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Committee against Torture opens its fifty-first session

Committee against Torture

28 October 2013

The Committee against Torture this morning opened its fifty-first session, hearing a statement by the Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and adopting its agenda. 
James Heenan, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, extended his congratulations to two Committee members who had been re-elected – Essadia Belmir and Alession Bruni - and thanked three outgoing members who had not run for re-election – Fernando Marino Menendez, Nora Sveaass, and Xuexian Wang.
Mr. Heenan said the Committee had always been a strong supporter of the treaty body strengthening process.  The five key principles for a successful outcome of the treaty body strengthening process were: strengthened human rights protection, respect of the independence of the treaty body system, reinvestment of any cost savings in the treaty body system, use of modern technologies to enhance the accessibility of treaty bodies, and a comprehensive and sustainable response to the challenges faced by the treaty body system.  The leadership of the Committee against Torture in that aspect was impressive, as the Committee had adopted most of the recommendations made by the High Commissioner in her report.  Until now, eight treaty bodies had adopted the Addis Ababa Guidelines on the independence and impartiality of members of the human rights treaty bodies as they presented an effective means of self-regulation of treaty body members and an appropriate way to preserve their independence and impartiality.  The Committee’s implementation of the simplified reporting procedure – realised through “lists of issues prior to reporting” – was also commendable.  The Human Rights Treaty Division was encouraging the Committee to consider the terminology “simplified reporting procedure” for that procedure, and to consider adopting related guidelines. 
With regard to the important issue of reprisals, Mr. Heenan said the Committee had responded with notable swiftness, and had already established two rapporteurs on reprisals as well as a dedicated web link on the Committee’s website, where the latest letters of the rapporteur were posted, as well as the responses of the States parties.  The Committee was encouraged to adopt public and clear guidelines to reinforce that mechanism to strengthen the protection of those who cooperated with the Committee against all kinds of intimidation, irrespective of whether they were human rights defenders, non-governmental organizations, individual citizens or victims of torture.
Mr. Heenan said the treaty body strengthening process continued to progress.  Since the Committee had met the last time, the former co-facilitators of the process had issued a report on the open-ended intergovernmental process to conduct open, transparent and inclusive negotiations on how to strengthen and enhance the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system.  A quasi-procedural resolution had been presented in September, requesting the Secretary-General to prepare a comprehensive and detailed cost assessment of the draft elements by 15 November 2013, and extending the inter-governmental process until February 2014.  There was a hope that the Member States would be able to reach a comprehensive agreement in February and grant additional regular budget resources to enable the treaty bodies to address their backlog in a sustainable manner, to deal with the growing number of reports from States parties, and to discharge fully their respective mandates.
The Human Rights Council, in its resolution on the rehabilitation of torture victims (A/HRC/RES/22/21), adopted in March 2013, not only welcomed the Committee’s General Comment No. 3, but incorporated most of its elements.  The Human Rights Treaties Division stood ready to continue to support the Committee fully, in spite of various limitations. The Division was hopeful that at the Committee’s following session in May 2014, the Committee would be able to work within the context of a comprehensive outcome adopted by the General Assembly.
Claudio Grossman, the Chairperson of the Committee, thanked Mr. Heenan for his comments, and said that the Committee would consider, with due respect, all the recommendations by the Human Rights Treaties Division.  He extended his congratulations to the newly elected members as well as the outgoing members. 
An Expert asked about the details of the work of the Groups in Focus Section.  The Committee had not followed the recommendations of the treaty bodies strengthening system, but rather it had invented it and led the whole process.  The Committee had put into practice the “list of issues prior to reporting” and had been a pioneer in a number of issues.  The Expert also asked about the view of the High Commissioner and the Human Rights Treaties Division on the issue of norms and progressive interpretation.
Mr. Heenan agreed that the Committee had indeed led the way in many respects, and inspired many others to do the same.  The Groups in Focus Section focused on providing support to treaty bodies dealing with women, children, migrant workers and persons with disabilities.  Regarding the progressive interpretation, General Comments were meant to be the authoritative guidance for States parties and were to be seen as expanding the meaning of the articles. 
Mr. Grossman stressed that the Committee was benefiting from consistent efforts of the Human Rights Treaties Division.  The issues of resources were known to everyone, especially the issue of translation, which conspired against the ability of the Committee to act efficiently, and were becoming a sort of a “chronic illness”.   All the members of the Committee were volunteers, who had other professional responsibilities, and the fact that their meetings were frequently rescheduled was affecting the Committee’s work.  An important precondition for the prevention to torture was to act in a consistent manner, which was not always the case because the Committee was facing serious challenges due to various administrative obstacles.   
During the session, the Committee will consider the reports of Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Poland, Latvia, Poland, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Portugal, Andorra and Kyrgyzstan.  The session will conclude on Friday, 22 November.
The Committee will meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon to start its consideration of the report of Mozambique (CAT/C/MOZ/1).

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