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Zeid: Landmark U.S. and Brazil reports highlight need to eradicate torture on 30th anniversary of Convention

GENEVA (10 December 2014) – On the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention against Torture, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Wednesday urged States to act unequivocally in their effort to stamp out torture.

“Today is not only Human Rights Day, it is also the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention against Torture on 10 December 1984,” Zeid said. “Yet, as yesterday’s U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report shows, torture is still taking place in quite a few of the 156 countries that have ratified the Convention against Torture and have domestic legislation making it illegal.”

“To have it so clearly confirmed that it was recently practised – as a matter of policy – by a country such as the United States is a very stark reminder that we need to do far, far more to stamp it out everywhere,” he continued. “This has been true at the best of times. It is particularly true during this period of rising international terrorism, when it has shown a tendency to slither back into practice, disguised by euphemisms, even in countries where it is clearly outlawed.”

Zeid warmly welcomed the publication of the Senate Select Committee’s summary report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, as well as the report of Brazil’s National Truth Commission, which documents the extensive use of torture among other gross and systematic human rights violations committed over a 42-year period, including the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

“Although there are very significant differences between these two exceptionally important reports – not least in their scope and the periods they cover – I commend the Governments of Brazil and the United States for enabling their release,” Zeid said. “Few countries will admit that their state apparatus has been practising torture, and many continue shamelessly to deny it -- even when it is well documented by international human rights Treaty Bodies, and the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape. While it will take time to fully analyse the contents of these two landmark reports – and I do not wish to pre-empt that analysis – we can still draw some stark conclusions about the failures to eradicate this serious international crime, for which there should be no statute of limitations and no impunity.”

“The Convention against Torture is crystal clear,” the High Commissioner said. “It says – and I quote – ‘No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.’ The Convention lets no one off the hook – neither the torturers themselves, nor the policy-makers, nor the public officials who define the policy or give the orders.”

High Commissioner Zeid stressed that both reports should be seen as the beginning, not the end, of a vital process. “One question neither report can answer on its own is, of course, how both States will fulfil their obligation to ensure accountability for the crimes that have been committed,” Zeid said. “In all countries, if someone commits murder, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they commit rape or armed robbery, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they order, enable or commit torture – recognized as a serious international crime – they cannot simply be granted impunity because of political expediency. When that happens, we undermine this exceptional Convention, and – as a number of U.S. political leaders clearly acknowledged yesterday – we undermine our own claims to be civilized societies rooted in the rule of law.”

“We have time to consider this aspect as we fully digest the implications of these two ground-breaking reports,” Zeid said. “At the same time we must recognize the need for immediate bold action to eradicate this most vicious of crimes. And victims of torture, disappearance, extrajudicial executions, or arbitrary or unlawful detention must be speedily and adequately compensated for the terrible experiences they have suffered at the hands of employees of the State.”


Read the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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