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“I am a survivor of torture myself” – new UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez

GENEVA (4 November 2010) – Human rights defender Juan E. Méndez, from Argentina, has taken over as the new Special Rapporteur appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the use torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the world.

“I am a survivor of torture myself, so my approach to the mandate will certainly be victim-centered,” Mr. Méndez said. “By insisting on the absolute prohibition of torture and of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in international law, I hope to make an effective contribution to the enforcement and progressive development of international norms in this area.”

“Beyond law,” the new UN Special Rapporteur stressed, “we need to do battle in the realm of ideas and political discourse, to counter an attitude of relativism about torture, as something that happens to ‘others’ whose faces we don’t see and whose names we can’t pronounce.”

Mr. Méndez has dedicated his long legal career to the defence of human rights and has a distinguished record of advocacy. As a result of his work representing political prisoners, he was subjected to torture, while under an eighteen month long administrative detention, by the Argentinean military dictatorship. During this time, Amnesty International adopted him as a “Prisoner of Conscience.” In 1977, he was expelled from Argentina and moved to the United States, where he worked in different capacities, including as legal counsel for Human Rights Watch.

Mr. Méndez is currently a Visiting Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law, contributes as an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court and Co-Chairs the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. He was formerly, the President of the International Center for Transnational Justice (ICTJ) and Scholar-in-Residence at the Ford Foundation in New York. Mr. Méndez served as UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide from 2004 to 2007.

From 1996 to 1999, the new Special Rapporteur was Executive Director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica. Between 2000 and 2003 he was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and served as its President in 2002. Mr. Méndez has taught International Human Rights Law at the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown Law School and at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He also teaches regularly at the Masters Program in International Human Rights Law at Oxford University.

Mr. Méndez is a member of the Bars of Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the District of Columbia, U.S., and has a Juris Doctor, J.D. from Stella Maris University in Argentina and a certificate from the American University Washington College of Law. He is a recipient of several human rights awards. The new Special Rapporteur on torture takes over from Mr. Manfred Nowak, from Austria, who also served as Special Rapporteur for six years.

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Tsatsu Dawson (Tel: +41 22 917 9711 / email: tdawson@ohchr.org) or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org.