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Friday, February 7, 2014

Vatican human rights -- the Committee speaks

The Committee on the Rights of the Child released its concluding observations on Wednesday for each of the countries whose reports were reviewed during their current session.  This included the report of the Holy See.  The press coverage was extensive and as you probably know the Committee's report was hard hitting, with many strong criticisms and specific, concrete recommendations.

I will discuss other aspects of the Committee's session later, but in this post I would like to address the overall impact and impressions of the Holy See report and conclusions.

First, lets look at the Holy See's report itself.  It was filed 14 years late. The Vatican had last appeared before the Committee in 1995.  They were supposed to submit updated reports every five years. This report was submitted in September 2011 but it had been due since 1997.  As a consequence, most of the revelations about priest and church hierarchy abuse had surfaced since the last report had been filed.

Second, the length of the report, 41 pages, is actually below the page limits recommended by the Committee (60 pages) even though it was a combined report, covering 16 years of activities.  Most state reports are much longer, often exceeding the 60 page limit. The Vatican has also elected not to file what is called as a common core document, which could cover some of the more generic information about its government, legislation and demographics which is common to all treaties.  Common core documents are submitted by most governments, and have a recommended page limit of 80 pages.  Since the Vatican didn't file a core document much of the material in their report was actually generic in nature and could have been moved to the core report, had they elected to submit one.  So the actual detailed information in the 41 page report that they submitted was far less specific than in most state reports.

The third criterion I usually look at in assessing the completeness of a report is whether or not it addresses the concluding recommendations of the Committee from the last report.  In this case, that would mean, did it cover the recommendations from the 1995 report of the Committee? Here I thought the Vatican did a fairly good job of responding to each recommendation of the 1995 report. Although the quality of the responses was not great, at least they made the effort to respond in some form to each of the recommendations.  Many states don't even do that much in their reports. However, even on this point the Committee was quite critical of the delegation for failing to effectively respond to their prior recommendations.

In terms of the Committee's concluding recommendations, they covered 16 pages and 67 paragraphs, with 32 of those being specific paragraphs with recommendations.  Taking into account subparagraphs and subpoints I counted at least 76 separate recommendations.

The full text of the Committee's report can be downloaded here.

Among the notable observations and recommendations, were the following (paragraph references are in parentheses):

  • Most of the prior recommendations of the Committee have not been addressed by the state party in the present report (9)
  • The Committee welcomes the statement of the delegation that the Holy See may possibly withdraw the reservations they have previously filed to the Convention; and recommends that they do so in order that it is clear that the Convention has precedence over internal laws and regulations (11, 12)
  • Recommends that the Holy See establish a mechanism at a high level with the mandate and capacity to coordinate the implementation of children’s rights across all pontifical councils, episcopal conferences of bishops as well as individuals institutions of a religious nature that function under the authority of the Holy See. (16)
  • Notes the Special Office established in August 2013 to oversee the implementation of international agreements, including to receive children’s complaints on sexual abuse, but the Committee believes more must be done. An independent mechanism should be established to receive and investigate children’s complaints in a child-sensitive manner, and ensure that this mechanism is made accessible to all children in schools, services and institutions provided by the Catholic Church. Given the special nature of the Holy See, guidelines on the relationship and collaboration between this mechanism and national law enforcement authorities, should also be established and widely disseminated. (19, 20)
  • Remove gender stereotypes from Catholic school textbooks. (28)
  • The number of children born of Catholic priests should be assessed, find out who they are and take all necessary measures to ensure the rights of these children to know and be cared for by their fathers, as appropriate. Churches should no longer impose confidentiality agreements on mothers who receive financial plans to support their children. (34)
  • Concern about the continued practice of anonymous abandonment of babies organized by Catholic organizations in several countries through the use of the so-called “baby boxes.” The Holy See should study the root causes of anonymous abandonment, strengthen and promote alternatives, provide family planning and counseling to prevent unplanned pregnancies. (35, 36)
  • Failure to adequately investigate and remedy the plight of the women and girls who were forced to work in slavery-like conditions in the Magdalene laundries of Ireland run by four congregations of Catholic Sisters until 1996. Also addressed by the Committee against Torture in their recommendations to the Republic of Ireland. The Committee calls on the Holy See to conduct an internal investigation into this event as well as in all countries where this system was in place, to ensure those responsible are sanctioned and reported to the national judicial authorities for prosecution purposes; ensure that compensation is paid to the victims; provide support to the victims; assess the circumstances and reasons that led to such practices and take all necessary measures to ensure that no women and children can be arbitrarily confined for whatever reason in Catholic institutions in the future. (37, 38)
  • Corporal punishment, including ritual beatings of children, has been and remains widespread in some Catholic institutions and reached endemic levels in certain countries. The Committee calls on the Holy See to amend both Canon Law and Vatican City State laws to explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment of children, and establish mechanisms to effectively enforce this ban in all Catholic schools and institutions. (39, 40)
  • Deepest concern over child abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches, involving the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide. Well known sexual abusers have been transferred from parish to parish. The Holy See has claimed to investigate but has declined to provide the Committee with data on cases or the outcome of the internal procedures. Abuse has been dealt with in confidential proceedings, allowing the vast majority of abusers to escape judicial prosecution. Reporting to national law enforcement authorities has never been made compulsory by the church. Code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication. The Committee calls on the Holy See (43,44):
    • To ensure that the new Commission created in December 2013 will investigate independently all cases of child sexual abuse as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them
    •  Immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers, & refer the matter to relevant law enforcement authorities
    • Ensure a transparent sharing of archives
    • Amend Canon Law in order to consider any child sexual abuse to be a crime; repeal all obligations of silence on victims and on all those that become aware of such crimes
    • Establish clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of child sexual abuse
    • Ensure that all priests, religious personnel and individuals working under the authority of the Holy See are made aware of their reporting obligations
    • Develop programs and policies for the prevention of such crimes
    • Develop educational preventive programs to increase children’s awareness of sexual abuse and to teach them the necessary skills with which to protect themselves
    • Consider ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (43, 44) 
  • Concern that the Holy See objected to draft text at the 2013 session of the Commission on the Status of Women that would have prevented governments from using religion, custom or tradition as an excuse for not protecting women and girls from violence. (45). Calls on the Holy See to prioritize the elimination of all forms of violence against children. (46)
  • The Holy See should promote the creation of helplines in all countries, raise awareness of their existence and encourage children to use them. (47)
  • Adopt a policy for the de-institutionalization of children placed in Catholic Church-run institutions and for the reunification with their families, where possible. (53)
  • Establish comprehensive procedures for the early identification of child victims of sexual and other forms of abuse.  Ensure accessible, confidential, child-friendly and effective reporting channels for children who are victims or witnesses of sexual abuse, and that they are protected from retaliation. (61)

