ICJ Addresses UN Human Rights Commission on Adoption of Torture Protocol

On 24 September, the United Nation Human Rights Commission held a one-day informal session, in part to discuss the human rights agenda for the present session of the General Assembly in New York.

The ICJ, on behalf of 11 non-governmental organisations, addressed the Commission, calling on all states to support the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture at the General Assembly. The text of the intervention is reproduced below.

Joint Statement for the Informal One-Day Meeting of the Commission on Human Rights

24 September 2002

Mr. Chairman,

Among the most positive results of the 58th session of the Commission on Human Rights was the adoption of a Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In July, the Economic and Social Council similarly adopted the text. Next month, the Government of Costa Rica will present a resolution for the final adoption of the Optional Protocol at the General Assembly.

A coalition of non-governmental organisations has expressed the message to Governments worldwide that the Draft Optional Protocol constitutes an unprecedented opportunity to prevent torture. This group includes Amnesty International, the Association for the Prevention of Torture, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, the International Service for Human Rights, the International League for Human Rights, Redress and the World Organisation against Torture.

The Optional Protocol would assist States to prevent torture by providing for a system of regular visits to places of detention by independent and adequately mandated international and national bodies of experts. The experts would make recommendations for practical improvements to conditions and practices in places of detention on the basis of their visits. In particular the Optional Protocol would provide that:

  • States Parties establish one or several national visiting mechanisms to conduct sustained regular visits. This provision would take into consideration different political and judicial structures, including federal states; ß the proposed international mechanism would draw up a programme of regular visits in consultation with States Parties to the Protocol;
  • the reports of the international mechanism would be confidential, unless States Parties choose to publish them in whole or in part;
  • States Parties would be given the opportunity to “opt-out” of either the international or national mechanisms for a maximum of five years, to allow them to prepare for visits by either the international or national mechanism;
  • the visits of the international mechanism would be funded through the regular UN budget thereby affording less developed States the opportunity to ratify the instrument;
  • a special voluntary fund would be established to assist with the implementation of the recommendations of the international mechanism and the education programmes of the national bodies.

The Working Group established by this Commission and open to all States spent ten years negotiating the Draft Optional Protocol. During the last Working Group session, it became apparent that reconciling polarised positions on a few issues was not possible and that the best achievable compromise had been reached in the present text.

The proposed Optional Protocol comprises those ideas and elements which gained the broadest support within the protracted negotiations of the Working Group. Accordingly, it is clear that no gain can be achieved through further consultations.

We remain concerned that a very small minority of member States of the UN may be prepared to take steps to block the UN General Assembly’s adoption of this important instrument. However, we are heartened that the Optional Protocol has so far received broad support from all regions of the world, as reflected in the voting outcome at the ECOSOC.

We appeal to all Commission Members and Observer States to take the historic step forward, in the prevention of torture, by supporting the adoption of the proposed Optional Protocol during the forthcoming 57th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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