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Compliance of Antigua and Barbuda with the Convention against Torture reviewed in the absence of a report and a delegation

GENEVE (25 July 2017) - The Committee against Torture today considered Antigua and Barbuda’s implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in the absence of a report and a delegation.

In his opening remarks, Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, noted that the initial report of Antigua and Barbuda was 23 years overdue and that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda had been notified in 2016 that the Committee would proceed with the review in the absence of a report.

Committee Experts noted that reviewing a State party in the absence of a report and in the absence of a delegation was particularly sensitive because efforts would be in vain.  Even if it appeared that the State party did not exercise torture, it still had to submit reports to the Committee - the lack of respect of Antigua and Barbuda for this obligation questioned the nature of its dialogue with the Committee.  Experts raised the issue of the abolition of the death penalty, definition of torture and the contents of the 1993 Suppression of Torture Act, as well as the provisions on state of emergency and the lack of respect for the principle of non-discrimination.  They also addressed the issues of the length of custody and the rights of detainees to legal counsel, increase in the use of pre-trial detention, prison overcrowding and lack of adequate living conditions in detention places, and the deficiencies in the juvenile justice system.  Experts mentioned other issues of concern including detention of vulnerable migrants, violation of the principle of non-refoulement, and the continued use of corporal punishment, and inquired about the readiness of the State party to recognize the competence of the Committee to receive individual communications and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention. 

In his concluding remarks and in the absence of any communication from the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, Mr. Modvig invited the State party to submit written replies to the questions posed by Committee Experts within 48 hours, and encouraged the State party to enter into dialogue with the Committee.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday 26 July, at 10 a.m., to consider the seventh periodic report of Paraguay (CAT/C/PRY/7).

Opening Remarks

JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, noted that the initial report of Antigua and Barbuda was 23 years overdue and that the Committee had reminded the State party that it could undergo the simplified reporting procedure.  In 2016 the Committee had notified the Government of Antigua and Barbuda that it would proceed with its review in the absence of a report and had offered the State party a possibility of participating via a video conference. 

The Committee then proceeded with the review of the implementation of the Convention by Antigua and Barbuda in the absence of a report and a delegation.

Presentation by the Country Co-Rapporteurs

SÉBASTIEN TOUZÉ, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Antigua and Barbuda, said that it was particularly sensitive when the Committee reviewed a State party in the absence of a report and in the absence of a delegation because efforts would be in vain.  Even if it appeared that the State party did not exercise torture, it still had to submit reports to the Committee - the lack of respect of Antigua and Barbuda for this obligation questioned the nature of its dialogue with the Committee, while its silence was not a positive sign, said Mr. Touzé.  The Committee had previously recommended to Antigua and Barbuda to seek technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which the Government had accepted - why the Government had not upheld the accepted obligations?  It was not just due to the lack of material and financial resources, he remarked. 

The Committee needed to know the legal grounds and statistics in order to assess the implementation of the Convention at the national level, said the Country Rapporteur and wondered whether the State party planned to abolish the death penalty.  As for the definition of torture, there was some lack of clarity and some concepts were not even covered, while the prohibited grounds for discrimination were not mentioned in the national legislation.  Were there any plans to review the national law in order to address that gap?  There was just one punishment for acts of torture – imprisonment for life.  

The contents of the 1993 Suppression of Torture Act were surprising, whereas the Code of Criminal Procedures did not cover acts of torture.  There was also no mention of the competence of judges to examine acts of torture committed outside the country.  The Committee needed the confirmation that all arrests were carried out on legitimate and legal grounds.  The length of custody was 48 hours, but a number of reports indicated that custody regularly exceeded 48 hours without any justification.  As for the legal assistance, it seemed that it could only be offered in some cases, such as murder, while such legal assistance should also be offered to victims of acts of torture. 

When it came to pre-trial detention, there was a significant delay in dealing with the many criminal cases due to the lack of judges; such a situation was worrying as it led to an increase in pre-trial detention.   Several reports mentioned police violence against people who were arrested and detained.   There was a need to establish guarantees to ensure that authorities conducting police work were fully independent.

As for the prison overcrowding, the State party had only one prison, leading to unacceptable detention conditions and a lack of specific areas for women and minors.  Several reports indicated violence among inmates and the lack of basic services.  Had the State party provided access to healthcare, specific environment for inmates with mental problems, training programmes for detainees, complaints system, and practical and legal measures in case of protracted detention?  The juvenile justice system was based on the Law on Minors, which defined those aged 14 to 18 as young persons, and minors were tried in the same courts as adults.  Could the age of criminal responsibility be amended? 

