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    For information only - not an official document.
     Round-up     Press Release No: UNIS/HR/161
    Release Date: 31 July 2000
      Human Rights Committee Concludes Sixty-ninth Session

     (Reissued as received.)

     
    GENEVA, 28 July (UN Information Services) -- The Human Rights Committee concluded its sixty-ninth session this morning by issuing final observations and recommendations on reports submitted to it by Kyrgyzstan, Ireland, Kuwait and Australia. 

     The four countries submitted their reports and sent Government delegations to appear before the Committee to answer questions in keeping with their obligations as States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The treaty was adopted in 1966 by the General Assembly.  The Committee, as a monitoring body, periodically examines reports submitted to it by States parties on their promotion and protection of civil and political rights.  One hundred and forty-five countries have ratified the Covenant.   

     With regard to Kyrgyzstan, the Committee commended the State party for undertaking the process of bringing its legislation into harmony with its international obligations.  The Committee said it was gravely concerned about instances of torture, inhuman treatment, and abuse of power by law enforcement officials.  It also expressed concern about the number of persons currently under death sentences.  Kyrgystan was urged to commute the sentences of those persons currently on death row.

      Following its consideration of the second periodic report Ireland, the Committee welcomed the initiatives being undertaken in the area of human rights education, including for school students, members of the police and the legal profession.  The Committee expressed concern that the seven-day period of detention without charge under the Drug Trafficking Act raised issues of compatibility with the provision of the Covenant; it recommended, among other things, that all Covenant rights and freedoms were guaranteed and that effective remedies were available to any person whose rights or freedoms were violated.

     With regard to Kuwait, the Committee said it appreciated the frankness with which the report and the delegation acknowledged the problems encountered in the implementation of the Covenant.  The Committee said it was deeply concerned that, in spite of constitutional provisions on equality, Kuwait's electoral laws continued to exclude entirely women from voting and being elected to public office; and it noted with regret that the Amir's initiatives to remedy that situation were defeated in Parliament.  It recommended that all the necessary steps should be taken to ensure to women the right to vote and to be elected on equal footing with men.

     And concerning Australia, the Committee welcomed the enactment of anti-discrimination legislation in all jurisdictions of the State party.  The Committee recommended that Australia take the necessary steps in order to secure for its indigenous inhabitants a stronger role in decision-making over their traditional lands and natural resources; and  that efforts be intensified so that victims of the policy of removing indigenous children and their families would consider that they had been afforded a proper remedy.

     During its three-week session, the Committee also considered complaints from individuals submitted to it under the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant.  The Protocol, for States which have ratified it, allows review of complaints alleging violations of the terms of the  Covenant.  Ninety-five States have ratified the Protocol.  Committee discussion of individual complaints is carried out in private session.  The Committee's conclusions will be released later.

     Also during its current session, the Committee adopted its annual report to be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly.  The annual report dealt with the Committee's activities during the 1999 and 2000 sessions.

     The next session of the Committee is scheduled to take place from 16 October to 3 November 2000 in Geneva.  It is expected to discuss reports submitted by Denmark, Argentina, Gabon, Peru, Uzbekistan and Trinidad and Tobago.
     
    Conclusions and Recommendations on Country Reports

     Among positive aspects in the report of Ireland, the Committee noted with appreciation the increased use of the Covenant by the courts as an aid to interpretation of common law and constitutional rights and the withdrawal of several reservations made upon ratification of the Covenant.  The Committee expressed satisfaction that the state of emergency declared in 1976 was ended in 1995 and that the Emergency Powers Act of 1976 had now lapsed.  It welcomed the initiatives being undertaken in the area of human rights education, including education for primary and secondary students, members of the police and the legal profession.

     The Committee expressed continued concern that not all Covenant rights were guaranteed in the domestic law of Ireland.  The consequent lack of domestic recourse would limit the power of the proposed Human Rights Commission to take action in the courts to enforce those rights not covered.  While it welcomed the existence of a mechanism to investigate complaints made against the police force, namely the Garda Complaints Board, the Committee regretted that the Board was not fully independent and that investigations of complaints against the Garda were often entrusted to members of the Garda without consultation with the Board.                 

