Lack of Accountability for Torture Worldwide Due to Systemic Denial, Evasion by Public Authorities, Special Rapporteur Tells Third Committee
With Focus on Promoting Democratization, Under‑Secretary‑General Spotlights Duty of Political Leaders to Tackle Disinformation, Hate Speech
There is a persistent accountability gap for torture and ill treatment worldwide, caused in part by the systemic denial, deliberate obstruction and purposeful evasion of responsibility by public authorities, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the topic told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as delegates began their consideration of broad human rights questions.
Among the five independent experts and special-mandate holders to present their findings during virtual interactive dialogues, Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said the COVID‑19 crisis has entailed a sharp deterioration in conditions of detention.
In many places, he said, where inmates depend on families for their daily supplies of food and prescription drugs, lockdowns have gravely exacerbated their situation, pointing to numerous reports of lethal force and unrestrained police brutality used to enforce these measures. Most worryingly, violence has often been encouraged by discriminatory narratives spread or condoned by political leaders, local authorities and the media.
“This flagrant lack of accountability has further fuelled tensions and given rise to a growing sense of powerlessness, fear and resentment,” he said, not only among victims and their relatives, but throughout the most vulnerable and politically exposed parts of the population.
In an ensuing dialogue, Myanmar’s representative said that following the coup, the military has been using arrests and ill treatment to rule by fiat. People have been arbitrarily arrested and killed. In the last eight months alone, there have been 150 incidents of people being tortured to death during detention. He cited beating, sexual violence, deprivation of food and water and the denial of medical treatment among the methods being used.
In Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan’s representative said, occupying forces indulge in torture and deny facts. She asked how the occupying forces can be held accountable. To those comments, India’s representative stressed that his country is firmly against any form of torture and accused Pakistan’s delegate of spreading falsehoods. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation’s representative disagreed with the Special Rapporteur’s optimism about international justice and the role of special tribunals or investigation commissions. Both have proven to be ineffective and politicized, he asserted.
Claude Heller, Acting Chair of the Committee Against Torture, said mandated activities, such as country reviews and the discussion and adoption of individual complaints, could not be carried out, due to the pandemic. The absence of cases of reprisals, in particular, may actually reveal a lack of access by victims to international and national mechanisms, as well as lawyers. Suzanne Jabbour, Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, meanwhile pointed out that efforts made in places of detention during the pandemic have shown that improvements can be implemented: overcrowding can be managed, access to health care guaranteed and special care for vulnerable groups put in place. “If this was possible in times of crisis, then it should be possible to pursue such policies also in ordinary times,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Rosemary Dicarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, launched the Committee’s broad discussion of human rights with a focus on strengthening the United Nations role in elections and the promotion of democratization, stressing that “genuine elections give people a real say in how their countries are run”. Political leaders have a duty to tackle disinformation and hate speech, while social media companies can develop ways to monitor such behaviour online.
Also briefing the Third Committee today was the Director of the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who introduced various reports, as well as the Chairs of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 October, to continue its consideration of human rights.
Interactive Dialogues – Human Rights
ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, introduced the report “Strengthening the role of the United Nations in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization” (document A/76/266), providing an overview of developments in the field of elections and United Nations electoral assistance to Member States over the last two years. During this period, the United Nations assisted ‑ at their request or based on a Security Council mandate ‑ more than 60 Member States in conducting elections. In response to challenges posed by the COVID‑19 pandemic, work processes were adjusted to meet the needs of Member States, as required.
“Genuine elections give people a real say in how their countries are run,” she said. “Democratic legitimacy and authority depend on the conduct of credible, fair, transparent and participatory polls.” United Nations electoral assistance was provided as a system-wide endeavour involving the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, the Department of Peace Operations, United Nations missions on the ground and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), along with other partners.
