Committee against Torture
5 November 2012
The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the second periodic report submitted by Qatar on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Introducing the report, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Jabr Al Thani, Minister’s Assistant for International Cooperation Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said Qatar did not engage in or hide any acts of torture, and the culture of impunity had no place in its legal system. This was not just an abstract legal obligation; there was also a moral obligation, stipulated in the traditions and cultures since ancient times. When allegations of torture arose, they were immediately investigated. While much had been achieved in a short period of time, Qatar realized that more needed to be done. Qatar would therefore continue working as an active member of the international community.
Felice Gaer, the Committee Rapporteur for the report of Qatar, welcomed that Qatar had amended the definition of torture in its Criminal Code and asked whether anyone had been prosecuted for torture since the amendment. She was pleased that flogging and stoning were no longer lawful sanctions in prisons but noted with concern that this practice continued to be used as a sanction in other contexts. She also wondered whether Qatari law provided adequate safeguards against torture and enquired whether there were any cases of disciplinary sanctions against Government personnel for failing to provide safeguards.
Essadia Belmir, the Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Qatar, wished to know more about the efforts undertaken in the fight against human trafficking and wondered whether the Public Prosecutor took action on its own or only when confronted with the findings of the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking. Furthermore, it had already been pointed out to Qatar that establishing penal responsibility at the age of seven years was not in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Could the delegation comment on the Government’s intention to raise penal responsibility to the age of 15?
Committee Experts asked several questions, inter alia whether there were any cases where orders had been questioned or refused by inferiors as they implied acts of torture or degrading treatment, whether the Istanbul Protocol was being taught to medical personnel and law enforcement personnel, and what measures the National Human Rights Committee was taking to monitor the implementation of the Convention in isolation cells.
The delegation of Qatar consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Public Prosecution, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour, the Supreme Council of Health, the Bureau of Human Rights, the Qatar Foundation for Child and Women Protection, the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking and the Permanent Mission of Qatar to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 November when it will consider the third periodic report of Senegal (CAT/C/SEN/3). The Committee will hear the replies of Qatar at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 6 November.
Report of Qatar
The second periodic report of Qatar can be read via the following link: CAT/C/QAT/2/Rev.1.
Presentation of the Report of Qatar
SHEIKH AHMED BIN MOHAMMED BIN JABR AL THANI, Minister’s Assistant for International Cooperation Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, introducing the report, said that Qatar regarded interactive dialogues with Committees as a process which enhanced mutual understanding. Qatar attached great importance to its full compliance with all obligations under human rights conventions, including the Convention against Torture.
Considering torture a criminal act wherever it occurred, Qatar did not engage in or hide any acts of torture, and the culture of impunity had no place in the country’s legal system. This was not just an abstract legal obligation; there was also a moral obligation, stipulated in the traditions and cultures since ancient times. When allegations of torture arose, including such against Government officials, they were immediately investigated. If the allegations were confirmed, they were referred to the competent courts in accordance with national legislation. The Government was likewise committed to investigating and prosecuting allegations of any other kind of cruel, degrading and humiliating treatment, underlined Mr. Al Thani.
Qatar had made major efforts towards fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, he went on to say. Its obligation to prevent, prosecute and punish torture and other cruel or degrading treatment was applied through various legal procedures and measures. In particular the Convention was applied through the Penal Code and Permanent Constitution, the latter of which expressly provided for the criminalization of torture.
Outlining measures taken since the submission of the first report, Mr. Al Thani said Qatar had added an explicit definition of torture to the Penal Code to illustrate the serious nature of this type of crime. This amendment had been introduced as a follow-up to the Committee’s remark that domestic legislation did not explicitly criminalize torture. In response to another recommendation of the Committee, Qatar had also withdrawn its reservations to articles 21 and 22 of the Convention and amended its general reservation by limiting it to articles 1 and 16. This action had been ratified by the competent legislative authorities.
A committee to review the law on the protection of society had been established, said Mr. Al Thani. This was part of a general trend seeking to promote public freedoms, except in cases where national values and family cohesion needed to be protected. Qatar had also established an Administrative Control and Transparency Authority with a view to fighting corruption in all its forms. In this context, reference should be made to the draft national plan for the promotion and protection of human rights, which was currently being prepared by the National Committee for Human Rights.
Recognizing the importance of international humanitarian law, the Council of Ministers had in 2009 established the National Committee on International Law to advise and assist the Government in implementing and disseminating international law. This had been an important step towards ensuring the effective application of international humanitarian law. To confront organized criminal groups, a law on combating human rights had been passed in 2011, providing protection from physical and psychological torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment. Efforts in this field had been crystallized in the adoption and embracement of the Arab Initiative for Building National Capacities to Combat Human Trafficking, which Qatar had supported with $ 6 million.
Qatar was committed to providing safe and human custody, highlighted Mr. Al Thani. To confirm this commitment, Qatar had issued a law on the organization of correctional and punitive institutions. The objective was to incorporate the relevant international minimum acceptable standards into the national law, particularly those relating to the inspection of institutions to verify compliance with the rules and regulations. National standards of managing punitive systems were compatible with international minimum standards and sometimes even exceeded these.
Government officials had received a delegation from Amnesty International last October to exchange views on the human rights situation in the country. Qatar had responded with full transparency to Amnesty International’s request to visit the central prison and a number of departments of the Interior Ministry such as the Capital Security Department and the Punitive and Correctional Institutions Department.
