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UN Committee Against Torture publishes findings on Belgium

GENEVA (30 July 2021) – The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) today issued its findings on Belgium, the State party which it examined during its latest session.

The findings contain positive aspects of Belgium's implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as well as the Committee's main concerns and recommendations.

The CAT was particularly concerned about the prevalence of ill-treatment and the excessive use of force by the police, which resulted in the death of several detainees since 2014. One case involved a Slovak national, Jozef Chovanec, who died a day after police officers pinned him down in a cell and sat on his chest in February 2018.

The Committee also highlighted instances where disproportionate force was used to control crowds, for example, during unauthorized protests against COVID-19 restrictions in April and May this year. It voiced concern at what it described as the excessive use of weapons to disperse demonstrations, such as tear gas, batons and water cannons. The Committee also questioned the effectiveness of investigations by oversight bodies on illegitimate use of force, the low conviction figures and criminal penalties, as well as the very high rate of suspension of sentence.

The Committee was concerned about prison overcrowding and prison conditions, including the dilapidated state of at least six prisons, inadequate showers and toilets, and lack of hygiene, leading, in some cases, to infestations of cockroaches and rats. 

The CAT regretted the Belgian Constitutional Court’s decision in February this year to uphold the systematic detention of asylum seekers at the border. The Committee noted reports that Belgium continues to deport asylum seekers to countries in conflict where there is a high risk that those returned will be subjected to torture or ill-treatment.

The Committee welcomed the repatriation of 10 Belgian children and six Belgium women from conflict zones in mid-July as well as the State party's recent commitment to repatriate all children under the age of 12 born to Belgian nationals. It, however, remained concerned about children aged 12 to 18 and their mothers, who are detained in camps in north-eastern Syria in inhumane and degrading conditions.

The above findings, officially named as Concluding Observations, are now available online on the session webpage.

The Committee is due to hold its next session from 8 November to 3 December this year to review Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Nigeria, Serbia and Sweden.

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For more information and media requests in Geneva, please contact:
Vivian Kwok at +41 (0) 22 917 9362 / vkwok@ohchr.org or UN Human Rights Office Media Section at +41 (0) 22 928 9855 / media@ohchr.org  

Background
The Committee Against Torture monitors States parties’ adherence to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which to date has 171 State parties. The Committee is made up of 10 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Committee’s concluding observations are an independent assessment of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations under the treaty.

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