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Statement by Mr. Jens Modvig, Chairperson Committee against Torture, at the 72nd session of the General Assembly

New York, 13 October 2017

Chairperson,
Distinguished delegates,
Colleagues and friends,

The Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment represents one of the strongest tools we have in the global fight against torture. This places a special responsibility on the Committee against Torture to maximize the implementation of the Convention. I will focus on what the Committee has done in this respect in the past year and what I would like the Committee to prioritize for the next few years.

The most important partners of the Committee are the 162 States who have agreed to be accountable to the Committee in terms of implementing the provisions of the Convention. These States parties have committed themselves to actively prevent torture, through adopting the necessary anti-torture legislation and through implementing such legislation in practice. This means, inter alia, that victims of torture may safely file a complaint about torture and be assured that the complaint will be investigated promptly, impartially and thoroughly, with no risk of violent repercussions, threats or intimidation. It also implies that procedures and arrangements for holding people deprived of their liberty must be regularly reviewed by the State to ensure protection against torture.

We now know that an effective implementation of fundamental legal safeguards such as the right to a lawyer, to medical examination and to inform relatives, is an effective means to prevent torture. This of course encourages the Committee to focus on the legal rights in this respect and, even more, the practical enjoyment of these rights.

This makes me address the need to focus the constructive dialogue with States parties on the core provisions of the Convention. The Committee against Torture needs to focus even more on the topics that are most important for the prevention of torture. This includes for instance the implementation of safeguards upon deprivation of liberty, the access to complaint over the law enforcement and excessive use of force, the obligation to impartially investigate allegations of torture, the obligation of judges to dismiss evidence obtained using torture and the obligation to provide redress to victims. If the committee focuses more on these topics, the List of Issues Prior Reporting (LOIPRs) and the States Parties reports will be shorter and more focused, and so will the recommendations. Further, there will be very little overlap to other Treaty Bodies. And this will make us avoid the situation that State parties have to answer the same questions to many treaty bodies.

In general, the Committee has had constructive dialogues with a number of States parties to the Convention and has provided recommendations about how to increase the protection against and the prevention of torture. However, 26 States have never submitted a report to the Committee, and 38 States parties have overdue periodic reports, thereby violating their obligations and preventing the Committee from fulfilling its monitoring mandate. To ensure that a constructive dialogue on prevention of torture can still be established, the Committee has decided to undertake reviews of States Parties in the absence of an initial report. In addition to this, based on good experiences from other treaty bodies, the Committee will consider the possibility of engaging directly with non-and late-reporting states.

At the same time, the Committee benefits from the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI) led by States. Not only does the CTI aim to achieve universal ratification of the Convention within ten years, it also on a peer to peer basis supports and encourages non-reporting states to live up to their reporting obligations. I call upon all States which have not ratified the Convention against Torture to do so and to those that are already a party to it to accept all the procedures of the Convention, to enable the Committee to achieve the full extent of its mandate.

An overall process, which has markedly influenced the Committee and its work, is the Treaty Body Strengthening process. Within the Committee, we put our procedures under constant scrutiny and review to develop more effective and efficient ways to undertake our work. Between the ten treaty bodies, exchange of best practices takes place to align procedures – during the yearly meeting of chairpersons as well as during meetings between Committees. This year, in addition to the close collaboration with the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, the Committee met with the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Human Rights Committee, with a positive outcome of both meetings.

An important initiative of the Committee against Torture to ease the reporting obligation of States parties is the simplified reporting procedure, which was spearheaded by the Committee and now adopted by many other treaty bodies. The simplified reporting procedure has now been agreed to by 96 States parties to the Convention. As a novelty, the Committee is now offering this procedure to long overdue non-reporting States parties, and so far three State parties have accepted the procedure I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the remaining solicited States parties to the Convention to agree to this procedure. Likewise, the Committee puts its good experience with this procedure available to other Committees who are considering introducing or expanding the procedure.

There is, however, a bottleneck in further increasing the number of States parties accepting this procedure. The procedure requires more work up front, when preparing the List of Issues Prior to Reporting, and less work later on, when processing the State party report. This investment of human resources is currently not possible in the Secretariat, which effectively results in a capacity problem – a bottleneck for further use of the procedure. I would like to encourage States to ensure that this bottleneck is effectively dealt with.

The Convention provides the Committee with other key tools for carrying out its task of assisting the States in the effective implementation of the Convention. During the reporting period, the Committee concluded a confidential inquiry according to article 20 in the Convention. This inquiry, which addressed systematic torture in Egypt, is summarized in the annual report.

An update of the Committee’s follow-up procedure to Concluding Observations now invites States Parties to submit to the Committee a plan for the implementation of the recommendations issued by the Committee. This is intended to strengthen implementation through an offer to States parties to continue the constructive dialogue with the Committee also in the time between the periodic reporting. I am pleased to report that by now several States parties have accepted this invitation and provided an implementation plan to the Committee. I would like to encourage other States parties to consider following this example.

Article 22 of the Convention provides the Committee with the competence to review individual complaints alleging violation of the Convention by a State party. Since 1989 and until today, the

Committee has registered 843 individual complaints concerning 48 States parties. Among those complaints, 240 were discontinued, 87 were found inadmissible, and final decisions on the merits were issued for 339, which resulted in findings of Convention violations in 136 (40%) of them. There is a current backlog of 175 complaints pending consideration. The Committee is giving priority to review all communications ready for review, but it is vitally important that the Secretariat be provided with additional staff resources to assist the Committee in this crucial matter.

The Committee has also been issuing General Comments on specific articles of the Convention to provide detailed explanations on the interpretation of those articles. At the moment, three General Comments have been issued concerning articles 2, 3, and 14 of the Convention. Those General Comments are based on the Committee’s jurisprudence and serves to assist States parties in the implementation of these articles of the Convention.

Currently, the Committee is revising its General Comment 1, and during the spring of 2017, the Committee held a public consultation on the draft resulting from the first reading of the Committee. The consultation followed the common procedures agreed between the treaty bodies and provided the Committee with substantial written and oral comments and recommendations from  States parties, civil society organisations, United Nations entities and academia. The Committee will carry out its second reading of the General Comment during its 62th session.

While the States Parties to the Convention are our crucial partners, the Committee relies on a close collaboration with civil society organizations, national human rights institutions, national preventive mechanisms and many other actors. In that regard, it is essential that all those cooperating with the Committee and more broadly all those contributing to the fight against torture, especially civil society actors, be protected from reprisals. Unfortunately, such reprisals do occur, and the Committee is collaborating with the Secretary General’s appointed focal point for reprisals to ensure transparency and that effective measures are taken in this field.

The Committee, together with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Torture who are both represented here today, are key actors in the fight against torture. As the United Nations anti-torture mechanisms, we are joined by a fourth key actor, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. The Committee against Torture will strive to make the collaboration among these four actors stronger and more effective in combatting torture.

As has hopefully been apparent, the Committee is constantly seeking to strengthen its working methods to promote full implementation of the Convention as well as aligning its procedures with the other Treaty Bodies as encouraged in the General Assembly resolution 68/268. Under this resolution, 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. Conversely, allocation of necessary resources will be conducive to the desired alignment of procedures and simplification of the interaction between States parties and the Treaty body system.

Allow me to conclude by reminding us all that torture is arguably the cruellest and most brutal of all human rights violations – it destroys the victims’ life by means of suffering and pain. It is an obligation of all of us to prevent it from happening and to provide redress to those who were tortured because their State failed to protect them against this crime.