Findings of public opinion poll on use of torture unveiled at UN

24 June 2008 –

The majority of people polled in 19 countries were against the use of torture, even in the case of terrorists who have information that could save innocent lives, according to a survey presented at the United Nations in New York today.

The findings of the WorldPublicOpinion.org poll were released ahead of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, observed on 26 June, and as part of this year’s 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“These discussions take place at a moment when human rights are very much under fire internationally for a range of reasons – some of them related to the ascendancy of unhelpful notions of security and counter-terrorism, others related to destructive approaches to global economics,” Craig Mokhiber of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights told a news conference.

“Today the focus is on what the people are saying,” he stated. “Do they still share the vision as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?”

Some 19,000 people were polled in the survey, which found that, in 14 of the 19 nations, most people favoured an unequivocal prohibition against torture. On average across all nations polled, 57 per cent of the public opted for unequivocal rules against torture. Four nations – India, Nigeria and Turkey with clear majorities and Thailand with a plurality – favoured an exception for terrorists if innocent lives were at risk.

The poll is part of a larger study on human rights issues carried out in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, which provided for the first international prohibition of torture.

Mr. Mokhiber highlighted some of the results from the other polls, including the strong support expressed for racial equality and for action by governments and the UN in that area. There was also a strong degree of consensus globally for the full equality and rights of women, as well as for freedom of expression, he noted, adding there was very little tolerance for limitations on freedoms relating to the Internet.

“It very clearly affirms what we’ve been arguing for 60 years, which is the universality of human rights,” Mr. Mokhiber said. Together, the surveys revealed strongly held social values that seemed to cut across region, religion and geography, he said, and “any of the tired old notions that come up that this is somehow a concept limited to one part of the world has been discounted and this survey helps to affirm that.”

The surveys were conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a consortium of 22 research centres studying public opinion on international issues.


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