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HR/4472
22 May 2000

COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE CONCLUDES TWENTY-FOURTH SESSION

22 May 2000


Press Release
HR/4472


COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE CONCLUDES TWENTY-FOURTH SESSION

20000522

Considers Reports of Poland, Portugal, China, Paraguay, El Salvador, United States, Netherlands, Slovenia

GENEVA, 19 May (UN Information Service) -- The Committee against Torture this morning concluded its twenty-fourth session following three weeks of meetings at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

During the course of the session, the Committee considered reports submitted by Poland, Portugal, China, Paraguay, El Salvador, the United States, the Netherlands and Slovenia, and delivered its conclusions and recommendations on the reports. The eight countries also sent Government delegations to appear before the Committee's 10 independent experts to answer questions in keeping with their obligations as State parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. One hundred and nineteen countries have ratified the treaty.

Concerning the report of Poland, the Committee noted with satisfaction the impressive and successful efforts made by the State party that had led to a major transformation in the political, social, economic, legislative and institutional spheres in Poland. It said that in spite of the efforts of the State party, some drastic acts of aggressive behaviour by police officers continued to occur, which had resulted in death in some instances, and it recommended that Poland should introduce an effective and reliable complaint system that would allow the victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to file complaints.

On the report of Portugal, the Committee noted as a positive aspect the ongoing initiatives of the country to ensure that its laws and institutions conformed to the requirements of the Convention. It recommended that the country should continue to engage in vigorous measures to maintain the momentum of moving the police culture in Portugal to one that respected human rights; and it should particularly ensure that criminal investigation and prosecution of public officers were undertaken where appropriate as a matter of course, where the evidence revealed the commission of torture, or cruel or the use of inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.

With regard to China, the Committee appreciated and encouraged the continuing efforts of the Chinese Government to introduce amendments in its legislation and practices to bring them into line with international norms of human rights and to entrench legality constitutionally. The Committee recommended that the State incorporate a definition of torture into its domestic law to fully comply with the Convention; concerning the situation in Hong Kong, the Committee noted that the reintegration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region into

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China had created no factors and difficulties impeding the application of the Convention.

The Committee appreciated the efforts of the Government of Paraguay to punish crimes of torture committed under the former dictatorship, which ruled the country between 1954 and 1989. The Committee expressed concern that the appointment of the Ombudsman has been delayed for the last four years and that torture was not defined under the country's legislation.

The Government of El Salvador was praised for the creation of a Procurator for the Defence of Human Rights and the activities of that institution to monitor the respect of human rights and the promotion of programmes of human rights, which was encouraging. The Committee urged El Salvador to define the crime of torture with adequate terms to bring it in line with article 1 of the Convention; and to enact legislation which would guarantee the full rehabilitation of victims of physical and mental torture.

The Committee appreciated the Government of the United States for the measures taken to prosecute perpetrators of torture, wherever it happened. It recommended that the United States abolish electro-shock stun belts and restraint chairs as methods of restraining those in custody, and it also expressed concern about the excessively harsh regime of the "supermaximum" prisons; and it also expressed concern about the number of cases of police ill-treatment of civilians and ill-treatment in prisons, and said that much of that ill-treatment by police and prison guards seemed to be based upon discrimination.

Concerning the Netherlands, the Committee found as a positive aspect that it had received no information about allegations of torture in the Netherlands. The Committee expressed concern, among other things, about allegations of police actions in the European part of the Netherlands involving illegitimate body searches, inadequate deployment of female officers, and some excessive use of force by the police in connection with crowd control.

With regard to the report of Slovenia, the Committee welcomed the establishment of the special institution of the Ombudsman for the protection of human rights and noted with interest its effective and responsible work. The Committee expressed its concern with regard to allegations about instances of police ill-treatment and excessive use of force against members of the Roma population, which had reportedly resulted in severe injuries in some instances; and it urged Slovenia to take all necessary measures, as a matter of priority, to ensure that asylum-seekers were housed in conditions that complied with the requirements of the Convention.

