Committee against Torture Opens Seventy-Ninth Session in Geneva and Re-Elects Claude Heller as its Chairperson


The Committee against Torture this morning opened its seventy-ninth session, which is being held in Geneva from 15 April to 10 May, during which it will review efforts by Austria, Azerbaijan, Finland, Honduras, Liechtenstein and North Macedonia to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The Committee re-elected Claude Heller (Mexico) as its Chair and elected Erdogan Iscan (Türkiye), Maeda, Naoko (Japan), and Abderrazak Rouwane (Morocco) as Vice-Chairs. It also welcomed two new Experts, Jorge Contesse (Chile) and Peter Vedel Kessing (Denmark), who made their solemn declarations. Mr. Vedel Kessing was appointed as Committee Rapporteur. The Committee additionally adopted its provisional agenda for the session.

Mahamane Cisse-Gouro, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Representative of the Secretary-General, said that the Committee played a key role in upholding the absolute prohibition of torture. This overarching mandate was more relevant than ever, as the world continued to face a myriad of crises and conflicts. The Committee’s work had revealed that many States, as well as armed groups, had engaged in torture and other ill treatment. Through its reporting, inquiry and individual communications procedures, the Committee monitored the implementation of the Convention, working to prevent acts of torture and facilitate reparations for victims and survivors of torture.

This year marked the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention against Torture, Mr. Cisse-Gouro said. With the recent accession of Tuvalu, there were now 174 States parties, approaching universal ratification. Mr. Cisse-Gouro welcomed that the Committee and its Secretariat, together with the other United Nations anti-torture mechanisms, had planned a campaign to highlight achievements made since the adoption of the Convention. The campaign provided space for discussions regarding the state of the anti-torture movement today, with special reference to emerging issues. Events organised so far this year to commemorate the fortieth anniversary included a workshop and public event on torture and mental health, led by the Fund for Victims of Torture, held on 20 March, and a side-event held on 27 March on the margins of the fifty-fifth session of the Human Rights Council. Other activities were planned throughout the year, including a high-level anniversary event on 14 November.

Mr. Cisse-Gouro said the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights would continue to actively support efforts to strengthen the treaty body system. The Office shared the Committee’s concerns about the current financial crisis of the United Nations, its consequences on the work of the human rights treaty bodies, and the support the Office could provide in these circumstances. The Office had done its utmost to ensure the organisation of treaty body sessions despite the heavy impact of the liquidity crisis on both staff resources and non-post expenditures. Mr. Cisse-Gouro confirmed that resources had just been secured to enable Committees to hold their second sessions. The Office had also been able to support this year’s first country visit by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, as planned. He expressed hope that the Third Committee sessions could also be held, but this would depend on forthcoming developments regarding the liquidity situation.

At the fifty-fifth session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Voule, presented a model protocol for law enforcement officials to promote and protect human rights in the context of peaceful protests, aimed at assisting States in meeting their human rights obligations. It provided practical guidance on how to ensure that law enforcement decisions, strategies and actions at all stages of protests were based on the principles of non-discrimination, precaution and accountability, and aimed to de-escalate and prevent the use of force.

Also, Mr. Cisse-Gouro reported, at the last session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Alice Jill Edwards, presented a report on some of the most significant issues on prison management worldwide, which identified a number of good practices implemented at the national level to help effectively address them. The report formulated several concrete recommendations to contribute to the development of just and humane practices and management.

In closing, Mr. Cisse-Gouro expressed appreciation for the outgoing Bureau and other members of the Committee for their good cooperation with the Secretariat and pledged the Secretariat’s full support for the Committee’s activities. He wished the Committee every success in its work.

Claude Heller, in his opening remarks as Committee Chairperson, thanked the Committee for placing its trust in him to continue to chair the Committee. He said the international situation, marked by serious regressions in human rights and the emergence of war and conflicts, posed major challenges for the Committee. This showed how important it was that the United Nations treaty body system worked efficiently.

The United Nations was facing a deep-seated financial crisis caused by the non-fulfilment of financial obligations by many States, which had a severe knock-on effect on human rights. The treaty body system was engaged in a strengthening process and had called for more financial and human resources. There was more work for treaty bodies to do than ever, but they were receiving less support. Nevertheless, it was imperative that the Committee redoubled its efforts and continued to strengthen the various initiatives under its mandate, Mr. Heller said. He expressed regret that the Committee was unable to conduct private hybrid meetings with non-governmental organizations due to measures adopted in response to the liquidity crisis.

During the session, Mr. Heller said, in addition to conducting in-person dialogues to review the reports of Austria, Azerbaijan, Finland, Honduras, Liechtenstein and North Macedonia, the Committee would also prepare and adopt lists of issues for Albania, Namibia and Turkmenistan and a list of issues prior to reporting for Belgium. Further, it would consider 25 individual communications, examining five communications on the merits, five communications on admissibility, as well as 15 requests for discontinuance of communications.

On Monday, 6 May, follow-up reports would be presented by the Committee’s Rapporteur for follow-up to concluding observations, the Rapporteur for follow-up on decisions adopted under article twenty-two, and the Rapporteur on reprisals. The Committee would hear a presentation from the Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment on the Subcommittee’s seventeenth annual report in a public meeting on Thursday, 25 April. The Committee was also scheduled to adopt its own annual report in a public meeting on Friday, 10 May.

Mr. Heller thanked States, national human rights organizations, civil society organizations and the Secretariat for their support of the Committee.

Documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, and webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 16 April at 10 a.m. to consider the seventh periodic report of Austria (CAT/C/AUT/7).

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