Press Releases

    Round-Up of Session

    HR/4574
    23 November 2001

    COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE CONCLUDES
    TWENTY-SEVENTH SESSION

    Considered Reports of Ukraine, Benin, Indonesia, Zambia and Israel

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 23 November (UN Information Service) -- The Committee against Torture concluded this morning an autumn two-week session during which it reviewed reports on compliance with the Convention against Torture by Ukraine, Benin, Indonesia, Zambia and Israel.

    In addition to submitting reports, these Governments sent delegations to appear before the panel of 10 independent experts and to answer questions. The countries are among the 126 States parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

    In formal conclusions and recommendations, the Committee recommended that Ukraine take effective steps to end maltreatment, citing concern over "numerous instances" where torture was still practiced and the fact that the nation's Commissioner for Human Rights had contended that 30 per cent of prisoners were victims of torture. Among positive developments in the country, the Committee said, were the establishment of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) and abolition of the death penalty.

    The panel called for Benin to end occurrences of mob justice and to provide a legal definition of torture and appropriate penalties for its perpetration. It said positive aspects of the situation in the country included the standing of international treaties ratified by the country under Benin's Constitution, which ranked them higher than domestic law; and the establishment of the Benin Human Rights Commission.

    The Committee recommended that Indonesia establish an effective, independent complaints system to undertake prompt investigations into allegations of ill-treatment by police and other officials, and -- citing what it called a "climate of impunity" -- that it ensure that all persons, including senior officials, who were involved in the perpetration of torture were prosecuted. It said positive aspects of the Indonesian report included the establishment of Human Rights Courts and the recent formal separation of the police from the military.

    In its formal conclusions on the report of Zambia, the Committee recommended that the country undertake legal and other measures to address impunity for acts of maltreatment, citing continued allegations of widespread use of torture and apparent impunity for its perpetrators, and said Zambia should systematically review interrogation methods to ensure their compliance with the Convention. It noted among positive developments the Government's recent legal prohibition of corporal punishment, and its creation of a Human Rights Commission.

    The Committee called for Israel to take steps to prevent abuses by law-enforcement personnel and to institute effective complaint and investigative mechanisms, noting that there were numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment by law-enforcement personnel, particularly of Palestinian detainees. Among other things, it cited as positive a 1999 Supreme Court judgement holding that the use of certain interrogation methods by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) involving the use of "moderate physical pressure" was illegal; and a 2000 Supreme Court decision that led to the release of many Lebanese detainees on the grounds that they did not constitute a threat to national security.

    In addition to reviewing country reports in public session, the Committee considered in private meetings information appearing to contain well-founded indications that torture was being systematically practiced on the territories of some States parties. It also examined communications from individuals claiming to be victims of violations by States parties of the provisions of the Convention. Such communications are accepted only if they concern the 45 States that have declared the Committee competent to receive complaints under article 22 of the Convention.

    The Committee's next session will be held from 29 April to 17 May 2002. The panel is expected to consider reports from Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Sweden, Venezuela, Norway, Luxembourg, Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation.

    Conclusions and Recommendations on Country Reports

    The Committee cited among positive developments ongoing efforts by the Government of Ukraine to reform legislation, including the adoption of a new Criminal Code which contained an article qualifying torture as a specific crime; removal from the "State Secret Act" of offences concerning breaches of human rights; abolition of the death penalty; and establishment of an Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman).

    Among concerns expressed were that numerous instances indicated that torture was still regularly practised in the country, and that, according to the country's Commissioner for Human Rights, 30 per cent of prisoners were victims of torture; that judges were sitting in newly formed "coordination committees on crime fighting" jointly with representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, which could affect the independence of the judiciary; and that there had been numerous convictions based on confessions which -- in combination with improved promotion prospects for investigators who obtained convictions -- could lead to torture or ill-treatment of suspects to force them to "confess".

    The Committee recommended, among other things, that effective measures be taken to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment; that Ukraine ensure that the right to defence counsel was exercised from the moment of arrest; that it prohibit interrogations of detainees without the presence of defence counsel; that it ensure absolute respect for the inadmissibility of evidence obtained through torture; that it take effective steps to establish a fully independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of torture; that it improve prison and detention conditions; that it shorten the current 72-hour pretrial detention period during which detainees could be held in isolation cells before being brought before a judge; and that that it take effective measures to prevent and punish trafficking in women and violence against women.

