HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONCLUDES SEVENTY-THIRD SESSION
02 November 2001
Human Rights Committee 73rd session 2 November 2001
Offers Final Conclusions and Recommendations on Reports of Ukraine, United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Azerbaijan
The Human Rights Committee completed this morning a three-week session at which it considered and formally responded to reports submitted to it by Ukraine, the United Kingdom (including its overseas territories), Switzerland, and Azerbaijan.
The four countries provided written documents in advance and sent Government delegations to answer questions in keeping with their obligations as States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee issued its formal conclusions and recommendations today. As the monitoring body for the Covenant, the panel of 18 Independent Experts periodically examines such reports. There are 148 States parties to the Covenant.
Scheduled consideration of the situation of civil and political rights in Afghanistan was postponed. The Committee issued a communique adopted in closed session in which it cited grave concerns about human rights in Afghanistan but noted that the Afghan Government had indicated that a Government delegation would not attend the relevant Committee meetings. The Committee said it believed consideration of the Afghan report at this time would not be productive.
Among the panel's findings on the report of Ukraine were that progress had been made through the adoption of a new Constitution which had legal recognition of human rights and freedoms, and through establishment of an Ombudsman's Office. Among the Committee's recommendations were that an independent authority be set up to investigate complaints against the police; that a more effective system of monitoring the treatment of detainees be established; and that all allegations of torture be effectively investigated.
Among positive developments related to the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Committee noted the entry into force of a Human Rights Act of 1998, and the establishment in Northern Ireland of an independent Police Ombudsman and a Human Rights Commission. A series of recommendations included calls for the creation of a national Human Rights Commission and for rapid and effective investigation of all racist incidents in prisons.
The Committee cited as positive in the Swiss report the adoption of a revised federal Constitution containing a bill of rights, and the repeal of a federal decree that restricted freedom of expression for foreigners who did not have permanent residence permits. It cited concern and called for effective responses to reported instances of police brutality during arrests and detentions, especially of foreigners; and to instances of degrading treatment and excessive use of force during the expulsion of aliens, resulting on some occasions in death.
Termed positive in the panel's review of a second periodic report of Azerbaijan were its abolition of the death penalty and the high Constitutional priority given to the country's international legal obligations. The Committee called, among other things, for prompt, impartial and full investigation of all allegations of torture and prosecution of persons responsible; and for establishment of an independent mechanism to receive and investigate all complaints of excessive use of force and other abuses of power by law-enforcement officials.
During its three-week session -- its seventy-third session since its creation in 1976 -- the Committee also considered communications from individuals submitted to it under the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant. The Protocol, for the 98 States which have ratified it, allows review by the Committee of complaints from persons alleging violations of the terms of the Covenant; such reviews are carried out in private session. The Committee's conclusions on cases considered during the seventy-third session will be released at a later date.
The next session of the Committee is scheduled for 18 March to 5 April 2002, in New York. At that gathering the panel is expected to consider reports from Gambia, Sweden, Viet Nam, Georgia, and Hungary.
Conclusions and recommendations on country reports
The Committee cited among positive developments in its review of the fifth periodic report of Ukraine the adoption of a new Constitution which had legal recognition to human rights and freedoms; abolition of the death penalty; establishment of an Ombudsman's Office with responsibility for protecting human rights; and ongoing reform of legal codes to give substance to human-rights protection.
Concern was expressed that -- among other things -- the freedoms of thought and religion could be unduly restricted during states of emergency; that there were allegations of police harassment, particularly of Roma and of aliens; that there was persistent widespread use of torture and improper treatment of detainees by law-enforcement officials; that pre-trial detention as a 'temporary preventive measure' of up to 72 hours, with the possibility of extension up to 10 days, before detainees were informed of the charges brought against them was incompatible with the Covenant; and that there was intimidation and harassment of journalists and human-rights defenders.
The Committee recommended, among other things, that the Ukrainian Government ensure that Covenant rights took legal precedence over domestic laws; that steps be taken to improve the representation of women in Parliament and in senior positions in the public and private sectors; that positive measures be taken to protect women from domestic violence; and that further efforts be made to end trafficking in women. It called for the country's framework of emergency powers to take into account sufficient respect for the freedoms of thought and religion in keeping with article 4 of the Covenant and the Committee's General Comment No. 29. It said sufficient human and material resources should be provided to the Office of the Ombudsman to enable it to carry out its work effectively. On the subject of police operations, the Committee recommended that effective measures be taken to end all forms of police harassment; that an independent authority be set up to investigate complaints against the police; that a more effective system of monitoring the treatment of all detainees be established and that all allegations of torture be effectively investigated and those responsible be prosecuted; that all arrested persons have an immediate opportunity to inform a family member; and that the length of pre-trial preventive detention be shortened and judicial oversight improved to meet the standards of the Covenant. The Committee also called for an end to bullying and hazing in the military; for abolition of the current system of internal permits that restricted freedom of movement; and for an end to intimidation and harassment of human-rights activists and journalists, along with effective measures to ensure that Government subsidies to the press could not be withdrawn as a way of stifling criticism of the Government.
