The Human Rights Committee concluded its ninety-ninth session today, during which it considered and adopted concluding observations and recommendations on the reports submitted by Cameroon, Colombia, Estonia and Israel on how those countries implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Cameroon, the Committee welcomed the ratification of a number of instruments aimed at protecting and promoting human rights including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. However, the Committee remained concerned about the status of women in the country including violence against women, child marriage, female genital mutilation and the rights of women under customary law. The Committee also expressed concerns about the rights of journalists and freedom of expression, conditions in prisons, reports of extrajudicial killings by police forces and reports that the use of torture remained widespread in the country. The Committee urged Cameroon to bring its legislation into conformity with the Covenant, investigate all allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings, and improve the quality of food and healthcare in prisons.
Among positive aspects in the sixth periodic report of Colombia, the Committee noted Colombia's continued collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights since the establishment of an office of the High Commissioner in the country in 1997. The Committee also considered as positive the country's collaboration with the Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and working groups of the United Nations human rights system. The Committee expressed its profound concern about persistent grave human rights violations, in particular extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, torture, rape and the recruitment of children into armed conflicts. The Committee underlined that Colombia must respect its obligations arising from the Covenant as well as from other international instruments, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, investigate grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law and sanction such violations with appropriate sentences which take into account the gravity of the acts committed.
In concluding observations on the third periodic report of Estonia, the Committee welcomed the adoption of numerous legislative measures by the State party, including changes to the penal code and the adoption of a new Criminal Code of Procedure, as well as the ratification of several international instruments, including protocols to abolish the death penalty, to prevent trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants. Among principal concerns was the prevalence of discrimination against women, the persistence of the phenomenon of human trafficking in the State party, the rights of mentally disabled persons in the criminal justice system and employment and income inequality for the Russian-speaking minority. The Committee recommended that Estonia take effective measures to ensure gender equality via legislation, enforcement and awareness raising; prosecute, sentence and punish perpetrators of human trafficking; train judges and lawyers on the rights of disabled persons tried in criminal courts; and strengthen measures to integrate the Russian-speaking minority.
Regarding the third periodic report of Israel, the Committee was pleased to note the country's ratification of both Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the adoption of other legislative measures to strengthen human rights. Committee Experts voiced concern about violations of international human rights law during the military offensive in the Gaza Strip, extrajudicial killings and the use of torture, the continued demolition of homes, and the treatment of Bedouin communities. The Committee urged Israel to conduct credible investigations into human rights violations, end the use of extrajudicial killings, incorporate the crime of torture into its legislation, cease its practice of punitive home demolitions, and respect the Bedouin population's right to ancestral homelands and traditional agricultural livelihood.
The full text of the Committee's concluding observations on the reports submitted by Cameroon, Colombia, Estonia ad Israel can be accessed at the following address: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/hrcs99.htm.
The Committee also held public meetings to consider progress reports on follow-up to its concluding observations and to Views (the Committee's decisions on individual communications) and to continue a first reading of a draft General Comment on article 19 of the Covenant pertaining to freedom of opinion and expression.
The Committee also adopted revised reporting guidelines for States parties which outline the kind of information and data that should be provided by State parties under each single article of the Covenant.
At the last meeting, Yuji Iwasawa, the Committee Chairperson, announced the results of the Committee's work at its ninety-ninth session. The Committee had considered 26 individual communications (complaints by individuals that their rights under the Covenant had been violated by one of the 113 States signatories to the Optional Protocol) on admissibility issues. The Committee ruled that 2 cases were admissible and found 6 inadmissible. The Committee had also considered 14 cases on the merits, adopting 14 Views in which they had found violations. Four cases had been discontinued.
In October 2009 the Committee had adopted a new optional reporting procedure applicable to the second periodic report onward in which a list of issues was sent to the State parties. The countries' written replies to these issues were then considered as their report. The modalities of this new procedure had been worked out and it would come into operation in due course. The Committee had also adopted new revised guidelines applicable to States parties' initial reports; Mr. Iwasawa said he believed these revised guidelines would be very helpful to States parties developing their initial reports. The Committee also made progress during this session on the draft general comment on article 19 pertaining to the freedom of opinion and expression; the Committee had reviewed 36 of the 54 paragraphs in the draft general comment.
