Committee against Torture starts consideration of report of Czech Republic

Committee against Torture
MORNING

14 May 2012


The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the combined third and fourth periodic report of the Czech Republic on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Andrea Barsova, Director of the Department of Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, said a new Criminal Code entered into force in 2010 which listed torture and inhuman treatment as specific crimes carrying punishments of up 18 years imprisonment, and set out sanctions for crimes of human trafficking, rape, forced interruption, limitation of personal liability and ill-treatment of a person in custody or co-habiting.  Other legislation included the Police Act, and new standards for the compensation and rehabilitation of victims of torture, while an independent body established to detect and prosecute crimes committed by the Czech Police, the Prison Service and the Custom Service was a great step forward.  The Czech Republic remained committed to the prevention and suppression of domestic violence and human trafficking, and had adopted complex strategies to tackle the phenomena. 

Claudio Grossman, Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the report of the Czech Republic, asked the State party about the increase in the number of violent attacks linked to racist attitudes, about compensation for Roma victims of torture or degrading punishment and about extraordinary rendition, particularly in relation to diplomatic assurances. 

Xuexian Wang, Committee Expert who also served as Rapporteur for the report of the Czech Republic, highly commended the achievements of the Czech Republic and their improvements on a series of issues, and welcomed the National Strategy on Preventing Violence Against Children.  He asked whether any corporal punishment of children was still allowed, and also about the obligation of prisoners to pay a proportion of their prison costs.  Excessive use of force by the police at certain events was referred to, as was the detention of asylum seekers, including children.

Committee Experts asked in-depth questions about compensation for women victims of forced or coerced sterilization and allegations of illegal shredding of medical records on unlawful sterilization, and also about the use of chemical castration and whether it would be outlawed.  Much-needed reforms to hospitals and psychiatric and social institutions was widely discussed, particularly the use of cage beds and net beds.  There had been a steady increase in the prison population since 2002, and prison overcrowding was also increasing, Experts noted, and asked about the suicide and inter-prisoner violence rates in prisons.

The delegation of the Czech Republic consisted of representatives from the Department of Human Rights and Protection of Minorities, the Government Council for Human Rights, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. today when it will meet with States parties to the Convention.  The replies of the Czech Republic will be heard at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 15 May. 

Report

The combined third and fourth periodic report of the Czech Republic can be read here: (CAT/C/CZE/4-5).

Presentation of the Report

ANDREA BARSOVA, Director of the Department of Human Rights, Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, said a new Criminal Code entered into force in 2010 which listed torture and inhuman treatment as specific crimes carrying punishments of up to 18 years imprisonment, and set out sanctions for crimes of human trafficking, rape, forced interruption, limitation of personal liability and ill-treatment of a person in custody or co-habiting.  Courts, prosecutors, the police and other public bodies used the Convention’s definition of torture, and the Convention was an integral part of the Czech legal system and had priority over domestic legislation.  Establishment of the independent General Inspection of Security Forces in 2012 was a major step forward, and would detect and prosecute crimes committed by the Czech Police, the Prison Service and the Custom Service.  A new Police Act was adopted in 2008 which set specific regulations for areas such as detention, principles of proportionality, use of weapons and restraints, and treatment of pregnant women and children.  The Police Act also contained provisions for restraint orders for perpetrators of domestic violence.  Two new laws currently being debated in Parliament were a Bill on Victims of Crime to expand the existing right of State financial help for crime victims; and a Bill on International Judicial Cooperation to follow new developments in that area. 

New standards for the compensation and rehabilitation of victims of torture were approved in the 2011 amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allowed victims of any crime, including torture, to claim damages for both material and immaterial harm, including mental suffering.  In most cases the victim could claim his rights through civil proceedings.  The Czech Republic remained committed to the prevention and suppression of domestic violence and human trafficking, and had adopted complex strategies and action plans to tackle the phenomena.  The National Action Plan for the Prevention of Domestic Violence 2011 – 2014 focused on supporting vulnerable groups, especially children but also rehabilitation of perpetrators, while the National Strategy to Fight against Human Trafficking 2012 – 2015 focused on national and international partnerships, support and protection of victims, prosecution of perpetrators, and prevention.  The Office of the Ombudsman served as the Czech Republic’s National Preventative Mechanism according to the Convention’s Optional Protocol, and made significant contributions to the prevention of torture by visiting prisons, police stations, health and social service facilities, facilities for children, and since 2010, particularly in monitoring the expulsion procedure for foreigners and ensuring respect of their rights. 

