Committee against Torture Adopts Concluding Observations on Australia, El Salvador, Chad, Malawi, Somalia and Uganda Before Closing its Seventy-Fifth Session
Also Adopts Final Concluding Observations on Nicaragua
The Committee against Torture this morning closed its seventy-fifth session after adopting its concluding observations on the reports of Australia, El Salvador, Chad, Malawi, Somalia and Uganda. The Committee also adopted its final concluding observations on Nicaragua, which were provisionally approved at its seventy-fourth session.
Going over some of the main aspects of the concluding observations, Claude Heller, Committee Chairperson, said concerning Australia, the Committee expressed deep concern that detention continued to be mandatory for all unauthorised arrivals, including children. The Committee requested the State party to repeal the legal provisions establishing the mandatory and indefinite detention of persons entering its territory irregularly and ensure that detention was only applied as a last resort and for as short a period as possible, and that children and families with children were not detained due to their immigration status.
The Committee was also concerned that indigenous people continued to be disproportionately affected by incarceration, reportedly representing around 30 per cent of the prison population, compared to 3.2 per cent of the total population. It called on Australia to identify the root causes of the overrepresentation of indigenous people in prisons and revise regulations that led to the high incarceration rates.
While welcoming El Salvador’s declaration of the unconstitutionality of the 1993 General Amnesty Act, the Committee expressed concern regarding the delays in adopting comprehensive legislation relating to transitional justice and asked El Salvador to enact such legislation. The Committee also acknowledged the information provided by the State party regarding the murder rates and serious public order disturbances attributed to the upsurge in gang violence in the territory, but expressed concern at the serious human rights consequences of the measures taken by the authorities under the state of emergency. In this connection, the Committee asked El Salvador to adopt effective measures to prevent arbitrary arrests without a warrant and ensure that detained persons were afforded all fundamental safeguards from the outset of their deprivation, and that emergency legislation complied with international human rights law.
The Committee was also concerned about the situation in the places of deprivation of liberty and the lack of regular visits to monitor these places, and encouraged the State party to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and establish a national preventive mechanism aimed at preventing torture.
On Chad, the Committee was disturbed by the alleged use of lethal weapons by the security forces during presidential elections and the establishment of the Transitional Military Council in April 2021. It urged Chad to ensure investigations into these allegations, that perpetrators were punished, and that victims received full reparation. The prevalence of prison violence, including violent acts committed by prison staff against detainees, was also alarming. The Committee requested that the State party undertake investigations into all deaths in custody and all allegations relating to acts of torture and ill-treatment by prison personnel.
In view of the allegations of torture by State officials, the Committee remained deeply concerned at the lack of accountability reflected in the limited number of disciplinary measures and criminal prosecutions, which contributed to a climate of impunity. It recommended that the State party ensure all allegations of torture were promptly investigated by an independent body, that there were no institutional or hierarchical links between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators, and that suspects, if found guilty, were sentenced to penalties commensurate with the gravity of their acts.
Turning to Malawi, the Committee was concerned about severe prison overcrowding and poor material conditions, and called upon the State to guarantee that conditions of detention fully complied with United Nations standards and to take all necessary measures, including the enactment of the Prison Bill, to reduce overcrowding in prisons. The Committee was also concerned by reports indicating the placement of persons in pretrial detention for prolonged periods and requested that national authorities respected the regulations governing pretrial detention, and that Malawi set up a formal procedure to track the detention of all persons deprived of liberty.
The Committee reproached Malawi for its failure to prohibit the admissibility of confessions obtained under torture in its Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code, and was concerned about reports indicating the use of torture to elicit confessions. The Committee asked Malawi to amend the relevant provision of the Code and ensure that such confessions were systematically declared null and void.
Regarding Somalia, the Committee was concerned that the State party had yet to establish a definition of torture as a specific offense in its legislation and to set up a national human rights institution. It was disturbed by reports about torture and other ill-treatment, including gender-based violence, committed by the National Intelligence and Security Agency, the Somali National Army and other actors.
The Committee also noted that the public executions practiced in Somalia raised serious issues under the Convention. The Committee was further concerned by overcrowding and poor conditions in Somali prisons and by reports of life-threatening conditions in detention facilities under control of Al-Shabaab. Under its follow-up procedure, the Committee asked the State party to establish a definition of torture that complied with the Convention and a national human rights institution, and ensure that all alleged acts of torture were promptly investigated in an impartial manner.
On Uganda, the Committee was concerned by reports that torture and ill-treatment continued to be frequently practiced in the country and at reports indicating excessive use of force within the context of COVID-19 emergency measures. The Committee also expressed concern at the reported non-implementation of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Regulations of 2017 by respective agencies, including the Uganda Police Force. Access to justice by victims was limited because prosecutors and judges lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute cases of torture. The Committee urged the State, inter alia, to ensure that all complaints of torture were promptly investigated by an independent body.
The Committee reiterated the recommendation contained in its previous concluding observations that the State party should abolish the use of unauthorised places of detention or “safe houses”, and immediately provide information about all places of detention. Uganda should also investigate and prosecute officials involved in arbitrary detention and unauthorised detention places and ensure that victims had access to adequate remedies.
Mr. Heller said that at its seventy-fourth session, the Committee examined the second periodic report of Nicaragua in the absence of a delegation and approved provisional concluding observations, which were transmitted to the State party for its comments. In the absence of any comments from the State party, the Committee adopted the final concluding observations at this session. The Committee regretted the Nicaraguan authorities’ explicit refusal to submit written replies to the list of issues and the absence of the State party’s delegation during the scheduled dialogue. The letter sent by Nicaragua to the Chair of the Committee in June 2022 included unacceptable statements that challenged the integrity of the Committee.
The Committee was concerned about numerous reports indicating the lack of effective procedural safeguards provided to detained persons in the context of the protests initiated in April 2018, the criminalisation of the protests, and acts of repression carried out in the context of the protests, including the use of lethal force, acts of torture, forced disappearances, and threats and reprisals by agents of the National Police. The Committee urged Nicaragua to guarantee the legal safeguards to all persons from the outset of their detention, to adopt necessary measures to prevent acts of violence, and asked for those arbitrarily detained to be released, as well as asking Nicaragua to carry out an investigation into these acts and provide appropriate redress to victims.
Mr. Heller announced that, at its seventy-sixth session, the Committee would consider the reports of Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Slovakia. The Committee would also adopt the list of issues for Burundi and Egypt and list of issues prior to reporting for Portugal.
Turning to the complaints’ procedure, Mr. Heller noted that during the seventy-fifth session, the Committee had examined 15 individual complaints and adopted 11 decisions on the merits and four decisions on admissibility, while four complaints were discontinued. During the session, the Committee adopted the proposed text of guidelines on third-party intervention in the context of the individual complaints procedure, which would be included in the Committee’s rules of procedure.
Mr. Heller then reviewed the Committee’s activities on follow-up under articles 19 and 22 of the Convention, and in relation to reprisals. Further information is available in the meeting summary.
In closing, Mr. Heller thanked all non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, Committee Experts, members of the secretariat and other stakeholders for their contributions to the session. The international context this year had severely impacted the work of the treaty bodies and affected the relevancy of human rights. These were challenges which lay in the Committee’s future.
Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, and webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s seventy-fifth session and other documents related to the session, including the concluding observations, can be found here.
The Committee is scheduled to hold its seventy-sixth session from 17 April to 12 May 2023, during which it will review the reports of Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Slovakia.
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