Human Rights Committee Concludes Ninetieth Session
Wednesday, August 01, 2007 12:35 PM

The Human Rights Committee concluded today its ninetieth session, during which it considered and adopted concluding observations and recommendations on the reports submitted by Zambia, Sudan and the Czech Republic on how they implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Governments of Zambia, Sudan and the Czech Republic sent delegations to answer questions raised by Committee Experts in keeping with their obligations as States parties to the Covenant.

In its concluding observations on the third periodic report of Zambia, the Committee welcomed the establishment of the Zambian Human Rights Commission, as well as the Police Public Complaint Authority. It was concerned by the fact that the Covenant was not directly applicable to domestic law and by the persistence of customary laws highly detrimental to women, as well as by the fact that the priority of statutory law over customary law was not always ensured in practice. The Committee recommended that Zambia find other measures to ensure accountability of the press than to arrest and charge journalists critical of the Government.

Following its consideration of the second periodic report of the Czech Republic, the Committee noted its accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Committee expressed a number of concerns about the situation of the Roma in the Czech Republic, including persistent reports of police misconduct against them, and the failure to establish an independent body to investigate such cases, as well as the fact that Roma women had been subjected to sterilization without their consent. Concerned about allegations that Czech airports had been used as transit points for rendition flights, the Committee noted that the Czech Republic denied knowledge of such incidents but recommended that it investigate such allegations.

Regarding the third periodic report submitted by Sudan, the Committee welcomed the signature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 as well as the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement. Among the principal subjects of concern, the Committee noted with concern that the Sudanese authorities had not carried out any exhaustive, independent appraisal of serious violations of human rights committed in the territory of Sudan and in particular in Darfur. The Committee recommended that Sudan should take all appropriate steps, including cooperation with the International Criminal Court, to ensure that all human rights violations brought to its attention were investigated.

The Committee also considered the situation in Grenada in private in the absence of a report.

During the session, the Committee considered communications from individuals submitted under the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant. The Protocol, for the 109 States that have ratified it, allows review by the Committee of complaints from persons alleging violations of the terms of the Covenant. Such reviews are carried out in private meetings, and the Committee's conclusions on cases considered during the session will be released at a later date.

Also during the session, the Committee adopted a revised General Comment on article 14 of the Covenant, on the right to a fair trial and equality before the courts and tribunals. General Comment 32 replaces General Comment 13, which the Committee had adopted in 1984. The General Comment particularly noted that appropriate measures had to be taken in order to ensure the proceedings before religious and customary law courts were limited to minor civil and criminal matters, and met the basic requirements of fair trial.

The Committee also debated its working methods over one meeting, in the context of the organization's ongoing reforms. Three topics were discussed: the harmonization of work of the different human rights treaty bodies; the results of the Working Group on Reservations; and the results of the sixth Inter-Committee Meeting. Also in another meeting the Committee discussed progress reports presented by its Rapporteurs for Follow-up to Concluding Observations and for Follow-up to Views.

The next session of the Committee will take place from 15 October to 2 November 2007 in Geneva, at which time the Committee is scheduled to consider reports from Georgia, Algeria, Libya, Costa Rica and Austria.

CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS ON COUNTRY REPORTS

Zambia

Concerning the third periodic report of Zambia, the Committee welcomed the State party’s establishment of the Zambian Human Rights Commission (1996), as well as the Police Public Complaint Authority (1999). It noted with satisfaction the considerable progress that was made in reducing maternal mortality, and the introduction by the Twelfth Electoral Act of a 180 days timeframe within which petitions relating to contentious elections matters should be heard and determined in the courts of law. The Committee also welcomed the abolition of corporal punishment, and the increased participation of women in Parliament, at the ministerial level as well as in the public service.

The Committee was concerned that the Covenant was not directly applicable in domestic law and that not all rights provided for in the Covenant had been included in the Constitution and the legislation, or recognized in an appropriate manner. Although the Committee noted with interest the steps that had been undertaken to review and codify customary laws, it remained concerned by the persistence of customary laws highly detrimental to women, as well as by the fact that the priority of statutory law over customary law was not always ensured in practice. Noting with appreciation the moratorium on executions implemented since 1997, the Committee was concerned by the high number of persons still remaining on death row. Of concern were also the criminal responsibility of eight-year-old children and the criminalization of same-sex activities between consenting adults. The Committee also regretted the lack of information it had been given on violence against prisoners and on acts of torture or ill treatment committed by police officers.

The Committee recommended that Zambia should make all possible efforts to increase the budgetary resources of the Zambian Human Rights Commission to permit it to discharge its functions effectively. Zambia should also ensure that the Covenant was fully taken into account when adopting counter-terrorism laws. Concerned by the fact that maternal mortality remained high in Zambia, the Committee recommended the amending of abortion laws to avoid the resort to illegal abortions. Concerned by the fact that cases of violence and sexual abuse of women were often dealt with by customary courts rather than criminal courts, Zambia should strengthen its efforts to combat gender-based violence and ensure that cases were dealt in an appropriate and systematic manner. To combat prison overcrowding, Zambia should develop alternative measures to imprisonment and take measures to ensure that accused were not kept in custody for unreasonable period of time. The Committee also recommended that Zambia should find other measures to ensure accountability of the press than to arrest and charge journalists critical of the Government, so as to be in full compliance with the Covenant, in particular with the right to freedom of expression.


