CAT Committee

  • A.Sh., et al. v. Switzerland, Committee Against Torture, 2018. Sexual violence and rape, international law, asylum. A.Sh., his wife Z.H. and their children, ethnic Chechens of the Muslim faith with Russian citizenship were residing in Switzerland and awaiting deportation to the Russian Federation.  A.Sh.’s brother-in-law was a leader of a Chechen insurgent group who went into hiding.  A.Sh. helped his sister and was arrested and beaten for collaborating with insurgents.  He left the Russian Federation with his eldest son for Switzerland.  When the police searched for him, they interrogated Z.H. about his whereabouts and then closed his shop and would not allow her to re-open it, stating it was her husband’s.  The police came to her house, searched it, and took her passport, after which the commanding officer raped Z.H.  She and her traumatize younger son went to live with her parents, and then left the Russian Federation illegally by car for Switzerland, where the complainants’ request for asylum was denied.  The Committee considered complainants’ claim that, if they were returned to the Russian Federation, they would be exposed to torture, and Switzerland would be in violation of article 3 of the Convention.  The Swiss authorities questioned complainants’ credibility and argued that the possibility they could settle in another region of the Russian Federation, other than Chechnya, meant they were not likely to be exposed to serious risk of treatment contrary to the Convention in case of return.  The Committee addressed the claim that because Z.H.’s rape was not raised at the time of the first asylum procedure, the complainants lacked credibility, stating that Z.H. and her husband had been subjected to torture and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder according to the medical reports issued by Swiss psychiatrists and psychologists.  Accordingly, since complete accuracy is seldom to be expected from victims of torture, the delay in reporting the sexual abuse did not undermine Z.H.’s credibility.  In this connection, the Committee recalled prior its prior holdings that rape constitutes “infliction of severe pain and suffering perpetrated for a number of impermissible purposes, including interrogation, intimidation, punishment, retaliation, humiliation and discrimination based on gender”, and that in other cases it has found that “sexual abuse by the police … constitutes torture” even when it is perpetrated outside of formal detention facilities.”  The Committee also rejected the Swiss authorities’ reliance on “internal flight,” citing the Russian requirement that Russian nationals must register within 90 days of arriving in a new place of residence and that this information will be accessible to Chechen authorities.  By rejecting the asylum application based on the assumption of the availability of an internal flight alternative and without giving sufficient weight to whether they could be at risk of persecution, the Committee determined that Switzerland failed its obligations under article 3 of the Convention.  It concluded that Switzerland could not forcibly return complainants to the Russian Federation or any country where there was a risk they could be returned to the Russian Federation.  Switzerland was given 90 days to respond with the steps it planned to take.
  • G.N. v. Burundi, Committee Against Torture, 2017. Statutory rape or defilement. G.N., a mother,  brought the action on behalf of her nine-year-old daughter, C.N.  A friend of the family, Captain D.K., was conducting night patrols and he stopped by the family home.  G.N.’s husband was not at home, so the Captain said he was going to leave and wanted to take C.N. with him home.  G.N. declined saying it was late, but when she returned to the kitchen to finish cooking the meal and then called for her daughter, she was no longer there.  Neighbors informed G.N. that she had left with D.K.  She looked for C.N., but did not see her.  The serviceman was a friend of the family.  She thought C.N. would soon return.  When G.N.’s husband returned home, she informed him that C.N. had not returned and he reassured her so they decided to wait.  C.N. returned home the next day.  G.N. eventually learned from C.N. that D.K. had taken her to his house, raped her, and, when she cried, threatened her with his firearm if she made any more noise.  He sent her to sleep with his own children and the next day gave her 500 Burundian francs (USD 0.30). He told her never to speak about the rape and threatened her and her mother if she revealed their secret.  However, a week after the incident, her mother persisted in asking C.N. because she could not stand up and said she had a stomach ache.  The victim’s father raised the issue with Captain D.K., who proposed an out of court settlement, which was rejected by G.N.  G.N. took C.N. for a medical examination, which confirmed the rape and she reported the rape to the military prosecutor’s department.  G.N. appealed to the domestic courts, which dismissed the case because of the ten-day period between the incident and reporting of it and the calmness and availability of the Captain.  After seeking domestic remedies with no action taken, G.N. appealed to the Committee submitting that her daughter was the victim of a violation of articles 2(1), 12, 13 and 14, read in conjunction with article 1 and, alternatively, with article 16 of the Convention.  The Committee found that the sexual abuse to which C.N. was subjected by an official of the State acting in his official capacity and the associated acts of intimidation fall within the scope of article 1 of the Convention.  The Committee also determined the investigation was not impartial, effective and prompt, contrary to articles 12 and 13 of the Convention.  It relied on the fact it was closed quickly and prosecutors did not seek additional evidence to pursue the case or arrest any other suspects, meaning the perpetrator of the rape has gone unpunished even though Burundi law provides that rape is punishable by life imprisonment when committed against a child under the age of 12.  As the child received no redress, the Committee also found that Burundi violated its obligations under article 14 of the Convention.  Finally, the Committee urged Burundi to: (1) promptly reopen an investigation; (2) provide reparation including compensation for the material and moral harm caused, restitution, rehabilitation, measures of satisfaction and a guarantee of non-repetition; (3) prevent threats/acts of violence against G.N. and C.N. for lodging the complaint; and (4) advise the Committee within 90 days of the steps taken. 
