1 The right of victims of torture, ill-treatment, and other torture-related violations stipulated in the CAT, such as violations of the non-refoulement principle under Article 3, to an effective remedy and reparation derives from the human right not to be subjected to torture, ill-treatment, and similar violations of the Convention. Since torture constitutes a typical example of a gross violation of human rights, this important procedural right is also underlined by the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.1 This right shall primarily be provided by respective complaints procedures on the domestic level. Most importantly, Article 13 CAT contains the obligation of States parties to ensure that any victim of torture and other forms of ill-treatment has ‘the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities’.2 If such domestic remedies are not effective or, for whatever reason, do not provide satisfactory redress, the victim shall be granted the possibility of submitting an individual complaint to a competent international monitoring body.
2 While a mandatory right of individual complaints is guaranteed, for example, by Article 34 ECHR and Article 44 ACHR, UN human rights treaties only provide for optional individual complaints mechanisms to quasi-judicial bodies.3 The respective provisions of UN treaties, most of which were drafted during the Cold War and constitute a kind of lowest common denominator between the Western and the Socialist concepts of human rights,4 contain extremely weak language. Instead of complaints, they speak of ‘communications’, instead of judgments or at least decisions on the merits, they use the term ‘views’, which are considered as non-legally binding even vis-à-vis States parties that have explicitly and voluntarily accepted the competence of the respective monitoring bodies to receive and consider individual complaints.
3 Nevertheless, over the course of the years the Human Rights Committee (HRC) and the Committee against Torture (CAT Committee or Committee) have developed these weak procedures into fairly effective quasi-judicial complaints procedures by clearly going beyond the powers originally entrusted to them. The CAT Committee even changed the terminology and speaks about individual complaints and decisions on the merits (Rule 118 (4)), which in their structure and substance clearly resemble judicial decisions. Following the model of the HRC, it also developed the practice of issuing requests for interim measures and appointing Rapporteurs on follow-up.
4 Only 68 out of a total of 162 States parties to the Convention have accepted the optional individual complaints procedure, and the clear majority of these States are from (p. 585) Europe and Latin America and are also subject to the respective mandatory complaints procedures under the ECHR and the ACHR.
5 During the roughly thirty years of its existence, the CAT Committee has registered 825 complaints concerning thirty-eight States parties. Up until May 2017, 234 of them were discontinued, 86 found inadmissible, 175 were still pending, and in the remaining 329 cases the Committee took a decision on the merits.5 In 131 cases of all decisions on the merits, the Committee established violations of one or more provisions of the Convention. The vast majority of decisions on the merits do not concern allegations of the practise of torture or other forms of ill-treatment itself, but allegations of the violation of the non-refoulement principle in Article 3 CAT.6 This is the result of the fact that European and other industrialized States constitute the majority of States parties which accepted the optional complaints procedure. In addition victims of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in countries known for their practise of torture often lack effective access to international complaints procedures or are afraid of submitting complaints.