Committee against Torture opens forty-third session in Geneva

Report
from UN Committee against Torture
Published on 02 Nov 2009 View Original
Committee against Torture

Representative of the Secretary-General Briefs Committee on New Developments

The Committee against Torture this morning opened its forty-third session at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, hearing an address by, and having a dialogue with a representative of the Secretary-General, Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the Human Rights and Treaty Branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The Committee also adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session.

Mr. Salama, drawing attention to a number of developments since the Committee's last session in May, noted that the Office had been engaged over the last couple of months in elaborating its strategic priorities for the next biennium (2010-2011), on the basis of regional consultations held with OHCHR field presences. The six priorities identified were: ensuring the realizing of human rights in the context of migration; eliminating discrimination; protection of human rights in situations of armed conflict, violence and insecurity; combating impunity and strengthening accountability, the rule of law and democratic societies; protecting economic, social and cultural rights, particularly in the context of economic, food and climate crises; and strengthening international human rights mechanisms and the progressive development of international law.

With regard to the Human Rights Council and treaty bodies, Mr. Salama noted that, during the Council's twelfth session, held from 14 September to 2 October 2009, the High Commissioner had invited all stakeholders to initiate a process of reflection on how to streamline and strengthen the treaty body system to achieve better coordination among those mechanisms, as well as their interaction with Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review. In that connection, the tenth Inter-Committee Meeting would take place at the end of November-early December and would be devoted to a discussion of follow-up to concluding observations and Views of treaty bodies in order to, inter alia, identify best practices and consider possible areas of harmonization.

Turning to developments related to the Convention against Torture, there had been no new ratifications of the Convention since the Committee's last session, Mr. Salama said. Switzerland had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on 24 September 2009, bringing the number of States parties to 50, which would lead to an increase in the membership of the related Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture to 25. The 25 new Subcommittee members would start their first session in February 2011.

Mr. Salama highlighted that seven States had submitted reports since the last session - Bulgaria, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ireland, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Turkey - which brought to 17 the number of reports pending consideration, in addition to seven reports that they would be considering during the current session. Two of those reports (Ecuador and Turkey) had been submitted in accordance with the Committee's new optional reporting procedure of replies to a list of issues, which proved the usefulness of the proactive attitude that the Committee had adopted.

The twelfth meeting of States parties to the Convention against Torture had taken place in Geneva on 13 October 2009 to elect members to replace the five current members whose terms expired on 31 December 2009. There had been nine candidates and the five elected, for a term of four years starting on 1 January 2010, were: Essadia Belmir; Alessio Bruni; Fernando Mariño Menendez; Nora Sveaass; and Xuexian Wang. Ms. Belmir, Mr. Mariño Menendez, Ms. Sveaass and Mr. Wang were current members of the Committee, Mr. Salama added.

Highlighting some issues before the Committee during this session, Mr. Salama said the Committee would examine reports of Azerbaijan, Slovakia, El Salvador, Colombia, Moldova, Spain and Yemen. In addition, it would continue its work under articles 20 and 22 of the Convention (urgent action procedures and consideration of individual communications). It would also adopt lists of issues to be addressed to six States parties whose reports would be examined at the November session. Follow-up to concluding observations and to individual communications would also be discussed.

The Committee would also adopt lists of issues according to its new reporting procedure of lists of issues being sent to States parties before they submitted their periodic reports. In that regard, the preparation of those 21 documents, in addition to the normal preparation of a session, had been a very heavy challenge for the secretariat, Mr. Salama underlined. A difficult issue for the secretariat was the editing and translation of documents, as the respective section of the United Nations Office at Geneva did not have the capacity anymore to edit and translate the increasing number of documents the Committee needed to fulfil its mandate, especially as their length had been raised regularly. Together, they had to reflect on ways and means to address that problem.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Chairperson Claudio Grossman raised the issue of resources. There was no time for the Committee to do its work under its current schedule, which had led to a crisis situation. There were 100 pending complaints and they were talking about having an extra week for their meetings in the spring. Another serious situation involved a lack of timely translations of reports and replies supplied by States parties to be considered at the session. For this session, the Committee had been informed at the last minute that one report (Spain) would not be translated on time, and the consideration of the report had therefore had to be put off. That was pretty serious.

Committee Experts then raised a number of issues, including dismay that human rights treaties bodies had lost dedicated staff and assistance from the Secretariat, and consequently had less time to consider cases before the Committee. It was also a tremendous burden on members, in particular because the new streamlined optional reporting system put additional requirements on Committee members. Several Experts echoed the complaint about a lack of translations. An Expert also noted that recruitment and employment conditions for Secretariat staff, especially the use of short-term contracts, appeared to him to be in violation of international standards, and was a problem that was building up over time.

Mr. Salama, replying to questions, said that the grave situation regarding translations had been signalled to the High Commissioner and was being considered by the relevant bodies. OHCHR realized how serious the problem was. In his view, accelerated harmonization of documents for the treaty body system and a cap on the length of those documents should help. OHCHR and the treaty bodies had not really explored that issue together as they should. That was something they needed to do in the context of the Inter-Committee Meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Grossman announced that the delegation of Yemen had requested a postponement. The Committee would discuss that issue at its next public meeting on Tuesday, 3 November at 10 a.m., when it had been scheduled to consider the second periodic report of Yemen.

For use of the information media; not an official record