Offering examples, she said the United Nations supported the League of Arab States in improving its electoral database and institutional memory. It aided the Arab Organization of Electoral Management Bodies in pandemic response and worked closely with the African Union, coordinating through the joint United Nations-African Union Technical Working Group on Elections. Member States face difficult choices in deciding whether to proceed with scheduled elections, due to the pandemic. “Globally, the crisis drew attention to the fragility of the foundations on which credible elections are built,” she said, noting that “future decisions that have a significant impact on an electoral process ‑ such as a postponement in the face of a public health crisis ‑ should involve broad consultation across the political spectrum, with the aim of reaching consensus”.
She said online tools have enabled participation in elections on an unprecedented scale ‑ however, they have also been used to spread disinformation and hate speech. Political leaders have a role to play in tackling these problems, while social media companies can develop policies to monitor such online behaviour. On the role of women, she said that while the number of women elected or appointed to decision-making positions has risen, much more must be done, including steps to prevent violence against women in politics. Explaining that the United Nations engages in advocacy and advises on temporary special measures in elections, she noted that in Bolivia, Liberia, Mali and Somalia, for example, the Organization supported the adoption and implementation of temporary special measures to increase women’s participation. In Ethiopia, it supported the integration of gender components into public outreach strategies, while in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and Côte d’Ivoire, it supported the adoption of gender strategies by electoral commissions. Electoral assistance works best when part of a coherent strategy, combining technical support and political engagement, and drawing on adequate donor support.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, several delegates spotlighted the important role played by young people, with two youth representatives from Germany underscoring that politicians often think in terms of years, rather than decades, and forget the long-term consequences of their actions. Policy decisions taken today reach far into the future, they said, stressing that “nobody should live at the expense of those who come after”. The representative of Morocco said the international community is focused on the role of young people as key players in peacebuilding. She asked the Under-Secretary-General about the involvement of young people in peace settlement and the establishment of peace forums for young people.
Several delegations spoke of recent or upcoming elections, with the representative of Algeria noting that his country had requested electoral assistance from the United Nations with its snap election, held on 20 June 2021, after two consecutive parliamentary elections that were considered by independent observers to be free and fair. The representative of Lebanon said that in the spring of 2022, it will welcome observers and take the appropriate democratic measures to ensure a secure atmosphere for elections, with an emphasis on transparency.
The representative of Iran meanwhile said that responsibility for organizing elections lies with Member States, calling for the principle of national ownership to be respected. “There is no one-size-fits-all” for democracy, he affirmed. The Organization must take into account the specific context and requirements of States requesting assistance.
The representative of China also spoke.
Ms. DICARLO, responding, said young people must participate far more often in electoral policies and other decisions that are made regarding their lives and futures. Noting that the Our Common Agenda report focuses on the inclusion of youth in decision-making, she encouraged Member States to use innovative means, such as technology, to create positive opportunities for their participation in elections. She also noted that her office leads on the youth, peace and security agenda, and includes young people in many peacebuilding activities. She stressed that technology has enabled the United Nations to reach more young people over the last year and a half, enabling it to reach out to more audiences than in the past, including more women and young people, drawing them into discussions about elections.
To comments by the representative of Iran, she underscored that the United Nations follows the principles set out for electoral assistance, including State sovereignty, and respects the fact that the responsibility for elections is with the State concerned. The United Nations provides electoral support only at the request of the country concerned or with a Security Council or General Assembly mandate, she clarified.
CRAIG MOKHIBER, Director, New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced several reports by the Secretary-General, starting with “Terrorism and human rights” (document A/76/273), which highlights that countering terrorism and respecting and promoting human rights should be viewed as complementary objectives. It cites concerns relating to national counter-terrorism legislation, deficits in due process and fair trial in terrorism-related cases, and the negative impact of many counter-terrorism measures on civic space. It also draws attention to limited progress in prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes in terrorism and counter-terrorism contexts, he said. The report titled “Human rights of migrants” (document A/76/165) explores issues related to the protection of the human rights of migrants in vulnerable situations, including those impacted by COVID‑19, as well as the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. It details how the global public health crisis, the economic and social crisis, and the human rights protection crisis arising from the pandemic have further exacerbated existing inequalities and threats to migrants’ human rights, he said.
