UN Committee Against Torture Publishes Findings On New Zealand, Romania, Spain And Switzerland
GENEVA (28 July 2023) – The UN Committee against Torture (CAT) today issued its findings on New Zealand, Romania, Spain and Switzerland, after reviewing the four States parties in its latest session.
The findings contain the Committee’s main concerns and recommendations on each country’s implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Key highlights include:
While noting the numerous strategies and programmes to reduce the disproportionately high number of Māori in the prison system and to improve their detention conditions, the Committee expressed its concern that Māori, particularly women and young people, represented around half of the prisoner population while constituting only 17 per cent of the total population. The Committee recommended that New Zealand strengthen its efforts to reduce the disproportionately high number of Māori in prisons and to address and identify the root causes of disproportionate re-offending rates between Māori and non-Māori. It also recommended that the State party take measures to ensure adequate, culturally sensitive, qualified and accessible legal services are available to Māori.
The Committee noted the establishment, in 2018, of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuse in State care and in the care of faith-based institutions and that some survivors have received ex-gratia payments and apologies from the State party. However, it expressed its profound concern about the Royal Commission’s findings, which revealed the extent of physical, psychological and sexual child abuse in these institutions. It was seriously concerned that the inquiry’s recommendations have not yet been implemented and that, as a result of this inaction, no individual has been investigated or held accountable for the numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment in such institutions. The Committee urged New Zealand to implement the Royal Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations and to provide victims with full redress, including compensation and rehabilitation.
The Committee commended the State party on positive developments in the country, especially the abolition of the statute of limitations on torture and significant efforts to renovate its existing prison infrastructure, however, it expressed its concern over continued overcrowding in prisons, psychiatric institutions and social care homes, along with the poor conditions experienced by detainees, patients and residents. The Committee urged Romania to discontinue “special intervention units” in prisons, as it had previously recommended, and asked the State party to provide follow-up information on implementing this recommendation within the following year.
Concerning reports of torture and ill-treatment by border officials, including in the context of pushbacks of migrants seeking protection from its borders, the Committee called on Romania to investigate all such allegations and prosecute perpetrators. It also expressed concern over legislative provisions which allow families with children and other migrants in vulnerable situations, such as victims of torture, to be placed in immigration detention. The Committee recommended that Romania refrain from detaining these vulnerable groups and review its immigration legislation.
While acknowledging Spain's recent efforts in responding to the influx of migrants and asylum-seekers, the Committee voiced concern about the attempted mass crossing at the Barrio Chino border between Spain and Morocco in June 2022 that caused at least 37 deaths and 200 injuries as a result of border control intervention from both countries. The Committee drew the State party's attention to the allegation of the absence of an effective investigation into these events. It urged Spain to investigate promptly and impartially the responsibility of security forces personnel during the action and take necessary measures to ensure that such events do not recur in the future.
The Committee remained concerned about using solitary confinement as a disciplinary sanction, including for people with intellectual and psychological disabilities. It noted that even though the application of such disciplinary measures may not generally exceed 14 consecutive days, its duration can be extended up to a maximum of 42 days due to the accumulation of disciplinary sanctions. The Committee request that Spain aligns its legislation and practice concerning solitary confinement with the Nelson Mandela Rules, applying such confinement only in exceptional cases for the shortest possible time and prohibiting its imposition on prisoners with physical or psychosocial disability.
The Committee welcomed the establishment of the Swiss Institution for Human Rights and called on Switzerland to ensure all necessary resources to enable it to effectively fulfil its existing mandate and further deal with individual complaints. The Committee reiterated its concern that torture has not yet been included as a specific crime in Swiss domestic legislation. It called on the State party to take all appropriate steps to define torture as a criminal offence in national law in full conformity with the Convention.
The Committee was also concerned about claims of ill-treatment and barriers to justice by individuals detained in federal asylum centres. The Committee called on Switzerland to ensure that all such instances in federal asylum centres are promptly and independently investigated. The Committee further called for establishing independent, confidential and effective complaints mechanisms in all federal asylum centres and ensuring victims obtain adequate redress and compensation.
The above findings, officially known as Concluding Observations, are now available on the session page.