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Committee against torture opens its sixty-eighth session

Committee against Torture

11 November 2019

The Committee against Torture this morning opened its sixty-eighth session, hearing a statement by Kyle Ward, Director a.i. of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Representative of the Secretary-General.  The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session.

Mr. Ward said the work of the Committee continued to be of crucial importance to efforts to combat torture.  The continuing increase in the number of ratifications was demonstration of the importance that Member States and other stakeholders attached to the Convention and the Committee’s work.  He welcomed in that regard the fact that Angola had become the 169th State party to the Convention on 2 October 2019.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, had also repeatedly highlighted the role that the Committee and other treaty bodies played in the protection of human rights.  In her statement to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on 15 October, the High Commissioner had underlined that “the international human rights treaties, and jurisprudence by treaty bodies, constituted the legal backbone of the entire human rights protection architecture.  A stronger treaty body system would bolster all that we do as human rights actors – from the Universal Periodic Review, to expert and fact-finding bodies and capacity building work on national policies and laws.”

However, the overall budget situation remained critical as did the significant shortfall in staffing of the Human Rights Treaties Branch.  The situation for 2020 and beyond, whether in relation to funding of sessions or staffing, was uncertain.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was aware of the challenges facing this Committee, in particular in relation to petitions.  This only underscored the importance of seizing the opportunity of the 2020 Review to bring stability and adequate resourcing to the treaty body system.  Against this backdrop, treaty body Chairpersons had adopted a common vision at the annual meeting of Chairpersons.  The High Commissioner had welcomed this vision and highlighted the review as an opportunity to strengthen the impact of the Committee’s deliberations on the ground, including through streamlining and harmonizing procedures.

The success of the human rights treaty bodies was rooted in dialogue with States parties and required that individuals could freely cooperate with the Committee and other bodies, including by bringing information about alleged human rights violations to the attention of Committee members.  In this respect, the global situation remained worrisome.  The tenth annual report of the Secretary-General on reprisals, presented to the Human Rights Council in September, referred to a record number of 48 States with alleged cases of intimidation and reprisals of persons cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the United Nations on human rights.  The report contained several cases pertaining to cooperation with the Committee against Torture, suggesting that anti-torture work led all too often to reprisals.  The report also noted the vigilance with which the Committee had raised and addressed such cases.

In response to questions by Committee Experts, Mr. Ward said that issues pertaining to access to resources would be at the centre of the 2020 Review process.  To survive in the long term, the system needed to see progress in finding better ways to discharge its mandate.  It was the responsibility of Member States to ensure that the system did not collapse, and the Office had impressed that point upon them most recently in New York.  On harmonization and predictability issues, the Office was taking steps to pilot some of the suggestions put forward by the Chairpersons.  In that context, it was seeking sources of funding while minding the Organization’s budgetary situation, which was not encouraging. 

The Committee then proceeded to adopt the agenda of the sixty-eighth session.  During the session, which will be held from 11 November to 6 December, the Committee will review reports presented by Burkina Faso, Cyprus, Latvia, Niger, Portugal and Uzbekistan.  All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m.  on Tuesday, 12 November, to start its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Uzbekistan (CAT/C/UZB/5).

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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