Among positive developments related to the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland , the Committee noted the entry into force of the Human Rights Act if 1998, which gave legal substance to many Covenant rights; welcomed the conclusion of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998, which sought to move away from extraordinary measures in place in that jurisdiction; the establishment of an independent Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland with significant powers of investigation and enforcement; and creation of a Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland.
Concern was cited that the United Kingdom, seeking to combat terrorist activities, was considering the adoption of legislative measures which could lead to derogations from Covenant rights; that there had been recent repeated violent outbreaks of race and ethnicity-based rioting; that there had been a sharp increase in racist incidents within the criminal justice system, particularly involving police and prison staff against inmates; and that murders of persons, including human-rights defenders, in Northern Ireland, and involving persistent allegations of involvement and collusion by security forces, had yet to receive fully independent and comprehensive investigations or resolutions.
The Committee recommended that -- among other things -- the State party carry out full, transparent and credible accountings of violations of the right to life in Northern Ireland and that it carefully monitor whether the exigencies of the situation in Northern Ireland continued to justify distinctions in criminal procedure, including the use of the so-called 'Diplock court' system, which, among other things, did not provide for jury trials.
The Committee further recommended that the United Kingdom consider establishment of a national Human Rights Commission; that it continue to seek identification of those responsible for racial and anti-ethnic outbreaks of violence and that it facilitate dialogue between communities to ease racial tensions; and that it encourage transparent reporting of racist incidents within prisons, ensure that such incidents were rapidly and effectively investigated, and ensure that appropriate disciplinary and preventative measures were developed to protect vulnerable persons. It called for a review of the powers of the Terrorism Act 2000 under which suspects could be detained for 48 hours without access to a lawyer in some circumstances; for steps to achieve appropriate representation of women in senior positions in Government, the judiciary, Parliament, and the private sector; for better reflection in Government and the civil service, particularly the police and prison service, of members of minority groups; for detention of asylum-seekers to be limited only to the extent necessary and on the grounds provided for in the Covenant; and for the United Kingdom to consider accession to the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
The Committee also provided a number of formal observations on the status of the Covenant in the Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom . It welcomed the abolition of the death penalty for all offenses in all territories except in Turks and Caicos islands but cited deep concern that the protection of Covenant rights in the overseas territories was weaker and more irregular than in the metropolitan United Kingdom. It also regretted that the Human Rights Act of 1998 did not apply to these territories and that Covenant rights were not incorporated into the legislation of these territories, and called for legislation to remedy this absence, as well as to provide human-rights training for public officials.
Responding to the situation in the territory of Bermuda, the Committee welcomed the establishment of a Human Rights Commission. In the British Virgin Islands, it approved the elimination of Constitutional rules which had discriminated between the rights accorded to spouses of male and female British Virgin Islanders. In the Cayman Islands, it cited as positive the passage of a Youth Justice Law but called for review of the law on deportation to provide clear criteria and effective and impartial review of any deportation decisions. In the Falkland Islands/Malvinas, the Committee welcomed passage of a Race Relations Ordinance and a Sex Discrimination Act, but recommended amendment of its Family Law Reform Ordinance so that it abolished the status of illegitimacy. The Committee commended Montserrat for observing human rights obligations despite volcanic eruptions in 1995, 1996, and 1997, but called for the territory to ensure that long-term prisoners could serve their sentences on the island, if necessary through non-custodial means of punishment.
The Committee approved of the adoption of a Public Order Ordinance and appointment of a Public Solicitor in St. Helena, but said steps should be taken to ensure that accused and convicted prisoners were appropriately segregated. It welcomed the opening of a new detention facility in Turks and Caicos, with female prisoners wholly segregated from male prisoners, but said the territorial Government should abolish the death penalty for treason and piracy. In regard to the unpopulated British Indian Ocean Territory, the Committee said the United Kingdom should seek to the extent possible to make exercise of the Ilois' right to return to their territory practicable, and should consider compensation for the denial of the right to return over an extended period.
The Committee welcomed in the second periodic report of Switzerland the adoption of a revised federal Constitution containing a bill of rights and the repeal of a federal decree that restricted the freedom of expression of foreigners who did not have permanent residence permits.
Among the concerns cited by the panel were that there were reported instances of police brutality during arrests and detentions, and that the persons affected were frequently aliens; that in the course of deportation of aliens there had been instances of degrading treatment and excessive force, resulting on some occasions in death; that detainees had been denied the right to contact a lawyer or family member immediately; that incidents of racial intolerance had increased; and that women were still disadvantaged in many areas of public and private life.