The report titled “Strengthening United Nations action in the field of human rights through the promotion of international cooperation and the importance of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity” (document A/76/249) highlights the need for solidarity between peoples, nations and generations rooted in the inalienable rights of every human person, including in response to COVID‑19, he said. It makes recommendations on international cooperation for equitable access to vaccines, closing digital divides and advancing the rights of youth and future generations. The consolidated report of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner on the “Right to development” (document A/76/247) focuses on the response to, and recovery from, the pandemic, including an overview of its impact on the realization of this right. It concludes that the response to the virus must be a global one, with human rights ‑ including the right to development ‑ at its core.
The report titled “Safety of journalists and the issue of impunity” (document A/76/285) features suggestions for strengthening the safety of journalists online, he continued. The report titled “Human rights and cultural diversity” (document A/76/244) summarizes efforts at the national, regional and international levels regarding the recognition and importance of cultural diversity. He also introduced these additional thematic reports: “National institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights” (document A/76/246); “Effective promotion of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities” (document A/76/255); “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons, based on religion or belief” (document A/76/164).
Turning to country-specific situations, he introduced reports titled “United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region” (document A/76/295) and “Subregional Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa” (document A/76/253). The report on “Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (document A/76/242) raises serious concerns over further deterioration in the food situation in that country in the wake of harsh COVID-19 restrictions. The report titled “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” (document A/76/268) stresses the lack of accountability mechanisms and impediments to the rule of law, and notes that the application of the death penalty, including for child offenders, remains high. It also raises concerns about the arbitrary deprivation of life, including through torture and denial of medical care in detention.
He went on to say that the report titled “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine” (document A/76/260), highlights arbitrary arrests and violations of fair trial rights, the situation of Ukrainian detainees, house raids disproportionately targeting Crimean Tatars, unlawful population transfers and infringements on fundamental freedoms. It contains recommendations to the Russian Federation as the occupying Power, as well as to Ukraine and the international community, he said.
In the interactive dialogue, the representative of Ukraine decried the human rights situation in occupied Crimea and called on the Russian Federation to abide by its international obligations. The representative of Morocco, pointing to the 11 September 2001 attacks, said her country has developed a national counter-terrorism strategy. She also highlighted efforts to combat hate speech. The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea categorically rejected the report related to the human rights situation in his country, stressing that its allegations are based on selectivity and deeply rooted double standards. Along similar lines, the representative of Iran criticized the report related to his country for being derived from politically motivated resolutions and sponsored by certain Governments. He criticized its selective approach to human rights achievements, which undermines its validity, and drew attention to its arbitrary judgments. He also condemned illegal coercive unilateral measures imposed by the United States.
Also speaking in the dialogue were representatives of Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan.
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its States parties, introduced that body’s annual report (document A/76/40), saying that the period under review was an exceptional one, as the COVID‑19 pandemic impacted the exercise of human rights around the globe. Under these difficult circumstances, the Committee held three sessions in an online setting. Regarding the individual communications under the Optional Protocol, the Committee adopted 246 decisions during the reporting period and up to the present, she said, adding that the pace of cases brought before the Committee is exponentially increasing. Without more staff in its Petitions Section, it will be unable to address the backlog of communications in a timely manner, she added.
