UN Committee Against Torture
last updated 7 June 2013
Women's advocates may use the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) to promote women's rights. The Convention establishes the Committee against Torture, which consists of 10 independent experts elected by State parties to the Convention. The Committee carries out its mandate to eradicate the practice of torture through two mechanisms: receipt of individual communications (complaints) and the reporting/monitoring process.  The Committee views violence against women, including sexual violence and trafficking, as gender-based acts of torture within the scope of the Convention. 
States that have ratified the Convention are required to submit an initial report documenting compliance with the provisions of the treaty within one year of acceding to the Convention, and thereafter to submit a periodic report every four years. The Committee currently convenes twice a year (May and November) to review the government reports and engage delegates from the State party in constructive dialogue. Prior to the session at which the State report is examined, two members of the Committee, serving as country rapporteurs, develop of list of issues of principal concern. The list of issues is submitted to the State party for response and tends to form the basis of discussion in the session. After concluding its examination of the State party, the Committee adopts concluding observations and recommendations. The Committee also identifies certain issues that it would like the State party to address and follow up with the Committee on within one year. While the Committee’s recommendations may have persuasive value, they are not legally binding. 
The Committee encourages non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to become involved in the monitoring process by submitting “shadow” or alternative country reports to provide the Committee with a comprehensive view of State implementation of the CAT and issues of primary concern. NGOs may submit information for the development of the list of issues or for the examination of the State party’s report. NGOs are also welcome to participate in many of the Committee's proceedings as observers. Those which have submitted reports in advance of the session may also brief the Committee orally at the session. The Committee website provides additional guidance to NGOs on the reporting process.  
NGOs are not limited in the number of UN bodies to which they can submit shadow reports. Thus, for the purposes of advocacy, NGOs are encouraged to bring international attention to issues of violence against women through the monitoring of government obligations under any treaty that protects women's human rights. 
Women's rights NGOs have used the mechanism of submitting shadow reports to the Committee against Torture as a way to bring attention to the issue of violence against women. Examples of this include the work of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and Amnesty International. OMCT works to ensure that the issue of gender-based violence, such as domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, trafficking and forced prostitution, is included within the purview of the UN human rights treaty bodies, including the Committee Against Torture, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Committee.  Amnesty International USA also conceptualizes domestic violence as the torture or ill-treatment of women occurring in the home.  Amnesty International's report, Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds (2001), contains information about the problem of domestic violence worldwide.[1]
In recent years, the Committee has regularly adopted concluding observations and recommendations for addressing violence against women. In 2013, the Committee called on Estonia to investigate and punish trafficking of women and children, provide redress for victims, and provide specialized training to police, law enforcement, and judges.[2]  The Committee also urged the State party to adopt comprehensive legislation on violence against women, including domestic violence and marital rape, establish effective complaint mechanisms, ensure impartial and effective investigation of all allegations, protect victims, and train law enforcement.[3] In 2012, the Committee made similar recommendations for Peru, Tajikistan, and Qatar, among others.[4] Its recommendations to the Government of Senegal included issues of female genital mutilation, sexual abuse, rape, and forced marriage.[5] Shadow reports submitted to the Committee are available on the Committee’s website within the “Sessions” section. The Universal Human Rights Index Database also provides country-specific human rights information, including concluding observations by topic.
Article 22 of the Convention against Torture allows private individuals, under the jurisdiction of State parties that have accepted the provision, to submit complaints to the Committee alleging violations of the convention. The Committee reviews individual complaints to determine admissibility before consideration of the merits. Before making a decision, the Committee may request that the State party undertake provisional measures to protect the victim. The Committee's conclusions are sent to the complainant and the State party concerned and are summarized in the Committee's annual report.
The Convention against Torture is the only treaty to allow Committee members to make a confidential inquiry about a specific country when it receives reliable information indicating that torture is systematically practiced in the territory of the State party. This procedure is limited to those States which recognize the Committee’s competence under article 20 of the Convention. Several State parties, including Afghanistan, China, and Saudi Arabia, among others, are not subject to this procedure.

[2] Ibid.
[3] CAT, Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Estonia, adopted by the Committee at its fiftieth session (6-31 May 2013).
[4] CAT, Concluding observations for the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Peru, adopted by the Committee at its forty-ninth session (29 October-23 November 2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/PER/CO/5-6, 21 Jan. 2013; CAT, Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Tajikistan, adopted by the Committee at its forty-ninth session (29 October-23 November 2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/TJK/CO/2, 21 Jan. 2013; CAT, Concluding observations on the second periodic report  of Qatar, adopted by the Committee at its forty-ninth session (29 October-23 November 2012).
[5] CAT, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Senegal, adopted by the Committee at its forty-ninth session (29 October-23 November 2012), UN Doc. CAT/C/SEN/CO/3, 17 Jan. 2013.