Press Releases


    Round-up of Session

    HR/CT/640
    11 August 2003

    HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONCLUDES
    SEVENTY-EIGHTH SESSION

    Adopts Final Conclusions, Recommendations

    On Reports of Slovakia, Portugal, El Salvador, Israel

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 8 August (UN Information Service) -- The Human Rights Committee concluded today a four-week session at which it considered and adopted concluding observations and recommendations on the reports submitted by Slovakia, Portugal, El Salvador and Israel.

    The four countries sent government delegations to answer questions raised by Committee experts in keeping with their obligations as States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  There are 150 States parties to the Covenant.

    Among its findings on the second periodic report of Slovakia, the Committee welcomed the progress made in various areas and in particular the continuing process of bringing the State party’s legislation in harmony with its international obligations, and institutional reforms undertaken within the State's penitentiary system in order to prevent cases of suicide.  It took note of legislative initiatives designed to provide better protection for the victims of trafficking in persons for the purpose of forced prostitution.  It was concerned about the six-month maximum duration for which detainees could be held in solitary confinement.  The Committee also said that Slovakia should ensure that all religious communities were treated without discrimination, and to this end, that its criteria for financial support of religious communities be revised to ensure its compatibility with the Covenant.

    With regard to the third periodic report of Portugal, the Committee appreciated the creation, in 1995, of the General Inspectorate of Internal Administration within the Ministry of Interior, with the mandate to open inquiries into reports of police abuse.  It was, however, concerned about reported cases of disproportionate use of force and ill-treatment by the police, occurring particularly at the time of arrest and during police custody, and resulting, in some instances, in the death of the victims.  It said that the State party should increase its efforts to ensure that education on the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, as well as sensitization on issues of racial discrimination, were included in the training of law enforcement personnel.

    Concerning the second periodic report of El Salvador, the Committee applauded the efforts made by the State party to consolidate and strengthen the rule of law and democracy, and noted with satisfaction the legal and institutional changes in human rights that the State had made in recent years as a result of the 1992 Peace Accords.  It reiterated its grave concern at the General Amnesty Act of 1993 and the application of that Act to serious human rights violations, including those considered and established by the Truth Commission.  The State party was urged to respect and guarantee the application of the rights enshrined in the Covenant.

    And with regard to the second periodic report of Israel, the Committee welcomed the positive measures and legislation adopted by the State party to improve the status of women in Israeli society, with a view to promoting gender equality.  While again acknowledging the seriousness of the State party’s security concerns that had prompted recent restrictions on the right to freedom of movement, the Committee said it was concerned that the construction of the “Seam Zone”, by means of a fence had imposed additional and unjustifiably severe restrictions on the right to freedom of movement of Palestinians within the occupied territories.  The State party should respect the right to freedom of movement guaranteed under article 12; and the construction of a “Seam Zone” within the occupied territories should be stopped.

    The Committee also considered communications from individuals submitted to it under the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant.  The Protocol, for the 103 States that have ratified it, allows review by the Committee of complaints from persons alleging violations of the terms of the Covenant; such reviews are carried out in private session.  The Committee's conclusions on cases considered during the session will be released at a later date.  The seventy-eighth session was extended by one week so that the Committee could address its backlog of pending communications.

    The next session of the Committee will take place from 20 October to 7 November 2003 in Geneva.  The experts are expected to consider reports from the Russian Federation, Philippines, Latvia, and Sri Lanka.  It is also expected to review the situation in Equatorial Guinea in the absence of a report.

    Conclusions and Recommendations on Country Reports

    With regard to the second periodic report of Slovakia, the Committee welcomed the progress made in various areas since the submission of Slovakia’s initial report, and in particular the continuing process of bringing the State party’s legislation into harmony with its international obligations.   The amendment of the criminal code eliminating the crime of defamation of the Republic and its representatives; and the amendment of the labour code to include non-discrimination principles, including in the area of sexual orientation, were among the positive aspects that the Committee welcomed.  The Committee also welcomed Slovakia’s ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

    While welcoming the creation of the institution of Ombudsman and the election of an Ombudsman, the Committee regretted that it had received insufficient information on the nature of the complaints submitted to and processed by the Ombudsman.  The Committee said that the State party ensure the effectiveness of the Ombudsman, as an independent monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the Covenant rights.