On corporal punishment, Mr. Touzé noted that Antigua and Barbuda needed legislation clearly prohibiting this practice in all settings.  There had been many cases of impunity for violence against women, especially sexual violence.  The State party was both a country of transit and destination for victims of human trafficking; a law on the prevention of trafficking in persons had been adopted in 2010 but, there had been no prosecutions.  What measures had been taken to establish an official procedure to identify victims of trafficking?

The National Institute for the Protection of Human Rights had limited resources for the exercise of its mandate.  Had the State party made the necessary changes to recognize its rightful role?  As for the detention of vulnerable migrants, did the State change measures on asylum seekers in line with the principle of non-refoulement?

ALESSIO BRUNI, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Antigua and Barbuda, said that the reporting delay of 23 years constituted a serious obstacle and he appealed to the Government to implement faithfully the Committee’s concluding observations.  Mr. Bruni underlined that the definition of torture in the 1993 Suppression of Torture Act was not in line with the Convention, noting that the State party should revise it.  As for the prevention of torture, Mr. Bruni wondered whether the Office of the Ombudsman was well equipped to deal with complaints, and urged the Government to provide it with adequate financial and human resources. 

Speaking about the principle of non-refoulement, Mr. Bruni reminded that in its March 2011 report, the United Nations Refugee Agency noted that Antigua and Barbuda had not enacted laws and regulations containing a clause that no person could be expelled to a country where there were substantial grounds for subjection to torture.  In 2015, the International Organization for Migration criticized the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for its decision not to accept any more refugees, after ten Syrian refugees had been admitted to the country.  The United Nations Refugee Agency also expressed concern about the practice of detaining of migrants and asylum seekers with valid identity documents.  Did the authorities envisage alternatives to the detention of migrants? 

As for the training of public officers dealing with asylum seekers, did they have the training to implement the Convention provisions?  Concerning the conditions in places of detention, there was only one prison in Antigua and Barbuda and at the end of 2014, the number of inmates was more than double the capacity.  Living conditions in prison were awful according to multiple reliable sources - what measures did the Government plan to take to radically change those unfavourable prison conditions?  Where were juvenile prisoners detained at the moment?  The country needed another penal institution focused on persons below the age of 25.   The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the arrest of children only be used a measure of last resort, Mr. Bruni concluded.  

Questions by Experts

One Expert was puzzled that Antigua and Barbuda had managed to report to all other treaty bodies and had not managed to submit its initial report to the Committee against Torture for 23 years.  It was very difficult to assess the situation without a report and the delegation present.  A series of laws had been adopted by Antigua and Barbuda, but no data was available to indicate whether anyone had ever been charged under those laws.  The submission of disaggregated data on the prison population would help the Committee assess the implementation of the State party’s obligations.  The Expert cited the example of the establishment of a unit on sexual abuse of children and women within Antigua and Barbuda’s police.  What happened with identified cases of rape by police officers?  Was it a practice that those charged went back to their jobs? 

Corporal punishment of children was another issue raised by Experts.  They reminded that the replies previously provided by the Government of Antigua and Barbuda on similar issues, such as the same-sex consensual relations, postponed action.  Was the State party in a position to change opinions of persons in legislature?     

On the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and persons with HIV/AIDS, Experts reminded that the stigmatization of HIV positive persons was a significant problem, but that it had decreased among police forces due to sensitivity training. 

Certain articles of the Antigua and Barbuda’s Constitution were problematic; the provisions on state of emergency allowed for setting aside the principle of non-discrimination, distinction between nationals and foreigners, and imposed restrictions on the right of migrants.  There was a lack of respect for the principle of non-discrimination and Antigua and Barbuda had a great deal to do in order to bring national legislation in line with international standards.  For example, the national law allowed the police to arrest suspects without a warrant and the police often abused that provision, with civil society reporting that detainees were frequently held without charges.  Was the State party ready to recognize the competence of the Committee to receive individual communications and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention?        

JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, in light of the lack of basic services in the country’s only prison, which led to the outbreaks of diseases, inquired about the right of persons to receive healthcare services in prison.  Rehabilitation classes had been cancelled because teachers did not want to go back to the prison fearing the risk of disease.  Had additional doctors and nurses been allocated to the prison’s health service?  Had they received training on early identification of torture?  Was there a routine examination in place for newly arrived prisoners?  Were judges trained about refuting evidence gathered under torture?  Had the State party received any complaints of torture and had it investigated any such cases?

Concluding Remarks

JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, encouraged and invited the Government of Antigua and Barbuda to take the offered opportunity and to answer Experts’ questions via a video conference, or alternatively, to submit its written replies within 48 hours.  Those replies would be taken into account in the preparation of the Committee’s concluding observations, he said.

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