What are the next steps?

      The Committee has requested that the Holy See file its next report no later than September 1, 2017, in 3 3/4 years. This is a relatively short time period as these deadlines go and it means that the government will need to get busy in responding to and implementing the 76 recommendations made. 

      There will also be pressure put on the Vatican to demonstrate early progress toward implementing these recommendations, especially the ones that are reasonably simple to implement and/or that the delegation indicated at the hearing it was already considering actions on. 

      The next treaty body hearing for the Holy See is this May, before the Committee Against Torture (CAT).  The dates of review have been tentatively set for May 12 and 13. The sessions will also be webcast. Many of the same questions and criticisms will no doubt be raised as were made in the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but clever advocates will try to push the agenda forward by pointing to the conclusions of this Committee and the assurances made by the delegation here as well as statements of the Pope and the Church in public media, to produce tangible evidence of concrete actions that the Holy See is taking. If you would like to follow the developments before CAT you can check the Committee website and also track the latest news on Twitter with hashtag #HolySeeConfess.  

      The NGOs CRIN, CCR and SNAP are also likely to cover the CAT proceedings very closely, as they did with the CRC hearing. 

      The Holy See is also overdue on two other reports for treaties that it has ratified: the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED) (one year overdue) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (14 years overdue).  One would hope they would submit those reports soon and that those treaty bodies would also have an opportunity to question the delegation on its human rights obligations in the not too distant future. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Opening day of Committee on Racial Discrimination

Monday was the opening day of the 84th session of CERD -- the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  In an historic event, they elected Mr. Jose Francisco Cali Tzay from Guatemala as their chairperson for the next two years, the first representative of an indigenous organisation to hold such a title.  His election included a nice welcoming speech from Chief Wilton
Mr. Cali Tzay is in the centre
Little Child, chair of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and messages of support from representatives of each of the regional groups on the Committee.

Mr. Cali Tzay is a member of the Mayan Caqchikel of Guatemala.  A ceremonial blanket from the International Indian Council was also presented to Mr. Cali Tzay during the opening day session as an expression of honour in the tradition of the Cree Indian Tribe.

The Committee will meet for three weeks and will be reviewing the reports of eight countries -- Belgium, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Poland, Switzerland and Uzbekistan.

The review of country reports will be webcast live.  The Committee is also expected to review and issue some decisions on individual cases and meet with governments in a state parties meeting, to discuss changes in working procedures.

