UN Committee Against Torture elects five new members

Five experts from the US, China, Russia, Japan and Morocco were elected to the Committee against Torture on Monday, replacing those whose terms are expiring at the end of the year.

The Geneva-based body of ten experts oversees the application of the UN Convention on Torture, adopted in 1984. The treaty aims to prevent any act of torture and also requires member states to make torture a criminal offence under their national laws.

The convention has 171 states parties, with 24 countries left to join to achieve universal ratification.

Who are the new experts?

The new members elected for a four-year term, from 2022 to 2025, are Maeda Naoko, Japan; Todd Buchwald, USA; Liu Huawen, China; and Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov, Russia – all four professors in international law and human rights with long records working in the field.

Tuzmukhamedov and Liu, existing committing committee members, were re-elected.

Morocco’s candidate, Abderrazak Rouwane, secured the last seat on the committee after edging ahead of Philippe Jean Bruneau of Mauritius in a second round of votes. Rouwane is a special adviser on human rights mainstreaming at the Public Prosecution Office of Morocco and also graduated in international rights law.

In total, 11 countries put forward candidates for the elections including Ukraine, Mauritius, Denmark, Burundi, Thailand and Colombia.

Carin Benninger, Convention against Torture programme director at the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), which helps coordinate civil society work with the committee, welcomed the appointments:

“We need strong leadership from the UNCAT more than ever, as this is the primary global anti-torture body tasked with upholding the international system against torture.”

Back to work in eradicating torture. The committee is due to resume its work this month after grinding to a 18-month halt following the onset of the pandemic.

Between November and December, they will examine the situation in Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Nigeria, Serbia and Sweden and issue reports as it does every three or four years for the countries that have ratified the treaty.

In an interview with Geneva Solutions ahead of the vote, OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock said the meetings of the bodies had stalled at a critical time when in many parts of the world, cases of torture were becoming more prominent due to the pandemic.

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“We had a situation where the issue of torture was so much more prominent because you had the closures of places, you had the dismantling of local protections and that means a vacuum where more torture happens,” said Staberock, citing police violence as an example.

“In that context, it's absolutely vital that international protection mechanisms exist and do their work,” he added.

Questionable human rights records. Many of the countries with a seat at the table have been heavily criticised for their human rights records, raising questions whether such countries should be allowed to hold a seat on the committee.

However Staberock says this should not count against candidates, who serve in their individual capacity and should be judged on their “competence, commitment and independence”.

“Of course, you have to look very carefully who proposed [the candidate] and who is proposed.”

Organisations like the OMCT and the Association for the Prevention of Torture work with the committee to ensure the voting process is based on merit and does not become a trading of favours between countries.

“For the first time ever, we had a hearing with the candidates [last week], which we co-organised with other organisations. This is also a form of transparency we should have as a standard process.”