The upcoming session in October would be the 100th session of the Committee and it decided to hold a commemorative meeting on October 29th at the Palais de Nations, to reflect on the accomplishments of the Committee and to discuss the way ahead.
During its next session, to be held from 11 to 29 October 2010 in Geneva, the Committee is scheduled to consider reports from Belgium, El Salvador, Hungary, Jordan and Poland.
Concerning the fourth periodic report of Cameroon, the Committee welcomed the State party's ratification during the reporting period of a number of international instruments relating to human rights protected by the Covenant, in particular: the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, in 2004; and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, in 2006. The Committee also welcomed the State party's adoption of Law No. 2004/016 of 22 July 2004 to strengthen the independence of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF); measures to strengthen the legal framework for the protection against human trafficking and slavery through Law No. 2005/15 of 29 December 2005 against Child Slavery and Trafficking; and efforts to strengthen protection of human rights related to the administration of justice, including provisions under the Criminal Procedure Code which came into force on 1 January 2007 aimed at redressing cases of illegal arrest or detention.
The Committee however, remained concerned about the status of women in the country including women's rights under customary law, the continued existence of polygamy in the country, the continued practice of female genital mutilation in some areas of the country, high levels of domestic violence against women, and child marriage of girls as young as 12 years of age. The Committee remained deeply concerned about the criminalization of homosexuality in Cameroon, which the Committee noted violated the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination. The Committee expressed grave concerns about continued reports of cases of extrajudicial executions by law enforcement officers and reports that allegations of extra-judicial killings had in some cases not been effectively investigated. The Committee was also concerned that torture remained widespread in the State party and that penalties handed down in these cases were insignificant compared to the damage caused to the victims. The Committee also voiced concerns about the continuing problem of severe overcrowding and grossly inadequate conditions in prisons. The Committee remained concerned about consistent reports from national and international organizations monitoring freedom of the press about cases of harassment by public officials against journalists or media outlets.
The Committee recommended that Cameroon strengthen the rights of women by bringing its legislation into conformity with the Covenant, banning polygamy, raising the minimum marriage age for girls, introducing specific legislation banning female genital mutilation and adopting specific legislation on violence against women. The Committee urged Cameroon to take immediate steps toward decriminalizing consensual same sex acts and take appropriate measures to address social prejudice and stigmatization of homosexuality. With regards to extrajudicial killings, the Committee recommended the State party ensured that all such allegations were investigated promptly with a view to rooting out such crimes, bringing perpetrators to justice, and providing effective remedies to victims. On the issue of torture, Cameroon was urged to ensure that victims of torture had easy access to mechanisms to report violations, that impartial and independent inquiries were carried out to address such allegations, and that perpetrators were appropriately punished. The Committee also recommended that Cameroon address conditions in prisons by taking measures to improve the quality and quantity of food and access to health care in prisons and to ensure the separation of female and male prisoners, minors from adults, and persons in pre-trial detention from convicts. In order to safeguard freedom of expression, the Committee recommended the State party review its legislation and practice to ensure that journalists and media outlets were not subjected to harassment and prosecution as a consequence of expressing their critical views and to ensure that any restriction on press and media activities was strictly compatible with provisions of the Covenant.
Regarding the sixth periodic report of Colombia, the Committee welcomed the legislative measures that were adopted since the consideration of the last report in 2004, particularly the adoption of a law on the prevention and repression of violence and discrimination against women, the reform of the Penal Code and the adoption in 2006 of a law on children and adolescents. The Committee further welcomed Colombia's continued collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights since the establishment of an office of the High Commissioner in the country in 1997. The Committee also considered as positive the country's collaboration with the Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and working groups of the United Nations human rights system. The Committee further commended the Constitutional Court for its numerous references made to international human rights norms and for their enforcement. The Committee further welcomed the ratification by the State party of several international human rights instrument since 2004.
