Skip to main content

Declaraciones Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos

Opening Statement by Ms. Flavia Pansieri, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Forum of the Convention against Torture Initiative

03 septiembre 2014

Chavannes-de-Bogis, 3 September 2014

Distinguished representatives,
Distinguished United Nations experts,
Ladies and gentlemen

The adoption of the United Nations Convention against Torture in 1984 was a landmark in the global fight against torture and ill-treatment, coming at a time when the international community was confronting odious acts of military dictatorships.

The Convention has done much to respond to those times. Yet today, not only dictatorships but also new challenges, unimaginable 30 years ago, confront us. The justification of torture or ill treatment in the context of the fight against terrorism and the filming of atrocious scenes on social media are just some of these new challenges.

The 10 year campaign for the universal ratification and implementation of the Convention against Torture launched under the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) could never have been more timely. We must reinvigorate our collective efforts to combat torture and ill-treatment and achieving universal ratification of the Convention is an important step in doing so.

I would therefore like to echo the words of the High Commissioner for Human Rights six months ago that the CTI has the full support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Rights and you can count on our active participation.

And I would like to suggest some ways where the Office’s activities can connect with this initiative.

Importantly, the Office has placed support for the ratification of the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol high in our priorities for 2014-17. So our priorities are very much aligned.

I am pleased to note that over the coming years, our field presences are promoting ratification of the Convention against Torture in at least eleven countries as well as in the Pacific region.

Allow me to give some examples of the work we are doing. In Guinea Bissau, the Human Rights Section of the Mission has distributed explanatory documents for Parliamentarians and Government personnel involved in ratification and also held information sessions stressing the importance of ratification and its consequences. It is encouraging to hear that the National Popular Assembly has since proceeded with national ratification of the Convention amongst other core treaties.

Similarly, in South Sudan, the Human Rights Section has also been advocating for ratification with the Ministry of Justice, the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly and the Human Rights Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and providing them with technical support in the drafting of legal opinions and training on the treaties themselves. The National Assembly has passed a bill to ratify the Convention without reservations. The Mission has also been advocating for speedy ratification and submission of the instruments of accession to the Secretary-General’s Office.

In addition to promoting ratification directly, the Office is also engaged in a range of activities related to the Convention of relevance to this initiative:

The Office of course supports the work of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and all it is doing to prevent torture across the world. Our field presences are building on this prevention work.

To provide one illustration, our Regional Office for the Middle East in Beirut is playing an active role to facilitate the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism in Lebanon following its ratification of the Optional Protocol. This process is still going on with the active participation of the civil society and in close coordination with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

And we are assisting States to respond to what the background documents refer to as the challenge of the ‘reporting burden’. Far from being a burden, reporting is of course a way to engage with international experts to improve a country’s performance. However, the fact that it is sometimes perceived as a burden means we must also respond to this perception.

Our presences in the field, supported by the CAT secretariat, help existing States parties understand and coordinate the reporting process. Only last month, the Secretary of the Committee against Torture was in Mali assisting the Inter-Ministerial Committee in meeting its reporting obligations under the Convention.

While such assistance relates to existing States parties, the promise of assistance also acts as encouragement to non-States parties to understand that there is help at hand for reporting.

Of relevance to States and non-States alike, the Office has also prioritised assistance in the establishment of participatory Standing National Coordination bodies on Reporting and Follow-up for the 2014-17 period. Such bodies are intended not only to help with reporting to human rights mechanisms and follow-up to recommendations but to help States establish and maintain human rights knowledge which we believe has cumulative advantages beyond only the reporting process.

In providing such assistance, the Office hopes it can change the perception of reporting being a burden, to being an opportunity: for systematising the reporting process and for managing human rights knowledge better.

I am very pleased to highlight that the General Assembly has recently given a real boost to these efforts. Through its resolution on treaty body strengthening, the General Assembly has not only strengthened the committees themselves, but also the broader UN support for treaties.

This historic resolution includes an innovative provision creating an OHCHR capacity building package of direct relevance to your Forum. To this end, 10 staff members will work in the different regions to help States meet their treaty obligations, supported by a dedicated team in Geneva and a roster of former treaty body experts as advisors.

I believe this package offers great potential, including for this Initiative. It is at its initial stage but it will rapidly become operational for the benefit of all of all States, including non-States parties who will have the option of seeking assistance and support in the process of ratification and subsequent reporting.

The General Assembly has also encouraged the Office to build partnerships with the wider UN family to develop programmatic responses to assist States comply with treaty obligations. We see this as important support from the General Assembly of the human rights mainstreaming agenda. It parallels similarly encouraging discussions on mainstreaming in the post-2015 development agenda.

All these initiatives and developments not only broaden the possible support to existing States parties but hopefully also provide additional incentives to States considering ratifying this and other treaties – and, ultimately, help to prevent torture.

Finally, the Committee against Torture and the CAT Secretariat have a role in this Initiative. The Chair is with us today and will no doubt expand on this role. I would simply support his leadership in getting preparations under way for the celebration of the Convention’s 30th anniversary. It is particularly welcome that this anniversary will not be an ad-hoc event but is intended to be part of this Initiative. It will address the achievements and challenges in the promotion of universal ratification and in the implementation of the Convention's provisions by States parties.

To conclude, I wish to express my sincere thanks to the organizers for inviting our Office to this event and to wish you all a productive and successful Forum.