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Committee against Torture meets with Non-Governmental Organizations

24 April 2015

The Committee against Torture met with non-governmental organizations and civil society representatives this morning to discuss their contribution to the realization of the goals laid down in the Convention against Torture and working methods in general.

Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee, spoke about the great value the Committee placed on the contributions of civil society, both from the non-governmental organizations working here in Geneva and the non-governmental organizations working in countries all over the world. The contributions were essential in helping enrich the Committee’s understanding of the situation in countries and as sources of information during the interactive dialogues with States. He spoke about their role in follow-up procedures, visiting places of detention and providing alerts about potential violations of the Convention. He emphasized that the Committee took a zero tolerance approach to reprisals.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations raised a number of issues and made several recommendations to the Committee. Subjects discussed included ways to strengthen follow-up procedures, non-reporting States, and the vulnerability of persons with disabilities to torture. Several representatives highlighted the great value of the live webcasts of the Committee’s public meetings at www.treatybodywebcast.org, which was provided by a coalition of non-governmental organizations. The Committee was asked to consider holding a dialogue, via video link, with national non-governmental organizations that had appeared before it in 2014 to hear feedback on their experience in the reporting process and to encourage them to engage in follow-up to the concluding observations. The Committee was asked to review as a matter of priority, the cases of individuals who were detained pending extradition, because the duration of their detention may depend upon how long the Committee took to adopt a decision on their case. The Committee was also invited to produce new general comments providing guidance on the principle of non-refoulement and on the subject of torture and persons with disabilities.

The following non-governmental organizations took the floor in today’s meeting: World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), Amnesty International, Alkarama, International Service for Human Rights, Association for the Prevention of Torture, Association of World Citizens, FIACAT, International Disability Alliance and Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.

The video webcasts of the public meetings of the Committee can be viewed here: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.

The Committee will reconvene in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon to conclude its consideration of the second periodic report of Romania (CAT/C/ROU/2).

Opening Statement by the Chairperson of the Committee

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Chairperson of the Committee, spoke about the great value the Committee placed on the contributions of civil society, both from the non-governmental organizations working here in Geneva and the non-governmental organizations working in countries all over the world. The contributions were essential in helping enrich the Committee’s understanding of the situation in countries and as sources of information during the interactive dialogues with States. The information provided was not only a resource for the Committee but also for States parties to the Convention, particularly in the drafting of their reports. The Chairperson emphasized the value of the role of non-governmental organizations in monitoring and visiting places of detention and alerting States to potential violations of the Convention. The Chairperson also highlighted the valuable meetings organized by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) on strengthening follow-up procedures, and by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) on ways of supporting victims of torture.

The Committee had appointed a Rapporteur on Reprisals and took a zero tolerance approach to reprisals against any person as a result of their cooperation with the Committee. The Chairperson also said it was important to overcome all hurdles which prevented non-governmental organizations from doing their work. He noted that the Chairpersons of the 10 Human Rights Treaty Bodies would attend their annual summit at the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights at San Jose in Costa Rica from 22 to 26 June 2015. The meeting was historic as it was the first time it took place in Latin America. In addition to meeting the various inter-American organs, on the second day of the session the Chairpersons would hold a dialogue with non-governmental organizations, which would be a great opportunity to engage with regional organizations.

Questions from the Experts

Committee Experts posed initial questions to the representatives of non-governmental organizations present, asking about their approach to follow-up after country reviews and how they used the Committee’s concluding recommendations. They emphasized the value of civil society inputs regarding working methods in addition to the factual information they provided. An Expert asked how the contributions of non-governmental organizations in the eradication of torture could be strengthened over the next 10 years, and how the lack of resources available to organizations working at the local level hindered them in carrying out their work.

Statements by Non-governmental Organizations

World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) said since 2014 it had acted as a facilitator for civil society organizations, coordinating their activities in relation to the Convention and the Committee. It strove to ensure that alternative reports were submitted for every country reviewed. OMCT also supported civil society organizations in accessing the Committee, either in person in Geneva or via Skype. Thanks to a coalition of non-governmental organizations all of the public meetings of the Committee were webcast. In order to target a broader audience, OMCT co-hosted domestic web-screenings of the country sessions with local organizations. OMCT invited the Committee to produce a new General Comment on the principle of non-refoulement. Expulsion, extradition and refoulement were not only a problem in western States but were increasingly becoming a universal and practical problem that was only likely to worsen in the future.

OMCT recalled the expert forum on follow-up procedure it had organized, which was well attended by representatives of civil society organizations from Asia, Africa, Central Asia, Europe and Latin America and members of the Committee. A paper outlining the challenges and recommendations identified at the meeting would be distributed soon. Finally, OMCT welcomed the Committee’s decision to review Guinea as a non-reporting State in 2014 and to send reminders to Cape Verde and Seychelles to either submit their initial reports or be reviewed as non-reporting States. It encouraged the Committee to send similar reminders to other non-reporting States including Bangladesh and Lebanon.

Amnesty International said it was very important that non-governmental organizations met with the Committee to discuss working methods but it was difficult for national organizations to attend meetings in Geneva. It proposed that the Committee considered, on a pilot basis and via video link, holding a dialogue with national organizations that had appeared before the Committee in 2014 to hear feedback of their experience in the reporting process and to encourage them to engage with follow-up procedures on the concluding observations. Amnesty International also spoke about its own work in following-up on the Committee’s recommendations, which included direct advocacy on the ground as well as statements at the Human Rights Council to remind countries of their obligations under the Convention.