In addition to reviewing country reports in public session, the Committee also considered in a series of private meetings information appearing to contain well-founded indications that torture was being systematically practised in a State party. In addition, it examined communications from individuals claiming to be victims of a violation by a State party of the provisions of the Treaty. Information on decisions taken on those allegations would be released later. Such communications were accepted only if they concerned those 40 countries which had declared the Committee competent to receive the complaints under article 22 of the Convention.

The Committee's next session is scheduled to take place from 14 to 24 November 2000. It is expected to consider the reports of Armenia, Belarus, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Cameroon and Guatemala.

Conclusions and Recommendations on Country Reports

In its conclusions and recommendations on the report of Poland, the Committee noted with satisfaction the impressive and successful efforts made by the State party that had led to a major transformation in the political, social, economic, legislative and institutional spheres.

The Committee was concerned that the amendments to domestic legislation did not contain any provisions for the prosecution and punishment of those guilty of the crime of torture, as required by article 1 and 4 of the Convention. It was also concerned about the fact that the new penal code did not introduce any substantial change regarding orders from superiors when they were invoked as justification of torture.

The Committee noted that, in spite of the efforts of the State party, some drastic acts of aggressive behaviour by police officers continued to occur, resulting in death. It was also concerned about the persistence in the army of the practice of the so-called "fala", whereby new recruits were subjected to abuse and humiliation.

Among its recommendations, it urged that Poland amend the penal code to ensure that orders of superiors could not be invoked, in any circumstances, as justification of torture. The State party should introduce an effective and reliable complaint system that would allow the victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to file complaints. Legislative and administrative measures should be introduced to safeguard against excessive use of force by the police, in particular in connection with the supervision of public meetings and to safeguard against the persistence of abusive measures associated with the practice of the so-called "fala" in the army.

Concerning the report of Portugal, the Committee noted as a positive aspect the ongoing initiatives by the country to ensure that its laws and institutions conformed to the requirements of the Convention. It also noted the restructuring of the police agencies, which was designed to emphasize the civil features of policing; the advice that an Inspectorate of Prison was about to be set up; the creation of a database to streamline information relating to cases of abuse of public power; and the enactment of regulations governing police use of firearms that reflected the United Nations Principles on the Use of Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

The continuing reports of a number of deaths and ill-treatment arising out of contact by members of the public with police, and the continuing reports of inter-prisoner violence in prisons had been the subject of the Committee's concern. The Committee recommended that Portugal should continue to engage in vigorous measures, both disciplinary and educative, to maintain the momentum of moving the police culture in Portugal to one that respected human rights; it should particularly ensure that criminal investigation and prosecution of public officers were appropriately undertaken where the evidence revealed the commission of torture, or cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment by them; and it should continue to take such steps as were necessary to curtail inter-prisoner violence.

Among positive aspects in the report of China, the Committee appreciated and encouraged the continuing efforts of the Government to introduce amendments in its legislation and practices to bring them into line with international norms of human rights and to entrench legality constitutionally; however, the Committee was concerned about the continuing allegations of serious incidents of torture, especially involving Tibetans and other national minorities; it recommended that China incorporate a definition of torture into its domestic law that fully complied with the definition contained in the Convention; invited it to consider abolishing, in accordance with relevant international standards, all forms of administrative detention; suggested that the prompt, thorough, effective and impartial investigation of all allegations of torture be ensured; and encouraged the State party to continue and intensify its efforts to provide training courses on international human rights standards for law enforcement officers, among other things.

In the second part of its conclusions on Hong Kong, the Committee noted that the reintegration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region into China had created no factors and difficulties impeding the application of the Convention; and expressed its appreciation to the Government of China for the steps taken to ensure the continued application of the Convention in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the authorities of which had prepared parts of the report. The Committee welcomed the release of all Vietnamese refugees and migrants and the closure of the Pillar Point detention centre; concern was expressed that not all instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment were covered by the Crimes (Torture) Ordinance.