The Committee recommended that -- among other things -- the Swiss Government ensure that independent bodies were established in all Cantons with authority to receive and investigate effectively all complaints of excessive use of force and other abuses of power by police; that those responsible for abuses were brought to justice; that measures be taken to ensure that all cases of forcible deportation were carried out in a manner compatible with articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant; and that laws throughout the country be established prohibiting incommunicado detention and requiring that detainees be allowed to contact lawyers. The Committee also called for rigorous enforcement of laws against racial incitement and discrimination; for legislation related to 'urgent' situations to comply with Covenant standards for non-derogation of human rights; for all Cantons and communities, under the federal structure of Swiss Government, to respect Covenant rights; for the Government to review existing distinctions between the rights of citizens and aliens and between different categories of aliens, particularly those without papers and spouses of foreigners with residence permits, to ensure their protection under the Covenant; and for Switzerland to accede to the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
Several positive aspects were noted in the second periodic report of Azerbaijan , among them efforts to bring legislation into harmony with the Covenant despite a situation of armed conflict and the country's transition from totalitarian rule; abolition of the death penalty; Constitutional priority for international legal obligations over domestic legislation; and reform of the criminal procedure system.
The Committee said it was concerned that -- among other things -- there were continuing reports of torture and degrading treatment; that information was lacking on the extent of reported trafficking in women; that there was violence against women, including rape and domestic violence; that there were reports of harassment and criminal libel suits used to silence journalists critical of the Government of public officials; that there were reported obstacles imposed on the registration and free operation of non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs) and political parties; and that there was serious interference in the electoral process.
Among the panel's recommendations were that there be prompt, impartial and full investigation of all allegations of torture and prosecution of persons responsible; that an independent mechanism beestablished to receive and investigate all complaints of excessive use of force and other abuses of power by law-enforcement officials; that there be scrupulous respect by law-enforcement agencies, procuracy and judiciary of detainees' rights to access to counsel, medical advice and members of their families; that measures be taken to reduce overcrowding in prisons; that an independent system be set up for inspections of detention facilities; that clear and transparent procedures be applied in judicial appointments and assignments to safeguard the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; and that criteria for access to and membership in the Bar be made to ensure the independence of lawyers.
The Committee called for steps to resolutely combat trafficking in women and to punish those responsible; for measures to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies; for effective measures to combat violence against women, including marital rape; and for efforts to overcome traditional attitudes regarding the role of women in society and to achieve a balanced representation of women in public life, in Parliament, and in senior positions in the Government and the private-sector workforce. The panel further urged an end to direct and indirect restrictions on freedom of expression; for legislation on states of emergence to respect Covenant standards; for all necessary measures to enable national NGOs and political parties to function without hindrance and to ensure that registration was not used to silence political movements opposed to the Government; for measures to ensure that the electoral process was conducted in accordance with Covenant standards; and for conscientious-objector status to be available without discrimination to those opposed to military service.
Background on the Covenant
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was adopted by the General Assembly and opened for signature in 1966, together with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both entered into force in 1976.
The Civil and Political Rights Covenant begins by stating that all peoples have the right of self-determination. It recognizes that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. It prohibits torture, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment, and the arbitrary deprivation of life. Anyone arrested is to be informed of the reasons for the arrest, and anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge is to be brought promptly before a judge or other legally authorized person.
The Covenant also provides, among other things, for freedom of movement, and places limitations upon the expulsion of aliens present lawfully in the territory of a State party. In addition, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and to freedom of expression are recognized by the Covenant, which also prohibits any propaganda for war or any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred.
States Parties to Covenant
The following 148 States have ratified or acceded to the Covenant: Afghanistan. Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iraq, Islamic Republic of Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Optional Protocols to Covenant
The Optional Protocol to the Covenant provides for the confidential consideration of communications from individuals who claim to be victims of a violation of any rights proclaimed in the Covenant. No communications can be received by the Committee if it concerns a State party to the Covenant that is not also a party to the Optional Protocol.
The following 98 States are parties to the Optional Protocol: Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Finland, France, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lesotho, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav, Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zambia.
The Human Rights Committee is also mandated, under article 41 of the Covenant, to consider communications from a State party alleging violations of the Covenant=s provisions by another State party. This procedure can be applied when both States recognize this competence of the Committee by a relevant declaration.
So far, 47 States have made the declaration under article 41. They are: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Congo, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Zimbabwe.
The Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, which aims at the abolition of the death penalty, was adopted by the General Assembly on 15 December 1989 and entered into force on 11 July 1991. The following 45 States have ratified or acceded to the Second Optional Protocol: Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Portugal, Romania, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom, Turkmenistan, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Membership of Committee
The Committee's 18 expert members, who serve in their individual capacity, are elected by the State parties to the Covenant for four-year terms. Article 28 of the Covenant requires that 'they shall be persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights.'
They are: Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia); Nisuke Ando (Japan); Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (India); Christine Chanet (France); Maurice Glele Ahanhanzo (Benin); Louis Henkin (United States); Eckart Klein (Germany); David Kretzmer (Israel); Rajsoomer Lallah (Mauritius); Cecilia Medina Quiroga (Chile); Rafael Rivas Posada (Colombia); Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom); Martin Scheinin (Finland); Ivan Shearer (Australia); Hipolito Solari Yrigoyen (Argentine); Ahmed Tawfik Khalil (Egypt); Patrick Vella (Malta); and Maxwell Yalden (Canada).
Mr. Bhagwati is Chairperson of the Committee. Mr. Amor, Mr. Kretzmer and Mr. Yrigoyen are Vice-Chairpersons and Mr. Klein is the Rapporteur.