July 11, 2008

OMCT meets re Torture in Geneva


P.O. Box 21 - 1211 Geneva 8


Tel.: 0041/22 809 49 39 / Fax: 0041/22 809 49 29

E-mail: omct@omct.org / Web: www.omct.org


GENEVA 23-27 JUNE 2008

How can national human rights NGOs address the economic, social and cultural root causes of torture through the UN Special Procedures System?

This was the key question addressed by representatives of fourteen NGOs from around the world during the 2nd International Seminar on the UN Special Procedures System organised by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The seminar was held in Geneva from 23 to 27 June and took place in parallel with the 15th annual Meeting of Special Rapporteurs, Representatives, Independent Experts and Chairpersons of Working Groups of the Human Rights Council.

The core discussions were aimed at strengthening synergies between national NGOs and the UN Special Procedures mandate holders, with a particular view to reducing violence associated with the denial of economic, social and cultural rights. The outcome of the seminar highlighted the mutually beneficial relationship between national NGOs and mandate holders. Indeed, on the one hand, mandate holders rely on well-targeted information reported from the field, and on the other, national NGOs benefit from the international exposure that the Special Procedure System offers to their concerns.

During the seminar, the participants – representatives of NGOs from Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Congo Brazzaville, Kenya, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Thailand, and Uganda - presented and discussed case-studies examining the economic, social and cultural root causes of torture in their countries. The entry point of the debate focused on the policies and programmes that are the cause of poverty and marginalisation, and that, consequently, lead to discontent, protests and violence. Among the main issues addressed by the participants were conflicts arising from access to land, forced evictions, access to water resources and adequate food, militarisation and the effects of free trade agreements and liberalisation policies.

More specifically, the fourteen cases presented during plenary sessions and analysed in detail in working groups addressed the following themes:

Indigenous communities subjected to gross human rights violations by private actors or private militia in connection with development projects. The forced eviction of indigenous communities without alternative resettlement and remedy.
Violence generated by land grabbing and the inability of the dispossessed - often peasant farmers or pastoralists - to provide for themselves and their families;
Omission by the State to correct gross inequalities and uneven distribution of resources, particularly as regards the most marginalised communities. Absence of mechanisms addressing inequality and of programmes to promote the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. Demonstrations to protest against these poor living conditions are frequently met with violent repression;
Violence against vulnerable groups including children, migrants and persons with mental disabilities. Lack of effective access to health and social services for these groups. Victims of torture denied access to rehabilitation services and social support;
Criminalisation of poverty, leading to false charges against and imprisonment of the poor, suppression of legitimate social protest, and police impunity as regards arbitrary executions and violence against the poor;
Widespread poverty and environmental damage caused by extractive industries, and violence directed at local populations when they call for respect for their rights and a fair share of revenues.

The individual cases presented by the participants indicated that, time and time again, the principal victims of violence come from the most vulnerable segments of society such as the poor, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, women and children, as well as economic, social and cultural rights defenders. For each case, the participants developed concrete recommendations on the type of action needed to effectively address these situations. They also drew up lists of key national and international actors to whom to address their concerns and recommendations. Lastly, participants explored the ways in which the UN Special Procedures System can help them address these concerns.

To support participants in their reflections, OMCT invited a number of UN mandate holders for an in-depth exchange of views. In this way, participants had the opportunity to interface directly with mandate holders on how to deal with the link between torture and the denial of economic, social and cultural rights in their countries. Specifically, participants met with the Special Rapporteurs on Education, Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Right to Food, Human Rights Defenders, Right to Housing, and Human Rights of Migrants, as well as the Independent Expert on Minority Issues and the assistant to the Special Rapporteur on Torture. All mandate holders emphasised the need to enhance the relationship between the Special Procedures System and national NGOs, especially when addressing the economic, social and cultural root causes of violence and other human rights violations.

In addition, participants attended the 15th annual Meeting of Special Procedures mandate holders, during which OMCT made a statement on the UN Special Procedures System, indicating, inter alia, that the above-mentioned NGO representatives from around the world encouraged the mandate holders to focus attention - both individually and collectively - on the root causes of violence in all their activities.

Many of the NGOs represented at OMCT's seminar have also adhered to the Maputo Declaration Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (please see http://www.omct.org/pdf/ESCR/2008/maputo_declaration_en.pdf). This Declaration was drafted by OMCT and eighteen African NGOs on the occasion of the OMCT African Regional Seminar on Addressing the Economic, Social and Cultural Root Causes of Torture, held in Maputo, Mozambique, from 7 to 11 May 2008.

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