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Statement by Jens Modvig, Chairperson, Committee against Torture at the 71st session of the General Assembly Third Committee, Item 68 (a & c)

18 October 2016
New York

Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Colleagues and friends,

The Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment represents one of the strongest tools we have in the global fight against torture. This places a special responsibility on the Committee against Torture to make best use of this tool. My address will provide an account of what the Committee has done in this respect in the past year.  

The crucial partners of the Committee are the 159 States who have become parties to the Convention. These States have committed to actively prevent torture, through legislation and even more, through implementing legal anti-torture framework in practice. This means, inter alia, that victims of torture may safely file a complaint about torture and be assured that the complaint will be investigated promptly, impartially and thoroughly, with no risk of violent repercussions, threats or intimidation.

It also implies that procedures and arrangements for holding and treating people deprived of their liberty have to be regularly reviewed by the State to ensure protection against torture. An effective implementation of fundamental legal safeguards such as the right to a lawyer, to medical examination and to inform relatives, has recently been highlighted by an important independent research project undertaken under the auspices of the Association for the Prevention of Torture as being the most effective measure to prevent torture and therefore reinforces prior finding of the Committee against Torture in that regard.

In general, the Committee has had constructive dialogues with most States parties to the Convention and provided recommendations about how to increase the protection against and the prevention of torture. However, 28 States have never submitted a report to the Committee, violating their obligations and preventing the Committee from fulfilling its monitoring mandate. Seven States, while having presented an initial or a periodic report, have not reported to the Committee for more than a decade, despite their obligation to submit a report every 4 years.

To ensure that a constructive dialogue on prevention of torture can still be established, the Committee has decided to undertake reviews of States Parties in the absence of an initial report. At the same time, the Committee also benefits from the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) led by States . Not only does the CTI aim to achieve universal ratification of the Convention within the next ten years, it also on a peer to peer basis supports and encourages non-reporting states to live up to their reporting obligations.

An important initiative of the Committee against Torture to ease the reporting obligation of States parties is the simplified reporting procedure, which was spearheaded by the Committee and now adopted by many other treaty bodies. The simplified reporting procedure has now been agreed to by 92 States parties to the Convention. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the remaining States parties to the Convention to agree to this procedure.

An overall process, which has markedly influenced the Committee and its work, is the Treaty Body Strengthening process. Within the Committee, our procedures are under constant scrutiny and review to develop more effective and efficient ways to undertake our work. Between the ten treaty bodies, exchange of best practices takes place to streamline procedures – during the yearly meeting of chairpersons as well as during meetings between Committees. This year, in addition to the close collaboration with the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, the Committee met with the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which was of a significant value.

The Committee also has other key tools in order to carry out its task of assisting the States in the effective implementation of the Convention.

For the third time since its creation, the Committee requested a special report. This request was addressed to Burundi on the basis of information provided by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Under-Secretary General-Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and numerous NGOs reports on the attacks against the opposition. Burundi submitted its special report and a delegation headed by the Justice Minister attended the first half of the dialogue with the Committee. However, for the first time since the establishment of the Committee, the delegation did not attend the second half of the dialogue arguing that the review was based on non-shared NGOs reports; went beyond the issues covered by the special report and did not permit enough time to reply. The Committee dismissed those accusations while providing the opportunity to the State party to provide its written replies and stressing its wish to continue the dialogue in particular in the context of its follow-up procedure to the Concluding Observations adopted on Burundi at the end of the July-August 2016 session.

An update of the Committee’s follow-up procedure to Concluding Observations now encourages States Parties to submit to the Committee a plan for the implementation of the recommendations issued by the Committee. This is intended to strengthen implementation through an offer to States parties to continue the constructive dialogue with the Committee also in the time between the periodic reporting.   

Article 22 of the Convention provides the Committee with the competence to review individual complaints alleging violation of the Convention by a State party. Since 1988, the Committee has registered 770 individual complaints (as of 15 September 2016) concerning 35 States parties. Among those complaints, 217 were discontinued, 82 were found inadmissible, and final decisions on the merits were issued for 296, which resulted in findings of Convention violations in 120 of them. There is a current backlog of 175 complaints pending before the Committee. The Committee is giving priority to review all communications ready for review, but it is vitally important that the Secretariat be provided with additional staff resources to assist the Committee in this crucial matter.

Unfortunately, individuals from only 66 of the 158 States parties have the possibility to submit complaints to the Committee as 89 States have not yet made the declaration recognizing this competence of the Committee, thereby limiting the tools available to supervise full compliance with the Convention.

The Committee has also been issuing General Comments on specific articles of the Convention to provide detailed explanations on the interpretation of those articles. At the moment, three General Comments were issued concerning articles 2, 3, and 14 of the Convention. Those General Comments help to clarify what is expected from the States parties while implementing those provisions of the Convention, thereby further assisting them in complying with their obligations. I am pleased to inform you that since its July-August 2015 session, the Committee has embarked on the revision of its General Comment No. 1 on article 3.

With reference to inquiries, upon receipt of allegations of systematic practice of torture in a State party, the Committee also has the mandate to institute a confidential inquiry in the State party. The Committee has undertaken nineof these inquiries, and is presently considering other inquiries. 14 States parties regretfully have not recognized the Committee’s competence in this regard, thereby barring this further means to protect against and prevent torture and ill-treatment.

I call upon all States that have not ratified the Convention to do so and to those that are already a party to it to accept all the procedures of the Convention, in order to enable the Committee to achieve the full extent of its mandate.

While the States Parties to the Convention are our crucial partners, the Committee relies on a close collaboration with civil society organizations, national human rights institutions, national preventive mechanisms and many other actors. In that regard, it is essential that all those cooperating with the Committee and more broadly all those contributing to the fight against torture, especially civil society actors, be protected from reprisals.

The Committee, together with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Torture who are both represented here today, are key actors in the fight against torture. As the United Nations anti-torture mechanisms, we are joined by a fourth key actor, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. The Committee against Torture will strive to make the collaboration among these four actors stronger and more effective in combatting torture.

As has hopefully been apparent, the Committee is constantly seeking to strengthen its working methods to promote full implementation of the Convention. In that context, the Committee is fully supportive of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their full implementation bearing in mind the fact that not only do they aim to end violence and torture but also are universal and indivisible and that all goals must be implemented for all people in all countries. Allow me to conclude by reminding us all that torture is arguably the cruellest and most brutal of all human rights violations – it destroys the victims’ life by means of suffering and pain. It is an obligation of all of us to prevent it from happening and to provide redress to those who were tortured because their State failed to protect them against this crime.