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Human Rights Council begins Interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Council 
AFTERNOON

4 March 2013

The Human Rights Council this afternoon began its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on human rights defenders.

Introducing his report, Juan E. Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said that the report was focused on certain forms of abuse in health-care settings and shed light on often undetected forms of abusive practices under the auspices of health-care policies.  Certain treatments might cross a threshold of mistreatment that was tantamount to torture or cruel or inhuman treatment.  Mr. Mendez also referred to his visits to Tajikistan, Morocco, and Uruguay; and recommended a comprehensive legal study on the emergence of a customary norm prohibiting the use of the death penalty under all circumstances.

Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, introducing her report, said that national institutions complying with the Paris Principles were, in themselves, human rights defenders and played a vital role in offering protection, if needed.  The Special Rapporteur discussed her visits to Honduras, Tunisia and Ireland, and expressed concern about the arrests of human rights defenders in the Gulf region and in Iran, and regarding cases of reprisals against those cooperating with United Nations and other human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review.

Speaking as concerned countries were Tajikistan, Morocco, Ireland, Honduras and Tunisia and the national human rights institutions from Morocco and Ireland also addressed the Council as concerned parties.

At the end of the meeting, Bahrain, Mauritania and Nepal spoke in right of reply.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work on Tuesday, 5 March, at 9 a.m., when it will continue with its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on human rights defenders.  This will be followed with a clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/22/53); an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture concerning his visit to Tajikistan (A/HRC/22/53/Add.1); an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture concerning his visit to Morocco (A/HRC/22/53/Add.2); addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture concerning the follow-up to country missions (A/HRC/22/53/Add.3); and an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on torture concerning observations on communications (A/HRC/22/53/Add.4) and  A/HRC/22/53/Add.5

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/22/47); an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders concerning her mission to Honduras (A/HRC/22/47/Add.1); an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders concerning her mission to Tunisia (A/HRC/22/47/Add.2), an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders concerning her mission to Ireland (A/HRC/22/47/Add.3); and an addendum to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders concerning observations on communications (A/HRC/22/47/Add.4).

Presentation of the Reports on Torture and on Human Rights Defenders

JUAN E. MENDEZ, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, introducing his report, said that the report focused on certain forms of abuse in health-care settings that may cross a threshold of mistreatment that was tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  The report shed light on often undetected forms of abusive practices under the auspices of health-care policies; and it also identified the scope of the State’s obligation to control and supervise health-care practices with a view to preventing mistreatment.  States were called upon to close compulsory drug detention and so-called rehabilitation centres without delay and to implement voluntary, evidence-based, and rights-based health and social services.  States should ensure that women had access to emergency medical care, including post-abortion care, without fear of criminal penalties or reprisals.  States should adopt a human rights-based approach to drug control as a matter of priority, to prevent the continuing violations of rights stemming from the current approach to curtailing supply and demand.  States should revise legal provisions that allowed detention on mental health grounds or in mental health facilities, and any coercive intervention or treatments in the mental health setting without the free and informed consent by the persons concerned.  Minority and marginalised groups and individuals should be afforded special protection. 

Concerning his country visits, Mr. Mendez indicated that Tajikistan had undergone significant developments and introduced encouraging changes in the normative framework, but significant gaps in legislation, policies and law-enforcement practices remained.  In Morocco, a culture of human rights was emerging; however, with regard to the present situation, it was regrettable that senior authorities generally denied that torture still occurred today.  Concern was also expressed about the rise in reported violence, including sexual violence, and other forms of ill-treatment by security forces, particularly against sub-Saharan migrants.  The Special Rapporteur called on the Government of Uruguay to strengthen the reform of the juvenile criminal justice system, where progress had not advanced thus far.  There was evidence of an evolving standard within international bodies and a robust State practice to frame the debate about the legality of the death penalty within the concept of the fundamental concepts of human dignity and the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  Mr. Mendez recommended carrying out a more comprehensive legal study on the emergence of a customary norm prohibiting the use of the death penalty under all circumstances.

MARGARET SEKAGGYA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, said that national human rights institutions were uniquely able to guide Governments on human rights obligations and to ensure that international human rights principles and standards were adequately incorporated into national law and mainstreamed.  National institutions complying with the Paris Principles were, in themselves, human rights defenders; and they played a vital role in offering protection, if needed, when they had a robust and broad mandate and the resources to operate independently.  Challenges reported included their mandate, the selection and composition of staff, conditions of tenure and availability of resources.  It was recommended that their staff should be protected by law when discharging their functions and that they counted with formal complaint measures with powers to investigate.  Governments must be responsive to their recommendations and ensure adequate follow-up and implementation, promptly and effectively, and follow-up should be tracked and evaluated.

Discussing her country visits, Ms. Sekaggya said that human rights defenders in Honduras faced many and serious challenges, and called on the Government to swiftly enact protective legislation and to ensure full accountability for violations.  Concerning Tunisia, the latest draft of the Constitution included many recommendations offered, although the security situation and limitations on freedom of expression was concerning.  In Ireland, the authorities were open and supportive to the defence and promotion of human rights, though there were challenges for those working in certain areas.  Ms. Sekaggya was particularly concerned about the arrest of human rights defenders in the Gulf region, as well as in Iran, and recent legislative developments in Egypt which were not conducive to the rights of peaceful assembly and association.  It was commendable that authorities in the Philippines had taken steps to improve the security situation following the killing of activists, but more engagement was needed.  In Latin America, investigations into violations against human rights defenders were excessively protracted and perpetrators were rarely made accountable.  Cases of reprisals against human rights defenders, who had cooperated with United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms, including the Council and its Universal Periodic Review, were of concern.  These acts were unacceptable and perpetrators must be held accountable, a related trend of profound concern was the criminalisation of interaction and information sharing with international bodies.