     Further, the Committee expressed concern that the seven-day period of detention without charge under the Drug Trafficking Act raised issues of compatibility with the provisions of the Covenant.  It was also concerned that legal aid was not available to detainees between arrest and charge and did not extend to visits to persons in detention.  While noting the many advances that had been made in regard to the participation of women in all aspects of political, social and economic life, the Committee was concerned at the continuing inequalities faced by women in Ireland.  It was also concerned that the circumstances in which women might lawfully obtain an abortion were restricted to when the life of the mother was in danger and did not include, for example, situations where the pregnancy was the result of rape.

     With respect to the Travelling community, the Committee continued to be concerned at the generally lower living standards of members of that community, their low levels of participation in national political and social life, and their high levels of maternal and infant mortality.

     The Committee recommended, among other things, that all Covenant rights and freedoms were guaranteed and that effective remedies were available to any person whose rights or freedoms were violated; that steps be taken to ensure that the Garda Complaints Board was not dependent on the Garda for the conduct of investigations; that consideration be given to the establishment of a police Ombudsman; that steps should be taken to end the jurisdiction of the Special Criminal Court; and that all aspects of detention should be ensured and are administered in full compliance with article 9 (1) of the Covenant.

     Ireland was urged to intensify its efforts to ensure equality of women in all spheres, particularly in public and political life and in decision-making bodies; that it should ensure that women were not compelled to continue with pregnancies where that was incompatible with obligations arising under the Covenant; and further urged that Ireland continue its efforts to take positive action to overcome discrimination and to ensure the equal enjoyment of rights by members of the Travelling community.

     Concerning Kyrgyzstan, the Committee cited as a positive aspect the measures undertaken to bring its legislation into harmony with its international obligations.  It noted the status conferred to the Covenant in the domestic legal order, and appreciated that its provisions were directly applicable; and it welcomed the efforts recently undertaken to sensitize the population on human rights standards, and the growing role played by civil society in the Republic.

     Among its concerns, the Committee noted that the general public in Kyrgyzstan as well as public officials remained insufficiently aware of the Covenant and its Optional Protocol and the accompanying mechanisms.  It was gravely concerned about instances of torture, inhuman treatment, and abuse of power by law enforcement officials.  The Committee was also concerned about the number of persons held in pre-trial detention, some of them incommunicado; about the current situation with regard to capital punishment and about the number of persons currently under sentences of death; and about the detention of persons on grounds of mental health and the apparent lack of possibility of challenging such detention.  It remained concerned about inhuman prison conditions, characterized by overcrowding, inadequate food and medical care; and that the law on public emergency did not specifically restrict the power of derogation from certain specific Covenant provisions.

     Moreover, the Committee expressed grave concern over the occurrence of violence against women and trafficking in women, which was aggravated by the economic hardship facing women in Kyrgyzstan; about the lack of full independence of the judiciary; about the continued existence of child labour, the problem of mistreatment of children in some educational institutions, cruel punishment and the phenomenon of trafficking in children; about intimidation and harassment of journalists and human rights activists; and about the closing of newspapers.

     Among its recommendations, the Committee, while commending the State party for having imposed a moratorium on the execution of capital punishment, urged the Government to extend it indefinitely and to commute the sentences of those persons currently on death row; and that it should ensure that anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge be brought promptly before a judge.  It recommended that measures be taken to improve prison conditions and to ensure that juveniles were detained in segregated centres; urged that all necessary measures be taken to sensitize the population, so as to improve the condition of women by eradicating all traditional and stereotype attitudes that denied women equality in many fields; and that the State should ensure that existing laws relating to violence against women and trafficking were vigorously enforced.

     In addition, the Committee recommended that the system of authorization (propiska) be abolished and full effect be given to the provisions of article 12 of the Covenant, which was the right to the freedom of movement; that the continued existence of child labour should be addressed urgently so as to ensure the special protection to which children were entitled; and that journalists and human rights activists should be protected from harassment. 