More information about the CERD session can be found at the Committee's website.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Individual case decisions of the human rights treaty bodies in 2013


There have been 78 individual case decisions issued by the UN human rights treaty system in 2013.  The exact number is always a little uncertain.  I've included below one decision which was technically issued in 2012 but which apparently first became available in 2013 (CCPR 1912 Thuraisamy v. Canada). In addition there is one decision that has been listed by the human rights office but is not yet available (CCPR 1839 Komarovsky v. Belarus). 

Here is a table of decisions, in chronological order as they were issued during 2013, showing the treaty body that issued the decision, complaint number, party names, outcome and session during which the case was decided. 

No.
Treaty
Case no.
Parties
Outcome
Session
1
CERD
48/2010
TBB v. Germany
Violation
82nd Feb 2013
2
CRPD
1/2010
Nyusti et al v. Hungary
Violation
9th Apr 2013
3
CCPR
1785/2008
Olechkevitch v. Belarus
Violation
107th Mar 2013
4
CCPR
1787/2008
Kovsh v. Belarus
Violation
107th Mar 2013
5
CCPR
1788/2008
B.W.M.Z. v. Netherlands
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
6
CCPR
1791/2008
Boudjemai v. Algeria
Violation
107th Mar 2013
7
CCPR
1806/2008
Saadoun v. Algeria
Violation
107th Mar 2013
8
CCPR
1807/2008
Mechani v. Algeria
Violation
107th Mar 2013
9
CCPR
1835/2008*
Yasinovich et al v. Belarus
Violation
107th Mar 2013
10
CCPR
1857/2008
A.P. v. Russia
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
11
CCPR
1861/2009
Bakurov v. Russia
No violation
107th Mar 2013
12
CCPR
1886/2009
X v. Netherlands
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
13
CCPR
1904/2009
D.T.T. v. Colombia
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
14
CCPR
1911/2009
T.J. v. Lithuania
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
15
CCPR
1912/2009
Thuraisamy v. Canada [this is a 2012 case from the Committee’s 106th session; it was first available as of  8/6/13, but dated 7/9/13]
Violation [dissent]
106th Nov 2012
16
CCPR
1913/2009
Abushaala v. Libya
Violation
107th Mar 2013
17
CCPR
1917/2009*
Prutina et al v. Bosnia & Herzegovina
Violation
107th Mar 2013
18
CCPR
1921/2009
K.S. v. Australia
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
19
CCPR
1938/2010
Q.H.L. v. Australia
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
20
CCPR
1943/2010
H.P.N. v. Spain
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
21
CCPR
1945/2010
Achabal Puertas v. Spain
Violation
107th Mar 2013
22
CCPR
1957/2010
Lin v. Australia
No violation
107th Mar 2013
23
CCPR
1962/2010
S.N.A. v. Cameroun
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
24
CCPR
2027/2011
Kusherbaev v. Kazakhstan
Inadmissible
107th Mar 2013
25
CAT
392/2009**
R.S.M. v. Canada
No violation
50th May 2013
26
CAT
430/2010**
Abichou v. Germany
Violation
50th May 2013
27
CAT
431/2010**
Y. v. Switzerland
No violation
dissents
50th May 2013
28
CAT
439/2010**
M.B.F. et al v. Switzerland
No violation
50th May 2013
29
CAT
463/2011**
D.Y. v. Sweden
No violation
50th May 2013
30
CAT
467/2011**
Y.B.F. et al v. Switzerland
No violation
50th May 2013
31
CAT
479/2011**
E.E. v. Russia
Inadmissible
50th May 2013
32
CEDAW
033/2011
M.N.N. v. Denmark
Inadmissible
55th July 2013
33
CEDAW
035/2011
M.E.N. v. Denmark
Inadmissible
dissent
55th July 2013
34
CEDAW
040/2012
M.S. v. Denmark
Inadmissible
55th July 2013
35
CCPR
1592/2007+
Pichugina v. Belarus
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
36
CCPR
1796/2008
Zerrougui v. Algeria
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
37
CCPR
1798/2008
Azouz v. Algeria
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
38
CCPR
1808/2008+
Kovalenko v. Belarus
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
39
CCPR
1809/2008+
V.B. v. Czech Republic
Inadmissible
108th/Jul 2013
40
CCPR
1831/2008
Larbi v. Algeria
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
41
CCPR
1832/2008+
Al Khazmi v. Libya
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
42
CCPR
1865/2009
Sedhai v. Nepal
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
43
CCPR
1881/2009
Masih v. Canada
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
44
CCPR
1897/2009+
S.Y.L. et al. v. Australia
Inadmissible
108th/Jul 2013
45
CCPR
1928/2010+
Singh v. France
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
46
CCPR
1948/2010+
Turchenyak v. Belarus
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
47
CCPR
2094/2011+
A.G.F.K. et al. v. Australia
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
48
CCPR
2136/2012+
M.M.M. et al. v. Australia
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
49
CCPR
2149/2012+
M.I. v. Sweden
Violation
108th/Jul 2013
50
CCPR
2202/2012+
Castaneda v. Mexico
No violation
108th/Jul 2013
51
CERD
47/2010
Moylan v. Australia
Inadmissible
83rd/Aug 2013
52
CRPD
4/2011
Bujdoso et al v. Hungary
Violation
10th/Sep 2013
53
CCPR
1612/2007
F.B.L. v. Costa Rica
Inadmissible
109th/Oct 2013
54
CCPR
1764/2008
Alekperov v. Russia
No violation
109th/Oct 2013
55
CCPR
1795/2008
Zhirnov v. Russia
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
56
CCPR
1839/2008
Komarovsky v. Belarus
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
57
CCPR
1851/2008
Sekerko v. Belarus
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
58
CCPR
1856/2008
Sevostyanov v. Russia
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
59
CCPR
1873/2009
Alekseev v. Russia
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
60
CCPR
1874/2009
Mihoubi v. Algeria
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
61
CCPR
1879/2009
A.W.P. v. Denmark
Inadmissible
109th/Oct 2013
62
CCPR
1884/2009
Faraoun v. Algeria
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
63
CCPR
1898/2009
Choudhary v. Canada
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
64
CCPR
1910/2009
Zhuk v. Belarus
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
65
CCPR
1919-20/2009
Protsko et al v. Belarus
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
66
CCPR
1922/2009
Martinez et al v. Algeria
Inadmissible
109th/Oct 2013
67
CCPR
1923/2009
R.C. v. France
Inadmissible
109th/Oct 2013
68
CCPR
1955/2010
Al-Gertani v. Bosnia & Herzegovina
Violation
109th/Oct 2013
69
CCPR
2014/2010
D.J. v. Lithuania
Inadmissible
109th/Oct 2013
70
CEDAW
29/2011
Sankhe v. Spain
Inadmissible
56th/Oct 2013
71
CEDAW
44/2012
M.K.D.A.-A v. Denmark
Inadmissible
56th/Oct 2013
72
CAT
376/2009
Bendib v. Algeria (French)
Violation
51st/Nov 2013
73
CAT
387/2009
Dewage v. Australia
Violation
51st/Nov 2013
74
CAT
426/2010
R.D. v. Switzerland
No violation
51st/Nov 2013
75
CAT
429/2010
Sivagnanaratnam v. Denmark
No violation
51st/Nov 2013
76
CAT
434/2010
Y.G.H. v. Australia
No violation
51st/Nov 2013
77
CAT
438/2010
M.A.H. & F.H. v. Switzerland
No violation
51st/Nov 2013
78
CAT
441/2010
Evloev v. Kazakhstan
Violation
51st/Nov 2013