    Among positive aspects of the report of Benin, the Committee cited the standing of international treaties ratified by the country, in which they were ranked higher than domestic law; the strict prohibition on the practice of torture contained in article 18 of the Constitution; and the establishment of the Benin Human Rights Commission.

    Concern was noted, among other things, over citizens' apparent lack of faith in the justice system and the resulting recurrence of the problem of mob justice; and the existence in Benin's legislation of legal provisions in the Criminal Code exonerating anyone who was guilty of offences when such acts were ordered in accordance with the law or by a legitimate authority or were committed in self-defence, contrary to article 2 of the Convention against Torture, which allows no excuse or justification for torture.

    The Committee recommended, among other things, that Benin adopt a definition of torture fully in keeping with the Convention, and provide appropriate penalties for the offence; that regulations be established on the right of torture victims to fair and adequate compensation from the State; that necessary legislative measures be approved to bring the Criminal Code into line with article 2 of the Convention; that human rights education programmes be strengthened for law-enforcement officials and medical personnel; that measures be taken to eliminate the practice of mob justice; and that Benin consider making declarations under articles 21 and 22 of the Convention to allow individual complaints to be brought before the Committee.

    The Committee said positive aspects of the situation in Indonesia included the establishment of Human Rights Courts; formal separation of the police from the military; and recognition by the Government that eradication of torture was linked to overcoming a culture of violence within society, particularly within the army and the police.

    The Committee noted that factors and difficulties existed in the country that impeded implementation of the Convention, including armed secessionist conflicts in several parts of its territory and the difficulties attendant to Indonesia's ongoing political transition.

    Concern was cited, among other things, about the large number of allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed by members of the police forces, the army and paramilitary groups reportedly linked to the authorities; about allegations of excessive use of force against demonstrators; about allegations that paramilitary groups reported to be perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment were supported by the military and sometimes reportedly were joined by military personnel; about allegations that abuses were sometimes committed by military personnel employed by foreign companies in Indonesia to protect their premises and to avoid labour disputes; and about an apparent climate of impunity in Indonesia for acts of torture.

    Among the panel's recommendations were that Indonesia amend penal legislation so that torture and related offences were strictly prohibited; that an effective, reliable and independent complaints system be established to investigate allegations of ill-treatment by police and other officials; that the Government ensure that all persons, including senior officials, who were involved in the perpetration of torture were prosecuted; that the Government ensure that the ad hoc human rights court in East Timor would have the capacity to consider the many human rights abuses which were alleged to have occurred there between 1 January and 25 October 1999; that the length of pre-trial detention be reduced; that human rights defenders be protected from harassment and threats; that the Special Rapporteur on Torture be invited to visit Indonesia, including conflict areas; and that Indonesia cooperate fully with the United Nations Transition Authority for East Timor (UNTAET).

    Among positive developments in Zambia, the Committee cited the country's withdrawal of its reservation under article 20 of the Convention; the enactment of the Zambia Police (Amendment) Act which provided measures to protect and monitor persons in police custody; legal prohibition of corporal punishment; and creation of a Human Rights Commission.

    The Committee noted that there were factors impeding application of the Convention, including the difficulties experienced by Zambia in transition towards a democratic system of government and significant financial and technical constraints.

    Concern was cited, among other things, over continued allegations of widespread use of torture and apparent impunity for its perpetrators; delays in investigating allegations and in bringing suspects to trial; and violence against women in society, which was illustrated by reported incidents of violence in prisons and domestic violence.

    Among the Committee's recommendations were that Zambia incorporate the Convention into its legal system, including a definition of torture in keeping with article 1 of the Convention; that it take measures to address impunity; that it take measures to ensure the systematic review of interrogation rules, instructions, and methods; that it strengthen training on the prohibition of torture for law-enforcement personnel; that it establish programmes to prevent and combat violence against women, including domestic violence; and that it enhance efforts to reduce overcrowding and to improve conditions in prisons and detention facilities.