    Expressing concern at reports of high rates of domestic violence, and noting some positive steps taken by the State party in the area of legislation, the Committee regretted that the adoption of the National Strategy for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence Committed against Women and in Families had been delayed.  Slovakia should adopt the necessary policy and legal framework to combat domestic violence; specifically, it should provide a framework for the protection of a spouse who was subjected to violence or threats of violence.  It recommended that the Government establish crisis centre hotlines and victim support centres.

    Taking note of the efforts made by the State party to address the situation regarding trafficking in women, the Committee said that the Government should strengthen programmes aimed at providing assistance to women in difficult circumstances, particularly those coming from other countries who were brought into its territory for the purpose of prostitution. The Committee said that measures should be taken to prevent that form of trafficking and to impose sanctions on those who exploit women in that way; and protection should be extended to women who were victims of that kind of trafficking so that they might have a place of refuge and an opportunity to give evidence against the persons responsible in criminal or civil proceedings.  Slovakia was encouraged to continue its cooperative efforts with border States to eliminate trafficking across national borders.

    The Committee was concerned about the persistent allegations of police harassment and ill-treatment during police investigations, particularly of the Roma minority, which the delegation described as resulting from psychological failure to handle the situation rather than to problems with legislation or police incompetence.  The Committee said the State party should take measures to eradicate all forms of police harassment and ill-treatment during police investigations of the Roma, including prompt investigations, prosecutions of perpetrators and the provision of effective remedies to the victims.

    The Committee reiterated the concern expressed in its previous concluding observations, about reports that Roma were often victims of racist attacks, without receiving adequate protection from law enforcement officers. It further noted continued reports of statements by prominent politicians reflecting discriminatory attitudes vis-à-vis the Roma. The State party was requested to taken all necessary measures to combat racial violence and incitement, provide proper protection to Roma, and establish adequate mechanisms to receive complaints from victims and ensure adequate investigation and prosecution of cases of racial violence and incitement to racial hatred.

    Concerning the third periodic report of Portugal, the Committee appreciated the creation, in 1995, of the General Inspectorate of Internal Administration within the Ministry of Interior, with the mandate to open inquiries into reports of police abuse; welcomed the creation of the General Inspectorate of Justice Services in 2000, as well as of the Office of Ombudsman; the decrease in prison overpopulation achieved over recent years, as well as the measures adopted to improve the situation of prisoners; and the right given to foreigners to vote and to be elected in local elections, as well as the recognition of greater political rights for citizens of Portuguese speaking countries, under condition of reciprocity.

    The Committee was concerned about reported cases of disproportionate use of force and ill-treatment by the police, occurring particularly at the time of arrest and during police custody, and resulting, in some instances, in the death of the victims.  Police violence against persons belonging to ethnic minorities appeared to be recurrent.  Equally, it was concerned about the reported failure of the judicial and administrative systems to deal promptly and effectively with such cases, particularly those relating to the deaths of several persons in 2000 and 2001, allegedly caused by police officers.  The Committee said that the State party should end police violence without delay.  It should increase its efforts to ensure that education on the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, as well as sensitization on issues of racial discrimination, were included in the training of law enforcement personnel. Efforts should also be made to recruit members of minority groups into the police.

    Further concern was also expressed about reported cases of ill-treatment and abuse of authority by prison staff and of violence among prisoners, which, in some instances, had led to the death of the victims.  The State party was asked to keep the Committee informed about the outcome of the proceedings conducted as a result of the violent death of two prisoners in October 2001 in the prison in Vale de Judeus.  Responses on allegations of ill-treatment by prison staff in the prisons of Custóias and of Linhó (Sintra) were also requested.  The Committee was concerned that, despite considerable improvement, overpopulation in prisons still amounted to 22 per cent, that access to health care remained problematic, and that the separation between pre-trial and convicted detainees was not always ensured in practice.  The State party was urged to ensure that all persons deprived of liberty were treated with humanity and with respect for their inherent dignity as human beings.

    Although the Committee took that asylum-seekers whose application was deemed inadmissible were not deported to countries with an armed conflict or systematic violations of human rights, it remained concerned that applicable domestic law did not provide effective remedies against forcible return in violation of the State party’s obligation under article 7 of the Covenant.  The State party should ensure that persons whose application for asylum was declared inadmissible were not forcibly returned to countries where there were substantial grounds for believing that he/she would be in danger of being subjected to arbitrary deprivation of life or torture or ill-treatment.

