Committee against Torture begins examination of report of Slovenia

MORNING

10 May 2011

The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the third periodic report of Slovenia on the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Bostjan Skrlec, State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice of Slovenia, noted that human rights and fundamental freedoms compromised nearly one third of all the provisions of the Constitution and that Article 18 stipulated an absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. The principle of absolute protection of torture was based on a comprehensive legal framework which included the adoption of a new Criminal Code in 2008 to provide for a special criminal offence of torture, which included all elements of the definition of torture referred to in Article 1 of the Convention against Torture.

Mr. Skrlec said that since 2001 the Government had cooperated with civil society to focus on combating trafficking in human beings and eliminating its consequences, including proactive operations by the police and state prosecutor and the development of case law which contributed to clarifying certain important legal issues and first final judgments rendered in criminal cases. He stressed that non-governmental organizations and humanitarian organizations from civil society had become an indispensable factor in combating trafficking in human beings and eliminating its consequences. Significant changes were also made in the field of legislation and practice concerning mental health and patients’ rights, including the Patients Rights Act passed in 2008.

Serving as Rapporteur for the report of Slovenia, Committee Expert Fernando Marino Menendez raised a number of issues concerning the procedures followed by the police when they arrest and question detainees? Mr. Menendez also asked if there were any specialised bodies, such as prosecutors, judges, legal offices or monitors created to deal with gender violence. He raised a number of questions about asylum, including the Government’s legislation for emergency examination for asylum requests and whether special care or protection for children applying for asylum existed.

Xuexian Wang, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report, asked for further details about police training and overcrowding in prisons, including if there were independent evaluations on the effectiveness of training and what percentage of detention facilities still posed overcrowding problems and the plans and timeframe to correct this situation? Mr. Wang also mentioned that in the Universal Periodic Review it was stated that the backlog of trails would be resolved by 2010 and yet there remained one million cases outstanding and he would like more information on these cases.

Other Committee members asked about the precise role of non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the Government’s report, if there was an increased penalty for acts of torture found with aggravating elements that entailed the death of the victim, if there was training on the Istanbul Protocol for asylum workers and how could the State ensure that all three conditions for hospitalization without consent were met as detailed in the Patient Rights Acts and Mental Health Acts.

The Slovenian delegation included representatives from the Permanent Mission of Slovenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, the Prison Administration, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health.

Slovenia is among the 147 States parties to the Convention and as such it must present periodic reports to the Committee on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention.

Slovenia will respond to the questions raised by Committee Experts at the meeting starting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 11 May.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will meet with the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.

Report of Slovenia

According to the third periodic report of Slovenia (CAT/C/SVN/3), in October 2004, the rules amending the rules on enforcement of detention provided detainees with more friendly conditions of visits. Under the new system, open visits are determined, as a rule, after the expiry of 14 days of detention; they are also possible immediately after the person is admitted to the prison. The Slovenian Police point out that amendments are proposed to allow a detainee to freely choose a doctor. However, the Slovenian Police say that they have no legal basis for collecting, processing and saving data on nationality or ethnic affiliation. The Slovenian Human Rights Ombudsman devotes particular attention to the protection of rights of persons deprived of liberty and inmates have the possibility of an immediate contact with the Ombudsman’s Office, an additional safeguard in providing respect for human personality and dignity during their deprivation of liberty and serving of a prison sentence.

The amendment to the Civil Servants Act (Official Gazette RS, No. 113/05), which entered into force on 31 December 2005, encroaches heavily upon disciplinary procedures in the Police, due to the attempt to harmonize disciplinary responsibility provisions in the public sector with provisions regulating the private sector, where a disciplinary measure should not permanently change the legal status of the employee. Since 31 December 2005, police personnel are subject to the same provisions on disciplinary procedures as all other public administration employees. In July 2006, the amended Aliens Act (Ur. l. RS, No. 79/2006) introduced the so-called principle of expeditious judicial protection while restricting movement or introducing stricter police supervision at the Aliens Centre. If a complaint is filed against the above orders, the Administrative Court shall rule within eight days. Thus the recommendations of the European Committee against Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe are taken into account.