    The Committee termed among positive developments in Israel a 1999 Supreme Court judgement holding that the use of certain interrogation methods by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) involving the use of "moderate physical pressure" was illegal; a 2000 Supreme Court decision that led to the release of many Lebanese detainees on the grounds that they did not constitute a threat to national security; and provision of real time judicial review of persons under detention to the Supreme Court.

    The Committee acknowledged that a factor impeding application of the Convention in Israel was the difficult situation of unrest faced by Israel, particularly in the occupied territories. The panel said that while it understood Israel's security concerns, no exceptional circumstances could be invoked as justification for torture.

    Concern was expressed, among other things, that the 1999 Supreme Court decision did not contain a definite prohibition of torture; that there were continuing allegations of use of interrogation methods by the Israel Security Agency against Palestinian detainees that were prohibited by the ruling; that there were allegations of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian minors; that there was continued use of incommunicado detention, even of children; that there had been very few prosecutions undertaken against alleged perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment; and that there were reported instances of "extra-judicial killings".

    The Committee recommended, among other things, that the provisions of the Convention be incorporated into the domestic law of Israel; that the practice of administrative detention in the occupied territories be reviewed to ensure its conformity with the Convention; that Israel review laws and policies to ensure that all detainees, without exception, were brought promptly before a judge and were ensured prompt access to lawyers; that -- in view of numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment by law-enforcement personnel -- the Government take all necessary steps to prevent such abuses and to institute effective complaint and investigative mechanisms; that Israel desist from policies of closure and house demolition where they offended article 16 of the Convention; and that it take legislative measures to ensure that any evidence derived from a confession extorted under torture would not be admissible in court.

    Background on Convention and Committee

    The Convention, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in 1984, entered into force on 26 June 1987. States parties to the Convention are required to outlaw torture and are explicitly prohibited from using "higher orders" or "exceptional circumstances" as excuses for acts of torture. The Convention introduced two significant new elements to the United Nations fight against torture. First, it specifies that alleged torturers may be tried in any State party or they may be extradited to face trial in the State party where their crimes were committed. Second, it provides for international investigation of reliable reports of torture, including visits to the State party concerned, with its agreement.

    Under article 20 of the Convention, if the Committee receives reliable information which appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practiced in the territory of a State party, the Committee shall invite that State party to cooperate in the examination of this information.

    Under article 21, a State party to the Convention may at any time declare that it recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications to the effect that a State party claims that another State party is not fulfilling its obligations under the Convention.

    Under article 22, a State party to the Convention may at any time declare that it recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from, or on behalf of, individuals subject to its jurisdiction who claim to be victims of a violation by a State party of the provisions of the Convention.

    The Convention has been ratified or acceded to by the following 126 States: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, 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, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Mali and Malta.

    Also, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, 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 45 States have recognized the competence of the Committee under articles 21 and 22: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cameroon Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, 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, United Kingdom and the United States have recognized the competence of the Committee under article 21 only. Seychelles has recognized the competence of the Committee under article 22 only.

    The Commission on Human Rights, at its fifty-seventh session, invited States parties to the Convention to make the declarations under articles 21 and 22. It also invited parties to envisage withdrawing their reservations to article 20.

    Other United Nations Activities against Torture

    In addition to preventive measures, the United Nations has taken action to come to the aid of torture victims. In 1981 the General Assembly set up the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Torture. At its fifty-seventh session, the Commission on Human Rights on 24 April, 2001 appealed to all governments, organizations and individuals in a position to do so to contribute to the Fund in order to allow it to respond to the constantly increasing number of requests for assistance. On 25 April 2001, the Commission extended the mandate of its Special Rapporteur on Torture for three years, encouraging all Governments to envisage inviting him to visit their countries.

    The Commission also requested the Working Group charged with elaborating a draft optional protocol to the Convention against Torture to continue its work with a view to achieving a definitive and concrete text. The draft optional protocol would establish a system of inspection visits to places of detention.

    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); Guibril Camara (Senegal); Sayed Kassem el Masry (Egypt); Felice Gaer (United States); Antonio Silva Henriques Gaspar (Portugal); Alejandro Gonzalez Poblete (Chile); 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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