11 May 2012
The Committee against Torture this morning discussed ways to enhance cooperation with non-governmental organizations.
Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, reiterated the importance accorded to cooperating with non-governmental organizations and their contribution to the work of the Committee. This tradition allowed the Committee to get valuable information concerning countries, receive recommendations of non-governmental organizations, and so see transparency in action.
Non-governmental organizations raised questions on treaty body strengthening, with particular attention to cooperation and harmonization between treaty bodies on issues of common concern in their mandates. Representatives also made a number of suggestions related to the working methods of the Committee, including that the Committee should adopt its views in a timely matter, particularly in the case of States parties that refused to cooperate, and that it should develop guidelines for the identification, drafting and adoption of General Comments. Non-governmental organizations encouraged the Committee to follow closely the revision of international standards governing detention, recommend fewer concluding observations for States parties and ensure that rights and obligations of the Convention against Torture remained the focus of such recommendations.
In reply, Committee Experts said that concerns expressed by non-governmental organizations needed to be addressed to the extent in which the system allowed. The Committee was well aware of the treaty bodies strengthening and kept a close eye on what was happening and would take its position regarding the final report and the intergovernmental process. Relationships with national preventive mechanisms were particularly valuable and would be further strengthened in the future. The Committee wished to further hear from non-governmental organizations on the use of General Comments and on the action plan on the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol in their work, and sought their views on ways in which the Committee could increase the pressure on States parties that were late in reporting.
The non-governmental organizations that participated in the meeting were LIGA, International Disability Alliance, VIDES, IIMA, International Service for Human Rights, Amnesty International, World Organization against Torture, Human Rights House Foundation, Association for the Prevention of Torture, World Federation of United Nations Associations, Geneva for Human Rights, Al Karama, European Network of (ex-) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists and International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will hear the replies of Armenia which presented its report yesterday.
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, in opening remarks reiterated the importance the Committee accorded to cooperating with non-governmental organizations and their contribution to the work of the Committee. This tradition had allowed the Committee to get valuable information concerning countries and receive recommendations of non-governmental organizations, and so to see transparency in action. The relationship with non-governmental organizations happened during core functions of the Committee such as reporting or preparing lists of issues; it was however important that, in addition to hearing non-governmental organizations in relation to the examination of a country, they could also talk about working methods and receive their input on the working of the Committee as a whole.
Association for the Prevention of Torture said that it had been following the treaty bodies strengthening process closely and identified some gaps in the prevention of torture that had not been addressed. The Association for the Prevention of Torture suggested that the Committee made fewer recommendations to States during the examination of their reports and also suggested that the Committee invite national preventive mechanisms to participate in sessions and consider using information technology to bring in a larger group of stakeholders.
Amnesty International welcomed the opportunity to raise general issues with the Committee and said that the advance meetings with non-governmental organizations before the examination of countries were a valuable practice. Amnesty International was following closely the treaty bodies strengthening process, whose principal objective must be to enhance countries’ compliance with their obligations and the opportunity for people to enjoy their human rights. Amnesty International with others had produced a number of issue papers on this process, together with the 15-point summary of the Dublin II Outcome. Amnesty International remained concerned about the continuing lack of cooperation in the intergovernmental process of non-governmental organizations and treaty bodies. International standards governing detention were important for the working of this Committee and Amnesty International encouraged the Committee to follow closely the closed Working Group that was revising those standards and engage with them on this matter.
Al Karama strongly encouraged the Committee to adopt its views in a timely matter which was particularly important when States parties refused to cooperate.
World Organization against Torture said that the implementation of concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee depended on the willingness of the State party. The lack of this implementation was a serious matter that needed to be followed up. With regard to the information on the follow up process, the non-governmental organization welcomed the creation of a separate webpage and insisted that more information on follow up of recommendations was provided. The Committee should consider conducting field missions and better cooperation between various United Nations bodies could be developed for States that experienced persistent problems in the implementation of the recommendations and concluding observations.
