measures taken during economic emergencies did not interfere with the minimum core content of economic, social and cultural rights.

Mr. Rodley said the global financial crisis had made the protection of civil and political rights more challenging, and as a consequence, his Committee’s efforts, as the body responsible for monitoring the most comprehensive treaty on civil and political rights, had become more relevant.  He urged States to make full use of all its procedures — including reporting, individual communications, and general comments, thanking them for providing reports and implementing the Committee’s requests and recommendations.  “Ratification without implementation is a gross deception,” he stressed.

Ms. Cisternas underscored the need to mainstream the human rights-based approach to disability into the post-2015 development framework, encouraging Member States to ensure full participation by persons with disabilities in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all public policies, while taking into account the implementation of their legal obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

During the Committee’s general discussion, many Members States highlighted the need to strengthen United Nations human rights treaty bodies, with China’s delegate noting that they were increasingly beset with the “overload” of reporting obligations, while some of them overstepped their mandates.

In other business today, the Committee heard the introduction of draft resolutions concerning the elimination of discrimination against women, and on the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders in Africa.  Presenting them were representatives of Norway and Uganda, respectively.

Also participating in the general discussion were speakers representing the European Union delegation, Egypt, Chile, Japan, Iraq, Thailand, Croatia, Iran, Yemen, Venezuela, New Zealand, India, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.

The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 October, to continue its discussion on human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to begin its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights.

For its discussion on human rights instruments, the Committee had before it: the “Report of the Human Rights Committee” (documents A/68/04 Vol. I, and A/68/04 Vol. II); the “Report of the Committee against Torture” (document A/68/44); the “Report of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families” (document A/68/48); and reports of the Secretary-General on “The United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery” (document A/68/280) and on “The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture” (document A/68/282).  Also before members were notes transmitting the “Report of the Chairs of the human rights treaty bodies on their twenty-fifth meeting” (document A/68/334) and the “Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (document A/68/295), as well as the “Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights” (document A/68/36).

Presentations and Interactive Dialogue

JUAN MENDEZ, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said his interim report to the General Assembly reflected on the current review process of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and offered an updated set of procedural standards from the perspective of prohibiting torture or other ill-treatment that should, as a matter of law and policy, be applied, at a minimum, to all cases of deprivation of liberty.  Since its adoption more than five decades ago, the Rules had retained considerable weight as an authoritative set of generally accepted principles and practices for the treatment of prisoners and the management of penitentiary institutions.  Although they remained vital and were considered to be among the most important soft-law instruments for the interpretation of various aspects of the rights of prisoners, some areas of the Rules were outdated and even in contradiction with binding human rights instruments, he noted.

Emphasizing the need to review the Rules to better reflect recent advances in correctional science and best practices, he said it was crucial that the inter-governmental review process, as the most important standard-setting exercise, update them.  There were two areas needing to be updated: solitary confinement and investigation of all deaths in custody, and any signs or allegations of torture or other ill-treatment.  He said solitary confinement could amount to torture if used intentionally for purposes such as punishment, intimidation, coercion or obtaining information or a confession, or for any reason based on discrimination, and if the resulting pain or suffering was severe.  The Rules should prohibit the use and imposition of indefinite solitary confinement, either as part of a judicially imposed sentence or as a disciplinary measure.  It was important that they set the maximum term of days beyond which solitary confinement was considered prolonged.  The Rules should prohibit solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, physically and mentally disabled persons, those with health conditions, pregnant women, and those with infants or breastfeeding mothers.

The State bore the burden of evidentiary proof to rebut the presumption of its responsibility for violations of the right to life and for inhumane treatment committed against persons in its custody, he said.  The lack of a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment or death in custody remained a major challenge in fighting impunity for such acts.  “The decision to conduct an investigation is not discretionary, but rather an obligation, irrespective of whether a complaint was filed or not,” he stressed.  All allegations of torture and other ill-treatment should be investigated by an independent external investigative body.  The Rules should provide detailed guidance on the purpose, modalities and overall parameters of effective investigations, as well as documentation of torture and other ill-treatment.  Internal investigations and all complaints or reports should be transmitted without screening to the investigative body.

