New York, 20 October 2015
Colleagues and friends,
On 10 December 1984, the United Nations General Assembly expressed its desire “to make more effective the struggle against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the world” (preamble of the United Nations Convention against Torture) by the adoption of the Convention against Torture.
This unique treaty provides the most comprehensive and potentially global protection against torture and ill-treatment. The principles it contains remain highly relevant today: torture is a crime. It is never allowed nor justified, not even in times of war or in the fight against terrorism; those who commit the crime of torture will be held accountable, anywhere; and victims of torture have the right to rehabilitation and redress.
The Convention clearly sets out the various steps that States must take to combat and prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For example, States must adapt their legislation to include the definition of torture; criminalize, investigate and punish acts of torture, taking into account its grave nature; prohibit the use of evidence extracted under torture; prohibit the phenomenon of refoulement; protect victims of torture and provide them and their families adequate redress; and educate law enforcement officials with a view to preventing torture.
This treaty’s relevance is poignantly evident amid the surging mass migrations around the world. The Convention’s language is clear: the principle of non-refoulement is absolute. This crucial principle applies to all, even people who may not qualify as refugees or asylum seekers. States must separately assess the risk of torture and refrain from deporting anyone to a place where he or she would be at risk of torture. We must protect, not victimize or re-victimize, individuals made vulnerable.
Since the adoption and entry into force of the Convention against Torture, much has been achieved, but much more must still be done.
As reflected in this year’s annual report to the General Assembly, the work of the Committee against Torture has been of great importance in supporting the ratification and implementation of the Convention.
As of today, 158 States have ratified the Convention and 384 reports were submitted, among which 362 were examined by the Committee, which as a result adopted as many concluding observations identifying challenges in States parties regarding the implementation of the Convention and giving recommendations for improvements.
28 States have never submitted a report to the Committee, violating their obligations and preventing the Committee from fulfilling its monitoring mandate. 8 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.
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.
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 699 individual complaints concerning 35 States parties. Among those complaints, 197 were discontinued, 70 were found inadmissible, and final decisions on the merits were issued for 272, which resulted in findings of Convention violations in 107 of them. There is a current backlog of 160 complaints pending before the Committee. 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. And I am pleased to inform you that at its July-August 2015 session, the Committee decided to revise 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. Unfortunately, 13 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.
The Committee has been also actively engaged in the treaty body strengthening process. In June 2015, the Committee participated in the twenty-seventh meeting of chairpersons of the human rights treaty bodies in San José, where the Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals were endorsed. Furthermore, the Committee recently adopted guidelines on the receipt and handling of allegations of reprisals against individuals and organizations cooperating with the Committee.
The Committee is also constantly improving its working methods with a view to facilitating States parties’ compliance with their treaty obligations.
The Committee against Torture has been a pioneer in the creation of a simplified reporting procedure, enabling States to submit fewer and more focused reports as encouraged by the General Assembly in the context of the treaty body strengthening process. At the same time, this procedure further enables the Committee to formulate more concise, focused, and concrete concluding observations, which, in turn, assists States parties with their implementation of the Convention.
In follow up to its November 2014 two-day retreat on its working methods, the Committee adopted guidelines for the follow-up to concluding observations.
The Committee is still facing the challenge of its backlog of pending individual complaints. Due to this backlog, for which the Committee was provided with additional meeting time as an outcome of the treaty body strengthening process and the absence of sufficient reports, the Committee will give priority to communications. It will give additional time to communications as of its 56th session (9 November-9 December 2015) and is expecting a higher number of decisions on communications per session At the same time, it is vitally important that the Secretariat be provided with additional staff resources to assist the Committee in this crucial matter.
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 a key and timely development.
The CTI provides a platform to the various actors in the fight against torture to discuss the various challenges encountered by the States parties when ratifying and implementing the Convention. The Committee against Torture fully supports this initiative and encourages all States to join the CTI.
Let me conclude by highlighting the fact that the Convention’s implementation is only as strong as the network of stakeholders prepared to work to improve human rights performance on the ground. The courts, civil society organizations, national human rights institutions, OHCHR and UN agencies, funds, programmes and country teams, United Nations and national anti-torture mechanisms, as well as Parliamentary and Inter-Ministerial human rights committees, all play an important role in moving treaties and recommendations of treaty bodies forward to full realization.
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. The Committee is constantly seeking to strengthen even further its working methods to address the challenges that hinder full implementation of the Convention. Allow me to conclude by reiterating that our fellow human beings deserve nothing less than full realization of the Convention against Torture. Thirty-one years ago, the members of this institution agreed to adopt the Convention based on the shared understanding that the prohibition against torture and ill-treatment is integral to human dignity. It is up to us to work even harder to fulfil this objective.