While cruel and degrading treatment of fellow human beings has been unequivocally banned by international agreement, torture is now tolerated by governments around the globe and must end, United Nations officials asserted in statements marking an international day against the scourge today.
“We must all work to erase this ugly stain on humanity’s conscience,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which is observed 26 June, along with the 25th anniversary of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, one of the largest humanitarian funds of the international system.
Mr. Annan welcomed the recent entry into force of an optional protocol to the international convention against torture, which facilitates international monitoring of places of detention, and he called on States that have not done so to ratify it.
Despite such legal progress, however, the total ban on torture “is under unprecedented attack,” according to joint statement released in Geneva by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee against Torture, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Board of Trustees of the torture victim’s fund.
“In many States, including democratic ones, adherence to human rights standards as well as the principles and procedures underpinning the rule of law are being questioned or bypassed on the grounds that established rules do not apply in our current geo-political climate,” they said.
“Imminent or clear danger permits limitations on certain human rights,” they allowed, adding however, that: “The right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is not one of these.” They urged that further measures be taken to monitor and safeguard the treatment of prisoners worldwide.
Also in Geneva, marking the anniversary of the torture victim’s fund, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour launched Rebuilding Lives, a book presenting the experiences of torture survivors and those who work to rehabilitate them.
They included the efforts to heal Mustafa, who survived beatings and sexual abuse during confinement during the ethnic strife of the early 1990’s in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Marie, who still hears the drone of transistor radios calling for the death of Tutsis in Rwanda as she was threatened with death and raped over the course of months in Rwanda.
“Assisting victims rebuilding lives is an enormous task, and unfortunately continues to be needed on a great scale,” Ms. Arbour told reporters.