Torture remains prevalent in too many countries, UN warns

2003 poster of fugitives wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)

26 June 2010 – Too many countries are still practising or tolerating “cruel, degrading and illegal” acts of torture, top United Nations officials said today as they pledged the UN's solidarity with the millions of torture victims worldwide.

“The prohibition of torture is absolute and unambiguous,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. “Torture cannot be justified under any circumstances whatsoever, whether during a state of war or in response to terrorism, political instability or any other public emergency.”

UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay used her message for the Day to warn that no one suspected of committing torture should be allowed to benefit from an amnesty.

“Torturers, and their superiors, need to hear the following message loud and clear: however powerful you are today, there is a strong chance that sooner or later you will be held to account for your inhumanity,” she said.

Ms. Pillay called on governments, UN, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights defenders, the media and the rest of the world “to ensure that this message is backed by firm action.”

An increasing number of individuals are prosecuted for torture each year, including cases related to the extrajudicial killings and disappearances in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Cambodia during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Governments that have not yet done so should ratify and honour their obligations under the Convention against Torture and the provisions of its Optional Protocol, Mr. Ban urged.

The Convention states that countries which are party to it recognize, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Iraq is among the 45 Member States which have not yet ratified the Convention. The Secretary-General's Special Representative Ad Melkert called today on the Government to sign on “in the nearest future and commit to its principles.”

“Iraq has come a long way in recognizing human rights as a priority for building a democratic State where human dignity is preserved and protected but there is yet much more to be done,” said Mr. Melkert in a statement from Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ban also urged countries to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 but remains two state-parties short of the 20 needed to come into force.

“The convention will reinforce the international legal framework to combat and prevent this heinous practice – which is clearly and historically linked with the practice of torture.”

Mr. Ban also urged governments to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, to visit their prisons and detention facilities, and “to allow full and unhindered access to those detained there.”

In a statement issued today by four UN bodies involved in preventing torture and helping its victims, Mr. Nowak expressed concern about the widespread of certain practices that amount to torture “in the context of the so-called global war on terror after 11 September 2001.”

The independent expert urged governments to “ensure that no reason based on discrimination of any kind be used as justification for torture or inhumane treatment” and added that a lack of criminalization of torture and inadequate sanctions are main factors contributing to impunity.

The joint statement was put out by the UN Committee against Torture, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.


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