  • Saadia Ali v. Tunisia, Committee Against Torture, 2008. Torture, international law, sentencing, violence against women in general. Saadia Ali, a dual French/Tunisian citizen, was attempting to obtain an official document from the court of first instance in Tunis when she was taken into custody, stripped of her clothing, and beaten by a prison guard in front of fifty male prisoners for verbally criticizing a Tunisian public official. Upon regaining consciousness, Ali was given a summary trial without due process and a suspended sentence of three months imprisonment for attacking a public official. Ali's lawyer initiated a complaint with the office of the State prosecutor, which rejected the complaint without further explanation. In her complaint to the Committee Against Torture, Ali alleged violations of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT), and cited violations of internationally recognized standards on the administration of justice and articles 25 and 26 of Tunisia's Code of Criminal Procedure. The Committee held that Tunisia's actions towards Ali were tantamount to torture and violated articles 1, 12, 13, 14, and 16 of the Convention. The deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering upon Ali by Tunisian public officials constituted torture under article 1 and cruel, unusual, or degrading treatment within the meaning of article 16. The Committee also held that the State's dismissal of the complaint and delay in investigating Ali's case established a violation of articles 12 and 13, under which a State has the obligation to promptly investigate allegations of torture. The State's failure to act on the complaint and immediately launch an investigation equated to a breach of the State's obligations under article 14 to provide redress to victims of torture in the form of restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation.
  • C.T. v. Sweden, Committee Against Torture, 2006. Sexual violence and rape, asylum, international law, torture. C. T., a Hutu citizen of Rwanda and a member of the PDR-Ubuyanja party, was arrested for her political affiliations and incarcerated in a Kigali prison. While incarcerated, she was repeatedly raped, under the threat of execution if she did not comply, and become pregnant. C. T. escaped to Sweden and requested asylum for herself and her son; her request was denied by the Migration Board for lack of credibility. She filed a complaint with the Committee Against Torture, arguing that her forced return to Rwanda would subject her to further human rights violations and possibly result in her death. The Committee Against Torture held that C. T.'s removal to Rwanda would constitute a violation of article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which obligates state parties not to expel or return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. Addressing the issue of C. T.'s credibility, the Committee invoked its prior holding that victims of torture cannot be held to a standard of complete accuracy when recalling the facts of their experience, and held that domestic authorities erred in ignoring medical reports appended to the complaint which substantiated C. T.'s claims of rape and torture. The Committee concluded that given the continued state of ethnic tension in Rwanda and C. T.'s past victimization, return to Rwanda presented a foreseeable, real, and personal risk of danger for C. T. and her son.
  • V.L. v. Switzerland, Committee Against Torture, 2006. International law, sexual violence and rape, asylum, evidence. V.L. and her husband left Belarus for Switzerland after V.L.'s husband criticized the president of Belarus in a public newspaper. They first applied for asylum to the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees (BFF), which rejected the application and ordered V.L. and her husband to leave the country. Afterwards, V.L. revealed to her husband that she was the victim of several episodes of sexual abuse conducted by the Miliz, Belarus' police force, who were seeking information about her husband's whereabouts. Her husband reacted with violent insults and forbid V.L. from recounting the instances of sexual abuse to the Swiss authorities. When the Swiss Asylum Review Board (ARK) requested further information about V.L.'s reasons for seeking asylum, V.L. stated that she was raped once by three police officers, and again by these same officers after she had reported the incident to the head of the Miliz. When asked why she did not include the sexual abuse in her first application to the BFF, V.L. admitted that it was because of her husband's psychological pressure not to report the rapes. The ARK considered V.L.'s rape claims implausible because she did not at least mention them in her first application for asylum, expressing suspicion about V.L.'s "sudden ability … to provide details about the alleged rape." When V.L. submitted supporting medical reports to the ARK, the ARK replied that her case was closed and ordered her to return to Belarus. The Committee took note of several official documents illustrating the high incidence of violence against women in Belarus, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, and the Ministry of Interior's report of a 17% increase in reports of rape from the year prior to V.L.'s complaint. The Committee concluded that V.L.'s delay in reporting the sexual abuse was due to the reasonable fear of her husband's shaming and rejection that can be common among female rape victims. In light of her past experiences with the Miliz and the Committee's substantial doubt that the authorities in Belarus would take necessary measures to protect V.L. from further harm should be return, the Committee held that V.L.'s forced return to Belarus would violate Switzerland's obligations under article 3 not to expel or return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture or inhuman treatment.