In the introduction to his regular annual report for 2004, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia notes that the human rights situation of asylum seekers has improved. All Slovenian police officers must be familiarised with the Convention against Torture, as it constitutes a mandatory part of the police officer curriculum and senior police officer curriculum.

Introduction of the Report

BOSTJAN SKRLEC, State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice of Slovenia, noted that human rights and fundamental freedoms provisions compromised nearly one third of all the provisions of the Constitution of Slovenia and that Article 18 of the Constitution stipulated an absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. Slovenia ratified the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2006 and established in 2007 the State Preventive Mechanism to monitor the detection or prevention of torture or other cruel treatment. In 2008, a new Criminal Code was adopted which provided for a new, special criminal offence of torture, referred to in Article 265, which included all elements of the definition of torture and represented some progress with regard to the previous Articles 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code of 1994.

In 2006 the Constitutional Court of Slovenia adopted two systematic decisions. The first was within the context of asylum procedures and the prohibition of the prosecution, expulsion or extradition of a person to another country if there was a serious suspicion that such person could be subjected to torture, where the Constitutional Court stated that the prohibition of torture was of an absolute nature. In the second decision the Constitutional Court established that in cases when an action of repressive authorities resulted in the death of one of the persons, the State must provide for an independent investigation of the circumstances of the event and enable effective access to such investigation for the relatives of the deceased.

The State Secretary outlined new measures against torture that the Government took after the third periodic report was prepared. In 2007 the Republic of Slovenia introduced a centralised and professionally supported Specialised Department of the Group of State Prosecutors for the Prosecution of Organised Crime within the State Prosecutor’s Office for detecting and prosecuting criminal offences and offenders when the suspects were members of the Police, Military Police or persons seconded to a military or similar mission abroad. Significant changes were made in the field of legislation and practice concerning mental health and patients’ rights. The Patients Rights Act passed in 2008 regulated the appellate procedures for patients and established the institution of a representative of patient’s rights who offered patients free aid in protecting their rights.

In Slovenia the Government had been striving since 2001 at the state level and in cooperation with civil society to focus on combating trafficking in human beings and eliminating its consequences, including proactive operations by the police and state prosecutor and the development of case law which had contributed to clarifying certain important legal issues and first final judgements rendered in criminal cases. The State Secretary stressed that non-governmental organizations and humanitarian organizations from civil society had become an indispensable factor in combating trafficking in human beings and eliminating its consequences.

Questions Raised by Committee Experts

FERNANDO MARINO MENENDEZ, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the Report, said that the report contained relevant and sufficient information to know how the Convention was applied by the Slovenian authorities. The definition of torture which was contained in the Criminal Legislation of Slovenia and the reform of 2008 to the Criminal Code included the definition of torture in Slovenian legislation as suffering caused for any reason which was based on any form of the violation of the equality status. However the Special Rapporteur asked if the legislation had tried not to use the word discrimination on purpose or did it consider that the term violation was equivalent to discrimination?

The Rapporteur said he would like to know more about the procedure followed by the police when they arrested and questioned or interrogated a person and would like to know if there was an immediate registration of the arrest? Were video and audio recordings made of the questioning and had complaints been made when this had not been done as required in Article 2?

Was corporal punishment still lawful in Slovenia and for minors, and did Slovenian law forbid corporal punishment at home? Were any specialised bodies, such as prosecutors, judges, legal offices or monitors created to deal with gender violence?

Does the Human Rights Ombudsman have the possibility of going to the Constitutional Court to launch an appeal against acts of the State or to defend a victim and were there statistics available on this? What were the possible acts of the Ombudsman in dealing with complaints by prisoners?

Regarding the Bill on International Protection, there was no inclusion of the principle of non-refoulement, which was required in Article 3 of the Convention; was this principle applied in the country?

What was the Government’s legislation for emergency examination for asylum requests, how many days after refusal could an individual appeal and if refused would he be expelled or did it depend on the will of the administrative authority? What were the consequences of refusal of asylum? Was there special care or protection for children applying for asylum?

