"Today the United Nations appeals to all governments and members of civil society to take action to defeat torture and torturers everywhere", says the Secretary-General. "This is a day in which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable", he adds.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the Day last December with the aim of totally eliminating torture and ensuring the application of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which entered into force on 26 June 1987.
Underlining United Nations efforts to combat torture, the four main bodies of the Organization working on this issue last month adopted a joint declaration urging all States to ratify the Convention against Torture without reservation, if they had not yet done so. In the declaration, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee against Torture, the Special Rapporteur on torture, and the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture also urged all States parties to the Convention which had not yet accepted the treaty's optional provisions to do so as soon as possible, and they called on all States to ensure that torture was a crime in their domestic law and to rigorously pursue perpetrators.
In addition, all States were urged to provide for compensation and rehabilitation of victims of torture in their domestic law and to contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture as fully and as often as they could. The declaration added that all States should cooperate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture on fulfilling his mandate when requested to do so.
The commemoration this year coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in its article 5 proclaims that, "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". In addition, delegates now meeting in Rome to
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establish the first permanent international criminal court are studying proposals concerning a mandate to cover torture.
Since its creation, the United Nations has worked to eradicate torture. In 1984, the General Assembly adopted the Convention against Torture, which obliges States parties to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.
As of June 1998, the Convention has been ratified by 105 States. These States parties are required to report to the Committee against Torture, a human rights treaty body set up in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions. The Committee is composed of 10 independent experts who serve in their personal capacity and are elected by States parties.
The Special Rapporteur on torture also plays a key role in the international fight against torture by responding to complaints from individuals and groups and reporting to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In 1997, Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom) transmitted 119 urgent appeals to 45 countries on behalf of torture victims and those fearing torture.
Treatment of Torture Survivors
Torture is one of the most profound human rights abuses, taking a terrible toll on millions of individuals and their families. Rape, blows to the soles of the feet, suffocation in water, burns, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, shaking and beating are commonly used by torturers to break down an individual's personality. As terrible as the physical wounds are, the psychological and emotional scars are usually the most devastating and the most difficult to repair. Many torture survivors suffer recurring nightmares and flashbacks. They withdraw from family, school and work and feel a loss of trust.
Thirty years ago, there were no treatment centres or services to treat torture survivors. Today, there are some 200 centres or programmes all over the world. There is now profound knowledge of torture methods, the effects of torture, and how to diagnose and rehabilitate torture victims.
Over 100 programmes treating torture victims in more than 50 countries -- from the United States to Nepal -- receive funding from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which was established in 1981. From 1983 to July 1998, the Fund financed 300 projects, giving priority to those providing direct medical or psychological assistance to torture victims. In 1988, the Fund received applications for financial support totalling $6.8 million, but only $4 million was granted due to insufficient donations.
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