Questions from Rapporteurs on the Czech Republic

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of the Czech Republic, asked the State party what its vision, in terms of the Convention of Torture, was, and about the principle of reasonable doubt within the Criminal Code.  Was a person entitled to free legal counsel as soon as they were taken into custody, and how did intervention centres operate in domestic violence cases when an injured party did not approve an investigation into their case: what was the State party’s experience of those situations?  In the last sixth months three Roma persons were killed as a result of violence, which represented a growth in the number of violent attacks in comparison with August 2011 figures.  Three young men, who were far-right extremists, admitted killing a Roma woman in Prague and making fire attacks on Roma households, said Mr. Grossman, noting that when there was a suspicion of racist attitudes in a violent attack it was important for extra enquiries to be held.  Could the delegation please provide information on the levels of compensation for Roma victims of torture or degrading punishment, particularly Roma women who suffered forced sterilization?  Mr. Grossman also raised questions about extraordinary rendition, particularly in relation to diplomatic assurances. 

XUEXIAN WANG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of the Czech Republic, highly commended the achievements of the Czech Republic and their improvements on a series of issues.  His specific questions related to the Strategy on Minorities which aimed to remove racial strategies, as figures showed racially-motivated crimes had increased almost 30 per cent over the last two years.  Mr. Wang also welcomed the National Strategy on Preventing Violence Against Children, but noted that the law still allowed parents to use ‘adequate educational measures’.  Did those measures include any kind of corporal punishment, and did the Government intend to enact legislation to clearly prohibit corporal punishment in all settings? 

Prisoners had to pay for part of their prison costs, a proportion now reduced from around 40 to 30 per cent.  The Czech Republic was almost the only country that charged nationals for their prison costs: why did the State party maintain that position?  Mr. Wang asked about the main problems found following in-depth monitoring of certain prisons.  Concerning the excessive use of force used towards protestors during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in the Czech Republic, Mr. Wang noted that only one policeman had been sanctioned – reprimanded – for the event and asked whether that one reprimand was commensurate with what happened.   Recent Government recommendations that victims of forced, coercive and non-consensual sterilization should be compensated were welcomed by the Committee.  However, had cases been investigated and data collected in order to physically provide compensation?  In addition, could the delegation comment on allegations of illegal shredding of medical records on unlawful sterilization?  The State party continued to detain asylum seekers, including children.  What was the situation there?  Did the State party have a central database of stateless persons?

Questions from the Experts

An Expert commended the strengthening of the rule of law in the Czech Republic and the State party’s deeper commitment to international instruments.  She focused on the link between criminal justice and healthcare, for example did contact between doctors and detainees in detention take place face to face and allow for confidentiality?  Medical procedures often took place without consent, such as forced administration of intrusive and irreversible medical treatment, and there were reports of prisoners being detained in cages.  Could the delegation provide information on measures taken to bring an immediate end to the use of surgical castration in the treatment of sex offenders?  The use of pepper spray, particularly to force a detainee to submit to a medical examination, was a further concern.  Did medical care act to strengthen or exacerbate the conditions of detainees? 

Accelerated expulsion procedures were another area of concern, particularly where there was a serious risk of the individual being tortured upon their return: was that taken into account in expulsion rulings?  There had been a steady increase in the prison population since 2002, and prison overcrowding was also increasing: occupancy had risen to approximately 114 per cent.  Could the delegation comment on the reasons for that, as well as on the suicide rate in prison?  Inter-prisoner violence in Czech prisons had been a matter of concern for many human rights committees. 

An Expert asked about the much-needed reforms to residential social services and psychiatric services for both children and adults, funding and plans for alternative care such as community centres.  According to the State party’s report caged beds were no longer used in medical facilities, and in fact were now prohibited.  However there had been reports of their use in the Czech press, for example the case of a 51-year-old woman placed in a cage bed at a State hospital who managed to strangle herself and commit suicide in January 2012.  Several Experts cited the 2006 case of a 30-year-old woman found dead in a cage bed in Prague’s Bohnice hospital after she chocked on her own faeces.  She had been caged continuously for two months, and was found dirty, naked and with a shaved head.  The use of ‘net beds’ was allowed in hospitals, but there seemed to be only a semantic difference between ‘cage beds’ and ‘net beds’.  Finally what training was given to hospitals, psychiatric care units and institution staff?


An Expert commented that to cover part of the cost of imprisonment consisted of a second punishment, and also said that most people agreed that every part of the human body had a right to exist, so surgical castration was inhumane and should be banned outright. 

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