Magazine article UN Chronicle , Vol. 22
Human Rights Committee considers country reports on Afghanistan, Ukrainian SSR
Reports on the human rights situations in Afghanistan and the Ukrainian SSR were examined by the Human Rights Committee during a three-week session at Geneva (8-26 July).
At its twenty-fifth session, the Committee also completed consideration of a number of complaints from individuals charging that their rights had been violated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee's competence to receive such cases, which are heard in closed session, is provided for in an Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
Set up to monitor compliance of States' obligations under the Covenant, the Committee consists of 18 members "of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights", who serve in their personal capacity. They are appointed for a four-year term.
The 53-article Covenant, which entered into force in 1976, is one of the international instruments developed under United Nations auspices to give legal and moral force to the concept of an international bill of human rights. It establishes a legal obligation on States to protect the civil and political rights of every individual, without discrimination as to race, sex, language or religion. It ensures the right to life, liberty, security, individual privacy and protection from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. It prohibits slavery and guarantees the right to a fair trial. It provides protection against arbitrary arrest or detention. It recognizes freedom of thought, conscience or religion, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of association. It guarantees the right of peaceful assembly and of emigration.
In becoming party to the Covenant, States also agree to submit reports, within one year of the Covenant's entry into force for that country and whenever requested by the Committee, on measures taken by them to give effect to the rights set forth in the Covenant.
There are now 80 States parties to the Covenant, 35 of which are parties to the Optional Protocol, thereby recognizing the Committee's competence to consider complaints from individuals under their jurisdiction.
General comments: The Committee continued consideration of draft general comments on article 27 of the Covenant, dealing with the rights of persons belonging to minorities. (For details of those comments, see UN Chronicle 1985, No. 5.) Such general comments usually expand on the Committee's interpretation of various provisions of the Covenant. They also identify matters on which the Committee would like more information from States in their reports to the Committee, which transmits its general comments to States parties and to the General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council.
The Committee requested its Working Group under article 40 of the Covenant to re-examine the draft general comments in the light of views exchanged. Under article 40, States parties undertake to submit reports on the measures adopted by them that give effect to the rights recognized in the Covenant and on the progress made in the enjoyment of those rights.
Reports discussed: Regarding the report of Afghanistan questioners wanted to know whether Afghanistan proposed to abolish the death penalty; how many times had it been imposed; which courts were authorized to impose it, and related queries.
On arbitrary arrest, questions concerned the length of provisional detention; remedies available to a person alleging unlawful arrest or detention; and the powers of the Khad, the security apparatus, to arrest and detain people. Some Committee members referred to reports of torture of government opponents.
Afghanistan said death sentences were imposed very rarely -- only for "inhuman and unforgivable crimes" and in accordance with the law in force at the time of the crime's commission. …