*combines 2 or more complaints in one decision

Statistical breakout

Of the 78 decisions, there were 41 cases where the state was held responsible for human rights violations.  No violations were held to be committed in 13 cases.  And 24 cases were dismissed as inadmissible for various reasons, usually because the complainant failed to adequately exhaust domestic legal remedies before filing the complaint with the treaty body. 

As in prior years, the majority of decisions are issued by the Human Rights Committee (CCPR); they issued 55 decisions in 2013.  The breakout by the remaining Committees was as follows: Committee Against Torture (CAT) -- 14 decisions; Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) -- 5 decisions; the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) -- 2 decisions; and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) -- 2 decisions. 

Copies of decisions

The full text of each of these decisions can be accessed at each Committee website (look for the menu item "Complaints procedure" and then click "Table of jurisprudence").  Or you can also usually find copies in the treaty body database maintained by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Most significant decisions

The most significant decisions issued in 2013 probably included the two Australia asylum decisions reported by the Human Rights Committee in July (A.G.F.K. v. Australia and M.M.M. v. Australia) -- both of which held Australia's practice of indefinite detention for some types of "security risk" asylum seekers to be illegal.  I summarised these cases in an earlier post

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) also continues to issue important precedent cases.  In Nyusti et al v. Hungary they held that governments must ensure access of disabled persons to private banking facilities, including ATM machines, and including for both visual and physical impairments.  The decision is significant in that it underlines the application of the treaty to private businesses, not just government or public businesses. It also sets out some minimum expectations for governments in this regard.   In Bjudoso et al v. Hungary the Committee decided that   the right to vote must not be discriminatorily applied to disabled persons; the blanket prohibition from voting of persons with perceived intellectual disabilities was held to be a violation of the Convention. 

Oher decisions of 2013 bear further discussion. Hopefully I will get some time to summarise some of the more important decisions in a later post. I welcome feedback from others who have reviewed any of the decisions that came out in 2013 regarding what they regard as the most important developments.