3 November 2009
The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the second periodic report of Slovakia on the efforts of that country to give effect to the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Introducing the report, Fedor Rosocha, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, drew attention to the entry into force on 1 January 2006 of the new Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. The new definition of torture contained therein went beyond the scope of the Convention in that it did not limit torture only to the purposes of obtaining information from or punishing suspects. The Criminal Code also defined the criminal offence of "abuse of power by public officials". A further advance had been the creation of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman), who might be called upon by anyone who believed that his or her fundamental rights and freedoms had been violated by a public authority. The ombudsman's office had begun to operate in 2002, and had received over 17,980 submissions to date.
Slovakia was also currently conducting an analysis of the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Convention (on independent monitoring of places of detention), and Mr. Rosocha was confident that in the near future they would be able to start the necessary legislative procedure leading to Slovakia's becoming a contracting party.
Serving as Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, Committee Expert Myrna Kleopas asked for clarification on information in the report that persons were informed of their rights "as soon as practical" after arrest, in particular given information that, in practice, detainees were not always informed of their rights in a timely manner, and did not always have access to a lawyer. In particular, she was concerned about reports that juveniles were often questioned by police officers in the absence of legal guardians, parents or a lawyer. Also, while welcoming the fact that refugees or asylum-seekers were not sent back to countries where they were at risk for torture or ill-treatment and that asylum-seekers had not been subject to detention since 2006, she was concerned that non-refoulement was not considered as an absolute obligation by Slovakia, but could be derogated from in certain cases (i.e. those involving terror suspects).
Xuexian Wang, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, noted that the definition of the crime of torture in Slovakia did not cover discrimination, which was a ground for torture under the Convention. In addition, while welcoming information on training provided for police officers and others with a view to preventing torture, he wondered if any evaluations had been carried out on those trainings and what had been the results?
Other Committee Experts asked questions and raised concerns related to effective complaints mechanisms; a very high rate of complaints alleging torture or ill-treatment submitted to the Public Defender or to the Police or Prison authorities that were dismissed as lacking foundation; and the fact that juveniles could be held in solitary confinement for up to 10 days. Other concerns included only very light penalties – usually a suspended sentence – for perpetrators of racist attacks and reports that torture complaints were stamped as "no injuries found" even when there had been a medical examination that had found evidence of injury.
Also representing the delegation of Slovakia were representatives from the Roma Communities Office; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of the Interior; the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family; the Ministry of Defence; the General Directorate of the Corps of Prison and Court Guards; and the Presidium of the Police Corps.
The delegation will return to the Committee at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 4 November, to provide its responses to the questions raised today.
Slovakia is among the 146 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.
When the Committee reconvenes in public at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 4 November, it will hear the responses of Slovakia to questions posed by Experts today.
Report of Slovakia
The second periodic report of Slovakia (CAT/C/SVK/2) notes the recent adoption of a new Criminal Code and new Code of Criminal Procedure, which both came into effect on 1 January 2006. In addition, several pieces of legislation forming the legislative framework for the implementation of the Convention were adopted during the reporting period, including the Act on the Public Defender of Rights. When the Public Defender of Rights establishes facts indicating that a person is held unlawfully in places under remand custody he shall immediately inform the competent prosecutor of this in the form of a petition and shall inform the administration of such place and the person concerned. The Public Defender can submit the petition to a competent prosecutor when the petition concerns reviewing final decision of a public administration body or when the Public Defender concludes that the decision reached by a public administration body is in contradiction to the law. For his part, the Prosecutor has to inform the Public Defender of measures taken to remedy the unlawful situation within the time limits laid down in the Act on the prosecution authority.
Regarding treatment of psychiatric patients, the Ministry of Health issued a “Methodological measure concerning the use of means of restraint in patients at healthcare facilities providing psychiatric care”. The document, which treats placement of patients in net-beds or seclusion rooms, provides that restraint can only be used under exceptional circumstances, by order of a doctor, and when a patient’s behaviour poses a threat to him or his surroundings. In no case can means of restraint be used on educational or corrective grounds. In addition, the Act on State administration authorities responsible for social affairs, family and employment services amended existing legal provisions to limit the use of bodily and non-bodily restraint in social services establishments providing care to persons with mental and behavioural disorders. According to the Act, seclusion room or means of restraint can only exceptionally be used when the acute stage of the disease constitutes serious threat to the life or the health of the person suffering from a mental disorder and can only be applied until the necessary care is provided in a specialised heath care facility.
