The UN Committee Against Torture (the Committee) released the advance unedited edition of its Concluding Observations on New Zealand (CAT/C/NZL/CO/7) over the weekend. The Committee is the body of 10 independent experts that monitors state party compliance with the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention).

This update has four main sections: a brief overview; a list of topics covered by the Concluding Observations; the comments and recommendations related to the New Zealand armed forces and Operation Burnham Inquiry; and links to further information.

The Committee assessed the government’s performance in relation to the Convention during its 77th session, which was held from 10 to 28 July in Geneva.

During the session, the Committee took into account information provided in civil society reports, which raised concerns around the criminal justice system, conditions in places of detention, abuse of children in state care, coercive and compulsory practices in psychiatric hospitals, the treatment of asylum seekers, extradition to states that have the death penalty, the operation of the National Preventive Mechanisms, constitutional and legal protection for Convention rights, and the conduct of New Zealand armed forces on overseas combat deployments; reports from the Human Rights Commission and National Preventative Mechanisms; and a written report plus two interactive dialogues with New Zealand representatives (background information about these is available at ).

Following the standard practice of UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies, the Concluding Observations on New Zealand begin with two introductory paragraphs; then a section with on ‘positive aspects’ which includes a paragraph welcoming the government’s ratification of three human rights instruments, a paragraph on initiatives to revise and introduce legislation in areas of relevance to the Convention, and a paragraph on initiatives to amend policies and procedures to provide greater protection of human rights and to apply the Convention.

The bulk of the Concluding Observations comprises fifteen pages of subjects of concern and the Committee’s recommendations as outlined below, which will be put to good use by NGOs and others working in each of these areas. We are particularly pleased with the comments and recommendations in relation to the conduct of New Zealand armed forces overseas and the Operation Burnham Inquiry, which was the subject of the information we provided to the Committee (that section is included in full below this list).

There are twenty five subject of concerns covered in the Concluding Observations as listed below (the number in brackets below is the paragraph number/s for each topic):

  • Pending follow-up issues from the previous reporting cycle (7)
  • Legal status and territorial application of the Convention (8, 9)
  • Customary law and domestic application of the Convention (10,11)
  • Definition and criminalization of torture (12,13)
  • Fundamental legal safeguards (14 – 16)
  • Counter-terrorism measures (17, 18)
  • Gender-based violence, in particular violence against Māori and Pasifika women and girls (19, 20)
  • Trafficking in persons (21, 22)
  • Asylum and non-refoulement (23, 24)
  • Diplomatic assurances (25, 26)
  • Conditions of detention (27, 28)
  • Pretrial detention (29, 30)
  • Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system (31, 32)
  • Deaths in custody (33, 34)
  • Monitoring of detention facilities (35, 36)
  • Juvenile justice (37, 38)
  • Mandatory immigration detention, including of children (39, 40)
  • Psychiatric institutions (41, 42)
  • Investigation of acts of torture and ill-treatment and prosecution and punishment of perpetrators (43, 44)
  • Allegations of complicity in torture and ill-treatment overseas (45, 46)
  • Historical abuse in State care and in the care of faith-based institutions (47, 48)
  • Redress for victims of torture or ill-treatment (49, 50)
  • Withdrawal of reservation to Article 14 (51, 52)
  • Intersex persons (53, 54)
  • Training on the Convention (55, 56)

Paragraph 57 ‘Follow-up procedure’ has four areas of particular concern that the Committee wishes further information on by 28 July 2024; and the final two paragraphs ‘Other issues’, cover dissemination of the Concluding Observations, and submission of New Zealand’s next Periodic Report by July 2027 (58, 59).

TDB Recommends

Allegations of complicity in torture and ill-treatment overseas” 45. While welcoming the establishment, in 2018, of the Government Commission of Inquiry into Operation Burnham and the adoption, in 2022, of the New Zealand Policy Framework for the Humane Treatment of Detainees in Offshore Deployments, the Committee takes note of reports indicating that the State party may have been involved in torture and ill-treatment overseas, including by means of complicity, as a result of New Zealand armed forces deployment in Afghanistan. It is further concerned about reports that the State party has not yet implemented all the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission of Inquiry, despite having accepted them all in principle, and that no recommendations were made to hold alleged perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment to account (arts. 2, 12–14 and 16).

46. The State party should: (a) Take all necessary measures to establish responsibility and ensure accountability for any acts of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in Afghanistan committed by, at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of New Zealand military officials. In this regard, it should ensure that all perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment in the context of the inquiry are duly prosecuted and punished appropriately, and that all victims obtain redress;

(b) Swiftly implement the recommendations contained in the report of the Government Commission of inquiry;

(c) Ensure the effective implementation of the New Zealand Policy Framework for the Humane Treatment of Detainees in Offshore Deployments to clearly prohibit prisoner transfers to another country when there are substantial grounds for believing that the individuals to be transferred would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The State party should bear in mind that diplomatic assurances and monitoring arrangements will not be relied upon as loopholes to justify transfers when such substantial risk of torture exists.” – Concluding Observations on New Zealand (CAT/C/NZL/CO/7), 28 July 2023

Links to further information

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