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OMCT intervenes at the CHR on torture: Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, China and the need for additional international mechanisms


Point 11

Mr. President,

The representatives of Amnesty International and the Association for the Prevention of Torture have just reminded us that the current session of the Commission is a crucial phase in the long process of elaboration of a protocol for the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Such a mechanism is more necessary than ever because, in spite of efforts undertaken over decades, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are still widespread on all continents. The system proposed has proved its efficacy in Europe where 41 countries, all party to the European Convention on the Prevention of Torture, are regularly visited by independent international experts whose observations, we believe, are conducive to dialogue and very often to the ending of these despicable practices.

That almost all the countries visited took the initiative to publish reports that were not always flattering, even though they were not obliged to do so, was proof that the authorities saw in these observations the opportunity to improve their practices and did not perceive them as intolerable interference. This courageous attitude, far from undermining the authority of the governments in question, was a major contribution to strengthening their credibility.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), together with the other members of CINAT , would wish this mechanism to become universally accepted as quickly as possible, which was in fact its initial objective. However, my organisation considers that this mechanism will not achieve its aim unless its unique character is preserved. In other words, the unconditional access by independent external experts to any and all detention centres, at any time, must remain an essential characteristic of this system. However worthy and necessary the various national initiatives may be, they cannot serve the same purpose. We would ask all the parties negotiating this sensitive protocol kindly to respect these elements which give it its strength.

Mr. President,

During numerous sessions of the Commission OMCT noted grave violations of human rights in Bahrain. Today we would like to express our satisfaction at the measures taken in recent months. The national referendum, the abolition of the national security law and of the Security Court, the freeing of political prisoners and an amnesty for all prisoners in detention for crimes affecting national security are measures which go beyond mere formal reforms. The return of numerous exiles is proof of the genuine change that has taken place. OMCT hopes that this process will continue and that those guilty of crimes committed during the preceding period will be judged. Furthermore, OMCT would like to encourage the Bahraini authorities to intensify their cooperation with the various international mechanisms and in particular, with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Mr. President,

The positive changes registered in Bahrain have been widely echoed in the media of other Arab countries, thus making the situation in some of them even more intolerable. We will not revert here to Algeria since we have already mentioned it in under Point 9 of the Agenda on large scale violations ! However, Mr. President, we would like to draw the attention of the Commission to the very serious situation currently prevailing in Libya and Tunisia.

In Libya, parents and victims who have been able to leave the country regularly mention the widespread use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In its conclusions of its last examination of the situation in Libya, the Committee Against Torture expressed concern over information it continues to receive concerning allegations of torture committed by the State party and pointed out that the Libyan authorities had not responded satisfactorily to its earlier recommendations. In spite of the seriousness of these allegations, certain western States consider that Libya is now a country to which asylum seekers can be safely returned. OMCT would like to repeat its warning that the guarantees offered by the Libyan authorities have already proved false.

Mr. President,

The case of Tunisia has already been the object of numerous comments, both by Tunisian national NGOs and by major international NGOs. Opposition to Islamic fundamentalism cannot justify torture and appears increasingly to be an ill-conceived attempt to justify repression of all dissident forces in the country. Although - in the absence of an international criminal court - OMCT would rather call on the respective justice systems of the countries concerned, the impunity enjoyed by torturers in Tunisia has lead our organisation to resort to the systems of universal jurisdiction foreseen by the Convention Against Torture, to which Tunisia is a party, to obtain justice in the name of victims in exile.

Mr. President,

The opening of a dialogue with the Chinese authorities has so far been relatively fruitless and many of its aims have still not been achieved. OMCT continues to receive numerous allegations of torture of members of trade unions not recognised by the authorities; of members of ethnic minorities, especially Tibetans; of human rights activists and of members of the Falun Gong movement. Furthermore, on the normative level, China has still not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, even though numerous high level seminars both in Beijing and in European capitals have enabled the Chinese to overcome any doubts they may have had on the effects of this instrument.

After the encouraging visit by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other signs of cooperation, the Chinese authorities had agreed to a visit by the Special Rapporteur on torture - a visit long awaited by organisations defending human rights. Unfortunately, the Chinese authorities refused to accept the terms of reference covering the visit by these international bodies and insisted on imposing their own conditions. OMCT is highly concerned by these attempts by one of the biggest powers in the world to impose its own criteria on those defined by the international community. OMCT would like to congratulate the Special Rapporteur on his unambiguous attitude and hopes that in future any country that accepts the visit of an international mechanism will consent, without reserve, to the internationally defined terms of reference.

Thank you Mr. President.

Eric Sottas
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