Presentation of Report
FEDOR ROSOCHA, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that Slovakia was a democratic country governed by the rule of law. It had ratified all the basic human rights instruments, and its human rights legislation was up to the highest internationally recognized standard. In addition to guarantees in the Constitution, the prohibition against torture, inhuman or degrading treatment was guaranteed by international treaties, which took precedence over the laws of the Slovak Republic.
A significant step towards fulfilling the commitments arising from the Convention and the recommendations of the Committee had been the entry into force on 1 January 2006 of the new criminal codices – the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. Mr. Rosocha highlighted that the new definition of torture contained therein went beyond the scope of the Convention in that it did not limit torture only to the purposes of obtaining information from or punishing suspects. According to the new definition, torture meant any conduct inflicting severe pain of suffering, whether physical or mental.
The Criminal Code also offered protection against the abuse of means of coercion by members of the police by defining the criminal offence of "abuse of power by public officials". Every complaint of ill-treatment filed with an investigator or another police officer in the course of criminal proceedings had always to be referred to the Inspection Service Office of the Police Force. In the interest of eliminating ill-treatment of detainees, the Inspection Service presented annual reports on police crime to the Ministry of the Interior.
Another important legislative change had been introduced by Act No. 475/2005 on the Execution of Custodial Sentences and Act No. 221/2006 on the Execution of Remand Custody. The two acts, adopted in reaction to the recommendations both of this Committee and the Council of Europe Committee on the Prevention of Torture, created the necessary legal conditions for humanizing the Slovak prison system. Compliance with the rules applicable to the places holding, inter alia, remand prisoners, sentence prisoners, persons under court-ordered protective treatment, or in institutional care was supervised by the prosecution service. The prosecution service exercised similar supervisory powers also with respect to police officers not only during criminal proceedings, but in all cases when the police acted as a public authority vis-à-vis citizens, Mr. Rosocha added.
Mr. Rosocha also drew attention to Act No. 90/2001 amending the Constitution, which, among others created the institution of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman), who might be called upon by any person who believed that his or her fundamental rights and freedoms had been violated by a public authority. The ombudsman's office had begun to operate in Slovakia in 2002, and had received over 17,980 submissions to date, more than 100 of them filed by persons remanded in custody or serving custodial sentences who had complained about living conditions in penitentiary institutions. Under a 2006 amendment, the ombudsman's powers had been expanded to include the ability to initiate proceedings before the Constitutional Court in matters involving violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.
An irreplaceable vehicle for ensuring compliance with the law was the training of members of the police, the prison corps, members of the armed forces and others acting on behalf of the State in premises used to hold persons subject to a restriction of their fundamental human rights and freedoms. In that regard, Mr. Rosocha said the Action Plan for the Prevention of All Forms of Discrimination, Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Related Intolerance was the core document in the area of training provided to members of professional groups. An important priority of the 2009-2011 Action Plan was to ensure systematic training of those professional groups which, through the performance of their profession, had an impact on preventing all forms of discrimination, racism and related intolerance. The training included regular courses for and examinations of the police force, the prison and court guards, and members of the armed forces, in the application of equal treatment. One of the specific objectives of the Plan was to ensure effective social integration of the persons belonging to national minorities or ethnic groups, including persons coming from socially disadvantaged environments.
Concerning the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, Slovakia was conducting an analysis of the provisions of the Optional Protocol with the aim of identifying the necessary legislative amendments in national laws. Mr. Rosocha was confident that in the near future they would be able to start the necessary legislative procedure leading to Slovakia becoming one of the contracting parties to the Optional Protocol.
Mr. Rosocha recognized that, in spite of the Government's efforts, there had been cases involving elements of torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment. With regard to police action taken in Kosice against six Roma juveniles in March 2009, Slovakia admitted that the police conduct in that case was incompatible with the mission, powers and the code of ethics of police officers. The Ministry of the Interior had immediately condemned that conduct. After the facts of the case had been established, the six members of the police force directly involved in the action had been suspended and eventually dismissed from the force, while proceedings against one policewoman were still pending on account of illness. Motions were also being prepared to dismiss three more policemen who had been present on the premises of the local police station during the time of the incident. Moreover, criminal proceedings had been initiated and indictments filed against seven police officers for the crime of abusing power of a public official and for the crime of extortion committed in complicity.
Providing another example, Mr. Rosocha said that, on 17 September 2009, the Supreme Court had issued a final judgement in the case of the tragic death of Karol Sendrei, a member of the Roma national minority. The first-instance court had handed down a guilty verdict against seven policemen on 28 February 2008, convicting them of participation in the violent death of Mr. Sendrei, who had died in early July 2001 at the local police department in Revuca after brutal questioning by the police. A total of six imprisonment sentences – ranging from two to eight and a half years – had been issued against the former police officers, four of them for the criminal offence of torture and other inhuman or cruel treatment. After that tragic event, the Government had instructed the Ministry of the Interior to urgently propose measures for restoring confidence in the police force as guardians of law and order.
