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Torture is still a frequent or even standard practice in many countries, warns UN expert

24 October 2008

Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment delivered the following statement today to the Third Committee of the General Assembly:

In his interactive dialogue with the Third Committee of the General Assembly the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, concluded that torture is still a frequent or even standard practice in many countries, even 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, he drew the attention of the international community to the sobering fact that, around the world, millions of people deprived of their liberty have to live under conditions of detention which amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Special Rapporteur stressed that torture and ill-treatment takes place behind closed doors and that due to a lack of public scrutiny an environment conducive for the abuse of detainees can exist. Therefore, there is a pressing need to replace the paradigm of opacity which dominates detention regimes worldwide by one of transparency, public monitoring and accountability. He called upon States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and to establish independent effective and well-resourced National Preventive Mechanisms (NPM) mandated to carry out announced visits to places of detention.

The main part of the UN Special Rapporteur’s report focused on the protection of persons with disabilities from torture and ill-treatment. This group of persons is particularly vulnerable to abuse in places where they are deprived of their liberty, such as prisons, social care centres, orphanages and mental health facilities, as well as in their private homes. Inside public institutions, persons with disabilities are frequently subjected to neglect, isolation, severe forms of restrains and seclusion, as well as physical, mental and sexual violence. In addition, persons with disabilities are disproportionately exposed to medical experiments and irreversible medical treatments without their consent, including sterilisation, abortion, electroshock treatment and mind altering drugs. In the private sphere, persons with disabilities are especially vulnerable to violence and abuse, including sexual abuse, inside the home, at the hands of family members, care givers and members of the community.

Another concern raised in the report relates to the excessive use of solitary confinement in many countries of the world. The weight of medical and psychological evidence points to the serious health effects of the use of solitary confinement. When isolation regimes are intentionally used to apply psychological pressure on detainees, such practices become coercive and should be absolutely prohibited. Therefore, the Special Rapporteur on Torture emphasised that as a general principle, solitary confinement should only be used in very exceptional cases, for as short a time as possible and only as a last resort.

In 2008, the Special Rapporteur on Torture conducted a fact-finding mission to Denmark and Greenland, and a joint visit with the Special Rappporteur on Violence against Women to the Republic of Moldova. His mission to Equatorial Guinea which was initially scheduled for February 2008 will take place in November 2008. Mr Nowak also expressed hope that new dates for the visit to the Russian Federation which was postponed by the Government in October 2006 will be forthcoming.


For further information on the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur write to sr-torture@ohchr.org

Press Conference

The Special Rapporteur on Torture will hold a press conference on Friday, 24 October 2008, at 10:15am. Room S-226, UNITED NATIONS HQ New York.

Mr. Nowak's press conferences will be webcast live at www.un.org/webcast

Journalists without UN press accreditation wishing to attend the briefing please refer to the website of the Media and Accreditation Liaison Unit for details: http://www.un.org/media/accreditation

For media queries contact Renata Sivacolundhu, Department of Public Information, tel: +1 212 963 2932, +1 917 216 3389, e-mail: sivacolundhu@un.org or Charlotte Scaddan, Department of Public Information, tel: +1 917 367 9378, +1 302 465 8284, email: scaddan@un.org or contact: +1 212 963 6934