     With regard to the report of Kuwait, the Committee appreciated the frankness with which the report and the delegation acknowledged the problems encountered in the implementation  of the Covenant, and the State party’s undertaking to provide further information and statistics in writing.  The Committee noted with concern that the position of Covenant rights in the laws of Kuwait was not clear, due to contradictory constitutional provisions. It affirmed that discrimination against women limited the enjoyment of women of their rights under the Covenant.  It was concerned that polygamy was still practiced in the country, that men and women who committed adultery were not treated equally, and that toleration on so-called "crimes of honour" added to the existing inequality between the sexes.

     The Committee was also deeply concerned that, in spite of constitutional provisions on equality, Kuwait's electoral laws continued to exclude entirely women from voting and being elected to public office; and it noted with regret that the Amir's initiatives to remedy that situation were defeated in Parliament.

     The Committee expressed serious concern over the large number of offences for which the death penalty could be imposed, including very vague categories of offences relating to internal and external security as well as drug related crimes.  It was also concerned about the number of persons still detained under prison sentences handed down in 1991 in trials by martial law courts; over the many cases of persons detained in 1991 who had subsequently disappeared, many of them Palestinians with Jordanian passports, Kurds and other persons formerly residing in Kuwait; and about the fact that a detained person might be held in police custody for a period of 4 days before being brought before an investigating official.  

     Further, the Committee remained gravely concerned about the treatment of the Bedoons (stateless persons) in Kuwait, numbering several thousands; about instances of discrimination, in particular the naturalization of Muslim applicants exclusively; about the limits imposed on freedom of expression and opinion in Kuwait; about the implications of penal proceedings against journalists requiring them to prove their good faith and reveal their sources; about the restriction of foreign and domestic workers to form and join trade unions; and about the absence of political parties in Kuwait.

     Among its recommendations, the Committee stressed that Kuwait should guarantee that all rights provided for in the Covenant were respected and ensured; that women should be granted effective equality in law and practice and their right to non-discrimination be ensured; that polygamy should be prohibited by law; that all the necessary steps should be taken to ensure to women the right to vote and to be elected on equal footing with men; that Kuwait should ensure that the death penalty was not imposed except for crimes that could be seen to be the most serious crimes; that cases of persons still held under the martial law trials should be reviewed by an independent and impartial body; that the period of police custody should not exceed 48 hours; that all cases of police abuse should be investigated; that all persons in Kuwait's territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including Bedoons, enjoyed Covenant rights without discrimination; that the laws on naturalization and nationality should be amended to ensure that their application would not entail discrimination; and that appropriate measures be taken so as to ensure the right of Kuwaitis to establish political parties.

     And with regards to the report of Australia, the Committee welcomed the accession of the State party to the Optional Protocol to the Covenant in 1991, thereby recognizing the competence of the Committee to consider communications from individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction; and it also welcomed the establishment of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner in 1993.

     The Committee was concerned, despite positive developments towards recognizing the land rights of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders through judicial decisions, that in many areas native title rights and interests remained unresolved and that the Native Title Amendments of 1998 in some respects limited the rights of indigenous persons and communities.  It expressed concern that securing continuation and sustainability of traditional forms of economy of indigenous minorities and protection of sites of religious or cultural significance for such minorities were not always a major factor in determining land use; and that the high level of the exclusion and poverty facing indigenous persons was indicative of the urgent nature of these concerns.

     Further, while noting the efforts of Australia to address the tragedy resulting from the previous policy of removing indigenous children from their families, the Committee remained concerned about the continuing effects of that policy.  It was also concerned that there remained lacunae in the protection of Covenant rights in the Australian legal system.  In addition, the Committee was concerned by the government bill in which it would be stated, contrary to a judicial decision, that ratification of human rights treaties did not create legitimate expectations that government officials would use their discretion in a manner that was consistent with those treaties.

     The Committee was of the view that legislation regarding mandatory imprisonment in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which led in many cases to imposition of punishments that were disproportionate to the seriousness of the crimes committed and would seem to be inconsistent with the strategies adopted by the State to reduce the over-representation of indigenous persons in the criminal justice system, raised serious issues of compliance with various articles of the Covenant.  In addition, the Committee considered that the mandatory detention under the Migration Act of "unlawful non-citizens", including asylum-seekers, raised question of compliance with Covenant.

     The Committee recommended, among other things, that Australia take the necessary steps in order to secure for the indigenous inhabitants a stronger role in decision-making over their traditional lands and natural resources; that the State party take further steps in order to secure the rights of its indigenous population; that steps should be taken to restore and protect the titles and interests of indigenous persons in their native lands; that efforts be intensified so that victims of the policy of removing indigenous children themselves and their families would consider that they had been afforded a proper remedy; that measures be taken to give effect to all Covenant rights and freedoms and ensure that all persons whose Covenant rights and freedoms had been violated should have an effective remedy; that legislation regarding mandatory imprisonment be reassessed so as to ensure that all Covenant rights were respected; and that Australia's policy of mandatory detention of "unlawful non-citizens" be reconsidered with a view to instituting alternative mechanisms of maintaining an orderly immigration process.

    Background on the Covenant

     The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was adopted by the General Assembly and opened for signature in 1966, together with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Both entered into force in 1976.

     The Civil and Political Rights Covenant begins by stating that all peoples have the right of self-determination.  It recognizes that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.  It prohibits torture, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment, and the arbitrary deprivation of life.  Anyone arrested is to be informed of the reasons for the arrest, and anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge is to be brought promptly before a judge or other legally authorized person.
     The Covenant also provides, among other things, for freedom of movement, and places limitations upon the expulsion of aliens present lawfully in the territory of a State party.  In addition, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and to freedom of expression are recognized by the Covenant, which also prohibits any propaganda for war or any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred.

    States Parties to Covenant

     The following 145 States have ratified or acceded to the Covenant: Afghanistan. Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin,  Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's, Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic, of the Congo, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

    Optional Protocols to Covenant

     The First Optional Protocol to the Covenant provides for the confidential consideration of communications from individuals who claim to be victims of a violation of any rights proclaimed in the Covenant.  No communications can be received by the Committee if it concerns a State party to the Covenant that is not also a party to the Optional Protocol.

     The following 95 States are parties to the First Optional Protocol: 

    Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African, Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic  of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav, Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zambia.               

     The Human Rights Committee is also mandated, under article 41 of the Covenant, to consider communications from a State party alleging violations of the Covenant’s provisions by another State party.  This procedure can be applied when both States recognize this competence of the Committee by a relevant declaration.

     So far, 47 States have made the declaration under article 41.  They are: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Congo, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Northern Ireland, United States of America and Zimbabwe.

     The Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, which aims at the abolition of the death penalty, was adopted by the General Assembly on 15 December 1989 and entered into force on 11 July 1991. The following 44 States have ratified or acceded to the Second Optional Protocol: Australia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Portugal, Romania, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav, Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and  Northern Ireland, Turkmenistan, Uruguay and Venezuela.                

    Membership of Committee

     The Committee's 18 expert members, who serve in their individual capacity, are elected by the State parties to the Covenant for four-year terms.  Article 28 of the Covenant requires that "they shall be persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights."

     They are:  Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia); Nisuke Ando (Japan); Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (India); Christine Chanet (France); Lord Colville (United Kingdom); Elizabeth Evatt (Australia); Pilar Gaitan de Pombo (Colombia); Louis Henkin (United States); Eckart Klein (Germany); David Kretzmer (Israel); Rajsoomer Lallah (Mauritius); Cecilia Medina Quiroga (Chile); Fausto Pocar (Italy); Hipolito Solari Yrigoyen (Argentine); Martin Scheinin (Finland); Roman Wieruszewski (Poland); Maxwell Yalden (Canada); and Abdallah Zakhia (Lebanon).

     Ms. Medina Quiroga is Chairperson of the session while Ms. Evatt, Mr. Bhagwati and Mr. Amor are Vice-Chairpersons. Lord Colville is Rapporteur.

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