During its July 2020 session, the Committee adopted General Comment 37 on the right of peaceful assembly, she continued. The pandemic’s impact on substantive and procedural work, the right to peaceful assembly and the mechanisms for following up on views and judgements were among the topics discussed during a half‑day online colloquium with the Inter‑American Court of Human Rights. A similar meeting with the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights is planned for 2022. The resumption of in‑person sessions will allow the Committee to carry out more State party reviews. During the current session, which resumed in Geneva on 11 October, the Committee will engage in dialogue with four States parties, consider 24 communications under its Optional Procedure and adopt a list of issues in relation to the States parties. She concluded by reiterating the Committee’s need for adequate human and financial resources to carry out its work and to ensure an efficient and effective treaty body system in the post‑pandemic period.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, several delegates focused on treaty body reforms, with the representative of the United States applauding the Human Rights Committee for the seriousness with which it has engaged on treaty body reforms aimed at harmonizing and streamlining the system. He also asked whether the Committee has discussed measures to address the backlog of reforms. An observer for the European Union highlighted the improved coordination of human rights treaty bodies and asked the Human Rights Committee Chair if she intended to maintain the virtual and hybrid meeting format. The representative of the Netherlands, associating with the European Union, said the 2020 report on the review of the United Nations treaty body system offers practical suggestions for improving inclusion. The representative of the Russian Federation meanwhile asked how the Human Rights Committee has adapted to the new work conditions and how successful it has been in eliminating the backlog of individual country reports. He also asked about its method for considering complaints related to the Optional Protocol and for ensuring confidentiality.
The representative of the United Kingdom meanwhile expressed concern over persistent intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists who cooperate with the Human Rights Committee. She asked how the Committee plans to address States’ failures to address their obligations under article 40 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The representative of Mexico said that the Human Rights Committee expressed concern in its report about prison conditions in his country and asked about best practices for improving prison environments.
Also speaking were representatives of Syria, India, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Greece and Morocco.
Ms. PAZARTZIS responded to comments by the European Union observer by stressing that shifting to online sessions during the pandemic had been difficult. Lessons were learned from the hybrid meeting format, which sometimes encouraged the participation of civil society. While she does not support online meetings, her intention is to continue hybrid sessions to secure higher participation. Limited translation services during the pandemic also greatly impacted the Committee’s work, she said, calling for an online database to make the work easily accessible to users. This situation led to a significant backlog of State reporting, as pointed out by the representative of the United Kingdom.
Turning to the comment by the Russian Federation’s delegate, she said that the Committee’s 2020 report would be presented during the next session, clarifying that complaints brought by individuals under the Optional Protocol are processed according to the provisions of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Committee works under its own rules, which sometimes differ from those of regional bodies. She concluded by underlining that interpretation of the Covenant must evolve with the pandemic.
Economic, Social, Cultural Rights
MOHAMED ABDEL-MONEIM, Chair of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, noting that the rights to work, social security, the highest attainable standard of health, and education were the human rights most drastically affected by the pandemic, requested additional resources for the Committee to fulfil its mandate. He underlined that the Committee has been advocating for equitable and affordable access to vaccines. Commenting on the impact of the pandemic on the Committee’s work, he pointed to the technical challenges of holding virtual meetings, as well as postponement of reviews and concerns about the backlog of State party reports, that limited the Committee’s ability to fulfil its mandate.
He noted that numerous States are more than 10 years overdue with the submission of their reports, including initial reports. While the Committee has agreed to proceed with a regular eight-year cycle and generalize the simplified reporting procedure, it must be provided with the resources to do so. As such, it was unable to proceed with the eight-year predictable calendar and offer the simplified reporting procedure. Turning to budget matters, he said the Assembly’s regular budget for 2021 did not correct the shortfall in staff resources to support the human rights treaty bodies. “Our work should be fully funded from the regular budget of the United Nations,” he stressed, expressing hope that the 2022 budget will redress this shortfall.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, delegates expressed support for the treaty bodies system in upholding economic and social rights. The representatives of Portugal, El Salvador and Armenia reaffirmed their commitments to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, inviting other States to ratify it.
Morocco’s delegate highlighted the universality and interdependence of human rights and, drawing attention to the gap between human rights and development, asked Mr. Abdel-Moneim whether a report on the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups in the global South would be conducted. Similarly, the representative of Algeria noted that these effects would have been mitigated if States had attached more importance to social, economic and cultural rights.
On the other hand, questions on the work of the Committee during the pandemic were also raised, with the representative of the Russian Federation asking how the Committee adapted to the remote format. He also reiterated his country’s opposition to unilateral coercive measures, calling them a violation of human rights and freedoms.
