4 November 2009
The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the response of Slovakia 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 Tuesday, 3 November, the delegation, which was led by Fedor Rosocha, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, underscored, with regard to allegations of forced sterilizations of Roma women and girls, that sterilization never had been and never would be an official policy of the Slovak Republic. If any sterilizations had occurred the persons involved had the right to bring a criminal action. As for the high number of complaints of torture or ill-treatment that were rejected, those decisions had been based on objective investigations of such complaints. While investigating complaints, the complainant was under the supervision of the prosecutor. As for the suspended sentences for those convicted of racially motivated attacks, those cases had been judged by the courts, so they must have had a reason for that. What could be said was that it was very difficult to prove racial motivation of an attack.
As for reparations for cases of deaths in police custody, following either beatings by police or by other suspects who were coerced to beat a detainee, the delegation noted that the Ministry of the Interior had condemned those acts. Top Government officials had also issued harsh condemnations, so moral reparation had been made. As for material damages, persons could seek damages from civil courts. There was also an Act that provided for payments following damages caused by the public authorities carrying out administrative duties.
The Committee will submit its conclusions and recommendations on the report of Slovakia towards the end of the session on Friday, 20 November.
As one of the 146 States parties to the Convention against Torture, Slovakia is obliged to provide the Committee with periodic reports on the measures it has undertaken to fight torture.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 5 November, it is scheduled to begin consideration of the second periodic report of El Salvador (CAT/C/SLV/2).
Response of Slovakia
Responding to a series of questions raised by Committee Experts on Tuesday, 3 November, the delegation of Slovakia said that, with regard to a lack of the element of discrimination in the definition of torture in Slovakia's Criminal Code, the problem had been resolved in Slovak law by the Constitution, in which there was a guarantee provided to all equally regardless of gender, language, race, faith, national, ethnic or social origin, among others. At the same time, the Constitution provided that no one could be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and provided that everyone had the right to preserve their dignity. So the Constitution effectively covered grounds of torture and the Criminal Code only covered acts that needed to define that whoever inflicted torture would be punished.
The Criminal Code also prohibited the punishment of expulsion for someone who was subject to a risk of torture in their country of origin based on their race, social group or based on their political conviction, the delegation added.
Concerning asylum-seekers and refugees, in particular redress for expulsion orders, the delegation noted that the Ombudsman could review cases of anyone – including asylum-seekers – who claimed their rights had been infringed. Asylum-seekers had a broad range of jurisdictional venues to appeal administrative decisions of expulsion all the way up to the Supreme Court, while the fact of having applied for asylum guaranteed the individual's right to stay pending a final decision. Asylum-seekers, moreover, had the right to free legal aid in challenging or appealing negative decisions on their applications.
Since Slovakia fully applied the Schengen acquis, based on the Schengen Border Code, it had the right to refuse persons entry into Slovakia, the delegation noted. However, if the foreigner showed the will to seek asylum at the border, it was considered that the asylum procedure had begun.
Slovakia had also incorporated European Union legislation on refugees and asylum-seekers into its domestic law. In 2008, eight asylum-seekers had been granted refugee status. However some 44 persons were granted supplementary protection status. That was a special regime for persons who had not met conditions for asylum, but where there was a risk that the person would be subjected to torture or inhuman treatment in their country of origin.
Regarding non-refoulement provisions, and concerns about exemptions for persons who had committed serious crimes and presented serious risks for society, the delegation noted that in Slovakia ratified international instruments took precedence over any domestic laws. Therefore the Convention and European Union legislation and their requirements had priority. As for the Algerian man mentioned by an Expert yesterday, that person was still on the territory of Slovakia.
The delegation also affirmed that asylum-seekers did not have to prove that they were at risk of being tortured if returned to their country of origin, as an Expert had suggested. They simply had to state the reasons for which they were seeking asylum.
Turning to issues connected with the judiciary, and the existence of military courts, the delegation noted that in the past there had been a desire to keep any crimes committed by the military secret and all such issues were judged in closed military courts. Since the fall of the previous regime, that logic no longer applied. There were no military courts in Slovakia since the middle of this year and all military and related personnel were subject to civil jurisdiction.
Regarding monitoring of police activities, the delegation noted that the National Police fell directly under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, whereas the body responsible for police inspections fell under the Prosecutor's Office. Only police officers could be investigators, but they had to fulfil academic requirements and undertake a course of study to become investigators. Investigating police officers, however, were independent in the scope of their action.
As for an independent body responsible to hear complaints from persons deprived of their liberty, the delegation said that it had provided a comprehensive reply to that question in its written answers to the Committee. Such bodies included the Control and Inspection Service of the Ministry of the Interior and the Prosecutor's Office.
On the use of means of restraint on those deprived of liberty, the delegation affirmed that following recommendations from the Committee and from European Union bodies, in 2009 the Ministry of the Interior and the Police had been creating separate facilities for such persons, where possible.
Turning to issues regarding the Roma, the delegation observed that, as of July 2009, Slovakia had assumed the Presidency of the European Decade of Roma Inclusion, and had a five-year action plan in place to implement the Decade's priorities, including in the areas of schooling and housing. Slovakia had a School Act to help de-segregate Roma, which provided for the re-evaluation of Roma students placed in special schools. It also provided for criminal sanctions against those who illegally transferred Roma students to special schools.
