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Torture is torture here, there and everywhere – UN rights expert reminds Governments

NEW YORK / GENEVA (21 October 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, urged Governments across the world not to allow a vacuum of human rights protection even when they act beyond their borders. “Torture is torture here, there and everywhere,” he said.

“Actions by States are increasingly transnational in nature,” Mr. Méndez stated on Tuesday in presenting his latest report* to the UN General Assembly, “which has significant impact on the fundamental rights of individuals outside their borders.”

“States must not undermine the absolute legal prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment by evading or limiting responsibility for extraterritorial acts or effects caused by their agents,” he stressed.

Extraterritorial practices include cross-border military operations or use of force the occupation of foreign territories; anti-migration operations; peacekeeping; the detention of persons abroad; extraditions, rendition to justice, and extraordinary rendition; and the exercise of de facto control or influence over non-State actors operating in foreign territories.

“The absolute and non-derogable prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment cannot be territorially limited and States must respect the rights of all persons, anywhere in the world, to be free from torture and other ill-treatment at all times,” the expert emphasized. “States must implement safeguards to protect persons from torture and other ill-treatment when they are detained extraterritorially within their jurisdiction.”

The human rights expert noted that the exclusionary rule, which mandates that evidence obtained under torture cannot be invoked in any proceedings, is applicable no matter where the mistreatment took place.
“I also wish to recall that the absolute prohibition of non-refoulement applies at all times, even when States are holding individuals or operating extraterritorially, such as during border control operations on the high seas,” he said.

According to the Special Rapporteur, violations can arise from States’ direct perpetration, omissions or acts of complicity with extraterritorial components. “States are obliged, to the extent possible, to fight wrongfulness and to ensure cooperation in efforts and proceedings designed to end, uncover, remedy or prosecute and punish torture and other ill-treatment” the UN expert said, citing the international customary law obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of torture and other ill-treatment and to criminalize such acts wherever they occur.

“I am calling upon States to exercise jurisdiction over acts of torture and ill-treatment, regardless of the locus where wrongfulness took place, and to provide civil remedies and rehabilitation for victims of acts of torture or other ill- treatment, regardless of who bears responsibility for mistreatment or where it took place,” Mr. Méndez concluded.

(*) Read the full report by the Special Rapporteur (available in all UN languages): http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/70/303 or

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Check the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Sonia Cronin (+41 22 917 91 60 / scronin@ohchr.org), Petrine Leweson (+41 22 917 9114 / pleweson@ohchr.org), Andrea Furger (+41 22 928 93 98 / afurger@ohchr.org), Andra Nicolescu (+1 202 997 5190 anicoles@wcl.american.edu) or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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