The Committee however expressed its concern at the lack of significant progress particularly with regard to the legal benefits in favour of demobilized members of illegal armed groups, the collusion between armed forces and members of paramilitary groups, the absence of inquiries into grave human rights violations and attacks against human rights defenders. The Committee remained concerned at the Justice and Peace Law, which ensures, in practice, impunity for numerous grave human rights violations, as well as the 2009 law on the implementation of the “principle of opportunity” which benefits impunity and which could bring about a violation of the victims' right to compensation. The Committee underlined that Colombia must respect its obligations arising from the Covenant as well as from other international instruments, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and must investigate grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law and sanction such violations with appropriate sentences which take into account the gravity of the acts committed. The Committee noted that out of the 280,420 victims that registered by the end of 2009 according to Law n°975 of 2005, compensations had been granted to victims in one case. Further, the Committee was concerned that the programme of compensations through administrative channels (decree 1290 of 2008), based on the principle of solidarity, did not clearly state Colombia's obligation to provide guarantees in this respect and did not recognize the status of victims of agents of the government. The Committee regretted that collective compensation measures had not been put in place. Colombia must watch over the adoption of legislation and implement a policy that guarantees fully the right to appeal and to reparation by paying particular attention to women and children, Afro-Colombians and indigenous people. The Committee was also concerned at the extradition of paramilitary chiefs to the United States on charges of drug trafficking, as it estimated that Colombia had to make sure that extradited persons could not escape from inquiries in Colombia concerning their responsibility in grave human rights violations.
The Committee expressed its profound concern at the persistent grave human rights violations, in particular extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, torture, rape and the recruitment of children into armed conflicts, and requested the State party to ensure that the relevant authorities immediately conducted rapid and impartial investigations and punished grave human rights violations. The Committee was concerned over the generalized trend of extrajudicial executions of civilians that were later presented by the police as losses during combat. Concerned by the high number of forced disappearances, the Committee requested Colombia provide sufficient resources to implement the National Plan for the Search of Disappeared Persons and to establish an appropriate inter-institutional coordination among the relevant organs. The Committee was concerned at the frequency of threats and harassment against human rights defenders, trade unionists and journalists while exercising their functions and underlined that Colombia must take all appropriate measures to ensure their security and continue to strengthen the Ministry of Interior's protection plan. Colombia should develop and implement a global policy that favoured displaced populations and should strengthen the mechanisms aimed at returning their lands to the displaced. Colombia should also strengthen the special measures in favour of Afro-Colombians and indigenous people in order to guarantee the enjoyment of their rights and particularly to allow them to exercise control over their lands.
After a review of the third periodic report of Estonia, the Committee noted the sustained commitment by the State party to the protection of human rights, and welcomed the following legislative and other measures: the adoption of a new Code of Criminal Procedure, entered into force in 2004; the adoption of the Victim Support Act, entered into force in 2004; the amendment to the Penal Code (section 133), entered into force in 2007, which improved the definition of elements of enslavement; the amendments to the Police Act and related legislation, entered into force in 2008; the amendments to the Imprisonment Act; the adoption of the State Legal Act, entered into force in 2005; the adoption of a new Enforcement Act, entered into force in 2010; and the appointment of the Chancellor of Justice as the National Preventive Mechanism for the prevention of torture. The Committee also welcomed the ratification of, or accession to several instruments, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty, entered into force in 2004; and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Convention Transnational Organized Crime, entered into force in 2004.
Among the Committee's principle concerns with regard to Estonia, was the prevalence of discrimination against women in the State party, in particular in the labour market where the pay gap between men and women is about 40 per cent. In addition, while noting the efforts made by the State party to combat trafficking in women and girls, in particular “the Development Plan for Trafficking in Human Beings 2006-2009”, the Committee expressed concerns about the persistence in the State party of this phenomenon. It was also noted that mentally disabled persons or their legal guardians, where appropriate, were often denied the right to be sufficiently informed about criminal proceedings and charges against them, the right to a fair hearing as well as the right to adequate and effective legal assistance. Another cause for concern for the Committee was the Estonian language proficiency requirements, which continued to impact negatively on employment and income levels for members of the Russian-speaking minority, including in the private sector. The Committee was further concerned by the fact that the confidence and trust of the Russian-speaking population in the State and its public institutions had decreased.
