12 July 2021
The Committee against Torture this afternoon opened its seventy-first session online, hearing a statement by Antti Korkeakivi, Chief, Anti-Torture, Coordination and Funds Section, Human Rights Treaties Branch, at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Committee also adopted its agenda for the session.
Mr. Korkeakivi noted that the work of all ten human rights treaty bodies had been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, while human rights violations continued to affect victims of torture and human rights defenders.
In such circumstances, he welcomed the joint statement that the four UN Anti-Torture mechanisms issued on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June. The mechanisms called on States to respect and uphold the right to redress, in particular by ensuring that civil society organizations and human rights defenders could document torture and support the rehabilitation of victims.
The participation of the Committee Against Torture in the Treaty Bodies Working Group on the COVID-19 Pandemic had also facilitated enhanced interaction on substantive human rights consequences of the pandemic, such as on mental health, and the role of human rights mechanisms and standards in that respect.
Welcoming Committee members’ engagement in pursuing their work despite obstacles, he noted that the lifting of travel restrictions, as well as the lifting of the temporary freeze of the Organization’s regular budget, would allow for the travel of experts to resume. Preparations had started for the return to in-person meetings.
On the Committee’s agenda, in addition to the focused country dialogue with Belgium, the Committee would adopt views on individual communications, continue its work against reprisals, and hold consultations with civil society and national human rights institutions.
The Committee then proceeded to adopt the agenda of the seventy-first session.
Acting Committee Chairperson Claude Heller welcomed Mr. Peter Vedel Kessing as a new member of the Committee against Torture. Despite the challenges presented by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Committee had continued to perform key activities, registering new complaints and issuing interim measures, among other activities.
The Committee would review Belgium due to the country’s announcement at the Human Rights Council session that it volunteered for online country reviews. The review of Belgium would not create a precedent for future reviews, as States should volunteer for and not be compelled to undergo such online reviews.
At its present session, the Committee would give priority to examining and deciding on the merits of individual complaints, since the backlog had increased. During the session, the Committee would also also hold a private meeting with the Convention against Torture Initiative (CTI), a key partner of the Committee, as well as private discussions and decisions on individual complaints.
Acting Interim Vice Chairperson Sébastien Touzé said it had been one year since the Committee had been able to work properly. Having submitted proposals in April for more meetings to deal with its backlog of work, he bemoaned the rejection of his proposals, adding that exceptional measures were required during exceptional situations. Many other international organizations had resumed face-to-face or hybrid format meetings, and the United Nations Treaty Bodies must do the same.
Acting Interim Committee Rapporteur Diego Rodríguez-Pinzón said it was important for the Committee to proactively carry out its work, adding that one focus should be on the consideration of new communications and interim measures.
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 is available via the following
The Committee will next reconvene in public at 14.00 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 July, to discuss follow-up to articles 19 and 22, and reprisals.