Were victims of trafficking, who were often foreigners, informed about their right to asylum beyond common standards? Was there any legal distinction in Slovenian legislation between the indigenous and non-indigenous Roma minority in the way they were treated for purposes of residence or nationality?

The backlog in trails was a problem in Slovenian courts and the Special Rapporteur would like statistics on the conclusion of delayed prosecutions and trials.

In 1992, at the time of independence some people were regarded as not Slovenian and were deprived of their rights. There had been legislation that was enacted to do away with discrimination for people who have been eliminated or cancelled, were there still problems in this area?

XUEXIAN WANG, the Committee Expert Serving as Co-Rapporteur for the Report, asked if there were regular, independent evaluations of training because a visiting delegation had found that hardly any police were aware of the Police Handbook. Were there still facilities for detention that posed overcrowding problems and what percentage did these comprise and what were the plans and timeframe to correct this situation? When actions of torture or ill treatment did not result in death, would there also be an investigation? In the Universal Periodic Review it was stated that the backlog problem would be resolved by 2010 and yet there remained one million cases outstanding and Mr. Wang asked for more information on these cases.

A Committee Expert asked the delegation to prepare a reply on complaints by the Ombudsman on the intolerable conditions of detention for those suffering from mental disabilities. What were the statistics between 2006 and 2010 on the building of hospitals and mental health facilities?

An Expert asked about the precise role of non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the Government’s report? Was there a penalty that existed for the violation of equality? Was there a dispute between what was in law and practice when it came to the human rights ombudsman, what institutionally speaking was the maximum period of detention on remand? Had there been an independent inquiry for the reported suicide deaths in mental hospitals?

A Committee Expert asked if there was an increased penalty for acts of torture found with aggravating elements that entailed the death of the victim. The expert would like to receive examples of asylum seekers who expressed fear of torture if they were deported to their country of origin and what was the response of officials. Were public officials and medical personnel informed of the Manual on Torture published by the United Nations in 2004? Regarding the 50 detention rooms to be built or renovated in 2007, had this occurred yet? As overcrowding seemed to be widespread through many prisons, the Expert would like to know what measures had been planned in various prisons to combat overcrowding? What kind of specialised training for staff working with prisoners had contributed to the slight decline in deaths of prisoners in detention and the rate of suicide among detainees? What was the concrete data on the decrease in ill treatment for detainees, following training?

An Expert asked about the statement in the report that data was not collected by ethnicity because it was considered unconstitutional and would like to know how the Government dealt with the problem of excessive force used by the police against minorities. What were the criteria for someone to become part of the weekend prisoner programme? What information was available on programmes to prevent violence against women, especially elder women? Could the delegation disaggregate the number of convictions regarding trafficking? The Expert was struck by the number of suicides by hanging in prison and noted that prevention measures were on training of personnel in prisons and wondered if there was consideration given to other measures?

A Committee member asked questions on the independence of the investigations of torture by the police officers. Was their training on the Istanbul Protocol for asylum workers? Had the State adopted measures to protect women with disabilities against forced sterilisation and what was the special training for personnel that worked in mental health facilities? Were there plans for persons with disabilities, especially children, to live in the community rather than in institutions?

An Expert asked about Patient Rights Acts and Mental Health Acts. How did the State ensure that all three conditions for hospitalization without consent were met? Was there an increase in the use of specific protective measures or a decrease after the implementation of the Patient Rights and Mental Health Acts? The Expert wanted to know if there were complaints regarding the use of specific protective measures? What measures were in place to identify vulnerable asylum seekers?

Claudio Grossman, the Chairperson, asked if Article 14 of the Convention was self-executing. What were the provisions in the legal system to claim that in some conditions the non statutory limitation would not apply? Was there concrete mention of discrimination against Roma in police training manuals? Were their Roma officers in the police force?

Response by the Delegation

In a brief response to some of the questions, BOSTJAN SKRLEC, State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice of Slovenia, said all misuses of police power, not only those resulting in deaths, there would be an independent investigation of torture.

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