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

26 June 1998

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. It is long overdue that a day be dedicated to remembering and supporting the many victims and survivors of torture around the world.

June 26 is not a date chosen at random. It was the day, 11 years ago, that the Convention against Torture came into force. It was also the day, 53 years ago, that the United Nations Charter was signed -- the first international instrument to embody obligations for Member States to promote and encourage respect for human rights.

Today, we also pay tribute to all those who have worked selflessly to relieve the suffering and assist the recovery of torture victims around the world. These efforts by Governments, organizations and individuals, deserve the gratitude of the United Nations.

Since its birth, the United Nations has worked towards the goal of eradicating torture. Numerous legal and political means have been identified, approved and implemented. The Charter was the first international instrument to call for a specific commission for the promotion of human rights. One of the first tasks assigned to the Commission was to draft a declaration of rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year, provided for the first international prohibition of torture. Article 5 proclaims that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

Various international conventions have since reaffirmed, expanded and integrated that prohibition into positive public international law. The UN Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, currently meeting in Rome, is studying proposals concerning a mandate to cover torture.

But as things stand today, sanctions are still sorely lacking at the international level.

More than 100 States have ratified the Convention Against Torture. That means they have accepted obligations to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture and to ensure that any act of torture is an offence punishable under their criminal law. Many national Constitutions, criminal codes, laws and regulations proclaim the prohibition of torture.

Yet torture is still reported even in these countries.

And so, more than a decade after the Convention Against Torture came into force, the international community has realized the need to place a further spotlight on this atrocious phenomenon.

The United Nations was founded to reaffirm faith in the dignity and worth of the human person; to create better standards of life in larger freedom. We cannot get anywhere near fulfilling that pledge unless we wipe the scourge of torture off the face of the earth. Let us, therefore, seize this day. Today, the United Nations appeals to all Governments and members of civil society to take action, every year, at the international, regional, national, provincial, community, village, professional, family and individual level, to defeat torture and torturers everywhere.

The United Nations will support you every step of the way, until the day arrives when torture is finally consigned to darkest spaces of history.

United Nations 1998/ Information Technology Section, DPI

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