Press Conference by Human Rights Committee Following Conclusion of Session

26 March 2010

Press Conference by Human Rights Committee Following Conclusion of Session

26 March 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Human Rights Committee Following Conclusion of Session

Presenting highlights from their recent evaluations of the human rights records of Mexico, Argentina, Uzbekistan and New Zealand, members of the Human Rights Committee today called it a matter of “serious concern” that Belarus had apparently executed two men, despite a request from the expert body that their death sentences be postponed pending its review of their cases.

Committee Vice-Chairperson Sir Nigel Rodley, expert from the United Kingdom, said that, according to reports from international human rights watchdogs, as well as their family members and lawyers, Andrei Zhuk and Vasily Yuzepchuk were executed last week, even though they had submitted complaints for review by the Committee that their rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were violated.

“Consideration will go ahead, but it is a matter of dismay and indignation to the Committee that this development has taken place,” he said, emphasizing that the Committee considered the failure by the Belarus Mission to respond to its request for clarification as corroboration of the executions. 

Joining Mr. Rodley at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon following the conclusion of the Committee’s ninety-eighth session (see Press Release HR/CT/726) were Vice-Chairperson José Luis Perez Sanchez-Cerro, expert from Peru; Fabián Omar Salvioli, expert from Argentina; Krister Thelin, expert from Sweden; and Iulia Antoanella Motoc, expert from Romania and Committee Rapporteur.

Presenting an overview of the work of the 18-member body, which monitors implementation of the Covenant by States parties, Mr. Rodley said it reviews periodic reports from States parties, and, following a dialogue with those States, issues concluding observations that outline areas of progress, express concerns and suggest remedies.  It also considers individual communications like those of the two men from Belarus, which are submitted under the Covenant’s Optional Protocol.

The Committee also drafts “general comments”, which are statements on how its experts interpret the States’ obligations under the Covenant’s provisions.  During the current session, he said the Committee had continued work on the “first reading” draft of general comment 33 on Article 19, which concerns the right to freedom of expression and opinion.  It had also considered roughly 26 individual complaints.

Highlighting the experts’ concluding observations about New Zealand’s fifth periodic report, Mr. Thelin noted the Committee’s concerns about the minority Maori community, particularly the high incarceration levels of Maori and especially those of Maori women.  Among other things, the Committee recommended that the Government strengthen its efforts to reduce these levels by addressing root causes and by providing human rights training to all law enforcement and judicial officials.

He also noted the Committee’s concern about “Operation Eight”, an anti-terrorism raid carried out in October 2007 that allegedly involved excessive use of force against Maori communities.  The fact that subsequent trials were set for 2011 yielded the recommendation that New Zealand should ensure that its terrorism act was not applied in a discriminatory manner.  It should also ensure that the trials of those arrested were held in a reasonable timeframe.  In the context of New Zealand’s Foreshore and Seabed Act, the Committee also recommended that all consultations with the Maori community were conducted in a way that guaranteed their concerns were really heard.

Outlining the Committee’s observations on Argentina’s fourth periodic report, Mr. Sanchez-Cerro highlighted several of that country’s important developments, including the expansion of human rights protections in its constitution and criminal code, the ratification of several human rights instruments and the creation of tribunals to monitor compensation to people whose human rights were violated.

Nevertheless, the Committee remained concerned about the slow pace in judging those accused of crimes during Argentina’s former dictatorship, he said.  Argentina’s federal structure raised concerns that Covenant rights were not being protected across the country.  The Committee was requiring Argentina to provide a response within one year on its widespread prison overcrowding, instances of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in police stations and jails, and its treatment of indigenous people’s communal property.

Taking up Uzbekistan’s third periodic report, Mr. Thelin recalled that the death penalty was abolished in that country on 1 January 2008, when it became a party to the Covenant’s second Optional Protocol.  That moratorium was one of five positive aspects emphasized in the Committee’s concluding observations.  However, the Committee remained concerned that Uzbekistan had not yet allowed for a full, independent and impartial investigation into the events in Andijan in 2005.  Among other things, it recommended such an investigation should take place and those found responsible prosecuted.  The use of firearms by security forces -- particularly in relation to civilians -- should also be thoroughly reviewed.

Other concerns centred on reports of torture, the limited convictions of those responsible for such ill-treatment and the harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.  It was also concerned that legislation to guarantee habeas corpus -- or the right to be heard by an independent court -- was not fully aligned with the Covenant and was not actually being implemented.

[Concluding observations on Mexico were presented in Spanish.]

Following these presentations, Ms. Motoc detailed how the Committee’s public proceedings would be broadcast on a YouTube channel starting at its next session in Geneva in July.  This would allow State parties and non-governmental organizations to monitor the Committee’s dialogues.

Asked about the information provided by non-governmental organizations in Argentina and whether the Committee saw any links between that country’s zero-tolerance policy and the treatment of its prisoners, Mr. Sanchez-Cerro said the experts had concluded, based on the reports of such groups, that there was an overcrowding problem in Argentina’s jails.  The food and medical attention provided in jails and prisons were sub-par, while internal violence was high.

Responding to a request to compare New Zealand and Uzbekistan, Mr. Thelin said a comparison of the concluding observations for both countries showed there were more points of concern for the latter.  Moreover, Uzbekistan was being asked to reappear in three years, while New Zealand had been given a “top-grade” of five years.  However, the Committee operated in the belief that no country was perfect in terms of human rights.  Uzbekistan clearly had a longer way to go to meet all the requirements under the Covenant, but this was only natural given how recently it had broken from the Soviet system.

Pressed to say if this meant things were getting better in Uzbekistan, Mr. Thelin he could not engage in a grading exercise.  But, he stressed that a close reading of the Committee’s observations showed that even if a country adopted a number of legislative acts, what mattered was how those laws were implemented.

Following up on that, Mr. Rodley said it was no “mean thing” that Uzbekistan abolished the death penalty.  Like Belarus, Uzbekistan had executed people whose cases were before the Committee despite requests not to, and its moratorium was clearly a step forward.  But the matters of concern remained of concern -- many of them of serious concern.

Asked what weight the Committee gave to submissions by non-governmental organizations -- particularly those that appeared aligned with the State parties ‑‑ Mr. Rodley noted that he had spent 17 years at Amnesty International and believed that without “the engine of NGO information and concern”, the international human rights bodies would have very little to do.  Thus, information from non-governmental organizations, civil society and various forms of “officialdom” within a country were important to the Committee’s work.  Still, it could not focus on everything it received; this left some organizations feeling disappointed that their information did not receive much attention.

Ms. Motoc added that the Committee had established a focal point to deal with non-governmental organizations.  A proposal had been made to have another focal point for national institutions.

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