The independent judicial system provided a general mechanism for monitoring the implementation of these laws, said Mr. Al Thani. In addition, there were a number of administrative mechanisms to receive and investigate complaints against law enforcement officials. However, these officers had received training on the legal framework governing their work and police officers were subject to investigations to make sure that their duties were properly performed. The competent authorities were not aware of any current disciplinary procedures to investigate allegations of torture or other cruel or inhumane acts perpetrated by law enforcement officers.
Qatar continued to meet its obligations under the Convention against Torture, particularly its commitment not to expel or extradite persons to States where they could be subjected to torture. While much had been achieved in a short period of time, Qatar realized that more needed to be done. Qatar would therefore continue working as an active member of the international community.
Questions from Rapporteurs on Qatar
FELICE GAER, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the report of Qatar, said she appreciated receiving the follow-up letter after the first review but noted that the second report, which had been technically due in 2008, had not been received by the Committee until 2011.
Ms. Gaer welcomed the fact that Qatar had amended the definition of torture in the Criminal Code in 2010, saying this was a significant development. Had anyone been prosecuted for torture since the amendment and could the delegation provide relevant details such as prison terms handed down and punishments served? The Committee had requested detailed statistics, much of which had not been provided. The absence of such information hampered the ability of the Committee to fully assess the situation.
Turning to reservations to the Convention, Ms. Gaer welcomed Qatar’s decision to withdraw its general reservation. She noted the delegation’s concern that no official confirmation had been received from the United Nations following the notification by Qatar. Assuming that nothing had changed in that situation, could Qatar provide a copy of the text for the Committee to research this issue further and make sure that the changes had been recorded appropriately? Regarding other reservations, could the delegation confirm that Qatar now recognized the Committee’s competence to receive individual complaints and that it sought to retain reservations to articles 1 and 16? If Qatar maintained reservations regarding the definition of torture as enshrined in the Convention, on what grounds did it do so? Was this due to the precepts of Islamic law?
Did Qatari law provide adequate safeguards against torture, the Rapporteur wondered, asking whether there were any cases of disciplinary sanctions against Government personnel for failing to provide safeguards. It would also be appreciated if the delegation could clarify whether police officers were required to keep comprehensive logbooks. Respecting safeguards in the context of emergency and terrorist laws was also important, Ms. Gaer said. However, it would appear that authorities could hold people for lengthy periods of time without the right to appeal, which would be clearly in conflict with the Convention. Was Qatar considering the previous recommendation of the Committee and that of its own human rights committee to revise or drop these laws altogether?
The Rapporteur was pleased that flogging and stoning were no longer lawful sanctions in prisons. At the same time, this continued to be used as a sanction in other contexts. Despite previous recommendations made by the Committee and in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, Qatar had not amended its Criminal Code. These forms of corporal punishments constituted a breach of the Convention. The Committee would appreciate receiving data regarding stoning and flogging. Also, could the delegation comment on allegations of Amnesty International according to which at least 45 people had been given flogging sentences between 2009 and 2011?
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Qatar, wished to know more about the efforts that Qatar was undertaking in its fight against human trafficking. Did the Office of the Public Prosecutor take action in its own right or only once it had been confronted with the findings of the Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking?
The Co-Rapporteur noted that three quarters of the magistrates were foreigners appointed by the executive which sparked concern at the independence of the Qatari justice system.
Qatar’s practices in terms of expulsion and refoulement were a source of concern as the Government was hesitant to incorporate article 3 of the Convention into its domestic legislation. It had already been pointed out to Qatar that establishing penal responsibility at the age of seven years was not in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Could the delegation comment on the Government’s intention to raise penal responsibility to the age of 15? The country should also undertake further efforts to tackle corporal punishment in the context of the family, noted Ms. Belmir.
Questions by Committee Members
An Expert wondered whether Qatar was facing a judicial resource problem, prompting it to resort to foreign judges. He further enquired how soon after being arrested did a person have to be presented before a court and whether the country’s incommunicado regime been challenged before the courts and, if so, whether there were any judicial decisions on this matter.
Another Committee member said a study by two Qatari medical institutions revealed that the problem of mental health was more significant than what had been expected to date. Could the delegation comment on the current situation? And could it explain the legal safeguards for persons who were involuntarily admitted to such hospitals, and what the time plans were for the new laws referred to in the State party’s report?
In terms of discrimination, it remained unclear whether children born out of wedlock were treated differently as compared to other children, an Expert wondered. Was the legislation less protective of them? There also seemed to be many stateless people in the country; how was the deprivation of nationality handled in the country and to what extent was it being used?
It would seem that Qatar had not ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention even if this had been recommended to the country, the Expert went on to say. Given that there was a large number of foreigners, could they acquire nationality through residency or was this reserved to Qatari citizens?
The delegation was also asked what possibilities the national commission of human rights had to visit people detained under the laws on national security and whether it could update the Committee on the situation of detained women, particularly with regards to the health services available to them.
Other questions raised included whether there were any cases where orders had been questioned or refused by inferiors as they implied acts of torture or degrading treatment and whether the Istanbul Protocol was being taught to medical personnel and law enforcement personnel. The Committee also wondered for what purposes isolation cells were being used, what crimes could lead to such isolation, and what measures the National Human Rights Committee was taking to monitor that the Convention’s provisions were observed in such cells.
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