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Statement by Mr. Jens Modvig, Chairperson Committee against Torture, at the 73rd session of the General Assembly

New York, 15 October 2018 

Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Colleagues and friends,

This year, we commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a major human rights treaty which banned torture. The Convention against Torture is one of the strongest tools we have in the global fight against torture. The Convention not only bans torture but provides a range of measures which States parties must implement in order to prevent torture and provide redress to victims of torture. I am honored to serve as the chairperson of the Committee against Torture (CAT) and to have the main responsibility for its effective functioning in terms of ensuring constructive dialogues with States parties about effective implementation of these important provisions.

The Convention now has 164 State parties – Bahamas and Gambia ratified, and the Marshall Islands acceded to the Convention in 2018. I would like to take the opportunity here to encourage the remaining states to become party to the Convention and thereby enter into a collaboration with the Committee to eradicate torture. The Committee remains grateful to the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) as an important factor in increasing the number of States parties to the Convention. 

The failure of some States parties to respect their reporting obligations has been addressed by the Committee in several ways. Firstly, for the second time since its creation, CAT reviewed a State party’s implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture in the absence of an initial report. Let me add that at its last session, the decision of the Committee to examine another country situation in the absence of a long overdue initial report prompted the submission of the report, and for the first time with the participation of the State delegation via a video conference. While video conference is not an ideal way to carry out the constructive dialogue, in this case it went well. Thus, video conference dialogues may be used in selected cases, where direct dialogue in Geneva is not a possibility, and the alternative would have been no dialogue.

Secondly, CAT decision to offer the simplified reporting procedure for long overdue initial reports has also met positive reactions from most States despite creating additional workload for the Committee and the Secretariat. Once again, I would like to highlight the necessity for budget allocations to the Secretariat for CAT and other Committees to be able to increase the use of the simplified reporting procedures.

Thirdly, this year CAT invited all States parties which never submitted their initial report to a meeting with the Committee to identify their challenges. At the meeting, the option of the simplified reporting procedure for initial reports was discussed. After the meeting, several State parties committed to submitting their initial report within a year’s time.

As the audience is certainly aware, the Committee also processes individual communications according to article 22 of the Convention against Torture. Since 1989 and until today, the Committee has registered 885 individual complaints concerning 40 States parties. Among those complaints, 265 were discontinued, 104 were found inadmissible, and final decisions on the merits were issued for 365. Of these 365 cases, the Committee found violations of the Convention violations in 143 (39%) cases. Considering the fact that individual communications submitted to CAT are all about alleged very grave human rights violations, CAT’s findings of a violation rate of 39% is rather modest.

There is a current backlog of 160 individual complaints pending consideration. The Committee is giving priority to reviewing all communications ready for review, but it is vitally important that the Secretariat be provided with additional staff resources to assist the Committee in eliminating the backlog. If the Secretariat cannot provide the necessary assistance in preparing cases, the Committee will not be able to eliminate the backlog.

Another initiative to be mentioned is that the Committee has established an inter-sessional working group to deal with communications in order to make the Committee’s work in this field more effective. The Committee also built on the experience of the Human Rights Committee when developing the procedures in this respect. While the format of the working group has still not found its final form, the initiative will no doubt increase the case processing capacity of the Committee. 

CAT continues to assess the progress in implementation of the Committee’s decisions on individual complaints by evaluating written follow-up reports, and by engaging concerned State parties’ delegations in a constructive dialogue in order to seek compliance with the obligations under the Convention. It should be noted that some States have failed to implement the decisions on individual complaints, while others have honored their commitments. Our best estimate is that 45% of the follow-up recommendations to State party reports have been partially implemented. Recent research indicates that – for treaty bodies as a whole - in individual cases 23% of the recommendations are being implemented.

While it of course would be desirable that implementation was 100%, and we should still continue to strive for that, we do see that the treaty body recommendations make up a major push to a continuous move forward in terms of eradicating torture.

The Committee’s recent adoption of the General Comment No. 4 on article 3 of the Convention will guide and facilitate compliance with the principle of non-refoulement, which remains a prevailing subject of the individual complaints received. The adoption of the General Comment was preceded by extensive consultations with States, the civil society and other relevant entities, following the guidelines for the consultation process for draft general comments agreed across treaty bodies.

10 inquiries have been carried out since the creation of the Committee. This procedure remains a key-tool to address allegations that torture is being systematically practised in a State party.

CAT working methods are under constant review to promote full implementation of the Convention and to harmonize them with the other treaty bodies to the extent possible, as encouraged in the General Assembly resolution 68/268 and within the framework of the Treaty Bodies Chairpersons Meeting. Whereas under resolution 68/268, the formula for allocation of resources to the treaty bodies is crucial to ensure the functionality of the Treaty Body system including effective processing of the backlog of cases and reports, last year, the United Nations General Assembly did not fully respect this formula by allocating additional meeting time but not the necessary staff resources, therefore affecting the Treaty Body system as a whole. States should be supportive to a resolution, which endorses the conclusions and recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report on the status of the Treaty Body system (A/73/309) at the current session of the General Assembly. Namely, that resources dedicated to treaty bodies should be commensurate to the increasing workload and that webcasting of treaty body sessions and reasonable accommodation to all committees should be funded from the regular budget.

During its summer session this year, the Committee discussed its position on the treaty body strengthening process and the proposals circulating in this connection. This discussion was in response of an encouragement from the Treaty Body Chairpersons to hold such discussions in all ten-treaty bodies with a view to developing a treaty body-oriented position to be submitted for the 2020 review.

Cooperation and coordination between anti-torture United Nations mandate holders (CAT, Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Special Rapporteur on Torture as well as the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture) has been given increased priority through joint activities and statements for instance, the 26 June 2018 joint statement “70 years on, torture is still widespread: more action needed to achieve a torture-free world for all” issued for the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This statement was joined, for the first time, by the Committee on the Prevention of Torture in Africa, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Finally, I would like to praise the contributions to the work of the Committee coming from National Human Rights Institutions, National Preventive Mechanisms and civil society organizations. These bodies all provide crucial inputs to the Committee. I’m calling States parties to endorse and support these contributions and work together with the Committee to ensure that none of these partners risk reprisals or other sanctions for fulfilling this role of working with the Committee against Torture.