Czech Republic

Following its consideration of the second periodic report of the Czech Republic, the Committee welcomed the amendment to the Constitution by which primacy was accorded to all international treaties approved by the Parliament (2002). It noted the accession to the Optional Protocol to Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2006). Furthermore the Committee noted the progress made in combating domestic violence with the adoption of acts criminalizing cruelty to a person in a shared dwelling (2004) and introducing a new institution to protect victims (2006); and the adoption of regulations on police cells (2007).

The Committee expressed a number of concerns about the situation of the Roma population in the Czech Republic’s restrictive interpretation of, and its failure to fulfil its obligation under the Optional Protocol and the Covenant itself, and the difficulties it had in implementing the Committee’s Views, including in numerous cases concerning the restitution of property to persons who had been forced to flee the country. The Committee regretted the persistent reports of police misconduct, particularly against Roma and the failure to establish an independent body to investigate such cases. It also noted with concern that Roma and other women had been subjected to sterilization without their consent and regretted the latitude that had been given to doctors. Further, the Committee regretted that no anti-discrimination bill had been adopted and that discrimination against Roma continued to persist despite relevant programmes. The continued existence of de-facto Roma “ghettos” was also of concern.

Concerned about allegations that Czech airports had been used as transit points for rendition flights, the Committee noted that the Czech Republic denied knowledge of such incidents but recommended the investigation of allegations of such flights and the establishment of a system to ensure that airports were not used for such purposes. The Czech Republic should also continue to reinforce its measures to combat trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. On the persistent use of enclosed restraint beds in psychiatric institutions, firm measures should be taken to abolish completely their use and an inspection system should be established.

Sudan

Regarding the third periodic report submitted by Sudan, the Committee welcomed the signature of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), which contributed significantly to ending multiple, serious violations of the Covenant. It also welcomed the Interim National Constitution (2005), the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan (2005) and the Darfur Peace Agreement (2006), as well as the continued efforts to find sustainable peace in Darfur. The Committee also took note of the new Law of political parties (2007).

Among the principal subjects of concern, the Committee regretted that the rights protected by the Covenant had not been fully incorporated into domestic law. It remained concerned over Sudan’s ability to prosecute and punish war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. The Committee noted with concern that the Sudanese authorities had not carried out any exhaustive, independent appraisal of serious violations of human rights committed in the territory of Sudan and in particular in Darfur. It also noted with concern the scale of values applied to punishment and noted that corporal punishment including flogging and amputation was considered inhuman and degrading. Further, the Committee was also concerned about the persistent pattern of discrimination against women in legislation and the persistent violence against women; the many cases of rape in Darfur; the fact that women did not trust the police; the persistence of female genital mutilation; and the small number of children who had actually been demobilized. Also, the imposition of the death penalty for offences that could not be characterized as the most serious, for practices that should not be criminalized and its imposition to individuals aged under 18, was incompatible with the Covenant.

The Committee recommended that Sudan should deploy all the human and material resources required to hold within the prescribed time limit the referendum provided for by the Interim National Constitution. It should also take all appropriate steps, including cooperation with the International Criminal Court, to ensure that all human rights violations brought to its attention were investigated, and that those responsible for such violations, including State agents and militia members, were prosecuted at national or international level and ensure that no financial support or material was channelled to militias that engaged in ethnic cleansing or the deliberate targeting of civilians. Further Sudan should also undertake to abolish all immunity of the police, armed and national security forces; set up its efforts to raise popular awareness of women’s rights, promote their participation in public affairs and ensure their education and access to employment; educate the police about violence against women; prohibit in its legislation the practice of female genital mutilation; stop all forms of slavery and abduction; and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and facilitate their access to the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid. On the pressuring of reporters, Sudan should guarantee the exercise of freedom of the press and ensure that reporters were protected. It should also respect the right to express opinions and should protect peaceful demonstration and make sure that inquiries were mounted into the excessive use of force when demonstrations were dispersed.

Membership of Committee

The States parties to the Covenant elect the Committee's 18 expert members who serve in their individual capacity for four-year terms. They are: Abdelfattah Amor (Tunisia), Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati (India), Christine Chanet (France), Maurice Ahanhanzo Glèlè-Ahanhanzo (Benin), Yuji Iwasawa (Japan), Edwin Johnson Lopez (Ecuador), Walter Kälin (Switzerland), Rajsoomer Lallah (Mauritius), Zonke Zanele Majodina (South Africa), Iulia Antoanella Motoc (Romania), Michael O'Flaherty (Ireland), Elisabeth Palm (Sweden), Rafael Rivas Posada (Colombia), Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom), José Luis Sanchez-Cerro (Perú), Ivan Shearer (Australia), Ahmed Tawfik Khalil (Egypt), Ruth Wedgwood (United States of America).

The Chairperson is Mr. Rivas Posada. The Vice-Chairpersons are Ms. Palm, Mr. Shearer and Mr. Tawfik Khalil. The Rapporteur is Mr. Amor.

Published in: “Human Rights Committee Concludes Ninetieth Session,” press release, United Nations, 27 July 2007.