COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE HEARS RESPONSE OF LATVIA


Committee against Torture

9 November 2007


The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the response of Latvia to questions raised by Committee Experts on the second periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee members on Thursday, 8 November, the delegation, which was led by Inga Reine, Representative of Latvia before International Human Rights Organisations, said on the questions concerning police forces that, until now, no complaints had included a high-ranking officer who might have given orders of torture. Several police officers had nonetheless been convicted and punished in past years. A special leaflet developed with the help of non-governmental organizations, explaining how a victim of police ill treatment could lodge complaints, had been distributed among the population and was available on the Internet.

Regarding compulsory medical treatment, a council of medical experts had to decide within 72 hours if compulsory treatment was necessary. If this was so, in the next 24 hours a legal counsel had to be given to the patient and a judge had to decide over the compulsory treatment.

The Committee will submit its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Latvia towards the end of its session on Friday, 23 November.

As one of the 145 States parties to the Convention against Torture, Latvia is obliged to provide the Committee with periodic reports on the measures it has undertaken to fight torture.

When the Committee next reconvenes in public on Monday, 12 November at 10 a.m., it will start its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Norway (CAT/C/81/Add.4)


Response of Latvia

Responding to a series of questions raised by Committee Experts on Thursday, 8 November, the delegation of Latvia said that the definition of torture that had been given by the Supreme Court had to be seen as a guide for other courts and was not binding. Extraditions were not carried out if there was a risk that the person concerned would be subjected to torture in their country.

Turning to issues on the prison system, no prison employee had been sentenced for using violence in past years. It was agreed that the existing system of reviewing complaints of imprisoned persons had to be revamped. With regard to data collection in prisons, until now, the Government had not implemented this as the funding had not allowed having a secure database and thus it would not have ensured the privacy of complaints. As building new prisons would take time, existing correctional facilities would be transformed in order to accommodate prisoners in the meantime.

On the law of education, every resident was entitled to get general basic education. On correctional facilities for juveniles, underage juveniles were placed there if they had committed serious, violent or dangerous crimes. At the moment there were 57 children in these facilities and the number had decreased in past years. Each child benefited from a social and pedagogical plan for his or her rehabilitation.

On the questions concerning police forces, until now, no complaints had included a high-ranking officer who might have given orders of torture. Several police officers had nonetheless been convicted and punished in past years. A special leaflet developed with the help of non-governmental organizations, explaining how a victim of police ill treatment could lodge complaints, had been distributed among the population and was available on the Internet. On the trafficking of human beings, several programmes on how to fight and prevent it were established within the State Police. Also, all State police officers were being trained on this issue.

Turning to the issues of immigrants, the delegation said that detained aliens had the right to call the embassy of their home country in order to get legal help and they were informed of this from the start of their detention. Since 1998, refugee status had been granted to 11 foreigners. The right for detained aliens to communicate in their language was working well in practice. On the question of young people in asylum centers and unaccompanied minors, since 1998 there had been 43 minor asylum seekers and only three of them were unaccompanied. All three were still living in Latvia, in a house provided by a non-governmental organization, and they were given courses.

Regarding training of health personnel, the delegation said that employees of psycho-neurological hospitals had been given training in human rights. This had been done in collaboration with the Ombudsman and several Latvian non-governmental organizations. Regarding compulsory medical treatment, a council of medical experts had to decide within 72 hours if compulsory treatment was necessary. If this was so, in the next 24 hours, a legal counsel had to be given to the patient and a judge had to decide over the compulsory treatment.

The delegation noted that Latvian law did not include a specific mention of the crime of torture because several other articles covered it. The same situation existed for rape and violence against minors. On the question of compensation of the Jewish community, this was not linked to issues of torture.

Questions by Committee Experts

NORA SVEAASS, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Latvia, thanked the delegation for its replies and said that the opinion of the Committee was that it was important to have a clear definition of torture in the national law. It was seen as important and good that institutionalised minors were given support for their rehabilitation. On asylum, she noted that there were only a very limited number of asylum seekers that had been granted the right to stay, what had happened to the others? Also what was meant by “due time” on filing complaints of torture?

Other Experts then asked questions and requested further information on a number of topics, including whether law enforcement personnel convicted of torture and given disciplinary sanctions were able to return to their post? Were there any Nazi-era SS prosecutors responsible for torture, who had not been prosecuted, still present in Latvia? On expelled foreigners, the numbers were not clear in distinguishing between the nationalities of asylum seekers that were approved to stay and those who were resent to their countries. On the lack of the definition of torture, it was thought to be best to have a universal jurisdiction and definition of torture, thus Latvia should try to find a way to include a clear definition of torture in its legislation.

Response by Delegation

Responding to the additional questions raised, the delegation of Latvia said that, regarding the asylum seekers, Latvia was one of the countries with the smallest number of asylum seekers. Most of the asylum seekers came from the Community of Independent States countries. If someone appealed against a refusal of asylum, the person could stay in the country until a decision was taken. Whenever a request for expulsion was considered, the Court had to take into account if there was a risk for the asylum seeker to be tortured in his or her home country.

On the definition of torture, the delegation said that the provisions of the Convention were binding in cases before courts. On the Nazi veterans, there was no awareness of this. The case referred to by an Expert had not involved SS veterans but members of the Latvian legion.

On the problem of complaints not filed in “due time”, the delegation said that it was rather a problem for the investigation when a person only came one month after the event, but it did not cancel their right to make complaints. Also electric shocks were not part of the equipment of the Latvian Police Force.

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