The Committee recommended that the necessary steps be taken to ensure that torture, as defined in article 1 of the Convention, was effectively prosecuted and appropriately sanctioned and that efforts should be made to prevent other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with the provisions of the Convention.

Among the positive aspects in the report of Paraguay, the Committee welcomed the new penal code and the gradual reforms introduced to the penal procedural code, which would enable the State to better fulfil its obligations under the Convention. Among the new measures introduced to the penal code was the universal jurisdiction of torture committed abroad. The appropriate condemnation of the crime of torture committed by the former dictatorial regime was also welcomed. The educational and training programmes in the new penal code provided to law enforcing personnel were also appreciated.

The Committee expressed concern that the appointment of the Ombudsman has been delayed for the last four years; that torture was not defined under the country's legislation; and that the new penal code did not include basic elements of torture as defined in the Convention; that acts of torture continued in police stations and in the armed forces concerning ill-treatment of recruits; and the lack of programmes for the rehabilitation of victims of torture as described in the Convention.

It recommended that the Ombudsman be appointed; that the definition of torture in the penal code be made to reflect article 1 of the Convention; and that the legal rights of torture victims to rehabilitation and compensation be recognized.

Among positive aspects in the report of El Salvador, the Committee said that the creation of a Procurator for the Defence of Human Rights and the activities of that institution to monitor the respect of human rights and the promotion of programmes of human rights was encouraging. The establishment of penitentiary judges, whose role was to monitor prison conditions, was also a measure to be appreciated.

The Committee expressed concern that El Salvador's legislation did not adequately define torture in line with article 1 of the Convention. Also, it expressed concern that the new penal code did not contain definitions in the spirit of the Convention; about the absence of legislation for the rights of victims of torture for just and adequate compensation by the State, and the absence of a State policy for the full rehabilitation of victims; about the absence of legislation on prohibiting the extradition, expulsion and deportation of persons to a country where they risked losing their lives or could be subjected to torture; about reports of the use of unnecessary force by police and prison guards; and about cases of extrajudicial executions that had taken place after the peace agreements of 1992.

The Committee recommended that El Salvador define the crime of torture with adequate terms to bring it in line with article 1 of the Convention; that it enact legislation which would guarantee the full rehabilitation of victims of physical and mental torture; that it suppress in the penal procedural code the acceptance of confession established under duress, which contravened the provisions of the Constitution; that it add a provision to the legislative system of prohibition of extraditing a person to a country where he would face torture; that it promote human rights education and continue training of the new generation on that line; and that it recognize the competence of the Committee to receive individual communications.

Among positive aspects in the report of the United States, the Committee particularly welcomed the extensive legal protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that existed in the State party and the efforts pursued by the authorities to achieve transparency of its institutions and practices; the broad legal recourse to compensation for victims of torture, whether or not such torture occurred in the United States of America; the introduction of executive regulations preventing refoulement of potential torture victims; and the State party's contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture.

The Committee expressed its concern about the number of cases of police ill- treatment of civilians and ill-treatment in prisons (including instances of inter- prisoner violence) -- much of that ill-treatment by police and prison guards seemed to be based upon discrimination; and alleged cases of sexual assault upon female detainees and prisoners by law enforcement officers and prison personnel – the holding of female detainees and prisoners in humiliating and degrading circumstances; the use of electro-shock devices and restraint chairs as methods of constraint that might violate the provisions of article 16 of the Convention; the excessively harsh regime of "supermaximum" prisons; and the use of "chain gangs", particularly in public.