  • T.A. v. Sweden , Committee Against Torture, 2003. Sexual violence and rape, international law, torture, asylum. T.A. and her husband are Bangladeshi citizens and members of the Jatiya party. After T.A. was arrested for participating in a political demonstration and released, the police, accompanied by members of an opposing political party, arrested T.A. and her four-year-old daughter. At the police station, T.A. endured torture including repeated rape until she confessed to the crime of illegal arm trading. She was released after she signed a document stating that she would not take part in any further political activity. T.A. fled to Sweden with her daughter where she applied for refugee status. The Migration Board that received her application did not contest her allegations of rape and torture, but concluded that these acts could not be attributed to the State; rather, they were to be regarded as acts of individual policemen. T.A. appealed to the Alien Appeals Board, submitting medical certificates that supported her account of torture and the traumatic experience it had on her daughter. The Alien Appeals Board upheld the Migration Board's decision and stated that because of a political change in Bangladesh since the incident, T.A. would not be subjected to further torture if she returned. In her complaint to the Committee, T.A. argued that given the medical evidence of the case, a deportation order would in itself constitute a violation of article 16 of the Convention under which State parties are obliged to prevent cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment conducted by the State or its public officials. The Committee considered T.A.'s complaint in regards to a State's obligation under article 3 not to expel or to return a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of torture. The Committee noted that T.A. belonged to a political party in opposition to the current ruling party in Bangladesh, and that torture of political opponents was frequently practiced by state agents. Taking into account the Bangladeshi police's ongoing search for T.A. because of her political affiliations, the Committee concluded that T.A. would be exposed to a serious risk of torture if she returned to Bangladesh, and therefore her forced deportation would violate article 3 of the Convention.
  • A.S. v. Sweden, Committee Against Torture, 2000. International law, gender discrimination, forced marriage, marital rape, asylum. A.S.'s husband was mysteriously killed during training with the Iranian Air Force, and the Iranian government subsequently declared him to be a martyr. As the widow of a martyr, A.S. was required to submit to the rigid rules of the Bonyad-e Shahid Islamic society, a foundation which supported and supervised the families of martyrs. In accordance with the aims of Bonyad-e Shahid, a high-ranking leader forced A.S. to be his wife in a sigheh marriage, a temporary marital arrangement that requires no registration or witnesses and is used as a measure to prevent women from being sexually active outside of marriage. A.S. was forced to live with her sigheh husband and perform sexual services for him at his command. A.S. later fell in love with a Christian man, and when the two were discovered together by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, A.S. was taken into custody at the Ozghol police station in Tehran. A.S. was severely beaten by her sigheh husband for five to six hours. A.S. managed to obtain a visa to visit her sister in Sweden, and upon her arrival she applied for asylum; her application was rejected by both the Swedish Immigration Board and the Aliens Appeal Board. Since her departure from Iran, A.S. had been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. In her complaint to the Committee, A.S. alleged that her forced return to Iran would constitute a violation of Sweden's article 3 obligation not to expel or return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The Committee referred to the report of the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Iran which confirmed that Iran had recently sentenced several married women to death by stoning for adultery. Considering that A.S.'s account of events was consistent with the Committee's knowledge about present human rights violations in Iran, the Committee held that in accordance with article 3 of the Convention, Sweden should refrain from forcing A.S. to return to Iran.
  • Pauline Muzonzo Paku Kisoki v. Sweden , Committee Against Torture, 1996. International law, sexual violence and rape, violence against women in general, asylum, torture. Pauline Muzonzo Paku Kisoki was raped in her home in front of her children by security forces after refusing to allow the government party MPR to host a party rally at her restaurant in Kisanto. She was detained and taken to Makal prison in Kinshasa where the guards forced the women prisoners to dance before they beat and raped them. Kisoki stated that she was raped more than ten times while in prison. After she managed to escape when her sister bribed a prison supervisor, Kisoki fled to Sweden where she immediately requested asylum. The Swedish Board of Immigration denied her request, concluding that the political climate in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) had improved, and Kisoki would not suffer persecution or harassment for her past activities. After the Alien Appeals Board confirmed the decision, Kisoki submitted a new request which referred to the report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of rights violations in Zaire. Her application was denied again on the ground that Kisoki could not introduce new evidence. Her complaint to the Committee accused Swedish authorities of basing their decision on a false image of Zaire. Kisoki cited the Commission on Human Rights report to demonstrate that female prisoners are often raped, and a background paper from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the show that the Zairian Security Police expose return asylum seekers to long sessions of interrogation. The Committee held that Kisoki's history of working with the opposition party and of detention and torture provide substantial grounds to believe she would face further persecution and torture if she returned to Zaire. Thus, expulsion or return would be violation of article 3 which obligates State parties not to expel or return a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture.