Government could demonstrate will for change in fight against torture
On April 20, Pavel Sapelka, lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", and Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, took part in the expert-level consultations entitled “The practice of interaction with human rights treaty bodies.”
The event was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the UNDP Office in Belarus and was carried out in the framework of the Inter-Ministerial Plan for the implementation of the recommendations accepted by Belarus following the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the recommendations addressed to the State by the human rights treaty bodies.
Pavel Sapelka participated in the discussion “Prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the context of reporting to the UN Committee against Torture.” He highlighted a number of important institutional issues that require legislative regulation. Otherwise, any improvement of the situation with human rights looks questionable, he says.
- absence in the Criminal Code of explicit charges for the entire spectrum of activities that fall under the definition of torture or other prohibited treatment;
- absence of an effective national mechanism to protect human rights and prevent acts of torture and inhuman treatment;
- insufficient cooperation with international organizations and bodies;
- dependence of judges and lawyers on the executive branch, etc.
According to the human rights activist, an important priority step will be recognition of the competence of the UN Committee against Torture to hear claims of breach of the country’s obligations under Articles 21 and 22 of the Convention against Torture*. In addition, it is essential to fix progress in Belarus’s relations with the UN by sending an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture and recognizing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. So far, neither has visited the country officially.
During his speech, Pavel Sapelka said:
“I am far from sharing the illusion that we can easily overcome the differences in assessments and approaches to global problems, but the government in the first phase could demonstrate the will for changes in individual, purely technical aspects of the fight against torture”.
The human rights activist believes that the government should implement the recommendations of the Committee against Torture to ensure videotaping of all the actions of law enforcement bodies and other law enforcement agencies during the entire period of stay of every civil person in the facilities of local police departments, as well as to ensure videotaping of all interrogations and other forms of procedural relations. In addition, it is important to organize human rights training of the maximum number of law enforcement officers with the participation of representatives of civil society.
“It is only a nationwide atmosphere of intolerance to all forms of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and torture, in conjunction with the effectiveness of the investigation of each such case that can help significantly improve the situation in this sphere,” Sapelka said.
- A State Party to this Convention may at any time declare under this article that it recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications to the effect that a State Party claims that another State Party is not fulfilling its obligations under this Convention. Such communications may be received and considered according to the procedures laid down in this article only if submitted by a State Party which has made a declaration recognizing in regard to itself the competence of the Committee. No communication shall be dealt with by the Committee under this article if it concerns a State Party which has not made such a declaration.
- A State Party to this Convention may at any time declare under this article that it recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of individuals subject to its jurisdiction who claim to be victims of a violation by a State Party of the provisions of the Convention. No communication shall be received by the Committee if it concerns a State Party which has not made such a declaration.
Belarus ratified the Convention without making declarations under Articles 21 and 22.