The representative of the Netherlands, through the voice of a youth representative, advocated for the inclusion of young people in decision-making and in politics, asking the Chair about ways to integrate youth in the work of the United Nations.
The representatives of Egypt, China, Cameroon, Nigeria and Azerbaijan also spoke, as did an observer for the European Union.
Mr. ABDEL-MONEIM, responding, warned that multilateralism must not become the victim of the pandemic, as it is the most important tool to overcome COVID‑19. He echoed calls by the youth delegates, adding that more time must be allocated to youth-related issues. Reiterating his commitment to the principle of confidentiality, he praised the Committee’s response to COVID‑19 and position on vaccines. Recalling Article 2 of the Covenant, he underscored the importance of international cooperation, pressing nations to devote themselves to the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights. Had this been done, the world might have been in a better situation, he said, adding that COVID‑19 revealed weaknesses in the international economic system which must be effectively addressed.
CLAUDE HELLER, Acting Chair of the Committee Against Torture, said that due to COVID‑19 travel restrictions, the Committee cancelled its April‑May 2020 and November‑December 2020 sessions. It held a one-day online session on 13 July 2020, a three-day online session in April 2021 and a three-week session in July 2021. Despite these developments, the Committee’s Rapporteur on new complaints and interim measures registered new cases and issued interim measures of protection. The Committee’s Rapporteurs for follow-up under articles 19 and 22, as well as the Rapporteur on reprisals, also have continued their activities. The Committee has also discussed and adopted its Lists of Issues and Lists of Issues Prior Reporting, while the Working Group on Individual Communications held its work online.
Noting that the Committee took decisions on requests for confidential inquiries under article 20 of the Convention against Torture, he said mandated activities, such as country reviews and the discussion and adoption of individual complaints, could not be carried out, due to the pandemic. As such, at its April 2021 session, the Committee decided to undertake an online country review of Belgium at its July 2021 session, he said, adding that Belgium had volunteered for online country reviews, including with the Committee Against Torture.
At its July 2021 session, he said, the Committee gave priority to the examination, with decisions taken online on the merits of individual complaints, as the backlog had increased. The Committee took decisions on 37 cases: 22 decisions on the merits ‑ six violations and 16 non-violations; two inadmissibility decisions; and 13 discontinuances. The Committee resumed its plenary discussions and decisions on follow-up to Concluding Observations and decisions on individual complaints as well as reprisals. On reprisals, the Committee Rapporteur highlighted that the absence of cases may actually reveal a lack of access by victims to international and national mechanisms, as well as lawyers, due to the COVID‑19 pandemic and its consequences.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of the Russian Federation said that in terms of strengthening the human rights treaty bodies, the Committee was unable to catch up. He asked about ways in which individual complaints are considered and about how the confidentiality of this procedure is being observed. The representative of Mexico meanwhile asked about best practices identified to prevent torture or other inhumane treatment in detention centres. He also called for a dialogue between the Committee and Mexico. The representative of the United States commented that Governments continue to use torture and violence as tools of oppression against political opponents, minorities or human rights advocates. Along similar lines, the representative of Denmark described the Committee as “an extremely important mechanism of accountability”.
In terms of legislation, the representative of Nigeria asked how the Committee addresses the need to criminalize torture, especially by national security forces. An observer for the European Union said the fight against torture and ill-treatment has become even more crucial in light of police brutality and crackdowns on the freedom of peaceful assembly under the pretext of COVID‑19 safety precaution. He asked how the communication between States and the Committee can be further strengthened in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Also speaking were representatives of Chile, China and Morocco.
Mr. HELLER, responding, said the COVID‑19 crisis has forced the Committee to change its working methods. He stressed that the Committee does not impose decisions. Rather, it looks for cooperation from States through reports, recommendations and follow-ups. It has special mechanisms, such as the Optional Protocol, which gave rights to the Subcommittee to Prevent Torture as an international entity that could visit detention centres in a given country. A great number of States are ratifying the Convention, he explained, yet there is also a structural phenomenon related to human rights. He called for strengthened cooperation with non-governmental organizations and for a continuity of constructive dialogue with States.