Questions Raised by Committee Experts
MYRNA KLEOPAS, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, commended Slovakia for the substantive and relevant information submitted to the Committee, as well as for the adoption of a number of measures to prevent and punish acts of torture and ill-treatment.
With regard to the rights of persons in police custody, Ms. Kleopas noted that the report said persons were informed of their rights (i.e. right to a lawyer, right to contact a family member) "as soon as practical" after arrest. She asked for more clarification on the time frame indicated.
In that connection, Ms. Kleopas had received information that, in practice, detainees were not always informed of their rights in a timely manner, and did not always have access to a lawyer. In particular, she was concerned about reports that juveniles were often questioned by police officers in the absence of legal guardians, parents or a lawyer.
Was there an independent monitoring body to hear complaints from persons who had been deprived of their liberty, including to review conditions in places of detention, Ms. Kleopas asked?
With regard to plans to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, had Slovakia identified an institution to act as the national torture prevention mechanism, and did it have plans in place to involve civil society in that endeavour?
Ms. Kleopas noted the report lacked information on implementation of international standards in regard to juvenile justice, with the exception of improvements in the separation of adults from minors in remand centres. It lacked information on separate facilities for juveniles, or to ensure that juveniles were only held in detention as a last resort and for the minimum possible time, for example. She asked generally for more information on how Slovakia planned to implement United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice.
Ms. Kleopas welcomed the fact that refugees or asylum-seekers were not sent back to countries where they were at risk for torture or ill-treatment and that asylum-seekers had not been subject to detention since 2006. However, she was concerned about the fact that non-refoulement was not considered as an absolute obligation, but could be derogated from in certain cases, i.e. cases involving terror suspects. She mentioned the specific case of an Algerian who had been deported although there was reason to believe he would face ill-treatment in his country.
Turning to the issue of the Roma, Ms. Kleopas noted reports of educational segregation of Roma, as well as of poor living conditions for members of the Roma community, including a lack running water, electricity and proper shelter. The Committee considered such a situation to be the equivalent of inhuman or degrading treatment. There were also reports that forced sterilizations of Romani women and girls continued to be done, despite a new law prohibiting such sterilizations. A non-governmental organization said that that was owing to a lack of government issued guidance in this area, as well as a lack of prompt investigation of complaints, prosecution of perpetrators and payment of reparations to victims.
XUEXIAN WANG, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, noted that the delegation had said the scope of their definition of torture exceeded that included in the Convention. However, as far as he could see, it did not cover discrimination, which was a ground for torture under the Convention.
Mr. Wang welcomed information on training provided for police officers and others with a view to preventing torture. In that regard, had the Government carried out any evaluations of those trainings? And, if so, what had been the results?
Finally, Mr. Wang said that, according to information received, existing avenues for redress for torture victims in Slovakia did not appear to be functioning. He would appreciate a comment from the delegation on that. He also noted that there had been no mention of reparations in the report.
Other Committee Experts asked questions and raised concerns related to the jurisdiction of military courts; the low number of asylum-seekers who had obtained refugee status (22 out of 909 according to one report); a lack of disaggregated data, in particular with regard to asylum-seekers, prisoners and detainees; what measures were being taken to combat trafficking in Roma women and girls for purposes of sexual exploitation; a very high rate of complaints alleging torture or ill-treatment submitted to the Public Defender or to the Police or Prison authorities that were dismissed as lacking foundation; and the fact that juveniles could be held in solitary confinement for up to 10 days.
An Expert noted a number of cases of racial attacks on foreigners, in particular by skinhead groups, including on a visiting basketball star, on a doctor, as well as on a Mexican, a Nigerian and a Vietnamese citizen. Those cases appeared to result in only very light penalties – usually just a suspended sentence – for the perpetrator. That raised issues about the efficacy of the legal system in dealing with such hate attacks.
An Expert was concerned that statistics received on patients in psychiatric institutions had been provided by the Ministry of Justice. Did that mean psychiatric hospitals were under the auspices of the Justice Ministry? She also asked for further breakdowns in the statistics on such patients.
An Expert was concerned by reports that even in cases where a detainee who had complained of torture had been subject to a medical examination, and the medical record clearly noted injuries suffered, the case was stamped as "no injuries found".
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