Alkarama introduced itself as a human rights non-governmental organization working in the Arab world. Alkarama addressed the Article 20 inquiry procedure and in particular the interpretation of its ‘confidential’ character, asking if there was a possibility that a source could be informed of the initiation of an inquiry. Regarding the individual complaint procedure, Alkarama asked the Committee if it could review, as a matter of priority, the cases of individuals who were detained pending extradition, because the duration of their detention may depend upon how long the Committee took to adopt a decision on their case. Responding to the question on follow-up procedure, Alkarama said it disseminated the Committee’s recommendations to activists at the local level who took them very seriously and used them in their work and in their lobbying of Government officials.

International Service for Human Rights welcomed the appointment of a focal point on reprisals and the action taken by the Committee in sending communications on reprisals to States parties. The organization asked whether the Committee shared its experiences on reprisals with other Committees, and if it encouraged those that did not already have one, to appoint a focal point on reprisals.

Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) said a national preventative mechanism recently approached it to ask how it could engage with the Committee. The Committee’s website had sections for civil society organizations and national human rights institutions, but there was no space for State-appointed, independent, national preventative mechanisms. Would the Committee consider making a specific space for them on the website? The representative also asked the Committee if it would consider organizing in 2016 a day of general discussion on the theme chosen for the next general comment.

Association of World Citizens spoke about its work supporting victims of torture, particularly from post-conflict situations. The representative raised concerns in particular about impunity for perpetrators of torture following conflict situations. The Association spoke about problems in getting authorization for torture victims to come to Geneva to attend its session and asked the Committee if it could help settle such cases.

Questions from the Experts

In follow-up questions an Expert said he considered dealing with the national preventative mechanisms to be largely a part of the Subcommittee on Torture’s mandate, rather than the Committee. He agreed that all treaty bodies should have a focal point on reprisals, and said the development of a comprehensive approach to the issue of reprisals was a subject discussed at most meetings with other treaty bodies. Regarding follow-up, an Expert said non-governmental organizations had a role in informing the Committee of the degree to which a State party was implementing its recommendations. He urged non-governmental organizations which had important information on a reporting State to submit it to the Committee’s Secretariat as soon as possible, because it was much more useful one month before the start of a session rather than a day before.

Technology had an impact on all of the Committee’s work, said an Expert, and the webcasting of public sessions had allowed many more non-governmental organizations at the country level to get involved. Some non-governmental organizations did not have the means to travel to Geneva. Making sessions truly public meant reaching out to the world, and the webcasting services provided by the non-governmental organization coalition was truly valued. The Committee would welcome recommendations on how it could use technology to enhance its impact and engage with all stakeholders. Regarding non-reporting States, an Expert said 19 States parties had not submitted a report for more than 10 years, and 15 of those came from the continent of Africa. That suggested that extra attention was needed in that region, she commented, asking whether funds taken from the treaty bodies for capacity building could be directed towards non-reporting States.


Response by Non-governmental Organizations

FIACAT noted that the European Union training courses for diplomats on human rights, which included a half day on torture, would take place in June and that it would be taking part. It was important that the Committee took part in disseminating the Convention in that way. It was sometimes difficult for national non-governmental organizations to find the premises to host a large viewing party of the webcasting of treaty body sessions, said the representative, enquiring whether OHCHR or other United Nations field offices could host such viewing events.

International Disability Alliance said it was a global network of persons with disabilities representing an estimated one billion persons with disabilities worldwide. Persons with disabilities were frequently invisible and cases of torture often went unseen. The representative appealed to the Committee to urgently probe the issue of disability and torture, and in particular to ask States parties for data on how many persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities were involuntarily detained in institutions. It also asked the Committee to raise the use of forced treatment, such as electro-shock treatment. It strongly supported the use of technology to overcome accessibility barriers preventing non-governmental organizations of persons with disabilities from attending meetings in Geneva. The Alliance requested the Committee to consider making a General Comment on torture and persons with disabilities.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain said to ensure transparency in the gathering and processing of information from the ground, a priority was to provide a link for stakeholders on the ground to directly communicate with the Committee. It was also important to dedicate resources to educating and informing people on the ground about the different procedures available to them. It encouraged international non-governmental organizations to provide training for local non-governmental organizations, and for the Committee to support that. The organization strongly supported suggestions on using video conferencing to allow local non-governmental organizations that could not afford to travel to Geneva or were subject to travel bans due to reprisals, to take part in Committee meetings.

World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), in response to a question from an Expert, said it was a network organization with 240 organizations around the world, including 65 civil society organizations in Africa. Every time a country from Africa was being reviewed by the Committee it reached out to local organizations in the respective country to ask them to submit an alternative report. It had limited funding to help pay for their travel to Geneva, or would help fund-raise to pay for tickets from other sources.

Alkarama, responding to a question about ways of avoiding lists of issues prior to reporting from being outdated, noted that the list of issues on Bahrain adopted in 2010 would be updated this session.

International Service for Human Rights spoke about national preventative mechanisms which were not notarized and sometimes were not civil society organizations. Had the Committee considered making the way in which they could submit a report and engage with the Committee clear to national preventative mechanisms?

World Citizens Alliance said it was important to urge States parties to provide better data. The representative also spoke about the lack of medical facilities in prisons, particularly in Turkey, and the need to support national preventative mechanisms.

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For use of the information media; not an official record