International Disability Alliance encouraged the Committee to increasingly engage with other treaty bodies on issues of common concern in their mandates. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was engaged in developing jurisprudence on the issues of the prohibition of institutionalization and treatment without the full consent of the individual. It had further made systematic recommendations against the forced sterilization of persons with disabilities and those positions had been reinforced by the Special Rapporteur on Torture.
International Commission of Jurists concurred with the statement of Amnesty International and believed that the development of clear, transparent and public guidelines for the implementation of concluding observations would help. Were there any plans for the development of General Comments on any other issue? What were the countries that the Committee was seeking information on for the next session?
International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims said that it had started working on the preparation of guidelines for the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol. On the thematic work of the Committee, the non-governmental organization said it was very pleased about its General Comment on Article 14. It was important to keep the Committee more broadly informed about what was going on and suggested more meetings with non-governmental organizations. The issue of independence was of very high importance, but the issue of competence of treaty bodies members was equally important.
Human Rights House Foundation said that non-governmental organizations had assisted in the meeting of the Committee on Belarus last November and that one member of a non-governmental organization from Belarus who had made his visit to Geneva public had not been allowed to leave the country since under the pretext of having to do more days of military service. The opening statement of the head of delegation of Armenia in the Committee yesterday claimed that some non-governmental organizations were anti-Armenian. This was dangerous as activities of non-governmental organizations in Azerbaijan were part of peace building processes and such accusations ran contrary to their work.
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, thanked the non-governmental organizations for their suggestions and recommendations. In response to some of the comments by the speakers, the Chairman said that the next session of the Committee was already on the website and outlined the previous record of participation of non-governmental organizations in the work of the Committee. Reprisals against individuals cooperating with the Committee were a serious matter and would be accordingly addressed.
Committee Experts said that the suggestions and recommendations made by the non-governmental organizations were valuable and that the information provided by them was actively used in the Committee’s work. Their capacity to flag issues and suggest solutions was significant and the Committee said that concerns expressed by non-governmental organizations today needed to be addressed to the extent in which the system allowed.
The suggestion to invite national preventive mechanisms to participate in the meetings of the Committee was a valuable one; the Committee dealt with those mechanisms when discussing issues pertaining to prevention, asked questions and assessed the need for assistance to those mechanisms. This was the case particularly for States which experienced difficulties and the Committee invited all non-governmental organizations to bring those cases to their attention.
The relationship with national preventive mechanisms was particularly valuable for the work of this Committee and the relationship would be further strengthened in the future. There was also the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture which was focused specifically on prevention and hopefully there would be in the future more preventive mechanisms with which the Committee could engage.
Non-governmental organizations were key partners in the monitoring of the implementation of the Convention against Torture, but it was usually the biggest non-governmental organizations that met with the Committee and not the organizations from the developing counters, an Expert noted, and suggested the use of information and communication technology to increase this participation.
The Committee did control the quality of information that States provided via answers on issues and questions and often went back to the States for further information and clarification when that quality was lacking.
The Committee was well aware of the treaty body strengthening process and kept a close eye on what was happening and would take its position regarding the final report and the intergovernmental process.
The suggestion to establish a system to allow non-governmental organizations to become members of treaty bodies demanded consideration and reflection on how this idea could be implemented.
A number of non-governmental organizations had noted the importance of General Comments and the Committee enquired how those were used in the work of the non-governmental organizations. The Committee also asked the non-governmental organizations how they used the action plan on the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol and sought their views on the significance and impact of webcasting and on ways in which the Committee could increase the pressure on States parties that were late in reporting.
The non-governmental organizations had said concerning webcasting that what was missing was the engagement of States and the lack of use of webcasting by State officials to prepare for sessions. Video conferencing was a very good idea and the Committee could look into practices of the Human Rights Council. A speaker corrected the impression that it was suggested that non-governmental organizations become members of treaty bodies; it was meant that individuals were not excluded from becoming members of a Committee because of their affiliation with a non-governmental organization. Treaty body strengthening was an extremely complex process and non-governmental organizations offered to conduct a separate briefing on this issue. General Comments were extensively used in their briefings and they issued papers addressed to bodies within and outside of the United Nations human rights system and mechanisms.
For use of the information media; not an official record