Committee Against Torture - Working Methods
Overview of the working methods of the Committee Against Torture
The Committee against Torture (CAT) consists of ten experts of high moral standing and recognized competence in the field of human rights, who serve in their personal capacity. Under the Convention, States parties have the obligation to submit to the Committee reports of the measures they have taken to give effect to the provisions of the Convention and the recommendations of the Committee. After submitting their initial report one year after the entry into force of the Convention, States parties have to present periodic reports every four years. Besides the examination of States parties’ reports, other core activities of the Committee include the consideration of individual communications, the adoption of general comments and the undertaking of inquiries.
Detailed information on the working methods of the Committee is outlined in its rules of procedures.
II. Guidelines for reporting by States parties
All UN human rights treaty bodies, including the Committee against Torture, have adopted treaty-specific reporting guidelines to assist States parties in the preparation of initial and periodic reports. Following a recommendation by the Inter-Committee Meeting of the human rights treaty bodies in 2008, all treaty bodies are encouraged to adopt their revised guidelines by the end of 2009. As part of efforts to harmonize treaty reporting, it also reiterated that States parties should use the guidelines on a common core document and treaty-specific document when submitting a report to any human rights treaty body. (1/)
The Committee attaches great importance to the inclusion in the State reports of information related to the de facto implementation of the Convention as well as factors and difficulties affecting such implementation. The Committee welcomes the involvement of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights (NHRIs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the process of consultations leading to the preparation of reports by Governments. The Committee also encourages NHRIs and NGOs to directly provide information on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention at the national level (see section VIII below).
III. Consideration of reports of States parties by the Committee
At each session the Committee selects, among the reports received, those to be examined at its following two sessions. In making the selection, the Committee usually follows the chronological order of submission, but gives priority to initial reports and long overdue reports over periodic ones. CAT will also give priority to reports submitted under the new optional reporting procedure (see section V below) as no list of issues will be prepared before these reports are examined. The list of States parties that have overdue reports is included as an annex to the annual report of the Committee. At the same time the Committee appoints two of its members to act as country rapporteurs for each report. One member can act as rapporteur for more than one report during the same session.
A. Lists of issues
At the session prior to the one at which a periodic report will be examined, the Committee draws up a list of issues (LOI) to be transmitted to the State in question. This list is prepared by the two country rapporteurs on the basis of the information contained in the report, previous concluding observations addressed by the Committee to the State and information originating from other treaty bodies, special procedures and from the United Nations system as well from others sources, including regional human rights mechanisms, NHRI and NGO and adopted by the Committee in plenary.
The LOIs are intended for States parties to clarify and update certain questions and issues as well as to focus, without restricting, the dialogue with the States on matters of particular interest for the Committee. Replies to the LOIs are to be provided in writing before the dialogue between the Committee and the States party’s delegation. The Committee does not issue LOIs for initial reports.
B. Constructive dialogue
The Committee holds two sessions annually, a four-week session in November and a four-week session in May, examining between 8 and 9 reports per session; a delegation from each country is invited to be present during the dialogue.
The examination of a report takes the form of a dialogue between the delegation from the reporting State and the Committee’s members. The aim of the dialogue is to enhance the Committee’s understanding of the situation in the State party as it pertains to the Convention and to provide advice on how to improve the implementation of the Convention provisions in the State party. The dialogue also provides an opportunity for the State party to further explain its efforts to enhance prevention of torture and ill-treatment and to clarify the contents of its report to the members of the Committee. Exceptionally, the Committee may examine a report in the absence of representatives of the State party when, after being notified, they fail to appear without providing strong reasons. (2/)
Two public meetings, an half-day meeting on the first day and another half-day on the following day, are generally devoted to the examination of a report. The first meeting begins with a short presentation by the State party’s representatives, who usually update the information contained in the report and, if applicable, highlight the most relevant issues of the replies to the LOI previously sent in written to the Committee. Subsequently, the country rapporteurs and other Committee members make comments, ask questions and seek additional information related to issues that they consider require clarification. They can raise matters that had not been referred to in the LOI. On the following day, the second meeting will be devoted to the replies of the State party’s representatives to the questions posed by the members during the first meeting as well as to any follow-up issues that might be raised by the Committee.
Individual members do not participate in any aspect of the examination of the reports of the States parties of which they are nationals.
Press releases in English and French are issued immediately by the United Nations Information Service (www.unog.ch) regarding the meetings at which a State report is examined. Summary records are also issued after the closure of the session in English or French.
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish are the official languages of the Committee and, to the extent possible, also its working languages (3/). Interpretation into these languages is provided when necessary. The State reports to the Committee and other relevant documents are made available, to the extent possible, in the working languages of the Committee.
C. Concluding observations
Following the examination of each report, the country rapporteurs draft a proposal for concluding observations, which is subsequently discussed and adopted in a closed plenary meeting of the Committee. The concluding observations follow a standard format which consists of a brief introduction, followed by a section noting positive aspects and another with the subjects of concern and related recommendations. The Committee also identifies certain issues to be followed up and the State party is requested to provide additional information in respect of these issues within one year.
Once adopted, all concluding observations are sent to the State party concerned and, at the end of the session, posted on the Committee’s webpages of the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, under the respective session. They can also be made available to any interested parties. Finally, they are included in the annual report presented by the Committee to the General Assembly of the United Nations every autumn.
In addition to the follow-up issues, State parties may submit any comment it considers appropriate on the concluding observations. The Committee makes such comments public by issuing them as an official document and posts them on the website. Similar to other treaty bodies, the Committee recommends that the State party widely disseminates, at the national level and in all the appropriate languages, the concluding observations as well as the State report and the State’s written replies to the list of issues.
IV. Follow-up to concluding observations
The Committee identifies some of its recommendations that are serious, protective and can be achieved within one year, which it would like to receive information from the State party. The State party, within one year, must provide information on measures taken towards their implementation. (4/) The Committee has appointed a rapporteur to follow-up on the State party’s compliance with these requests. Information provided by the State party under the follow-up procedure, as well as the responses of the follow-up rapporteur to the information provided, are made public on the Committee’s webpages under a separate follow-up page.
V. Strategies to encourage reporting by States parties
Twice a year the Committee issues a list of overdue reports. Such list is also included in the Committee’s annual report to the General Assembly. Under its rules of procedure, the Committee may also send to a State party a reminder concerning the submission of its overdue report(s). If, after the reminder, the State party does not submit its report, the Committee may notify the defaulting State party that it intends, on a specified date, to examine the measures taken by the State party to give effect to the provisions and rights recognized in the Convention, in the absence of a report. In this case, it will also adopt concluding observations as it deems appropriate in the circumstances.
The Committee has also adopted a new optional reporting procedure which consists in the preparation and adoption of LOIs to be transmitted to States parties prior to the submission of their respective periodic report. The State party's replies to this LOIs will constitute the State party's report under article 19 of the Convention. The Committee is of the view that this procedure could assist States parties in preparing more focused reports and submit them on time. The Committee does not issue LOIs for reports submitted under this procedure.
VI. Documentation supplied and other support provided by the Secretariat
The Secretariat of the Committee against Torture, provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), supports the work of the Committee in several ways. It provides the members of the Committee with background notes and country files containing information from the Committee itself, other UN bodies and mechanisms (such as special procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)), specialized agencies, regional organizations, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It also assists the members with the preparation of drafts. The Secretariat also supports the Committee by receiving and processing individual complaints and by assisting the Committee in connection with inquiries it may undertake. Such support is described in the Committee’s rules of procedures.
VII. Interaction with specialized agencies and bodies of the United Nations
Under its Rules of Procedure (5/), the Committee may invite United Nations specialized agencies and bodies to submit information relevant to the Committee’s activities under the Convention. Thus, invitations are regularly addressed to those agencies whose mandates are closer to the Committee’s activities. The information is usually submitted in writing on a confidential basis.
VIII. Participation of NGOs and NHRIs in the activities of the Committee
Under its Rules of Procedure (6/), the Committee invites NGOs to submit written information relevant to its activities. Following a recommendation of the inter-committee meeting and the Chairperson’s Meeting, the Committee also invites NHRIs of the country concerned to submit written information relevant to its activities. However, any NGO or NHRI, invited or not to submit information, may, at its own initiative, submit relevant information to the Committee. For further details, please refer to the NGOs and NHRIs information note.
The information must be submitted in writing and is posted on the Committee’s webpage, thus making it public and bringing it to the attention of the State party concerned. This practice allows the State party to be better prepared to respond to questions that may be posed by the Committee on the basis of such information. NGOs that have submitted written information prior to the session may also brief the Committee orally during the session. Since the November 2010 session, representatives of NHRIs will meet with the country rapporteurs and relevant members in a private meeting. Such private briefings or meetings, devoted to one country at the time, are organized before the examination of the State report.
IX. General comments
The Committee may also adopt general comments on specific provisions of the Convention or issues related to their implementation. Thus, a general comment was adopted in 1997 on the implementation of article 3 in connection with article 22 of the Convention and a second general comment was adopted in 2007 on the implementation of article 2 by States parties (7/). The adoption of general comments is a practice common to all treaty bodies. They interpret the provisions of the Convention and provide guidance on reporting procedures and on measures needed to enhance implementation of the provisions of the Convention.
X. Statements adopted by the Committee
The Committee adopts statements to draw attention and highlight the importance of major developments and issues that bear upon the implementation of the Convention and to clarify its position with respect to such issues. Recently, the Committee has adopted a statement on the adoption of its concluding observations. The Committee may issue a statement independently or jointly with other United Nations bodies as it deems appropriate. Thus, joint statements are usually issued on the occasion of the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
XI. Individual Communications
Under article 22 of the Convention, the Committee may receive and consider individual communications, also called complaints, if the State party in question has declared that it recognized this competence of the Committee (see respective chapter of the annual report). The Committee considers first the admissibility of the communication under certain criteria and, if it is admissible, will decide on its merits. The decisions are considered to be of a quasi-judicial character. The Committee has also appointed rapporteurs on new communications and follow-up to decisions declaring that a violation of the Convention has taken place.
By virtue of article 20 of the Convention, the Committee is empowered to receive information, and institute inquiries, concerning allegations of systematic practice of torture in a State party, except if the State party has declared that it did not recognized this competence (see respective chapter of the annual report). This procedure is confidential and requires the cooperation of the State party concerned. The Committee, if it appears to it that the information received is reliable and contains “well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practiced”, will invite the State party in question to cooperate with it in the examination of the information. If it considers that the information gathered warrants it, the Committee may designate one or more of its members to make a confidential inquiry. Such inquiry may include, with the agreement of the State, a visit to the State party by the designated Committee members. The findings of the Committee are transmitted to the State party, and, after consultation with the State party, may be included in the annual report. For further details on this procedure, please refer to the webpage on confidential inquiries.
XIII. Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture
The Optional Protocol to the Convention, establishing the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), entered into force on 22 June 2006. Pursuant to article 1 of the Optional Protocol, its objective is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. As provided for under article 10 paragraph 3 of the Optional Protocol, the Committee and the SPT hold their sessions simultaneously at least once a year. Thus, they meet simultaneously while in session in November. They have also decided to set up an informal contact group to strengthen their cooperation. In accordance with article 16 paragraph 3 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, the SPT presents a public annual report on its activities to the Committee. The Committee may decide to include the report of the SPT in its annual report to be transmitted to the General Assembly.
XIV. Other matters
Cooperation with other United Nations human rights bodies not related to the examination of a State report
The Committee interacts with other human rights treaty bodies, particularly on matters related to methods of work, through the participation at the inter-committee meetings and meetings of Chaipersons of human rights treaty bodies. It also maintains regular contacts, directly or through the Secretariat, with the other United Nations bodies and mechanisms dealing specifically with torture, i.e. the Special Rapporteur on Torture of the Human Rights Council and the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. The purpose of such contacts is to exchange information, coordinate activities and avoid duplication with a view to strengthen efforts to prohibit, prevent and redress acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment worldwide.
XV. Secretariat of the Committee
Committee against Torture (CAT)
Human Rights Treaties Division (HRTD)
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais Wilson - 52, rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva (Switzerland)
CH-1211 Geneva 10 (Switzerland)
Tel.: +41 22 917 97 06
Fax: +41 22 917 90 08
For individual complaints
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10 (Switzerland)
Fax: + 41 22 917 9022 (particularly for urgent matters)
Secretariat of the Committee against Torture
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Secretariat of the Committee against Torture
52 Rue des Pâquis
1/ See UN Doc. HRI/GEN/2/Rev.5, 29 May 2008.
2/ Rule 68, para. 2 of the Rules of Procedure
3/ Rule 27 of the Rules of Procedure
4/ Rule 71 of the Rules of Procedure
5/ Rule 63 of the Rules of Procedure
6/ Rule 63 of the Rules of Procedure
7/ A/53/44, para. 258 and CAT/C/GC/2