CAT: Convention Against Torture

Implementing CAT: Working to Eliminate Torture

USHRN works to promote full implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (typically called the Convention Against Torture or CAT). We're educating the public about U.S. Government obligations under the treaty, and engaging our membership in the effective use of the treaty to promote human rights at home and abroad. This treaty was signed by the United States in 1988 and ratified in 1994, making it legally binding.

The most recent U.S. Government review under CAT took place during the 53rd Session in Geneva on November 12 and 13, 2014. The Committee's Concluding Observations from that review were released on November 28 and an unofficial transcript of the review sessions were released shortly before by Just Security

Under the rules of the follow-up procedure of the CAT Committee they requested the U.S. Government to provide, by November 28, 2015 follow-up information in response to the Committee’s recommendations. See more about the follow-up issues here. The U.S. government submitted their one year follow-up report on November 27, 2015, and civil society submitted their alternative shadow reports on March 1, 2016, learn more here and read the civil Society 1 Year Follow-Up Shadow Reports.  The CAT Follow-Up Rapporteur analyzed, discussed, and adopted a follow-up progress report on the U.S. in a closed session in Geneva on May 10, 2016.  CAT one year follow-up Rapporteur letter to the U.S. government August 2016.

The U.S. is required to submit its next report, which will be the sixth periodic report, by November 28, 2018. To that end, the Committee reviewed in a closed session on November 23, 2016 (during the 59th session of CAT) a list of issues prior to reporting, in view of the fact that the State party has accepted to report to the Committee under the optional reporting procedure. The U.S. list of issues prior to reporting for their 6th Periodic Report was released by the CAT Committee on December 19, 2016.

Our work on CAT is coordinated by the CAT Taskforce, which serves as the primary coordinating body for social justice groups and individuals interested in using the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in the United States. 

Check out our CAT review webpage to see what the review was like!

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Deeper Context

The Convention Against Torture is monitored by the Committee Against Torture (an independent body of experts) which reviews regular reports of States parties (governments that have ratified the Convention) on how the treaty is being implemented and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of "concluding observations." Under certain circumstances, the CAT may consider complaints or communications from individuals claiming that their rights under the Convention have been violated.

By ratifying CAT, the United States became a state party to it and was required to submit a report to the UN on its compliance with the CAT within one year, after which they were obliged to report every four years. The United States submitted its reports late and was first reviewed by the Committee Against Torture in 2000. At the time, pre-9/11, the hearing was mostly focused on domestic issues. The second review took place in May 2006 and was intensely scrutinized because of the much publicized and criticized U.S. actions during the period including the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, the allegations of human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay, the leaked information about secret prisons throughout Europe, the use of rendition and torture for suspected Al Qaeda operatives and the Bush administration's changing interpretations of what constitutes "torture." Lethal injection as a form of capital punishment, an issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, will also be examined. According to Mercedes Morales, a UN human rights officer who served as secretary to the UN Committee Against Torture, the list of issues the Committee expects the U.S. to address "is the longest list of issues I have ever seen." (From interview with Reuters in April 2006.) At the end of the hearings, the UN released public comments about its findings and made recommendations (also known as Concluding Observations) to the United States on policy changes. The Committee Against Torture usually meets in April/May and November each year in Geneva.

The United States submitted their most recent report to the United Nation's Committee Against Torture (CAT) on August 12, 2013, which was a combination of their third, fourth, and fifth reports. A list of issues to be considered in this report was issued by the UN in 2010. The USHRN has established a taskforce to coordinate (via working groups and shadow reports) a civil society response to the U.S. government report as well as advocacy before the Committee Against Torture. 

The CAT Taskforce co-chairs are:

  • Antonio Ginatta, Human Rights Watch
  • Melina Milazzo, Center for Victims of Torture

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