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29 June 2006

The Special Rapporteur on torture made the following statement today:

The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, undertook a visit to Jordan from 25 to 29 June 2006, at the invitation of the Government.

Over the course of the visit, he met with officials, including: the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Director of the Human Rights Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Assistant Director of the General Intelligence Directorate, Minister of Interior, Minister of Justice, Commander of the Military Police, Chief of Military Security, Director of the Public Security Directorate, Chief of the Judicial Council, Speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as the Director of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine.

The Special Rapporteur also met with the President and staff of the National Centre for Human Rights, representatives of non-governmental organizations, lawyers, the diplomatic corps in Jordan, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Special Rapporteur wishes to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other authorities for their full cooperation. In particular, he visited a number of detention facilities where he could carry out unrestricted inspections and private interviews with all the detainees he requested to see. There are however two notable and regrettable exceptions. During his visit to the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) he was abruptly denied the right to speak to detainees in private, which constitutes a clear breach of the Terms of Reference for the visit approved by the Government. The second exception concerns the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Abdali, central Amman, where the authorities attempted to obstruct the fact-finding of the Special Rapporteur and to hide evidence.

It is not surprising that these two facilities were the ones most often cited by various sources of information as the two most notorious torture centres in Jordan. On the basis of all the evidence gathered, including serious allegations substantiated by forensic expertise, and taking into account the efforts of both authorities to obstruct the fact-finding of the Special Rapporteur, he cannot but conclude that torture is systematically practiced at both the GID and the CID.

It was regularly pointed out by officials that the philosophy of rehabilitation of prisoners was a hallmark of the Jordanian penal system, referring to prisons officially as rehabilitation centres. However, save the Jweideh Women’s prison, allegations of beatings and corporal punishment had been received in relation to Swaqa and Jweideh prisons. Upon visiting the Al-Jafr Rehabilitation Centre in the south east of the country, it was apparent this notion of rehabilitation was stretched to the extreme. In fact the centre could only be described as a punishment centre, where detainees are routinely beaten, and subjected to corporal punishment, amounting to torture. The isolation and harshness of the desert environment compounds the already severe conditions of the prisoners there.

On the basis of a thorough analysis of the legal system, his visits to detention facilities, interviews with detainees, the support of forensic medical evidence, and interviews with Government officials, lawyers and representatives of NGOs, the Special Rapporteur concludes there is general impunity for torture and ill-treatment in Jordan.

The absence of a crime of torture in accordance with article 1 of the Convention against Torture is only part of the problem. At the heart of it lies a system where the presumption of innocence is illusory, primacy is placed on obtaining confessions, and public officials essentially assume no responsibility, or sense of duty to investigate human rights violations against suspected criminals.

No functioning complaints mechanism exists to report and seek effective redress for acts of torture. From the heads of all the detention facilities he visited, the Special Rapporteur heard a chorus of denials of any knowledge of torture allegations. Despite confronting them with clear and credible allegations, not one official could demonstrate to the Special Rapporteur serious steps taken to investigate them, including at the very least the prompt and timely documentation of injuries sustained by detainees.

This situation is compounded with a legal system where the security and police services operate outside the common legal framework, and are left to investigate and prosecute themselves. The criminal jurisdiction concerning torture committed by police officers rests with special police courts; by intelligence officer with special intelligence courts; and by military officers with special military courts. In other words, the ordinary prosecutors and criminal courts have no competence to bring to justice any public official accused of torture, as defined in article 208 of the criminal code. In view of such a weak legal system, it is not surprising that virtually no criminal prosecutions have ever been meted out to security or law enforcement officials for acts that have amounted to torture under the existing criminal code. Officials nevertheless routinely cited token examples of disciplinary sanctions, such as loss of salary or dismissals, as evidence of accountability for acts amounting to torture.

The Special Rapporteur recognizes the significant challenges faced by the country given its strategic location in the Middle East region, and not least the prevailing sensitive security situation and the continued threat of terrorism. He fully recognizes the obligation of the Government to ensure the security of its people. However, he emphasizes that such measures must respect international human rights norms, in particular the absolute prohibition of torture, as contained in the Convention against Torture that Jordan has ratified.

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government:

· criminalize torture in full accordance with the definition contained in article 1 of the Convention against Torture, and impose appropriate penalties;
· investigate effectively every allegation of torture and bring the perpetrators to justice;
· abolish the special courts, such as the police and intelligence courts;
· introduce effective measures aimed at preventing torture, such as medical documentation of torture allegations, access to lawyers, monitoring of interrogation methods;
· accept the right of individual complaints to UN human rights bodies, including the Committee against Torture;
· ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and establish effective national mechanisms to carry out preventive and unannounced visits to all places of detention.

The invitation of the Government to the Special Rapporteur, is by itself a statement of its willingness to open up to independent and objective scrutiny and a testament to its leadership and cooperation with the international community in the area of human rights.

In view of Jordan’s position as a vice-chair of the UN Human Rights Council and the clear commitment of the Government to human rights, the Special Rapporteur is assured that every effort will be taken to implement his recommendations. He stands ready to offer his full cooperation and assistance, in this regard.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a comprehensive written report on the visit to the UN Human Rights Council.

Mr. Nowak was appointed Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on 1 December 2004. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. The Commission first decided to appoint a special rapporteur to examine questions relevant to torture in 1985. The mandate covers all countries, irrespective of whether or not a State has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

He has previously served as a member of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; the UN expert on missing persons in the former Yugoslavia; the UN expert on legal questions on enforced disappearances; and as a judge at the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is Professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the University of Vienna, and Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.