Statements by Concerned Parties

Tajikistan, speaking as a concerned country, said that the prevention of torture had been enshrined in its Constitution.  National legislation had been strengthened and brought closer in line with the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  Tajikistan had ratified relevant international instruments for the prevention of torture and cruel treatment and had established a Working Group to provide training on torture prevention to law-enforcement officers and officers of the court.  Detention centres were equipped with closed circuit cameras and the budget for the prison system had seen a six-fold increase since 2004.  The function of the national preventive mechanism was carried out by the Ombudsmen.  There were a few inaccuracies in the report of the Special Rapporteur and Tajikistan had provided comments in this regard.

Morocco, speaking as a concerned country, said that Morocco had acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the national dialogue preceding this decision took place over a five-year period in order to ensure that best possible solutions were found.  Morocco was committed to forging good relationships with civil society organizations for the implementation of the recommendations from its Universal Periodic Review, treaty bodies and Special Procedures, and was considering the adoption of a national plan to this end.

National Human Rights Commission of Morocco, speaking as a concerned party, welcomed the dialogue initiated with the Special Rapporteur, who had identified challenges to ensure that national practices were in accordance with international standards, including on the definition of torture in national legislation.  The National Human Rights Commission of Morocco welcomed the commitment of the Government to incorporate recommendations from the treaty bodies and Special Procedures into its strategic plan for the Universal Periodic Review.  The Government should accelerate the ratification of the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol; and should start an inclusive consultation process with stakeholders for the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism and the National Action Plan for the Prevention of Torture.

Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, said that it had taken note of the recommendations submitted by the Special Rapporteur.  Honduras had taken many steps at the domestic and international level in order to strengthen its legal framework; and had made significant progress in relation to the draft bill for the protection of human rights defenders, justice officials, and journalists.  The broad process of discussion and preparation of a draft bill had culminated with an event for human rights defenders, which aimed, among other things, at raising awareness.  Honduras agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the human rights situation in the country was tricky and that there were still important challenges to tackle; however, this should not detract from the efforts made to address human rights issues.      

Tunisia, speaking as a concerned country, said that it had taken note of the recommendations in the report of the Special Rapporteur.  Tunisia was going through a historic transition towards greater freedom and dignity and was strongly committed to democracy.  The role of human rights defenders was of paramount importance and the drafting of a new Constitution, which guaranteed freedoms, was currently underway.  Many of the concerns which had been expressed by the Special Rapporteur had been discussed at length and the new Constitution ensured equality between men and women.  Reforms were currently underway in all areas and required patience to materialize.  Tunisia had launched exhaustive investigations concerning crimes committed against human rights defenders during and after the revolution.   

Ireland, speaking as a concerned country, said that the new Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission would be a keystone in the promotion and protection of human rights in Ireland.  It would count with as wide as possible a mandate and with enhanced powers and functions so that it was unequivocally in compliance with the Paris Principles.  Ireland placed utmost importance on compliance with its obligations arising from international treaties.  Concerning protests and demonstrations over environmental issues surrounding the development of the Corrib Gas Project, Ireland said that out of the 85 individual allegations of misconduct by the members of the Gardai, or Irish police force, no charges had been brought by the independent Director of Public Prosecutions.  The allegations concerning this project should be clearly based on facts and arrived at on the basis of a careful investigation.

Irish Human Rights Commission, speaking as a concerned party in a video statement, welcomed the attention paid to institutional defenders and the importance given by the Special Rapporteur to the creation of a strong and independent national human rights institutions through the merger of the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission.  Ireland should ratify all the European Union human rights treaties and develop a National Human Rights Plan.  The Irish Human Rights Commission echoed the calls of the Special Rapporteur concerning complaints regarding prisons and the police; and with regards to the situation of travellers, calling on the Government to recognize travellers as a minority group.  All States should establish or strengthen independent national institutions so that they might offer their independent views to the Human Rights Council.

Right of Reply

Bahrain, speaking in a right of reply concerning the statement made by Switzerland on Article 2 of report of the Special Rapporteur, said that the statement was unjustified and was not objective.  The report itself did not refer specifically to Bahrain and, therefore, Bahrain rejected the statement and stressed that it had warmly welcomed the High Commissioner’s representative last December.  That statement was not commensurate with the measures which had been taken by Bahrain to ensure the freedom of assembly and other rights in the country.  Moreover, Bahrain stressed that appeals were possible for those individuals whose citizenship had been removed.  Bahrain looked forward to welcoming the High Commissioner in the country.     

Mauritania, speaking in a right of reply concerning the statement of a non-governmental organization about slavery in Mauritania, said that slavery was no longer institutionalized in Mauritania, although remains of that practice might still be traceable in the country.  An anti-slavery law was being applied and proven cases of slavery were dealt with in the country’s courts, and several presumed cases of slavery were currently under trial.  The politicization of slavery in Mauritania should be avoided.  

Nepal, speaking in a right of reply concerning the remarks made by a non-governmental organization in relation to the situation of refugees, said that Nepal had welcomed a large number of refugees and respected their rights.  The Nepalese territory would not be used for hostile acts towards its neighbours.

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For use of the information media; not an official record