    The Committee was concerned that a person might be held in preventive detention during a period of six to 12 months before charges were brought against him/her, and that preventive detention, in exceptional cases, could last up to four years, a period to which other delays from 3 to 6 months might be added.  It further noted with concern that, in spite of the exceptional character of preventive detention, as stated in the Code of criminal procedure, almost one third of detained persons in Portugal were in preventive detention.  The State party should amend its legislation in order to ensure that charges were brought against persons detained in preventive detention, and that all persons were tried, within a reasonable time.

    With regard to terrorism, the Committee noted with concern that many of the provisions relating to terrorism in the Penal Code and Code of Penal Procedure related to exceptional situations which might result in violations of articles 9, 15 and 17 of the Covenant; and the State party should ensure that measures taken against terrorism would not infringe on the provisions of the Covenant, and that exceptional provisions were not abused by State officials.

    The Committee was concerned that, despite extensive positive measures adopted by the State party, the Roma continue to suffer from prejudice and discrimination, particularly with regard to access to housing, employment and social services, and that the State party was unable to submit detailed information, including statistical information, on the situation of these communities as well as on the results achieved by the institutions responsible for the advancement and welfare of the Roma.  The State party should intensify its efforts towards the integration of Roma communities in Portugal, respectful of their cultural identity, in particular through the adoption of positive action, with regard to housing, employment, education and social services.

    As regards the third periodic report of El Salvador, the Committee applauded the efforts made by the State party to consolidate and strengthen the rule of law and democracy, and noted with satisfaction the legal and institutional changes in human rights that the State had made in recent years as a result of the 1992 Peace Accords.  It also applauded the establishment of a Human Rights Division in the National Civil Police in June 2000 to provide support for the protection and promotion of human rights during the exercise of police duties.  It welcomed the delegation's statements about the approval in 2001, by Organization Act, of the Police Ethics Board, a watchdog body independent of the National Civil Police, although it noted that the Board was still being set up.

    The Committee reiterated its grave concern at the General Amnesty (Consolidation of the Peace) Act of 1993 and the application of that Act to serious human rights violations, including those considered and established by the Truth Commission.  While it noted the position of the State party, which considered that the Act was compatible with the country's Constitution, the Committee considered that the Act infringed on the right to an effective remedy set forth in article 2 of the Covenant, since it prevented the investigation and punishment of all those responsible for human rights violations and the granting of compensation to the victims.  The State party should respect and guarantee the application of the rights enshrined in the Covenant.  The Committee reiterated the recommendation made in its concluding observations adopted on 8 April 1994, that the State party should review the effect of the General Amnesty Act and amend it to make it fully compatible with the Covenant.

    The Committee expressed concern at the fact that the investigation into the killing of Monsignor Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was closed under the statute of limitations, even though the supposed perpetrator had been identified, without checking whether that decision was compatible with the State party's obligations under international law; and the State party should provide information on the justification for that decision.

    While it appreciated the steps that the State party had begun to take to reform the judicial system, such as setting up the National Council of the Judiciary, the Committee was concerned that those reforms might not be sufficient.  The State party was requested to provide more information on the new judicial system in its next report, emphasizing in particular the number of judges appointed following the reforms and their respective assignments.

    The Committee was concerned at reports of National Civil Police involvement in violations of the right to life, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and abuse of authority, and regretted that it was unable to obtain precise information on the number of sackings that had resulted from cases of torture or similar conduct.  It requested the State party to supply precise information on that subject.

    While noting the efforts made by the State party to combat domestic violence, the Committee noted with concern that violence against women persisted. It was also concerned at the high proportion of women within the National Civil Police who had been subjected to violence.  The State party should take steps to ensure compliance with the Domestic Violence Act.

    The Committee noted with concern the statements by the delegation admitting restrictions on the right to form trade unions, while remarking that such restrictions were not applied systematically; and the State party was urged to guarantee everyone the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of their interests, in conformity with the Covenant.

    With respect to the second periodic report of Israel, the Committee welcomed the positive measures and legislation adopted by the State party to improve the status of women in Israeli society, with a view to promoting gender equality.  It also welcomed the measures taken by the State party to combat trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution, in particular, the prohibition on the trafficking law enacted in July 2000 and the prosecution of traffickers since that date.  The efforts to increase the level of education for the Arab, Druze and Bedouin communities in Israel were also noted.

