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Committee against Torture begins examination of report of Togo

MORNING

12 November 2012

The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the second periodic report submitted by Togo on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Leonardina Rita Doris Wilson-De Souza, Minister for Human Rights, Consolidation of Democracy and Civic Education of Togo, said that the Cabinet had adopted the draft Penal Code which defined torture in line with article 1 of the Convention against Torture. The Government was taking steps to address the high rates of pre-trial detention, while in 2008 it adopted the national strategy to combat violence against women which saw a significant reduction in the incidence of female genital mutilation. Measures to improve conditions in prisons included the improvement of sanitary conditions, ensuring free medical consultation to detainees and increasing the number of health staff, and ensuring professional training of prison officers. There was no specific legislation in Togo dealing with terrorism, but this crime was included in the provisions of the Penal Code.

Alessio Bruni, Committee Rapporteur for the report of Togo, congratulated Togo on ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and said that efforts needed to be scaled up to ensure the implementation of the national preventive mechanism, which was already overdue. Mr. Bruni asked why access to places of detention was difficult, what was being done to ensure that there were no secret places of detention, and what steps were being taken to improve detention conditions, which were described as horrendous in the State Party’s report.

Abdoulaye Gaye, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Togo, said that detention was one of the core issues that Togo needed to grapple with and noted that the visits to places of detention by the National Human Rights Commission, which was in charge of overseeing prisons, were only sporadic and that the Commission did not have the power to ensure the follow up. There was a very low rate of complaints of violence by female prisoners and Mr. Gaye wondered whether that was due to lack of reporting or absence of a complaint mechanism.

Other Committee members said that States had an obligation not to torture and that this obligation had not been sufficiently respected in Togo. Experts asked what was being done to address the complete break-down of the legal system in Togo, about the steps taken to put in place the complaints mechanism as prescribed by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and about the establishment of the juvenile justice system.

The delegation of Togo consisted of representatives from the Ministry for Human Rights, Consolidation of Democracy and Civic Education; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security; Office of the Attorney General; Ministry of Security and Civil Protection; and the Permanent Mission of Togo to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will hear the replies of the Russian Federation, which presented its fifth periodic report on Friday, 9 November. The Committee will hear the replies of Togo on Tuesday, 13 November at 3 p.m.

Report

The second periodic report of Togo can be read here: CAT/C/TGO/2

Presentation of the Report

LEONARDINA RITA DORIS WILSON-DE SOUZA, Minister for Human Rights, Consolidation of Democracy and Civic Education of Togo, said that the report contained information on the legal framework to prohibit and eliminate torture, and legal, judicial and administrative measures taken to implement the recommendations of the Committee stemming from the examination of the initial report of Togo. The Cabinet had adopted the draft Penal Code which defined torture in line with article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The 1992 Constitution and the draft Penal Code protected the rights of detainees, including the right to treatment to protect their dignity and their physical and mental health, the right to a lawyer, length of detention and protection from torture.

The rate of pre-trial detention remained high in the country and stood at 75 per cent in May 2012; in order to reduce it, the Government in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, had organized in August 2012 a workshop for judges to examine the reasons behind this situation and measures that could be taken. The independence of the National Human Rights Commission was guaranteed by Article 152 of the Constitution; it was an A status institution according to the Paris Principles.

In 2008, the national strategy to combat violence against women had been adopted and as a result, the rate of female genital mutilation had been reduced from 12 per cent in 1996 to two per cent in 2012.

Togo had signed an agreement on judicial cooperation with Benin, Ghana and Nigeria with the objective of combating criminality and had launched a vast operation on improving conditions in prisons, which addressed sanitary conditions, free medical consultations and training of staff in criminal law, sociology, psychology and other subjects. In order to improve the health of detainees, the number of health staff had been increased in particularly overcrowded prisons; despite this measure, 41 deaths had been registered as of 8 November 2012, which indicated the need for further measures in this regard.

The Government recognized the legitimacy of civil society organizations and Togo had hosted in 2008 a joint mission of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs and the African Union which examined the situation of human rights defenders. Corporal punishment was prohibited in schools and in other public institutions, while the campaign “Learning without Fear” launched with the non-governmental organization Plan International, developing training curriculum for teachers on educational methods.

Further, specific programmes had been developed to combat trafficking and exploitation of children. There was no specific legislation in Togo dealing with terrorism, but this crime was included in the provisions of the Penal Code. Togo hoped it would enjoy further the support of the international community in its resolute walk towards the consolidation of democracy, the rule of law, and the full implementation of human rights and freedoms for its citizens.

