19 October 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Chairperson of United Nations Committee against Torture

 


Calling upon States to “reconnect with the values” of the Convention against Torture, Claudio Grossman, Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, emphasized at Headquarters today the imperative of fighting attempts to make torture acceptable, particularly during emergency situations.


“This is the problem with torture:  it can become natural.  There are situations where everyone goes crazy and the normal values of human beings stand on their heads.  It is very important to fight those situations,” he said at a press conference on the need for strict compliance with the Committee’s observations and decisions, including the adoption of preventive measures and the provision of reparation.


“We need to react very strongly against this attempt to get accustomed to torture,” Mr. Grossman reiterated, soon after presenting a report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) as it considered the situations in Austria, Cameroon, France, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Syria and Yemen.  (See Press Release GA/SHC/3983)


He cautioned that terrorists aimed to dismantle the rule of law and move others to extreme measures, which they calculated was good for their cause.  “This nonsense of ticking bombs, extraordinary situations as an excuse for torture — I’m surprised that people still talk about that.  It happens less now than some years ago, and I think we need to build momentum against it,” Mr. Grossman said.  “We need to act so that we elevate education of people so that they go beyond the passive reactions when there are serious crimes committed.”


Asked about States’ assertions that the definition of torture was nebulous or controversial, he said the Convention gave a very clear definition in its first article, pointing out that the interpretation of human rights treaties, unlike other interpretations of international law, privileged human beings over sovereignty.


In response to a question about countries like the United States and China, which had ratified the Convention but were accused of torture, he noted that torture sometimes resulted from lack of resources or panic in emergency situations.  “In our reports you will see we have found torture everywhere, but there is a difference between an isolated incident and a policy.”  However, there was reason to believe there was an international movement of human rights, since there were now numerous examples of reparations for past wrongs as well as a rejection of impunity, which was how meaningful changes would happen, he asserted.


Asked what his Committee could do about allegations of torture against various United Nations peacekeeping missions, and what guidance it would give about turning over individuals from countries suspected of torture, he said its mechanisms were not “waterproof”.  The Committee could only receive complaints and try to bring the weight of international legal opinion to bear.


Responding to a question about which issues weighed most strongly on him, he said sexual violence against women had recently been recognized as torture in a meaningful evolution of the human rights body.  He also expressed strong concern about the collective expulsion of people, which violated international law and could be a “slippery slope” towards genocide.


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For information media • not an official record