FIACAT at the Commission on Human Rights
15 March - 23 April 2004
2004 priorities in brief :
For the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, FIACAT focused on the human rights situations in Togo and Chechnya, and on ensuring that the special rapporteurs be invited to visit those countries. FIACAT also monitored the other themes of the session: the death penalty (advocating the adoption of a resolution by 80 co-sponsors to improve on the current 75), enforced disappearances, and torture.
The true outcome of this 60th session of the Commission on Human Rights is to be found in the sub-text, reporting progress on several fronts but also many setbacks. The most important points are explained below.
Censorship of criticism
This tendency became most noticeable when one group of countries led a campaign to remove point 9 from the agenda (concerning human rights violations in countries). This move resulted in a weighty silence on grave violations of human rights in certain countries, and in particular compromised the Commission’s credibility.
The general use of thematic resolutions greatly increased, leading to ’soft’ resolutions, from which some countries were excused after a little ’negotiating’. A large increase was noted in the number of resolutions put forward in the name of technical cooperation (point 19), with the same aim: to reduce the number of criticisms made under point 9. The result this year is that the special rapporteurs to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi have not had their mandates renewed under point 9 ; moreover, under point 19, they have been replaced by independent experts, who will assist States in respecting human rights.
The resolution on torture
This resolution, which was put forward by 58 co-sponsor States and which condemns torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments, was adopted by consensus. Nevertheless, the total prohibition of torture (jus cogens) is not explicitly recognised in the text.
This is regrettable. The special rapporteur on torture, Mr Théo Van Boven, deplored this tendency to erode universal consensus on the total prohibition of torture, even though this practice is outlawed everywhere and in all circumstances by international norms. He also highlighted a diminishing respect for the principle of non-return of persons to a country where they are at risk of torture; this has never been mentioned before in such a resolution, and thus the statement represents progress.
The report on T. Van Boven’s mission to Spain, in which ACAT was involved, and which highlighted the situation of persons detained in anti-terrorist operations, provoked stinging attacks from the Spanish authorities. This negative attitude by a European State was widely criticised.
The question of the death penalty
This resolution was supported by 76 countries, and was adopted by a majority of 28 votes, with 20 against and 5 abstentions.
In his report on the death penalty, the Secretary General announced an increase in the number of countries which have ratified or adhered to international instruments for the abolition of capital punishment, and the total number of countries which still support this sentence fell from 71 to 66, in effect increasing the number of abolitionist countries from 33 to 37. Moreover, Additional Protocol no. 13 to the European Human Rights Convention, relating to the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances, came into force on 1st July 2003.
These developments, together with voting conditions of the resolution, demonstrate that support for the abolition of capital punishment continues to rise, despite persistent efforts by an opposing group of States (28 countries led by Saudi Arabia have publicly declared their support for capital punishment).
The situation in Chechnya
In a joint statement written in collaboration with OMCT, CCFD and Médecins du Monde, FIACAT advocated the adoption of a resolution demanding that the Russian government end all torture and other forms of maltreatment, re-open its borders to international observers and invite special rapporteurs to visit the country.
Two meetings co-organised by FIACAT, were held in parallel with the work of the Commission : on 25 March, Sylvie Bukhari de Pontual, representing ACAT-France and FIACAT, spoke alongside HRW, FIDH, the International Helsinki Federation and Médecins du Monde. On 8 April, Claire Chimelli, FIACAT’s representative in Geneva, attended the Martin Ennals award ceremony and used the occasion to distribute the report on ACAT-France/FIACAT’s mission to Chechnya.
Nevertheless, the resolution on the human rights situation in Chechnya was rejected by the Commission, to the indignation of NGOs.
The situation in Togo
A statement has been co-written by FIACAT and the ’Togo’ coalition which emphasises the deteriorating human rights situation in Togo, the oppressive surveillance of human rights defenders, and allegations of the systematic use of torture. The Togolese government has branded these accusations unfounded and far removed from reality. There was no vote on a resolution regarding the alarming human rights situation in this country, and only Switzerland mentioned Togo in its oral statement. Even worse: Togo has just been elected this year as a member of the Commission on Human Rights for three years.
. Enforced disappearances: the Commission decided to call two formal sessions of the Working Group responsible for drafting a normative instrument for the protection of individuals against enforced disappearances, with the aim of presenting a final draft next year. FIACAT is keeping a close eye on the development of this text.
. Arbitrary executions: the special rapporteur on these issues, Mme Asma Jahangir, visited Brazil with the support of ACAT. Her report highlights the persistent problem of impunity and the necessity for reform of the courts system if the independence of legal institutions from the police force is to be guaranteed.