SUZANNE JABBOUR, Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, presented the body’s fourteenth annual report, noting that its principal challenge was being unable to carry out any visits in 2020. The last visit was in October 2019, far too long for an activity that is the objective of the Optional Protocol and the Subcommittee’s core work. The Subcommittee is planning to resume visits this month with Bulgaria and hopefully complete another visit by year’s end and begin a full visiting programme in 2022. As of today, the Subcommittee is unable to carry out more than six or seven visits a year, though it should be carrying out at least twice that number.
She said all efforts made in places of detention during the pandemic have shown that improvements can be implemented, overcrowding can be managed, access to health care guaranteed and special care for vulnerable groups put in place. “If this was possible in times of crisis, then it should be possible to pursue such policies also in ordinary times,” she said. The Subcommittee has raised concerns about the management of the pandemic in some States and detention systems, including about the lack of support for mental health. It also is concerned with disproportionate restrictions on movement, excessive measures of isolation and inadequate alternative measures to compensate for suspended contact with the outside world ‑ such as with families, lawyers or external organizations ‑ and services providing essential support.
As pointed out by her predecessors, Ms. Jabbour said the Secretariat has insufficient human and financial resources to fulfil its important role supporting the Subcommittee’s mandate. The body is responsible for following the implementation of the Optional Protocol in 90 State parties and 13 signatories, closely collaboration with the State’s authorities and about 70 National Preventive Mechanisms. It is the only human rights treaty body that does not work based on regular reports submitted by States, but rather on observations gathered from field visits. Yet the Secretariat has only four full‑time staff members to do this work, which includes the preparation of visits and follow‑ups, Subcommittee sessions, correspondence, dialogue and meetings with State parties and cooperation with other treaty bodies. The Subcommittee has been mandated to take the lead on and support torture prevention efforts at all levels. It must be given the full means to do so, she affirmed.
When the floor opened, delegates posed questions about how the Subcommittee operated throughout the pandemic and handled challenging cases. Noting that pandemic‑related restrictions affected the monitoring of detention facilities, Switzerland’s representative asked about what lessons can be learned. Denmark’s delegate posed a question about how the Subcommittee monitors national prevention mechanisms.
An observer for the European Union asked how police reform can be strengthened, including in the context of protests. Meanwhile, the representative of the Czech Republic enquired about how the Subcommittee handles cases involving States that have inadequate or no monitoring mechanisms.
Ms. JABBOUR replied by agreeing that the pandemic has had a major impact on the Subcommittee’s work. However, new means have been identified with State parties, and work continues, notably with national prevention mechanisms. Indeed, visits include interviews with the detained and facility staff, but this cannot be done remotely. As a result, innovative ways to continue monitoring work include the creation of quarantine centres governed by the Subcommittee’s mandate. Recommendations provided to States have focused on over‑crowding limits and granting detainees access to telephones and telecommunications technology so they can continue to receive visitors.
As the Subcommittee will resume in‑person visits on 24 October, she noted that this requires financial resources. To date, 24 countries are behind schedule in creating national prevention mechanisms. Other problems include the format of these mechanisms and the occasional lack of will on the part of Governments to create and implement them. These mechanisms can be strengthened by increasing human and financial resources, with a view to ensuring the monitoring of facilities without constraint. Appealing to countries that have not yet created these mechanisms to do so without delay, she also urged States to sign and ratify relevant conventions.
Torture, Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
NILS MELZER, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, presenting his report (document A/76/168) said the COVID‑19 crisis has entailed a sharp deterioration in conditions of detention in many parts of the world. In many places, where inmates depend on families for their daily supplies of food, hygienic items and prescription drugs, lockdowns have gravely exacerbated their situation. He pointed to numerous reports of lethal force, unrestrained police brutality and other forms of torture and ill treatment being used to enforce lockdown measures. Most worryingly, these acts of violence have often been encouraged by discriminatory narratives spread or condoned by political leaders, local authorities and the media, he said, and by the resulting atmosphere of near complete impunity for perpetrators.
“This flagrant lack of accountability has further fuelled tensions and has given rise to a growing sense of powerlessness, fear and resentment,” he said, not only among victims and their relatives, but throughout the most vulnerable and politically exposed parts of the population.
Describing torture and ill treatment as a systemic problem, he stressed that rhetoric focused on blaming any wrongdoing on a few isolated “bad apples” tends to perpetuate the risk of torture, as it allows States to evade their duty to take effective preventive and corrective measures. To be sure, there still is a persistent accountability gap for torture and ill treatment worldwide, he said, caused by normative, institutional and procedural shortcomings, as well as by systematic denial, deliberate obstruction and purposeful evasion of accountability by public authorities. He called for a multi‑layered system of accountability, expressing concern that 90 per cent of official communications transmitting allegations of torture ill treatment to States did not receive constructive responses that met the standards of cooperation set by the Human Rights Council. This trivialization damages the credibility and integrity of States’ commitment to the prohibition of torture and ill treatment, as well as to the entire international system of human rights protection, he asserted.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, several delegations took the opportunity to highlight national contexts, with the representative of Myanmar noting that following the coup, the military has been using arrests and ill treatment to rule by fiat. People have been arbitrarily arrested and many have been killed. In the last eight months, there have been at least 150 incidents of torture to death during detention, and many others during attempted arrests. Forms of torture used include beating, sexual violence, deprivation of food and water and the denial of medical treatment. He wondered what the international community could do to end torture immediately, hold the military accountable and support national efforts to provide reparations to survivors of torture. The representative of Pakistan said that in Jammu and Kashmir, occupying forces indulge in torture and deny facts, responsibility and wrongfulness. She asked how the occupying forces can be held accountable for the breach of the prohibition of torture. The representative of India, explaining that his country is firmly against any form of torture, said freedom from torture is a human right and that India’s judiciary serves as a bulwark against violations of human rights. He accused Pakistan’s delegation of exploiting a United Nations platform to spread falsehoods about India.
Several delegations spoke about access to justice systems and mechanisms, with the representative of the United States stressing the importance of transitional justice so that victims can transform trauma into healing. She recognized the need for continuous mechanisms, as opposed to ex post facto ones and asked how Member States can build institutional capacity to implement such mechanisms for torture and degrading or inhumane treatment. The representative of Liechtenstein recalling that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promises to provide access to justice for all, including victims of torture, asked about what the international community can do to better promote judicial access for all. The representative of the Russian Federation meanwhile said his country does not share the Special Rapporteur’s optimism about international justice and the role of special tribunals or investigation commissions. Both have proven to be ineffective and politicized, serving certain interests that are far from the calls of justice.
Also speaking were representatives of Mexico, Denmark, United Kingdom, Switzerland and China.
The observer for the European Union also spoke.
Mr. MELZER, on the politicization of international mechanisms, noted that sometimes they are vulnerable to being politicized. However, this is true for national mechanisms as well, he explained, pointing to a generic risk that must be guarded against. On the specific country contexts of India, Pakistan and Myanmar, he said it is not his function to comment on these situations. However, it is clear that there are contexts where there is increased violence. This is particularly the case in conflict settings, where the biggest accountability gaps in terms of torture are found, as institutional frameworks tend to fail in these situations. In the end, it is a question of politics, of whether to intervene in conflicts, or not. This is not a human rights question but one for the Security Council and States to answer. Describing torture as a systemic problem that must be tackled on that level, while prosecuting individuals, he said most of the time, there is a systemic environment that tolerates ‑ or even demands ‑ torture for the purposes of intimidation and coercion. In every country, there is some vulnerability to that behaviour, he said.