Questions by Rapporteurs on Togo

ALESSIO BRUNI, Committee Rapporteur for the report of Togo, asked the delegation to provide more detained information on the content of the draft Criminal Law and the definition of torture it contained, particularly with regard to its alignment with the definition contained in Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This draft Law had been recently adopted by the Cabinet; what was the timeline for its full adoption and coming into force and until it happened, what were legal provisions at the disposal of judges to punish those responsible for acts of torture?

The Committee Rapporteur further asked about the specific rights of detainees contained in the Criminal Code; how complaints of torture and ill treatment were dealt with and what happened to detainees reporting such acts; and why the access to places of detention was difficult and what the Government intended to do to provide that access and to ensure that there were no secret places of detention. What was the Government doing to improve the detention conditions, which were described as horrendous in the report of the State party, and were largely a consequence of high rates of pre-trial detention?

Could the delegation comment on sanctions of 10 or 15 days suspension of officials who had been found guilty of medically proven acts of torture?

The Government should not wait too long to address some of the urgent issues concerning prisoners, such as increasing the amount and quality of food given to detainees, Mr. Bruni said. Out of the 14 prisons, nine were extremely overcrowded and urgent measures were needed to address this situation; in addition, the figures indicated unequal occupation rates between prisons. Togo stated that detention centers were regularly inspected and many national and international organizations were allowed to conduct scheduled and surprise visits; when did those visits occur and what were the recommendations stemming therein? What were the recommendations that Togo had received from the Special Rapporteur on torture who had visited the country in 2007, but had not been granted access to all the prisons, particularly in relation to the horrendous detention conditions and the cell size, which in come cases measured 1 meter by 1.5 meters?

Mr. Bruni congratulated Togo on ratifying the Optional Protocol and noted that efforts needed to be scaled up to ensure the implementation of the national preventive mechanism, which was already overdue.

What concrete measures were being taken to ensure the principle of non-refoulement of persons who might be tortured in their countries of origin and what mechanisms were in place to ensure that those persons were not deported? How were those found guilty of acts of torture punished, given that the current Penal Code was not sufficient to ensure adequate punishment?

ABDOULAYE GAYE, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the Report of Togo, asked about the laws in the country for asylum seekers and refugees, who were vulnerable to torture and needed international protection; the division of power and competence between the police and gendarmerie and the legal basis on which it was done; and the activities to ensure training of judges and lawyers about the provisions of the Istanbul Protocol?

Detention was one of the core issues that Togo needed to grapple with, said Mr. Gaye, and noted that the National Human Rights Commission was the body in charge of overseeing prisons; however, it seemed that the visits were only sporadic and that the Commission did not have the power to follow up on previous visits. The Committee Co-Rapporteur also asked about alternative measures to detention.

Turning to violence against women, particularly against female detainees, Mr. Gaye noted the very low rate of complaints and wondered whether that was due to the lack of reporting and a complaint mechanism. The Togolese courts did not seem to be in a position to hand down truly deterrent rulings for trafficking in children and minors.

Questions by other Committee Experts

Other Experts noted the complete break-down of the legal system in Togo, the widespread disfunctioning of its institutions and that most bills and laws were still waiting and were in their draft form; money and resources were not necessary to ensure protection from torture. Should Togo revisit the division of roles and responsibilities between institutions, which seemed to be at the origins of the break-down of the system?

Experts also noted that enforced disappearances and torture were closely linked and that the prevention of both crimes was crucial and asked for clarification between the three different police forces that existed in the country and how the complaint mechanism for torture functioned.

The delegation was also asked to provide information about some cases of punishment for acts of torture; the report of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission; training provided to medical staff for purposes of rehabilitation and compensation; and whether the training on violence against women provided to the police officers and prison guards referred only to female prisoners or could be extended to violence against women at home.

Another Expert asked about the steps taken to establish a juvenile justice system and to address overcrowding in prisons. Were any plans in place to ensure an increase in resources for the National Human Rights Commission and to put in place the complaints mechanism as prescribed by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture?

The Committee Vice-Chairperson said that States had an obligation not to torture and that this obligation had not been sufficiently respected in Togo. This was due to the lack of appropriate laws, the conditions of detention and the state of prison facilities, the lack of training of officials, and the violence and abuse against female detainees and children. The Committee was truly concerned about the developments; torture could not wait, said Ms. Belmir and asked what steps were being taken by Togo to address this situation.

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