Addressing allegations of forced sterilizations of Roma girls and women, the delegation underscored that sterilization never had been and never would be an official policy of the Slovak Republic. Every person in Slovakia had the same position, rights and obligations. As to whether sterilization had been proposed to any woman or girl, any citizen had the right in that case to complain and a criminal action would begin. The same was true if any sterilizations had occurred: the persons involved had the right to bring a criminal action. Regarding the allegation that consent forms had been obtained from such persons, the delegation said they had no information about that. However, by law, no sterilization could be performed without such a consent form.
According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, proceedings involving minors did not have to be relegated to specialized juvenile justice mechanisms. However, the courts, the Prosecutor's Office and the Police Force had specialized staff with experience and training regarding juveniles, who were involved in such cases. Moreover, a representative of the State's Social Services Department had to be present during the court proceedings. Juvenile cases also received priority consideration.
Generally, indicted juveniles were separated from adults in prisons. However, an indicted juvenile could be placed in the same facilities as an indicted adult, if it was found that the adult did not represent a mental or physical threat to the juvenile. Juveniles could not be kept with adults who had committed severe offences. There was only one separate facility for juveniles in Slovakia.
Regarding solitary isolation for juveniles, the delegation said that it was possible to impose a disciplinary punishment of solitary isolation on a juvenile up to a limit of 10 days. During that time they had to be able to carry out educational activities. That punishment could be issued repeatedly, but in no case for longer than 14 days total.
On domestic violence, the delegation noted that all forms of corporal, rough or demeaning treatment of children that caused physical or psychological harm was prohibited. Persons who suspected such cases had to report them to the Social Services Department, which had to investigate such cases and had the competence to issues orders to rectify the situation, including the filing of an action to remove the children from the parents' custody.
For battered women, there had been national and regional campaigns against domestic violence, including special education programmes aimed at specific groups under threat of violence. In addition, a national centre had been established to provide assistance to victims.
Concerning the high number of complaints of torture or ill-treatment that were rejected, the delegation underscored that those decisions had been based on objective investigations of such complaints. While investigating complaints, the complainant was under the supervision of the prosecutor. As for the suspended sentences for those convicted of racially motivated attacks, the delegation said that those cases had been judged by courts so "perhaps they must have had a reason for that". What could be said was that it was very difficult to prove racial motivation of an attack.
As for reparations for cases of deaths in police custody, following either beatings by police or by other suspects who were coerced to beat a detainee, the Ministry of the Interior had issued an apology for that. Top Government officials had also harshly condemned those acts. So moral reparation had been made. As for material damages, persons could seek damages from civil courts. There was also an Act that provided for payments following damages caused by the public authorities carrying out administrative duties.
Monitoring of police training was carried out regularly to ensure the efficiency of that training. Each quarter, Police officers were subjected to exams, and curricula for police trainings were updated regularly.
Regarding mental health patients, they were under the purview of the Ministry of Health, not the Ministry of Justice, the delegation clarified. The use of restraints such as net-beds and the like could only be done if a patient presented a threat to himself or others and could only be done by order of a doctor. Moreover, the restraints could only be used for short periods of time. The Government was about to establish specialized padded rooms for such patients, although for the moment that was quite expensive.
Further Questions by Committee Experts
MYRNA Y. KLEOPAS, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, observed that, with regard to the independence of the judiciary, the delegation had said that the President had the right to recall a number of the appointees to the Judicial Council, the body responsible for overseeing the appointment of judges, among others. That appeared to put in question the independence of the judiciary.
While the delegation asserted that the monitoring body to review complaints against the police was independent, it had to be highlighted that the investigators were themselves police. When the Committee spoke of an independent monitoring body, they meant one that was under a different authority than the officials being investigated.
With reference to investigations of complaints, Ms. Kleopas said the State had the obligation to look into claims by individuals that their rights under the Convention had been violated. She had information regarding complaints by a number of Roma women that they had been subject to forced sterilizations. The Government had a duty to open an investigation into that matter therefore.
With regard to the placement of Roma in special schools, the delegation had said that no child would be placed in such schools without the authorization of the parent or legal guardian. Did that mean that all Roma children in such schools had been placed there with the consent of their parents, Ms. Kleopas asked?
Concerning independent monitoring of prisons, Ms. Kleopas would appreciate clarification of the delegation's answer. Was she to understand that that was carried out by the Ombudsman? Was there any other body?
Ms. Kleopas understood that, while illegal in institutional settings, corporal punishment was still legal in the home. Were there any plans to change that law?
Ms. Kleopas also asked if police doctors received training on the Istanbul Protocol (on documentation and prevention of torture).
Regarding the issue of exceptions to the non-refoulement obligations of the State, Ms. Kleopas had not understood the delegation's answer. She would appreciate confirmation that there was not an exception for those who presented a threat to the security of the State.
XUEXIAN WANG, the Committee Expert serving as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Slovakia, was not fully convinced by the delegation's reply regarding the inclusion of discrimination as an element in the definition of torture. What he had not heard a reply on was the timely nature of informing those arrested of their rights and on monitoring for time limits on such detentions. That was of particular importance to the Committee, as most cases of torture occurred in such situations.
Other Experts then made follow-up comments and raised concerns on a number of issues, including the lack of statistics; the wisdom of using solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure on juveniles in detention; and reports that Roma women were given consent forms to sterilization when they came in to give birth. An Expert asked if the delegation could supply the Committee with copies of the consent forms to carry out sterilization and agreeing to be interned in a mental health facility. The Committee would also appreciate statistics on who was signing those forms – were they largely coming from the same minority group, for example? Also, it was pointed out that it was not enough to say that there had been an "objective determination" to explain the high number of torture complaints that were determined not to merit investigation.
For use of the information media; not an official record