38th session of the
Committee against Torture
Monday, 30 April 2007,
Palais Wilson First Floor Conference Room
Distinguished members of the Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to welcome you to Geneva and open the thirty-eighth session of the Committee against Torture.
Allow me to inform you of developments relating to the work of the Committee since your last session in November 2006.
Developments relating to human rights treaties and their monitoring bodies
Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture
The Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture established under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment held its first session in Geneva from 19 to 23 February 2007, and will began its work which will involve monitoring of places where persons may be deprived of their liberty. The Subcommittee elected its first Bureau, for a two-year term. The Chairperson is Ms. Silvia Casale, and the two Vice-Chairpersons are Mr. Rodriguez Rescia and Mr. Hans Draminsky Petersen. Since your last session, Brazil, Cambodia, Estonia, Liechtenstein, New Zealand and Slovenia have become parties to the Optional Protocol, bringing the total number of States parties to 34.
As you know, the wide-ranging body of human rights norms and standards has been enriched with the adoption of three new instruments.
International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
On 13 December 2006, the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, landmark instruments that set out the rights of some 650 million people worldwide. A signing ceremony for those instruments was held on 30 March 2007 in the General Assembly Hall at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Eighty-six States and the European Community have signed the Convention, and Jamaica has become the first State party to that treaty. Forty-seven States have signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
In direct relation to the work of your Committee, article 15 of the Convention contains specific references to the right of persons with disabilities to be free from torture or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
On 20 December 2006, the General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The treaty was open for signature in Paris on 6 February 2007 and thereafter at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Fifty-nine States have signed the Convention.
The Convention constitutes a step forward in the historical development of international law on the issue, and recognizes that, in certain circumstances, forced disappearance can be considered a crime against humanity. The Convention outlaws secret detention and requires that States hold all detainees in officially recognized places, maintain up-to-date official registers and detailed records of all detainees, allow them to communicate with their families and counsel, and give access to competent and authorized authorities.
These are all critical measures for preventing enforced disappearance, and for minimizing the risk of torture and death. The Convention also establishes the right of families to know the fate, and whereabouts, of relatives who have been detained.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva will support to the two independent monitoring mechanisms provided for by those new treaties.
I would also like to inform you that the Secretary-General has decided to transfer the responsibility for support of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has been transferred to OHCHR. CEDAW will therefore join all the other human rights treaty bodies and will begin to meet in Geneva as of 2008.
Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies
Since your last session, the Human Rights Council held its second, third and fourth sessions. It also held two special sessions: on the Israeli military incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in Northern Gaza and Beit Hanoun; and on the situation of human rights in Darfur.
The deadline by which the Council is expected to conclude its institution-building processes is now close at hand. Hence, during its fifth session, to be held from 11 to 18 June, the Council will focus on the establishment of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, and the review of all mandates and mechanisms inherited from the former Commission on Human Rights.
Follow-up to the Fifth Inter-Committee Meeting and Eighteenth Meeting of Chairpersons of Treaty Bodies and the Reform of Treaty Bodies
Turning now to the reform of treaty bodies, I would like to inform you that following the recommendations of the Fifth Inter-Committee Meeting and Eighteenth Meeting of Chairpersons of Treaty Bodies, the Working Group on reservations, attended by your colleague Mr. Guibril Camara, reconvened on 14 and 15 December 2006.
I am sure that Mr. Camara will provide you with details on the outcome of this meeting, including recommendations for the harmonization of working methods of treaty bodies vis-à-vis reservations in the list of issues and concluding observations.
The report of the working group will be submitted to the Sixth Inter-Committee Meeting and the Nineteenth Meeting of Chairpersons which will decide whether another meeting of the Working Group should be convened.
Finally, I would like to inform you that the International Law Commission will hold a discussion on reservations to human rights treaties with United Nations experts in the field of human rights from 15 to 16 May 2007 in Geneva. Invitations have been addressed to each treaty body to nominate a representative to attend the meeting.
Following the recommendations of the Fifth Inter-Committee Meeting and Eighteenth Meeting of Chairpersons of Treaty Bodies, a working group on the harmonization of the working methods of treaty bodies met from 27 to 28 November 2006 at Palais Wilson, Geneva. Participants included your colleague Ms. Felice Gaer. The Working Group outlined and discussed the proposals of their respective committees adopted in light of the High Commissioner’s proposal for the creation of a unified standing treaty body, and the concept paper elaborating that proposal. The Working Group also formulated preliminary points of agreement.
The second meeting of that Working Group was held from 19 to 20 April 2007. The Working Group proposed the establishment of a mechanism to strengthen the harmonization of the working methods of the treaty bodies. An advance unedited version of the report of the Working Group in English has been provided to you.
The Sixth Inter-Committee Meeting and the Nineteenth Meeting of Chairpersons will be held from 18 to 20 June 2007 and 21 to 22 June 2007 respectively. It is important that you nominate your representatives for the Inter Committee meeting during this session.
OHCHR country engagement strategies in support of treaty bodies
In conformity with the High Commissioner’s Plan of Action and Strategic Management Plan, the Office continues to engage in action at the country level, including with respect to the implementation of your recommendations.
In that context, and following a recommendation of the seventeenth meeting of chairpersons, the Office organized a seminar on technical cooperation and follow-up to Concluding Observations on 9 and 10 November 2006 in Geneva. The meeting was attended by treaty body and special procedures experts, members of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation, representatives of United Nations specialized agencies, and staff of OHCHR field presences. Participants discussed the format and the substance of Concluding Observations and their implementation at the national level. At the end of that seminar, recommendations were formulated on the respective role of the actors with a view to enhancing the impact of the treaty bodies at the country level. Ms. Sveaass of your Committee attended part of the meeting.
Current session of the Committee against Torture, including reporting obligations under article 19 of the Convention
Allow me to turn to your activities for the coming three weeks. You will have, as always, a heavy agenda with the consideration of seven reports, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine, and a large number of communications. In addition, you will also adopt lists of issues to be addressed to States parties whose reports will be examined next November.
Regarding reporting obligations under article 19 of the Convention, I wish to inform you that since your last session a further five reports have been received. Chile, Belgium, Israel, New Zealand and Slovakia have all submitted their periodic reports, bringing to 23 the total number of reports received and awaiting consideration.
The High Commissioner looks forward to hearing of your progress of the session, and any requirements that you might have to make it as effective as possible. At the same time, the staff of the Branch are ready to provide any assistance that you may require during the period that you are in Geneva, and of course, intersessionally.
Let me wish you a productive and successful session.
Thank you very much. I wish you the best of luck in the discharge of your important duties.