Header image for news printout

Address by the representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Simon Walker Chief, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, Human Rights Treaties Division at the Fifteenth Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

8 October 2015

Distinguished representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have the honour to open the Fifteenth Meeting of the States parties to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Allow me to convey the best wishes of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for a successful meeting.

Before moving to the first item of our agenda, let me take this opportunity to take stock of the Convention against Torture and its implementation.

Since your Fourteenth Meeting on 1 October 2013, the number of ratifications or accessions has increased from 153 to 158. This is a matter for satisfaction and reflects the international community’s continuing interest in advancing the goals and objectives of the Convention. At the same time, there is still some way to go toward reaching universal ratification.

Against this backdrop, the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI), a unique State-driven collaboration which aims to achieve universal ratification of the Convention within the next ten years, is timely. It is a substantial step forward in the battle to eradicate the devastating practice of torture.

It is worthwhile recalling the immediate objectives of this Initiative. These are: 1) to identify challenges and barriers to ratification and implementation of the Convention; 2) to address these obstacles through inter-State cooperation, assistance and dialogue; 3) to mobilise legal advice and technical assistance to governments at their request; and, 4) to build a global platform composed of States, the United Nations, national and international NGOs and experts to work jointly to achieve the CTI vision.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee against Torture have expressed their full support to this Initiative.

Distinguished representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

As you know, the work of the Committee against Torture is of great importance to supporting the ratification and implementation of the Convention against Torture.

Since the last States parties’ meeting in 2013, as part of its core-mandate, the Committee has considered reports submitted by 36States, adopting, in each case, concluding observations with a view to guiding States parties in their efforts to improve the implementation of the Convention at the national level.

The Committee has currently 17reports awaiting consideration, eight of which will be considered at the coming four and half week session in November.

Unfortunately, 28States that ratified the Convention have never submitted a report to the Committee, preventing the Committee from fulfilling its monitoring mandate. Other States, while having presented an initial report, have not—in some cases, for a decade or more—fulfilled their Convention obligation to submit a periodic report every 4 years.

In order to address this challenge, the Committee against Torture has pioneered a simplified reporting procedure, enabling States to submit more focused reports on time, thus fulfilling their reporting obligations in a timely and more effective manner. This practice was encouraged by the General Assembly in the context of the treaty body strengthening. At the same time, this procedure facilitates a more focused dialogue with the Committee, enhancing the Committee’s ability to identify specific areas in its concluding observations. I’m pleased to report that 88 States have accepted the simplified reporting procedure.

The Committee also has other key tools in order to assist the States in the effective implementation of the Convention.

Under article 22 the Committee is empowered to examine individual complaints alleging violations of the Convention by a State party. Since 1988, the Committee has registered 699 individual complaints concerning 35 States parties. Among those complaints, 197 were discontinued, 70were found inadmissible and final decisions on merits were issued for 272 resulting in the founding of violation of the Convention in 107 of them. The Committee has also developed a rich jurisprudence on a wide variety of issues including, for example, the absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment, the identification of practices that constitute torture, the prohibition on the use of evidence obtained through torture.

Regrettably, individuals from only 67 of the 158 States parties may submit complaints to the Committee as 91 States have not yet recognized its competence to receive complaints, thereby limiting the tools available to supervise full compliance with the Convention.

The Committee has also pursued its work relating to confidential inquiries under article 20 of the Convention. Out of the 158 States parties, 13 have declared that they do not recognize the competence of the Committee provided for by article 20 of the Convention. May I recall, in this connection, that under article 20, the Committee may establish confidential inquiries if it receives reliable information that torture is practiced systematically in a State party. As of today, the Committee has concluded nineinquiries and made public their results.

The Committee has continually made efforts to thoroughly explain and interpret specific articles of the Convention by issuing General Comments. At the moment, three General Comments have been issued concerning articles 2, 3 and 14 of the Convention. The General Comments clarify the expectations of States parties and stakeholders including civil society while implementing those provisions of the Convention. As a result, this clarification assists all stakeholders including States parties in understanding and complying with their obligations under the Convention. The Committee has also decided to start the revision of its General Comment N° 1 on article 3.

Finally, the Committee has been pursuing efforts to strengthen cooperation and coordination with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, regularly meeting with them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to turn now to the election. In this respect, let me recall the criteria contained in the Convention against Torture in relation to members and their qualifications.

Article 17, paragraph 1 states that:

“1. … The Committee shall consist of ten experts of high moral standing and recognized competence in the field of human rights, who shall serve in their personal capacity. The experts shall be elected by the States Parties, consideration being given to equitable geographical distribution and to the usefulness of the participation of some persons having legal experience”

It follows from the provisions of the Convention that States Parties should ensure that the Committee against Torture is composed of independent experts with recognized competence in the field of human rights, including legal experience and a high moral standing so as to enable the Committee to carry out its mandate effectively.

I should like to refer now to the provisional agenda of the Meeting, contained in document CAT/SP/15/1, and in particular to its item 2 entitled “Election of the Chairperson”.

Are there any nominations for the position of Chairperson of the Fifteenth Meeting of the States parties?

[Kyrgyzstan as the coordinator of Asian Group, the regional group having the Chairmanship of the meeting according to geographic rotation between regional groups, will nominate the Representative of the Republic of Iraq]

If there are no other nominations, may I take it that the meeting wishes to elect the Representative of the Republic of Iraq as its Chairperson by acclamation?

It is so decided. (gavel)

I call on the Representative of the Republic of Iraq to the podium.