Press Releases

    Background Release

    HR/4586
    26 April 2002

    COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE TO HOLD TWENTY-EIGHTH SESSION IN GENEVA, FROM 29 APRIL TO 17 MAY

    Panel Scheduled to Consider Reports from Sweden, Uzbekistan, Denmark,
    Venezuela, Norway, Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia, Russian Federation

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 25 April (UN Information Service) -- The Committee against Torture will meet at the Palais Wilson in Geneva from 29 April to 17 May 2002, to review the measures adopted by Sweden, Uzbekistan, Denmark, Venezuela, Norway, Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia, and the Russian Federation to prevent and punish acts of torture. Representatives of the eight countries are expected to come before the Committee to defend their records in implementing the rights enshrined in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

    During the three-week meeting, the panel's 10 independent experts will also study, in closed session, information appearing to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practised in a State party. In addition, they will examine communications from individuals claiming to be victims of a violation by a State party of the provisions of the treaty. The large number of overdue reports from State parties on how they are applying the Convention will be another subject of discussion.

    At the beginning of the session, five members of the Committee elected or re-elected will make a solemn declaration to perform their duties and exercise their powers as a member of the Committee "honourably, faithfully, impartially and conscientiously". The Bureau of the Committee will also be elected for a two-year period.

    There are 129 States parties to the Convention, which requires signatories to outlaw torture and explicitly prohibits the use of "higher orders" or "exceptional circumstances" as excuses for acts of torture. The Committee was established in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions.

    Committee's Concluding Observations on Reports by Sweden, Uzbekistan, Denmark, Venezuela, Norway, Luxembourg, Russian Federation.

    Concerning the third periodic report of Sweden, considered by the Committee in May 1997, the experts were pleased to acknowledge the way in which Sweden provided material and political support for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture, both within the country and internationally. The Committee was concerned about certain methods used by Swedish police in dealing with detainees or with public demonstrations, such as, in the latter case, using dogs for crowd control. It recommended that Sweden incorporate into its domestic legislation the definition of torture as contained in article 1 of the Convention; that the institution of solitary confinement be abolished, particularly during the period of pre-trial detention, other than in exceptional cases, inter alia, when the security or the well-being of persons or property are in danger; and that the State party reconsider the methods used by the police with regard to crowd control.

    With regards to the initial report of Uzbekistan, reviewed in November 1999, the Committee identified among positive aspects the large number of investigations carried out following allegations of torture or ill-treatment inflicted on citizens by law-enforcement personnel. The Committee said it was aware of the difficulties inherent in any process of transition from a totalitarian regime to the rule of law; nevertheless, it was concerned, inter alia, about the particularly large number of complaints of torture or maltreatment and the small number of subsequent convictions. It recommended that Uzbekistan adopt a definition of torture strictly in conformity with article 1 of the Convention; that it ensure, in practice, absolute respect for the principle of the inadmissibility of evidence obtained by torture; and that it formally prohibit the expulsion, return or extradition of persons to a State where they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

    Following its consideration of the third periodic report of Denmark, taken up in May 1997, the Committee welcomed the fact that the Government granted subsidies to independent, private organizations involved with the rehabilitation of torture victims. It noted, among subjects of concern, that Denmark had still not introduced the offence of torture into its penal system, and the institution of solitary confinement, particularly as a preventive measure during pre-trial detention, but also as a disciplinary measure, for example, in cases of repeated refusal to work. The Committee recommended that Denmark should incorporate into its domestic law provisions on the crime of torture; that, except in exceptional circumstances, the use of solitary confinement be abolished; and that the State party reconsider the methods used by police in their treatment of detainees or during crowd control.

    Concerning the initial report of Venezuela, considered in April and May 1999, the Committee welcomed the fact that the Code of Penal Procedure, which would be entering into force shortly, contained very positive provisions that made good the deficiencies of the existing Code of Criminal Procedure. Among subjects of concern were the high number of cases of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that had occurred since the Convention's entry into force; and the failure of the competent organs of the State to fulfil their duty to investigate complaints and punish those responsible, who generally enjoyed impunity. The Committee recommended that the State party should strengthen the legal conditions for the protection of personal security and integrity and for the prevention of practices that violated such security and integrity. Venezuela should also regulate procedures for dealing with and deciding on applications for asylum and refugee status.