The Committee recommended that the State party, although it had taken many measures to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Convention, should also enact a federal crime of torture in terms consistent with article 1 of the Convention and should withdraw its reservations, interpretations and understandings relating to the Convention; take such steps as were necessary to ensure that those who violated the Convention were investigated, prosecuted and punished, especially those who were motivated by discriminatory purposes or sexual gratification; abolish electro-shock stun belts and restraint chairs as methods of restraining those in custody, as their use almost invariably led to breaches of article 16 of the Convention; consider declaring in favour of article 22 of the Convention; and ensure that minors (juveniles) were not held in prison with the regular prison population.

As regards the report of the Netherlands, the Committee particularly noted with satisfaction that it had received no information about allegations of torture in the State party; as of early 1999, a special National War Criminals Investigation Team had been set up and made operational in the Netherlands (European part) to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, which could include torture as specified in the Convention; the State party's contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture; it also noted as positive aspects that the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba had both recently, in criminal legislation, made the act of torture punishable as a separate criminal offence, also establishing the principle of universal jurisdiction.

The Committee expressed its concern about allegations of police actions in the Netherlands (European part) involving illegitimate body searches, inadequate deployment of female officers, and some excessive use of force by the police in connection with crowd control; allegations of inter-prisoner violence, including sexual assault in Koraal Specht prison in the Netherlands Antilles; the daily use of a riot squad as a means of prisoner control in Koraal Specht prison in the Netherlands Antilles; some allegations of police brutality in Aruba and the absence of information, including statistics, regarding the prison population.

It recommended that measures be taken in the Netherlands (European part) to fully incorporate the Convention into domestic law, including adopting the definition of torture as contained in article 1 of the Convention; despite improvements already made in the Netherlands Antilles, effective measures should continue to be taken to bring to an end the deplorable conditions of detention at Koraal Specht Prison; the practice of controlling prison discipline by the use, on a virtually daily basis, of riot squads in the Netherlands Antilles should be reviewed and, in particular, efforts should be made to develop alternative means to prevent inter-prisoner violence.

And concerning the report of Slovenia, the Committee welcomed the establishment of the special institution of the Ombudsman for the protection of human rights and noted with interest its effective and responsible work; and noted with satisfaction that the legislative provisions guaranteed the exclusion of evidence from the record in cases where it was obtained in violation of human rights and basic freedoms, among other things.

The Committee expressed its concern with regard to allegations about instances of police ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police against members of the Roma population, which had reportedly resulted in severe injuries in some instances; concern was also expressed regarding allegations about the excessive use of force by the police in connection with arrests; there was also concern over the sub-standard conditions in which asylum-seekers were housed in Slovenia.

Although the Committee welcomed the incorporation of a definition of torture, in accordance with article 1 of the Convention, into the domestic law relating to the enforcement of criminal sanctions, it recommended that Slovenia should incorporate the definition also in the substantive criminal law; that it take necessary steps to prevent the misuse of force by the police against members of the Roma population and other minorities, particularly in connection with arrests and detention; and that Slovenia consider amending the legislation which permitted the expulsion of an alien to a country where he or she would be in danger of being tortured.

States Parties to Convention

The Convention has been ratified or acceded to by the following 119 States: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Fasso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Zambia.

The following 40 States have recognized the competence of the Committee under articles 21 and 22: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Senegal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. In addition, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States have recognized the competence of the Committee under article 21 only.

Membership and Officers

The Committee’s members are elected by the States parties to the Convention and serve in their personal capacity. The current members of the Committee are: Peter Thomas Burns (Canada); Gubril Camara (Senegal); Sayed Kassem el Masry (Egypt); Felice Gaer (United States); Alejandr Gonzales Poblete (Chile); Antonio Silva Henriques Gaspar (Portugal); Andreas Mavrommatis (Cyprus); Ole Vedel Rasmussen (Denmark); Alexander M. Yakovlev (Russian Federation); and Yu Mengja (China).

Mr. Burns is Chairman. Vice-Chairpersons are Mr. Camara, Mr. Gonzalez Poblete and Mr. Yu. Mr. El Masry is Rapporteur.

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For information media. Not an official record.