Regular inspection of places of detention constituted one of the most effective preventive measures against torture, he said.  The Rules should provide for independent oversight mechanisms having unimpeded access, without prior notice, to all places of deprivation of liberty, including police lock-ups, vehicles, prisons and pre-trail detention facilities, among other places.  He expressed regret that country visits to Bahrain and Guatemala in 2013 had been postponed at the requested of their respective Governments, noting that Bahrain had postponed the visit for the second time.  He also reiterated his request for an invitation to visit detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on acceptable terms.

Several delegates asked about the postponed country visits, particularly the one to Bahrain, enquiring about rescheduling the visit and ways to investigate human rights violations without a visit.  Others asked about ways to encourage the universal ratification of the Convention against torture and its Protocol and the main obstacles preventing States from signing up.  One delegate asked whether the Special Rapporteur was considering writing a report dedicated to the issue of medical examination for detainees.  Other questions related to the scope of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, such as the application of the Rules to those deprived of liberty in armed conflict, to vulnerable groups, to people of certain sexual orientations, or to those detained for reasons other than crime prevention and criminal justice.

Mr. MENDEZ said in response that on 18 October, his office had sent Bahrain another request for a date for his visit, but the decision was up to Bahrain, as its representative had stated.  It was true that many States had not invited him, but “we need to arrive at a date”, he said.  While the Special Rapporteur could follow developments using many sources, a country visit was a better way, he said.  Noting that the Rules applied to criminal justice, he stressed the importance of reviewing its application to all forms of deprivation of liberty.

He welcomed the suggestion that he write a report dedicated to medical examination for detainees upon release, saying that if medical services were denied intentionally, that could amount to torture.  There was a need for more resources to meet minimum rules in that regard.  Regarding solitary confinement, he clarified that isolation could be considered torture if there was an intention to cause pain and suffering.  Sexual orientation could also be a reason for detention and the Rules should also refer to that form of discrimination.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of the United Kingdom, European Union delegation, Liechtenstein, Czech Republic, Bahrain, Switzerland, Denmark, Argentina, Russian Federation, Costa Rica, United States and Norway.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chair of the Committee against Torture, said that, out of 193 Member States, 154 had ratified or acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to date.  However, 27 had never submitted a report to the Committee, violating their obligations and preventing that body from fulfilling its monitoring mandate.  In respect of individual communications, the Committee had registered 651 complaints presented by individuals alleging violations by a State party.  However, individuals from only 65 of the 154 States parties had that possibility because 89 States parties had not yet made the declaration recognizing the Committee’s competence, thereby limiting the tools available to supervise full compliance with the Convention.  He called on States that had not yet ratified the Convention to do so, and for others to accept all procedures of the Convention in order to enable the Committee fully to fulfil its mandate.

Turning to compensations for victims, he recalled the Committee’s 2012 adoption of a General Comment focusing on the obligations of States parties to ensure that victims of an act of torture obtained redress and had an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation.  The comprehensive reparative concept entailed restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.  The Committee emphasized the importance of victim participation in the redress process, and restoring the victim’s dignity was the ultimate objective of providing redress, he said, adding that it had reinforced and streamlined its strategy on reprisals against complaints, victims, human rights defenders, non-governmental organizations or anyone else facing intimidation, ill-treatment or any other form of reprisals, especially due to his or her engagement with the Committee.  “Reprisals are a serious concern for the Committee, as they constitute a human rights violation, but particularly because they jeopardize the functioning of the human rights system, and, as such, are strongly condemned by the Committee.”

He emphasized that the Committee’s work was informed by several principles.  The first was legality, which ensured political and treaty-based supervision of the Committee and whose outcomes were measured by the protection of human rights.  The second principle was the independence and impartiality of Committee members, since its decisions were adopted unanimously.  The third principle was efficiency, since the speed of technological development, current economic constraints and the need to protect individuals required constant monitoring of the Committee’s work.  The fourth principle was sound, rigorous and professional decision-making, which called for visibility, transparency and accessibility.  The fifth principle was enhancing prevention in the form of advice to States on which steps to take so as to ensure compliance with the Convention and avoid future violations.

The recent adoption of an optional reporting procedure entailed the transmission of a list of questions to States parties and considering their responses as constituting their respective national reports, he said.  However, despite effective for States in terms of cost, time and procedure, the procedure placed an additional burden on the Secretariat and on the Committee, which, with only 10 members, had one of the smallest memberships of the human rights bodies, he pointed out, before calling for a final, comprehensive and sustainable solution to the economic constraints on the body.

Several delegates took the floor in the ensuing interactive dialogue.

Mr. GROSSMAN, responding to the representative of Chile, underlined his great respect for the victim-based approach applied by that country’s compensation mechanisms, noting that were aimed at measuring the effectiveness of human rights protection.  However, restoring a situation before torture occurred was not possible, he said, emphasizing that prevention mechanisms must also be focused on preventing impunity.

Responding to a question from the representative of the European Union delegation, he stressed that dialogue with States parties was essential in formulating the different ways to strengthen domestic compensation mechanisms.  The Committee did not receive instructions from anyone, but would “listen to everybody”, and therefore welcomed information from civil society and others, he said.  On the question of the burden of proof for communications, he said that, as a subsidiary body, the Committee had a written procedure rather than hearings, and its legitimacy was linked to participation by all, which underlined the principle of transparency.

In response to comments by the representatives of Brazil and Mexico, he commended their efforts to protect the rights of detainees and to improve their living conditions.

MALCOLM EVANS, Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, presented that body’s sixth report for calendar year 2012, providing an update on its activities.  One of its most successful undertakings had been the “national preventive mechanism visits” to Honduras, Republic of Moldova and Senegal, he said, noting that the Subcommittee helped countries to establish such preventive apparatuses, while also carrying out full-fledged official visits.  One of the main challenges, however, was that full visits could only take place every 20 years, due to a lack of resources.  In fact, the Subcommittee had a 10-year backlog of visits, which was incompatible with the objective of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to “establish a system of regular visits, undertaken [….]to places where people are deprived of their liberty”.

While the Subcommittee had restructured its sessions so that it could more effectively cover more ground, it had consciously avoided making special requests for additional resources, he said.  However, it was now clear that in order to fulfil its current plans, at least, it needed to be serviced by a stable, core secretariat, such as the one from two years ago.  Despite the challenges, however, as a result of the Optional Protocol and the Subcommittee’s efforts, systems to ensure regular visits to places of detention as a part of an international torture-prevention structure were now a reality, he said.  Though not enough, the changes that the Optional Protocol had been able to generate around the world in only seven years were “truly astonishing”, he said.  The Optional Protocol Special Fund had also played a role, as it had been established to support implementation of the Subcommittee’s recommendations following visits and educational national preventive mechanism programmes.

The Optional Protocol was based on the premise that preventing torture and ill-treatment was facilitated when national and international bodies worked collaboratively, he continued, adding that he was, therefore, delighted to share the platform with the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Chair of the Committee against Torture, with whom he planned to meet again next month in Geneva, alongside other United Nations agencies, regional bodies, national preventive mechanisms States parties to the Optional Protocol.  The latter offered different stakeholders the possibility to “become partners in prevention” - a task that could be further developed in the years ahead in order to maximize the Optional Protocol’s potential to help root out torture and ill-treatment.

Delegates participating in the ensuing interactive dialogue asked about how to create national preventive mechanisms; how to establish dialogue with States; and how to prevent and identify reprisals, as well as the Subcommittee’s policy on them.

Mr. EVANS, before responding, welcomed Burundi’s ratification of the Optional Protocol recently, noting that the action had brought the number of its States parties to 70.  He then said that all answers were interrelated, adding that he wished to include in his reply, his response to a question asked earlier by the representative of Denmark on how to promote ratification of the Optional Protocol.  He said some of the main challenges involved the considerable difference between the Optional Protocol and other treaty bodies, and the establishment of national preventive measures.  The best way to meet them was to establish contacts with States that had already ratified the Optional Protocol and had already put — or were in the process of putting — national preventive mechanisms in place.  Going down that route had, in fact, facilitated the earlier entry into force of the Optional Protocol and expedited the establishment of national preventive mechanisms, generally a complex undertaking.  Expanding technical advice and assistance was, therefore, crucial, he added.

Replying more specifically to questions about assistance in establishing national preventive mechanisms, he said early visits were essential to helping States understand the implications of effective national preventive mechanisms and of the related legislation.  It was important to keep an open, discursive dialogue with the Subcommittee and among States.  The Subcommittee was always excited to read country reports on national preventive mechanisms, and was always available to address questions and requests, he said.  However, due to practical factors, States were urged to attend the seminars on national preventive mechanisms regularly held in Geneva.

On the questions of reprisals, he said the Subcommittee had already issued a timeline for the submission of propositions on policy guidelines, and hoped to finalize a position paper by November.  He also hoped that, “on this very occasion” in 2014, he would be able to elaborate more on the matter.  As of now, risk assessment was essential, and the Subcommittee would be sure to raise the question of reprisals before it visited individual countries.  It was important, however, to underline that reprisals came from many places, not least those managing detention facilities, and sometimes from detainees themselves.  In that respect, the presence of national preventive mechanisms was an invaluable safeguard.

Other delegates participating were representatives of the United Kingdom, European Union delegation, Qatar, Kuwait, Panama, United Arab Emirates.

General Discussion

FRIEDERIKE TSCHAMPA, European Union delegation, noting the twentieth anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights and recalling the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and its Programme of Action, said the universality of human rights had been prominently and forcefully reaffirmed at the Conference, as had their indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness, and the inter-relationship between linking human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  Turning to the recent General Assembly discussions on strengthening the human rights treaty body system, she said the European Union had participated with a view improving the situation of rights holders on the ground, and to addressing the challenges facing the treaty bodies.  The process should not be used to block efforts by the treaty bodies to strengthen and enhance their effective functioning, she cautioned.

Turning to the relationship between human rights and the United Nations, she welcomed the consideration of human rights as one of the three main pillars of the Organization’s work.  It was important to use the existing expertise of the Human Rights Council to strengthen the Organization’s operative capacities throughout all its programmes and units.  On civil society actors, she strongly rejected the limits on their space as well as attempts to hinder the work of human rights defenders.  She also reiterated the European Union’s strong commitment to equal protection for the rights and freedoms of all human beings, irrespective of religion, belief, culture, ethnicity, disability, gender, skin colour, sexual orientation or gender identity.  “We will continue to make every effort to promote the universality of all human rights for everyone worldwide,” she stressed.

SEIF-ALLA KANDEEL ( Egypt) said that despite agreement on importance of promoting and protecting human rights, cultural differences, “disguised interventionism” and political bickering were only a few examples of the obstacles the United Nations faced when dealing with human rights.  At the national level, countries faced challenges relating to the delicate balance between security concerns and human rights, and between economic and social rights on the one side and political and civil rights on the other.  One of the lessons learnt from the Arab revolutions, was that “democratization is home-grown”, he noted.  It originated from within and was based on the national value system, reflecting a country’s realities, needs and priorities.  Egypt invited the international community to respect those priorities and to support efforts to consolidate democracy while promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

OCTAVIO ERRAZURIZ ( Chile) noted that, 20 years after the World Conference on Human Rights, and the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, “we must recognize that the protection of human rights is stagnant and sometimes sliding back”.  The activities of civil society were being obstructed and human rights mechanisms needed revitalization.  The establishment of national human rights institutions was in line with other national capacity-building efforts.  Addressing the right to development, he said the principle of equality should dominate formulation of the post-2015 development agenda, because growing inequality within countries must be addressed.  Cognizant of the importance of treaty bodies in monitoring implementation of human rights, he welcomed the General Assembly’s discussions on strengthening the human rights treaty body system, and emphasized the important role played by civil society organizations in promoting and protecting human rights, expressing concern at restrictions placed on their work in many countries.  He echoed the Human Rights Council’s request for the creation of enabling environments for civil society.

YAEKO SUMI ( Japan) said her country’s recently elected Government administration been advancing “diplomacy emphasizing universal values”, including liberty, democracy and the rule of law.  It had enthusiastically engaged in various human rights activities, particularly measures relating to the protection of women’s rights.  In that regard, Japan had adopted measures to support and enhance a social and economic environment in which women could participate at the national as well as international levels, she said, mentioning also that it was faithfully implementing the Universal Periodic Review and relevant international human rights conventions.  Turning to the rights of persons with disabilities, she cited several national laws intended to help ensure the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities.

ZHANG GUIXUAN ( China) said the implementation of human rights instruments around the world had benefited from the efforts of treaty bodies, which were increasingly beset with problems such as the overload of reporting obligations for States parties and mandate-overstepping by some treaty bodies.  The Government of China therefore supported necessary reform of the treaty body system, he said.  On the right to development, he said developing countries still faced a long and arduous journey to realize the right to development, and called on all parties to keep up their efforts for implementation of all provisions of the Vienna Declaration.

MOHAMMED MARZOOQ SAHIB ( Iraq) said that despite challenges, human rights enjoyed great attention in his country, but terrorism was a question of great concern.  The security services were dealing with the issue, and had put strategies in place to prevent terrorist acts and protect victims.  In general, high priority had been according to the tracking of all human rights violations of and to ensuring that they would not be repeated.  Among other initiatives, the Government had established a human rights committee in Parliament, the Ministry of Women, and created an organization for the protection of children.  Iraq also had a long-term plan to ensure the protection of human rights, and the Government was effectively dealing with the internal displacement arising from terrorist actions.  Human rights education had been introduced at all stages of the school curriculum, he added.

PITIKAN SITHIDEJ ( Thailand) said her country had taken legal measures to amend the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Code, in accordance with the Convention, and had ratified the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  On the latter, the Government had approved the third National Human Rights Action Plan, to be implemented from 2014 to 2018.  On the same note, she said proposals were being considered on the possibility of transforming the highest legal penalty from capital punishment to life imprisonment.  Both within its borders and in the broader region, Thailand had made efforts to promote human rights education, she said.

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

The Committee heard the introduction of draft resolutions on the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (document A/C.3/68/L.23) and on the “United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders” (document A/C.3/68/L.20).

The representative of Norway submitted the first text on behalf of the Nordic countries, describing the Convention as the backbone and point of reference in promoting gender equality.

The representative of Uganda tabled the second text, saying the Institute had been established to curtail the growing levels of crime and delinquency subverting development and development gains in Africa.  The current draft sought to update the previous one, he added.

Presentations by Chairs of Human Rights Treaty Bodies

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said that with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights last May, 2013 had witnessed a landmark development in the protection of economic, social and cultural rights.  The establishment of the communication and other procedures under the Optional Protocol reinforced the indivisibility, interdependence and equal value of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.  The instrument allowed victims to seek justice at the international level, and the jurisprudence developed within that framework would provide useful guidance to States Parties and other actors in implementing the Covenant.

A major challenge for the Committee, he said, was matching work time with the workload, available capacities with increasing tasks, thus ensuring that the reporting system contributed to better implementation of the rights under the Covenant and provided more effective assistance to States parties.  Last December, the General Assembly had granted the Committee two additional weeks of meeting time and expanded membership of its pre-session working group.  Emphasizing that the Committee was not passively awaiting additional support, he said it had undertaken to improve its working methods, yet the existing backlog amounted to well over 40 reports.  “The backlog is not only a technical term, but means that State party reports become at least partially outdated by the time of their consideration,” he stressed.

It was important for States parties to ensure that their policies on the economic downturn were in line with their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights, he said.  Any austerity and retrogressive measures during economic emergencies might only be acceptable if they were temporary, necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory, and were aimed at mitigating inequalities, as well as ensuring that the rights of disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups were not disproportionately affected, and if they did not interfere with the minimum core content of economic, social and cultural rights.  In that regard, the protection and implementation of economic, social and cultural rights was crucial for successful achievement of the sustainable development goals.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked how the green growth strategy could adversely impact economic, social and cultural rights, how the rights-based approach could help increase official development assistance (ODA), and how the Committee would deal with complaints on a country-by-country basis.

Mr. KEDZIA said that a statement of the Committee on 4 June 2012, made in the context of sustainable development, addressed questions about the green economy and the human rights-based approach to ODA, and stressed the importance of international cooperation in development.  The Committee did raise the question of ODA during its dialogue with States parties, seeking information on how assistance was implemented to protect economic, social and cultural rights.  The Committee also urged States parties to try to avoid green growth strategies that would adversely impact those rights.

On the question about country-specific responses, he said it was difficult to draw particular rules applicable to each State.  However, it was vital to conduct the best possible assessment of each case and come up with recommendations.  The human rights-based approach could be applied to the post-2015 development agenda because it would place individuals at the centre of development, he said.  That approach would also help identify disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, and make development programmes strong, measurable and accountable.

Representatives of Portugal (on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant), European Union delegation and South Africa also participated in the dialogue.

NIGEL RODLEY, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, presented that body’s sixty-eighth report.  He said the global financial crisis had made the protection of civil and political rights more challenging, and as a consequence, the work of the Committee as the body monitoring the most comprehensive treaty on civil and political rights, had become more relevant.  Urging States to make full use of all its procedures — including reporting, individual communications, and general comments — he said he was grateful to those States that had assumed their responsibilities in the last year, providing reports and implementing the Committee’s requests and recommendations.  Ratification without implementation was a gross deception, he said.  Similarly, the participation of States in developing general comments was vital for the Committee.

He said that States having facing difficulties in fulfilling their obligations might consider seeking the assistance of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in particular the 40 countries that were at least five years behind, either with their initial or periodic reports, and those unable to implement the Committee’s recommendations.  Similarly, those States disagreeing with the Committee on the interpretation of certain rights were encouraged to elaborate on their disagreement.  The increasing workload could be lowered if States reduced the time between submitting their reports and their review, by adopting a simplified reporting procedure as Uruguay had done last week.

However, the greatest challenge, he said, remained the lack of human resources to prepare the Committee’s draft communications — views, inadmissibility decisions and discontinuances — which had led so far to a further increase in the backlog.  The Committee, therefore, needed additional funding because “it would be an injustice to all those who rely on its work to pretend that its work can be properly done with less”.  All cost-saving should, therefore, be reinvested in the treaty body system, and treaty entities should be able the carry out their responsibilities adequately from the regular budget.  That should ensure the independence of members and enable them to address challenges in a comprehensive and sustainable manner, as reiterated in the Guidelines on the independence and impartiality of members of the human rights treaty bodies, adopted by the Committee in 2012 in Addis Ababa.

Delegates participating in the ensuing interactive dialogue asked about the Committee’s position on the issue of privacy in the digital era; additional points not mentioned in the report on strengthening the treaty body system; how to address the question of reprisals; how to reconcile customs apparently in contradiction with international human rights instruments, such as polygamy; and about a two-chamber working system for the Committee.

Mr. RODLEY, responding to the question on privacy in the digital area, said the Committee had not discussed that issue yet, but it was very well aware of the attention it had attracted internationally.  The topic had been only partially addressed in General Comment 34.  As was habitual, the Committee would first check outdated previous general comments and then possibly proceed to update them through new comments.

As for the Committee’s role in that respect, he said he was not sure whether there was a route beyond the general comment except for the review of periodic reports.  The Committee’s work, in fact, was to first deal with an issue and then to codify it in a general comment.  On the additional points not mentioned in the report, he replied that he was “reluctant to go there”, reminding members that the Dublin Process had been a consultative one that had resulted in many proposals.

On reprisals, he said he was aware that it was a very serious concern, and that talks had taken place about a possible inter-committee body dealing with the issue, but the topic was not currently on the Committee’s agenda.  As for reconciling customary laws with international treaties, he said he would need to investigate the issue of polygamy further to confirm the existence of such contradictions.  Regarding a possible dual-chamber system for the Committee, he said he would see it as a means of crisis management rather than a desirable tool of regular administration.

Also participating were representatives of Liechtenstein, European Union delegation, United Kingdom, Kenya, Switzerland and Angola.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, briefed on the most recent developments in the Committee’s work, particularly such complex issues as the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy and exercise their legal capacity, the right to live autonomously and the right to inclusive education and full participation in public life.  On strengthening the treaty body system, she said the Committee continued making efforts towards harmonizing its working methods with those of the other treaty bodies.  She stressed the need for further progress in ensuring full access to Committee meetings for persons with disabilities and to provide reasonable accommodation for them.

Turning to the post-2015 development framework and disability, she encouraged Member States to mainstream the human rights-based approach in their plans and programmes, ensuring full participation by persons with disabilities in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all public policies, while taking into account the implementation of their legal obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  “Mainstreaming a human rights-based approach to disabilities is a must in the post-2015 development agenda,” she stressed, citing the accountability of States parties as a guiding principle.

Grateful for the additional time allocated to enable the Committee to complete its work, she encouraged the General Assembly to enable its full functioning by providing adequate staffing as well as accessibility requirements like closed captioning, sign language interpretation and Braille transcription.  Also welcoming the progress made on the accessibility of its meetings, she said that much remained to be done in ensuring accessibility to documentation, websites and physical access to conference facilities.  She reiterated the Committee’s commitment to raising its productivity by considering more national reports and providing guidance and advice to States parties on better ways to implement the Convention.

Several delegations made comments and asked questions.

Ms. REYES, responding to the representative of Sudan, underlined the Committee’s support for any State party interested in implementing the Convention.  The importance of the rights of persons with disabilities was undoubted, as demonstrated by the fact that in six years, 137 countries had ratified the Convention, and 78 countries had ratified its Optional Protocols, moving them quickly towards universal ratification.

Turning to the involvement of civil society organizations in protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, she said their work within the Committee was regulated and resulted in official reports.  The role of civil society in implementing the Millennium Development Goals and its connections to persons with disabilities was undeniable, she said.  She applauded the participation of persons with disabilities in high-level meetings on development and disabilities, and underscored the high receptivity of Member States to increasing their participation.

On gender perspectives and gender mainstreaming, she listed concrete measures undertaken by the Committee to promote and protect the rights of women and children with disabilities, including its recommendations to States parties on the social, political and legal status of women in the face of physical mistreatment.  Regarding public participation by women, she recognized the dual-vulnerability of those with disabilities, being women on the one hand, and disabled on the other.

Statements

DANIJEL MEDAN (Croatia) said most countries had ratified a majority of the key human rights treaties, and the International Criminal Court was gearing up to investigate some of the worst atrocities.  There was no doubt that an overwhelming majority of the world’s people supported the human rights ideal.  “Our task is to mobilize that majority into a force too powerful to be overlooked,” he said, stressing that the majority should never allow the use of arguments based on religion, tradition and cultural practices to justify violence, discrimination and violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Possible attempts to justify violations by relying on cultural conventions could undermine international human rights agreements, especially those relating to women’s rights and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as the very basic principle of the universality and indivisibility of human rights.

ASSADOLLAH ESHRAPH JAHROMI ( Iran) emphasized that human rights treaty bodies must work in strict accordance with their mandates, avoid any action exceeding their mandates, and steer clear of politicization and selectivity.  In preparing their general comments, they should seek inputs from all parties.  Iran had acceded to the core international human rights instruments, aligning its domestic laws with treaty provisions, he said.  Two decades after the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adequate attention had not been paid to such issues as the national and regional particularities of Member States, as well as their religious, historical and cultural backgrounds in dealing with human rights.  The Declaration called on States to refrain from any unilateral measure that created obstacles to trade relations among States and impeded the full realization of human rights, particularly the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, including food and medical care, housing and the necessary social services.

Mr. ALBABLY ( Yemen) said continuous progress in legislation, reflected in the Constitution, gave human rights a strong foundation in his country.  That was particularly true after the event of 2011.  The Government had dealt with the families of the victims, and paid reparations to those affected.  It had also taken steady steps internationally, acceding to such instruments as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.  Nationally, Yemen was in the process of establishing a human rights committee, he said.  Furthermore, it paid particular attention to the rights of special groups such as children, women, refugees, persons with disabilities and the elderly, enacting a number of laws to protect their rights.  In its effort to disseminate a culture of human rights, Yemen had hosted a series of regional conferences on the topic, he said, while reminding the meeting about the situation of Yemeni detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, particularly those not involved in committing any offence.

VERONICA CALCINARI ( Venezuela) said that her country’s Constitution recognized all rights and encouraged the establishment of institutions for the exercise of citizens’ rights.  On the right to education, she said Venezuela had no illiteracy and had a high number of graduates.  On the right to health, she said more than 5 million health consultations had taken place since the creation of the national health-care system in 2000.  Promoting the right to food, the country had distributed food to more than 80 per cent of the population, lowering the percentage of those suffering hunger to 2.5 per cent.  Guaranteeing the right to life, Venezuela prohibited the death penalty.  As for the right to information, the country had private and public media, as well as free access to the Internet, therefore completely eradicating censorship.  The principles of impartiality and non-selectivity must be respected when dealing with human rights, and all cultures and traditions recognized, she said.

JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand) said his country recognized persons with disabilities as both agents and beneficiaries of development, as well as the value of their contribution to society’s general well-being, progress and diversity.  That was why New Zealand regarded the rights and participation of disabled people as an essential component of disaster risk reduction, humanitarian action and emergency contingency planning.  The Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 had had a devastating impact on the local population, he recalled.  The Government was making its emergency preparedness services more responsive to persons with disabilities, offering to share both positive and negative lessons.  It was important to have good statistical data — both aggregated and disaggregated — focused on location, gender, disability impairment and ethnicity, he said, adding that the Government conducted a national disability survey every five years, in conjunction with the national census.

RAJANI PATIL ( India) noted that 2013 marked the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.  The Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review had helped the international community strengthen the protection of human rights internationally.  A global cultural of human rights, however, was yet to be realized, she noted.  A major challenge in that respect was to determine the most effective approach for the promotion and protection of human rights, especially in instances of gross and systematic violations.  India had enacted several landmark laws guaranteeing basic rights in the areas of work and employment, education and food security, she said, citing the 2005 Mahatma Ghandi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the 2013 National Food Security Act as two examples.

NURBEK KASYMOV ( Kyrgyzstan) emphasized the key role played by the OHCHR in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Between 1991 and today, his country had ratified seven out of nine conventions on human rights.  In addition, his country’s Constitution, which had been adopted by referendum in 2010, had abolished the death penalty, among other things.  The country also had an ombudsman.  Further, between 2010 and 2013, Kyrgyzstan had submitted six periodic reports on several issues including children and civil and political rights.  Kyrgyzstan had also encouraged States to support its candidacy for the Human Rights Council for the period 2016-2018.

OD OCH ( Mongolia) said that the promotion and protection of human rights were guiding principles for the legal reform in Mongolia, noting that the reform of its judiciary system had included the removal of the death penalty.  He welcomed the Committee’s current session, as it enabled the exchange of best practices on human rights implementation.  He also welcomed the technical assistance and the capacity building initiatives promoted by the Human Rights Council, to which his country had announced its candidacy.  On the post-2015 development agenda, he called for the use of human rights as the basis for any development programme, underlining the clear link between the promotion of human rights and development.  Lastly, he said, Mongolia was committed to a stronger cooperation with human rights treaty bodies in the implementation of human rights instruments.

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