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SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON TORTURE CONCLUDES MISSION TO DENMARK AND GREENLAND



9 May 2008



The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, issued the following statement today:

“I was invited by the Government of Denmark to undertake a visit to the country from 2 to 9 May 2008. The purpose of my visit was to assess the situation of torture and ill-treatment, including conditions of detention; and intensify cooperation with the Government in the fight against torture.

I express my deep appreciation to the Government, not only for its full cooperation, but also for the spirit in which it was extended to me. I am grateful for the detailed information provided in writing and the complete freedom of inquiry I enjoyed (i.e. unannounced and unimpeded access to any place of detention I sought, private interviews with detainees and staff, and access to documentation).

In Denmark I held meetings with officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and representatives of relevant ministries, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, and members of Parliament, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, a broad range of civil society organizations, and representatives of international organizations. I also visited Greenland, and met with the Permanent Secretary of the Home Rule Government, the Chief Constable, the Head of the Prison and Probations Directorate, and NGOs.

At the outset, I must draw attention to Denmark’s commitment to and long-standing leadership in anti-torture efforts world-wide. At the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly, it is the central player in mobilizing the international community by putting forth resolutions on combating torture every year. In Europe, Denmark leads efforts on the implementation of the European Union’s foreign policy guidelines on torture in third countries. Moreover, it has a long history of generous support to civil society both home and abroad, particularly in the area of rehabilitation for victims of torture. But apart from its role in international diplomacy, I have seen over the course of my visit here, Denmark’s genuine commitment to eradicating torture and ill-treatment first and foremost at home. Without question, the international community has much to benefit from Denmark’s example.

A significant focus of my mission was visiting places where persons can be deprived of their liberty, including police stations, prisons for convicted and pre-trial prisoners, persons in psychiatric institutions, and detention of foreigners and asylum-seekers. I can report that I received no allegations of torture and very few complaints of ill-treatment from detainees. I would nevertheless strongly caution against complacency, and encourage the Government to ensure that all allegations and suspicions of torture and ill-treatment are meticulously investigated, and perpetrators are appropriately punished. While noting the recent bill in Parliament adding torture as an aggravating circumstance of various offences under the criminal law and not subject to the statute of limitations, unfortunately a specific crime of torture is still missing.

The hallmark of the prison system in Denmark is the “principle of normalization”, meaning that life behind bars reflects to as great an extent as possible life on the other side. Taken together with an attentive approach to the concerns of detainees by prison staff, the outcome is a prison system that stands apart from others. The result is generally a high standard of conditions of detention inside Danish prisons, both in terms of infrastructure and day-to-day living standards. Features unique to the Danish system, which flow from this principle of normalization include:

· A significant proportion of prisons being open institutions. In Greenland this practice also reflects the culture of Greenlandic society.

· The mixing of male and female prisoners. While the positive effects of such arrangements have long been accepted in Danish society, in light of international standards which advocate for segregation of the sexes, concern must be expressed for the need to rigorously ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place.

· Initiatives to accommodate the special needs of children of imprisoned parents through establishing, for example, child-friendly visiting rooms in prisons, and considering the impact on children of a parent being taken into custody.

I commend the Government’s efforts in carrying out successful awareness-raising campaigns on domestic violence and trafficking of women, which have contributed to the reduction of gender-specific violence, including through successive plans of action. Concerning trafficking, in my opinion, the efforts of the Government are aimed less at the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking in Denmark than on their prepared return to their countries of origin. In Greenland, I regret that action against domestic violence has so far not received adequate attention despite the severity of the problem.

Notwithstanding the Government’s efforts to restrict the use of solitary confinement, the extensive recourse to this remains a major concern. This was apparent to me from visits to prisons this week, particularly with respect to pre-trial detainees. Solitary confinement has a clearly documented negative impact on mental health, and therefore should be used only in exceptional circumstances or when absolutely necessary for criminal investigation purposes. In all cases, solitary confinement should be used for the shortest period of time.

As I have expressed in various reports, I am especially concerned with the undermining of the absolute prohibition of torture and refoulement in counter- terrorism strategies. Although I am aware that cooperation between various intelligence services is a necessary feature in the global fight against terrorism, it implies the risk of becoming complicit in human rights violations. In this respect,
I am encouraged by the establishment of an inter-ministerial working group to investigate the alleged CIA rendition flights operating through Denmark and Greenland. I strongly encourage the inclusion of independent experts and civil society in a fully transparent process. Furthermore, I am concerned about recent plans to employ diplomatic assurances to return suspected terrorists to countries known for their practice of torture.

On the basis of my preliminary findings, some of my key recommendations to the Government are:

· Incorporation of a specific crime of torture in the criminal law.

· Further reduction of the use of solitary confinement, based on unequivocal evidence of its negative mental health effects upon detainees.

· Refrain from the use of diplomatic assurances.

As a priority for the Greenland Government, I recommend that it develop and implement an adequately-resourced plan of action against domestic violence in Greenland. Further I recommend that all Greenlandic offenders serve their sentences in Greenland and receive the necessary treatment and services.

I reiterate my appreciation to the Danish Government for extending me an invitation to visit the country, and look forward to strengthening our cooperation in combating torture and ill-treatment.”

Mr. Nowak will submit a detailed final report on the visit, including his conclusions and recommendations, to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Mr. Nowak was appointed Special Rapporteur on 1 December 2004 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. 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, since assumed under the UN Human Rights Council, covers all countries, whether or not they have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Mr. Nowak has previously served as member of the UN 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.

For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit the website: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm