50 Human Rights logo International Day for Victims of Torture UN logo

For the first time there is a special day to focus on helping torture victims and ending torture -- the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture -- to be observed every year on 26 June.

Torture is one of the most profound human rights abuses, taking a terrible toll on millions of individuals and their families. Rape, blows to the soles of the feet, suffocation in water, burns, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, shaking and beating are commonly used by torturers to break down an individual's personality. As terrible as the physical wounds are, the psychological and emotional scars are usually the most devastating and the most difficult to repair. Many torture survivors suffer recurring nightmares and flashbacks. They withdraw from family, school and work and feel a loss of trust.

"Today the United Nations appeals to all governments and members of civil society to take action to defeat torture and torturers everywhere", says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "This is a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable", he said.

In her message for the Day, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, urged all Governments to ratify the UN Convention against Torture to ensure that torture is a crime in their domestic law and to rigorously pursue perpetrators and bring them to justice.

Thirty years ago, there were no treatment centres or services to treat torture survivors. Today there are some 200 centres or programmes all over the world. There is now profound knowledge of torture methods, the effects of torture, and how to diagnose and rehabilitate torture victims.

Over 100 programmes treating torture victims in more than 50 countries -- from the United States to Nepal -- receive funding from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which was established in 1981. "The UN Voluntary Fund breathed life into our program", says Dr. Allen Keller of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. The New York-based program received $25,000 from the UN Fund in 1996 and $40,000 in 1997.

From 1983 to July 1998, the Fund financed 300 projects, giving priority to those providing direct medical or psychological assistance to torture victims. In 1998, the Fund received applications for financial support totalling $6.8 million but only $4 million was granted due to insufficient donations.

On this day, Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, appeals for increased contributions to the Voluntary Fund so that more torture victims can receive the help they need.

Governments, organizations, foundations, private enterprises and individuals can contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Payments should be made to: The United Nations Geneva General Fund c/o Societe de Banque Suisse (SBS), P.O. Box 2770, CH 1211 Geneva 2-CH. For contributions in US dollars, the account is CO.590.160.1; in Swiss francs, it is CO.590.160.0. Contributions can also be made by cheque to the order of the "United Nations", c/o UNO, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland. Please specify "UN Fund for Torture Victims".

Organizations setting up specific projects for assistance to torture victim should contact the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10-CH, tel: (41 22) 917 33 94 or fax: (41 22) 917 00 99.

The decision to annually observe the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture was taken by the UN General Assembly last December at the proposal of Denmark, which is home to the world-renowned International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.

The commemoration this year coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which, in its Article 5, proclaims that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". In addition, delegates now meeting in Rome to establish the first permanent International Criminal Court are studying proposals concerning a mandate to cover torture.

Since its creation, the United Nations has worked to eradicate torture. In 1984, the General Assembly adopted the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which entered into force on 26 June 1987. The Convention obliges States to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.

As of June 1998, the Convention has been ratified by 105 States. These States parties are required to report to the UN Committee against Torture, a human rights treaty body set up in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions. The Committee is composed of 10 independent experts who serve in their personal capacity and are elected by States parties.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture plays a key role in the international fight against torture by responding to complaints from individuals and groups and reporting to the UN Commission on Human Rights. In 1997, Mr. Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom) transmitted 119 urgent appeals to 45 countries on behalf of torture victims and those fearing torture.

There are 105 States parties to the Convention against Torture: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Yugoslavia.

For further information, contact Ann Marie Erb, Development and Human Rights Section,
UN Department of Public Information at (212) 963-5851

United Nations 1998/ Information Technology Section, DPI
| Observance Page | UN Home Page | What's New? | Conferences & Events | Human Rights |