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Set universal standards for interviewing detainees without coercion, UN anti-torture expert urges States

NEW YORK (18 October 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, today advocated for the development of a universal set of standards for non-coercive interviewing methods and procedural safeguards, aiming to ensure that no person is subjected to torture, ill-treatment or coercion.

“Persons interviewed by authorities during criminal or other investigations may be confronted with the entire repressive machinery of society,” the UN Human Rights expert stated in presenting his latest report* to the UN General Assembly, adding that “questioning, particularly of suspects, is inherently associated with risks of intimidation, coercion, and mistreatment.”

“But scientific data and irrefutable evidence from the criminal justice system demonstrate that coercive methods of questioning, even when not amounting to torture, produce unreliable information and false confessions, and are indeed counterproductive for public safety,” Mr. Méndez said.

“Moreover, torture, ill-treatment, and coercion have devastating long-term consequences on individuals, institutions, and society as a whole. Ultimately, torture only breeds more crime by fuelling hatred and a desire for vengeance,” he stated.

“My report seeks to promote the development of standards and guidelines on non-coercive interview methods and other procedural safeguards, that ought, as a matter of law and policy, to be applied at a minimum to all interviews by law enforcement officials, military and intelligence personnel, and other bodies with investigative mandates,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The expert called on States to spearhead the development of such a universal protocol by convening a broad public consultation to set the parameters for the collaboration by relevant stakeholders, and urges States to adopt elements overviewed in his report.

“The protocol must design a model that promotes effective, ethical, and non-coercive interviewing and is centered on the principles of presumption of innocence and the pursuit of truth,” Mr. Méndez said.  “In this way, States will not only enhance the degree to which their interviewing methods comply with human rights standards, but also their effectiveness in solving crime and keeping societies safe.”
 
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full report: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/71/298

Mr. Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. He has dedicated his legal career to the defence of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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

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