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Vanuatu takes the lead

In making the announcement that it will ratify the Convention on Torture by the end of the year, Vanuatu is following through on a pledge it made before the international community last year. In May 2009, Vanuatu committed to ratification of the Convention at the commencement of proceedings before the Universal Periodic Review – the UN process for reviewing the human rights situations in all member States. 

Vanuatu President, Iolu Abil meets UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak © OHCHRVanuatu will be the first Pacific Island nation to ratify the Convention and it was also one of the first countries from the region to participate in the Universal Periodic Review.

Confirmation of the decision to ratify the Convention by the end of 2010 was announced by the Ministry of Justice and Community services, Bakoa Kaltongga at a meeting on the prevention of torture jointly organized by the Vanuatu Ministry of Justice and Community Services and the UN Human Rights Regional Office for the Pacific.

In a statement to the meeting, Kaltongga acknowledged that torture occurs in all regions of the world. Some people, he said, think torture as a form of punishment for misdeeds is permissible. “However, this way of thinking undermines the rule of law and the dignity of our own Pacific people,” he said..

“In Vanuatu,” the Minister said, “a judge is not allowed to order beating or lashing or any physical harm. If a judge cannot order it, then it is clear that a policeman or other official has no right to order or inflict such a punishment.”

The move by the Government of Vanuatu has been welcomed by Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture who also attended the meeting. “The Pacific has the lowest ratification rates in the world on human rights treaties and the commitment of Vanuatu to sign the Convention is encouraging,” he said.

Nowak said, “I believe Vanuatu can become a leader in the region on combating and preventing torture.”

The Convention against Torture was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in 1984. States parties to the Convention are required to outlaw torture, bring the perpetrators to justice and provide reparations to the victims. 

The United Nations also takes action against torture in other ways. In 1981, the General Assembly established the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Torture and in 1985 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the precursor to today’s Human Rights Council, appointed an independent expert, known as a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

18 May 2010