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(International Day in Support of Victims of Torture - 26 June 2010) Torture still widespread and impunity prevails, warn four UN expert bodies

GENEVA – “Despite a well-built international legal framework, torture prevails in many regions of the world and is often accompanied by an alarming degree of impunity,” warned four UN bodies* involved in preventing torture and helping its victims, on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

“Torture continues to be widespread and certain practices amounting to torture as well as to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have been reinvigorated, in particular in the context of the so-called global war on terror after 11 September 2001,” the group of UN experts said.

“Some States, invoking different types of emergencies,” they noted, “have been involved in practices such as secret detention, disappearances, expulsion or extradition of individuals to countries where they were in danger of torture, and other unlawful treatment or punishment in violation of the Convention against Torture and other international human rights instruments and humanitarian law.”

The four UN bodies stressed that “the prohibition against torture and other forms of inhumane treatment is absolute and cannot be derogated even under emergency situations.” In their view, “Sates must take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under their jurisdiction.”

The lack of criminalization of torture and inadequate sanctions were described by the UN experts as main factors contributing to impunity. “States must ensure that all acts of torture are criminalized as offences in their domestic penal law and punishable with appropriate penalties that take into account their gravity.”

“We often see that in the few instances where perpetrators are held accountable they often receive sentences far below what is required by international law,” they said. “We are dismayed to see that in almost no recent cases have there been judicial investigations into such allegations; almost no one has been brought to justice; and most victims have never received any form of reparation, including rehabilitation or compensation.”

The UN experts noted that adequate reparation, tailored to the needs of the victim including compensation and rehabilitation, is rarely provided or entirely dependent on the limited resources of private entities and civil society organizations. “We call upon all States to ensure that victims of torture and other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment obtain full redress and urge them to adopt general guarantees of non-repetition including taking determined steps to fight impunity.”

The four UN bodies urged all States to become party to the Convention against Torture and fully adopt its provisions, recognizing the competence of the Committee against Torture to receive individual complaints, “in order to maximize transparency and accountability in their fight against torture and its related impunity.”

They also call on States to ratify the Optional Protocol and thus to engage with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. The Optional Protocol is a key instrument to prevent torture and ill-treatment by ensuring the establishment of independent and effective national preventive mechanisms empowered to visit places of detention.

Finally, the UN experts called on all States to contribute to the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture as part of a universal commitment for the rehabilitation of torture victims and their families.

(*) The UN Committee against Torture; the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

Read the full statement by the four UN bodies on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10181&LangID=E

Check the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat.htm

See the Optional Protocol to the Convention: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cat-one.htm