22 Mar 2016

UN urges Pacific countries to sign anti-torture treaty

11:19 am on 22 March 2016

The United Nations has encouraged other countries in the Pacific to ratify its Convention Against Torture, following Fiji's ratification of the international treaty last week.

Fiji's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson, receives the instruments of ratification for the UN Convention Against Torture at the UN

Fiji's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Peter Thomson (L), receives the instruments of ratification for the UN Convention Against Torture at the UN Photo: Supplied

Catherine Phoung of the UN's office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was encouraging that Fiji had taken the final step as most countries in the Pacific were yet to do so.

She said the region's low ratification rate was probably due to a misperception that having to constantly report to the UN Committee Against Torture would increase the burden on small countries.

"What we're trying to argue is that ratifying this convention is not only important for the protection of human rights but it also allows states to benefit from technical advice from the Committee, so we hope that Fiji from now on will benefit from that advice," said Ms Phuong.

Fiji submitted its instruments of ratification at the United Nations last week, however it did so with several reservations that have drawn the ire of some human rights lawyers and activists.

The reservations included querying the definition of torture used by the UN and the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

A human rights lawyer, Aman Ravindra-Singh -- who last year raised allegations about colleagues being beaten by security forces -- said the reservations watered down the convention and made it meaningless, and doubted ratification would have any effect on the number of alleged abuse cases.

"That's alarming. In fact, that's shocking. If you're not agreeing to the definition of torture in the first place, then why sign the United Nations Convention Against Torture?," said Mr Ravindra-Singh.

"If you are questioning the definition of the very convention that you have signed you have declared absolutely that the convention is not worth the paper that it is written on."

However, Ms Phoung took it as a sign that the Fiji government was signaling its clear intention to break with past practices, although she did encourage Fiji to to review and withdraw its reservations in future.

Vanuatu and Nauru are the only other countries in the region to have ratified the treaty.