The Committee recommended that Estonia take appropriate measures to ensure the effective application of the Gender Equality Law and the Equal Treatment Law, especially with regard to the principle of equal pay for equal work between men and women; carry out awareness-raising campaigns to eliminate gender stereotypes in the labour market and among the population; and reinforce the effectiveness of the Office of the Gender Equality Commissioner by providing it with sufficient human and financial resources. With regards to human trafficking, the Committee urged the State party to intensify its efforts to address trafficking in women and girls; prosecute, sentence and punish those responsible; insert a specific provision on trafficking in the Penal Code; and increase international cooperation on this issue. The Committee urged the State party to guarantee that mentally disabled persons or their legal guardians were sufficiently informed about criminal proceedings and charges against them and enjoyed the right to adequate and effective legal assistance for their defence. Furthermore, the State party should provide training to judges and lawyers on the rights which ought to be guaranteed to mentally disabled persons tried in criminal courts. The Committee also recommended that Estonia strengthen measures to integrate Russian-speaking minorities in the labour market, including with regard to professional and language training.
Among positive aspects in the third periodic report of Israel, the Committee welcomed the adoption of several legislative measures and the ratification of international human rights treaties, including: the Investigation and Testimony Procedures Law (Adaptation to Persons with Mental or Psychological Disability) 5765-2005 (the “Investigation and Testimony Procedures Law (Adaptation to Persons with Mental or Psychological Disability)”); the Anti Trafficking Law (Legislative Amendments) 5766-2006, (the “Anti Trafficking Law”); the Gender Implications of Legislation Law (Legislative Amendments) 5768-2007, which imposed the duty to systematically examine gender implications of any primary and secondary legislation before it was enacted by the Knesset; the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2008); and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2005).
The Committee expressed its concern that the State party's armed forces had opened few investigations into incidents involving alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law during its military offensive in the Gaza Strip (27 December 2008–18 January 2009, “Operation Cast Lead”), which led to one conviction and two indictments. The Committee reiterated its concern that since 2003 the State party's armed forces had targeted and extrajudicially executed 184 individuals in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the collateral unintended death of 155 additional individuals. The Committee noted with serious concern consistent allegations of the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in particular against Palestinian detainees suspected of security-related offences. In addition, the Committee was concerned that, despite its previous recommendation, the State party continued its practice of demolishing the property and homes of families whose members were or were suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, without considering other less intrusive measures. The Committee also expressed concerns about allegations of forced evictions of the Bedouin population based on the Public Land Law, and of inadequate consideration of traditional needs of the population in the State party's planning efforts for the development of the Negev, in particular the fact that agriculture was part of the livelihood and tradition of the Bedouin population. The Committee was further concerned at difficulties of access to health structures, education, water and electricity for the Bedouin population living in towns, which the State party had not recognized.
The Committee recommended that Israel launch credible, independent investigations into the serious violations of international human rights law, such as violations of the right to life, prohibition of torture, right to humane treatment of all persons in custody and right to freedom of expression. The Committee also said that the State party should end its practice of extrajudicial executions of individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities and ensure that all its agents upheld the principle of proportionality in their responses to terrorist threats and activities. The Committee recommended that Israel incorporate the crime of torture into its legislation, and completely remove “necessity” as a possible justification for the crime of torture. With regards to home demolitions, the Committee reiterated that the State party should cease its practice of collective punitive home and property demolitions and should further review its housing policy and issuance of construction permits with a view to implementing the principle of non-discrimination regarding minorities. In terms of the rights of Bedouins, the Committee recommended in its planning efforts in the Negev area, the State party should respect the Bedouin population's right to their ancestral land and their traditional livelihood based on agriculture. The State party should further guarantee the Bedouin population's access to health structures, education, water and electricity, irrespective of their whereabouts on the territory of the State party.
The States parties to the Covenant elect the Committee's 18 expert members who serve in their individual capacity for four-year terms. Article 28 of the Covenant requires that "they shall be persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights." The Committee members are: Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia); Lazhari Bouzid (Algeria); Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (India); Christine Chanet (France); Mahjoub El-Haiba (Morocco); Ahmad Amin Fathalla (Egypt); Yuji Iwasawa (Japan); Helen Keller (Switzerland); Rajsoomer Lallah (Mauritius); Zonke Zanele Majodina (South Africa); Iulia Antoanella Motoc (Romania); Michael O'Flaherty (Ireland); José Luis Perez Sanchez-Cerro (Perú); Rafael Rivas Posada (Colombia); Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom); Fabian Omar Salvioli (Argentina); Krister Thelin (Sweden); and Ruth Wedgwood (United States).
The Committee Chairperson is Mr. Yuji Iwasawa.