    The Committee noted the efforts by the State party to provide better conditions for migrant workers.  It welcomed the amendment to the Foreign Workers Law and the increase in penalties imposed on employers for non-compliance with the law.  It also welcomed free access to labour courts for migrant workers and the provision of information to them about their rights in several foreign languages.

    Further, the Committee welcomed the Supreme Court’s judgement of September 1999, which invalidated the former governmental guidelines governing the use of  “moderate physical pressure” during interrogations, and held that the Israeli Security Agency had no authority under Israeli law to use physical force during interrogations.

    The Committee reiterated that, in the current circumstances, the provisions of the Covenant applied to the benefit of the population of the occupied territories, for all conduct by its authorities or agents in those territories that affected the enjoyment of rights enshrined in the Covenant and fell within the ambit of state responsibility of Israel under the principles of public international law.  The State party should reconsider its position and include in its third periodic report all relevant information regarding the application of the Covenant in the occupied territories resulting from its activities therein.

    While fully acknowledging the threat posed by terrorist activities in the occupied territories, the Committee deplored what it considers to be the partly punitive nature of the demolition of property and homes in the occupied territories; and the State party should cease forthwith that practice.

    While again acknowledging the seriousness of the State party’s security concerns that had prompted recent restrictions on the right to freedom of movement, the Committee said it was concerned that the construction of the “Seam Zone”, by means of a fence, had imposed additional and unjustifiably severe restrictions on the right to freedom of movement of Palestinians within the occupied territories.  The State party should respect the right to freedom of movement guaranteed under article 12; and the construction of a “Seam Zone” within the occupied territories should be stopped.

    The Committee was concerned about Israel’s temporary suspension order of May 2002, enacted into law as the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) on 31 July 2003, which suspended for a renewable one-year period, the possibility of family reunification, subject to limited and subjective exceptions especially in the cases of marriages between an Israeli citizen and a person residing in the West Bank and in Gaza.  The Committee noted with concern that the suspension order of May 2002 had already adversely affected thousands of families and marriages.  The State party should revoke the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) of 31 July 2003, which raised serious issues under articles 17, 23 and 26 of the Covenant.  The State party should reconsider its policy with a view to facilitating family reunification of all citizens and permanent residents.

    The Committee noted with concern that the percentage of Arab Israelis in the civil service and public sector remained very low and that progress towards improving their participation, especially that of Arab Israeli women, had been slow; and the State party should adopt targeted measures with a view to improving participation of Arab Israeli women in the public sector and accelerating progress towards equality.

    While noting the Supreme Court’s judgement of 30 December 2002 in the case of eight reservists of the Israeli Defence Forces (Judgment HC 7622/02), the Committee remained concerned about the law, criteria and generally adverse determination, in practice, by military judicial officers in individual cases of conscientious objection.  The State party should review the law, criteria and practice governing the determination of conscientious objection, to ensure compliance with article 18 of the Covenant.

    Background on 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 place 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 150 States have ratified or acceded to the Covenant:  Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iraq, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, 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, Serbia and Montenegro, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, 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 is concerns a State party to the Covenant that is not also a party to the Optional Protocol.

    The following 103 States are parties to the Optional Protocol:  Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lesotho, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, 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, Serbia and Montenegro, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, 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, United States 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 48 States have ratified or acceded to the Second Optional Protocol:  Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Portugal, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkmenistan, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Venezuela.

    Membership of Committee

    The State parties to the Covenant elect the Committee’s 18 expert members, who serve in their individual capacity, 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); Alfredo Catillero Hoyos (Panama); Christine Chanet (France); Franco Depasquale (Malta); Maurice Glélé Ahanhanzo (Benin); Walter Kälin (Switzerland); Ahmed Tawfik Khalil (Egypt); Rajsoomer Lallah (Mauritius); Rafael Rivas Posada (Colombia); Sir Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland); Martin Scheinin (Finland); Ivan Shearer (Australia); Hipolito Solari Yrigoyen (Argentina); Ruth Wedgwood (United States of America); Roman Wieruszewski (Poland); and Maxwell Yalden (Canada).

    Mr. Amor is Chairperson of the Committee.  Mr. Rivas Posada, Sir Nigel Rodley and Mr. Roman Wieruszewski are Vice-Chairpersons, and Mr. Shearer is the Rapporteur.

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