24 June 1999

Press Release



International Day To Be Observed on 26 June

Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, observed on 26 June:

The United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is an occasion for all of us to raise our voices in the defence of human decency and respect for human life. It is a day on which we remember all the victims of torture: those who have survived, often physically and mentally scarred, and those who succumbed to this most horrible of deaths.

The use of torture was one of the very first issues dealt with by the United Nations. Under the United Nations Charter, States are obligated to promote universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, provide that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Convention against Torture, which entered into force in 1987, proclaims, among other things, that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture". Not least, the Convention makes torture an international crime.

Since the Convention's entry into force, and helped along by the monitoring work of the Committee against Torture and the work of a Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur, many countries have passed anti-torture legislation and taken administrative and educational measures aimed at preventing torture and remedying its consequences. Despite these gains, information that reaches the United Nations Commission on Human Rights indicates that torture continues to be used as a weapon of intimidation in war time, and as a tool of governance by those who cannot rule with the confidence of their people. A sense of impunity has prevailed.

- 2 - Press Release SG/SM/7043 HR/4425 OBV/103 24 June 1999

The world community is trying to fight back. The International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, through their indictments, are sending the signal that no one, regardless of power or rank, should be able to violate human rights and get away with it. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines torture as a crime against humanity and as a war crime. I urge all nations to give their full support to the Tribunals, and I call on those nations who have not done so to ratify the Rome Statute as soon as possible. Contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture are another way for governments and others to demonstrate their support.

It is too late to prevent torture from accompanying us into the new century. But it is not too late to redouble our efforts to contain this menace. I appeal to all governments, who bear primary responsibility for the protection of human rights and for the fight against torture, to do their part.

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