    With regards to the third periodic report of Norway, considered in May 1998, the Committee considered as a positive aspect that the State party continued to do its utmost to secure respect for human rights, including the prohibition of torture, in law and in practice, inter alia, with the creation and constant development of special bodies such as special investigation bodies. The Committee was concerned over the fact that Norway had not yet introduced the offence of torture into its penal system, including a definition of torture; and about the institution of solitary confinement, particularly as a preventive measure during pre-trial detention. The Committee recommended that Norway should incorporate into its domestic law provisions on the crime of torture, in conformity with article 1 of the Convention. And that, except in exceptional circumstances, the use of solitary confinement should be abolished, particularly during pre-trial detention, or at least that it should be strictly and specifically regulated by law and that judicial supervision should be strengthened.

    After considering the second periodic report of Luxembourg in May 1999, the Committee took note as a positive aspect legislation concerning the entry and residence of foreigners, which prohibited the expulsion or return of a foreigner if he was in danger of being subjected to acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in another country. The Committee was concerned about the excessive length and frequent use of strict solitary confinement of detainees and the fact that this disciplinary measure may not be the subject of appeal. It recommended that the State party should adopt legislation defining torture in accordance with article 1 of the Convention, and consider all acts of torture as a specific offence; and end, as soon as possible, the practice of placing young offenders, including minors, in the prison for adults.

    Following its review of the second periodic report of the Russian Federation, considered in November 1996, the Committee considered, among positive aspects, the setting up of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights and the establishment of an ombudsman for human rights are, without doubt, steps in the right direction. Subjects of concern included the failure to create a specific crime of torture in the domestic law; and widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment of suspects and persons in custody with a view to securing confessions, general allegations of ill-treatment of detainees and the absence of effective machinery to address such complaints promptly. The Committee recommended that the Russian Federation establish effective machinery to monitor the conditions under which investigations of crimes were conducted, the conditions under which persons were held in custody and conditions in prisons; and that it establish an appropriate process for the prompt investigation of complaints of suspects, detainees and prisoners and the prosecution of the offenders.

    Saudi Arabia is presenting its initial report.

    Provisional Timetable for Consideration of Reports

    In ratifying or acceding to the Convention, States are obliged to submit reports on the measures they have taken to implement its provisions. States are invited to send representatives to attend the meetings during which their reports are considered. For this session, the Committee has drawn up the following provisional timetable for the consideration of reports:

    Tuesday, 30 April
    Morning -- Sweden, fourth periodic report CAT/C/55/Add.3

    Wednesday, 1 May
    Morning -- Uzbekistan, second periodic report CAT/C/53/Add.1
    Afternoon -- Sweden (continued)

    Thursday, 2 May
    Morning -- Denmark, fourth periodic report CAT/C/55/Add.2
    Afternoon -- Uzbekistan (continued)

    Friday, 3 May
    Morning -- Venezuela, second periodic report CAT/C/33/Add.5
    Afternoon -- Denmark (continued)

    Monday, 6 May
    Morning -- Norway, fourth periodic report CAT/C/55/Add.4
    Afternoon -- Venezuela (continued)

    Tuesday, 7 May
    Morning -- Luxembourg, third periodic report CAT/C/34/Add.14
    Afternoon -- Sweden: conclusions and recommendations
    Norway (continued)

    Wednesday, 8 May
    Morning -- Saudi Arabia, initial report CAT/C/42/Add.2
    Afternoon -- Uzbekistan: conclusions and recommendations
    Luxembourg (continued)

    Friday, 10 May
    Afternoon -- Denmark: conclusions and recommendations
    Saudi Arabia (continued)

    Monday, 13 May
    Morning -- Russian Federation, third periodic report CAT/C/34/Add.15
    Afternoon -- Venezuela: conclusions and recommendations
    Norway: conclusions and recommendations

    Tuesday, 14 May
    Afternoon -- Russian Federation (continued)
    Wednesday, 15 May
    Afternoon -- Luxembourg: conclusions and recommendations
    Saudi Arabia: conclusions and recommendations

    Thursday, 16 May
    Afternoon -- Russian Federation: conclusions and recommendations
    As each country report is taken up by the Committee, a summary of the relevant document will be in the press release covering that meeting.

    Background on Convention, 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, under article 20, it provides for investigation of reliable reports of torture, including visits to the State party concerned, with its agreement, if the Committee receives reliable information which appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practised in the territory of a State party.

    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 129 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 Faso, 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, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, 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 46 States have recognized the competence of the Committee under articles 21 and 22: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. In addition, Japan, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States have recognized the competence of the Committee under article 21 only. Azerbaijan, Mexico and Seychelles have 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); Alejandro Gonzalez Poblete (Chile); Fernando Marino Menendez (Spain); Andreas Mavrommatis (Cyprus); Ole Vedel Rasmussen (Denmark); Alexander M. Yakovlev (Russian Federation); and Yu Mengja (China).

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