Committee against Torture Concludes Seventy-Eighth Session after Adopting Concluding Observations on Reports of Burundi, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, Kiribati and Slovenia
The Committee against Torture this morning closed its seventy-eighth session after adopting its concluding observations on the reports of Burundi, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, Kiribati and Slovenia on their efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Claude Heller, Committee Chairperson, said the seventy-eighth session was held from 30 October to 24 November 2023. The concluding observations on Burundi, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, Kiribati and Slovenia would be available on the session’s webpage in the coming days.
On Burundi, Mr. Heller said the Committee expressed its deep concern about the many, credible allegations of serious human rights violations committed in Burundi since the political crisis of 2015. It was particularly troubled by reports of extrajudicial executions and acts of torture and ill-treatment involving, among others, members of the security forces, the armed forces, the National Intelligence Service and the Imbonerakure. The Committee urged the State party to exercise strict control over the police and security forces and to ensure that all allegations were impartially investigated; that those responsible received sentences commensurate with the gravity of the offences; and that the victims received appropriate redress. Further, the Committee expressed its concern about the many allegations that human rights defenders continued to be regularly subjected to intimidation, threats, harassment, physical assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, prosecution, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial execution at the hands of State agents. The Committee called on the State party to ensure that human rights defenders were adequately protected; to undertake prompt, effective and impartial investigations into the allegations of human rights violations; to punish those responsible with appropriate penalties; and to immediately release all persons being detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
Regarding Costa Rica, Mr. Heller said that, while acknowledging the State party's efforts to reform its criminal policy in order to reduce prison overcrowding, the Committee voiced concerns about the ongoing shortcomings detected in this regard. The Committee called on Costa Rica to continue its efforts to reduce overcrowding in prisons, and to take urgent measures to address any deficiencies related to general living conditions and health care in prisons. The Committee was also concerned about the excessive use of pretrial detention by the State party's judicial authorities and its almost automatic application in the case of offences related to drug trafficking. It urged the State party to ensure scrupulous respect for the rules governing pretrial detention and to ensure that it was used only in exceptional circumstances and for limited periods. Lastly, the Committee remained concerned at reports about harassment and attacks against indigenous peoples, human rights defenders and environmental activists during the period under review. It called on the State party to continue to promote the necessary measures to prevent and protect the life and physical integrity of such persons.
Concerning Denmark, the Committee expressed concern that Denmark still lacked a provision in its domestic legislation criminalising torture as a distinct offence. However, the Committee welcomed the establishment of the Committee for the Independent Criminalisation of Torture, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and the ratification of the amendment to the Rome Statute on the crime of aggression, and recommended that Denmark implemented its previous recommendations on the matter. The Committee also expressed its concern that women in administrative detention were sometimes detained in poor conditions with individuals of the opposite sex with violent criminal histories, and that individuals under the regime of “tolerated stay”, some for more than 15 years, were prohibited from working or freely choosing their own residence. It called on Denmark to, in cases of administrative detention, improve conditions of detention and detain persons with criminal histories separately to those without; and to review the regime of tolerated stay for people in protracted situations to ensure access to work, education, and the ability to freely choose one’s own residence.
On Egypt, the Committee remained deeply concerned at the lack of accountability for alleged systematic use of torture and ill-treatment by police officers, prison guards and other members of the security forces, which contributed to a climate of impunity. The Committee recommended that the State party ensure that all complaints of torture and ill-treatment were investigated in a prompt, effective and impartial manner by an independent body, and that the suspected perpetrators and the superior officers responsible for ordering or tolerating such acts were duly tried and, if found guilty, punished in a manner that was commensurate with the gravity of those acts. The Committee expressed its concern that counter-terrorism laws contained a definition of terrorism that was vague, overly broad and reportedly used to silence actual or perceived critics of the Government. It also expressed its concern about allegations that persons accused of terrorism were often subjected to arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance and that court proceedings in terrorism cases often lacked fundamental procedural safeguards. The Committee recommended that the State party review the definition of terrorism in its counter-terrorism legislation to ensure that it was in line with the Convention and international standards; and ensure that all allegations of torture, ill-treatment and other violations committed by public officials against persons accused of involvement in terrorist acts were promptly, impartially and effectively investigated, that those responsible were prosecuted and duly punished, and that victims obtained redress.
Regarding Kiribati, the Committee was concerned that the State party had not yet incorporated the obligations under the Convention, including a definition of the crime of torture that corresponded with article one of the Convention, and substantive provisions that ensured compliance with all the Convention’s substantive requirements. The Committee urged the State party to incorporate a definition of the crime of torture that corresponded with article one of the Convention, and to ensure that there were no mitigating circumstances or any other exception to the absolute prohibition against torture. Regarding the condition of prisons, the Committee remained concerned about poor conditions of detention, overcrowding, limited ventilation, and lack of adequate food. The Committee urged the State party to intensify its efforts to improve conditions of detention; guarantee that the basic needs of persons deprived of liberty were satisfied; ensure the separation of pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners; ensure that there was a sufficient number of suitable medical personnel, materials and medicines; and to increase detainees’ access to rehabilitation and social reintegration programmes.
As for Slovenia, the Committee was concerned about the persistent high level of domestic violence and the low rate of prosecutions and convictions in this context. It asked Slovenia to redouble its efforts to ensure that all cases of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, were thoroughly investigated, that alleged perpetrators were prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished appropriately, and that the victims or their families obtained redress, including adequate compensation. Regarding juvenile justice, the Committee raised concerns that access to ex officio lawyers for minors facing criminal charges for minor offences was not always assured, as it was subject to a juvenile judge’s decision. It asked Slovenia to ensure that all minors facing criminal charges were represented by either a lawyer of their choice or an ex officio lawyer. The Committee also raised concerns about reports suggesting insufficient rehabilitation programmes for drug and alcohol addiction of children deprived of liberty, notably in the Radeče Reform School, and about the poor material conditions of detention detected therein, and asked the State party to strengthen existing and develop new rehabilitation programmes in this regard and ensure the maintenance of adequate conditions of detention in juvenile reform schools.
Mr. Heller said that during the current session, the Committee examined 18 individual complaints and adopted eight decisions on the merits, finding violations in six cases and no violation in two cases, and two other decisions on admissibility. Additionally, eight complaints were discontinued in accordance with the Committee’s Rules of Procedure. The Committee faced a large backlog of individual communications that it was not able to fully address. It called on Member States to provide it with appropriate support to address the backlog.
During the session, the Committee took necessary precautionary measures to protect anyone cooperating with it from reprisals or any other acts of intimidation. The Committee carefully examined all allegations of intimidation and reprisals that it received and acted fully in line with its guidelines on reprisals.
The Committee was reaching the end of a cycle, Mr. Heller said, with two Experts reaching the end of their terms: Ilvija Puce (Latvia) and Sébastien Touze (France). Mr. Heller and other Committee Experts thanked them for their contributions to the Committee and wished them well in their future endeavours.
In closing, Mr. Heller thanked all relevant members of States parties, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, national human rights institutes, national preventive mechanisms, as well as Committee Experts, Secretariat staff and other stakeholders for their contributions to the session.
The Committee is scheduled to hold its seventy-ninth session from 15 April to 10 May 2024, during which it will consider the reports of Austria, Azerbaijan, Honduras, Kuwait, Liechtenstein and North Macedonia.
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