Header image for news printout

Statement by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment at the 73rd session of the General Assembly

New York, 15 October 2018

Mister President, Distinguished Representatives, Observers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great honour that I address this Assembly in my capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I wish to underline the privilege and significance of reporting to the Third Committee as part of my responsibility to the mandate and to the Special Procedures mechanism as a whole. It is vital that human rights are highlighted and discussed in the broader context of the UN system in New York. The interactive dialogue is a unique opportunity to engage with member States on issues that are integral to the global discussion on the promotion of human rights and the prevention of violations.

Before presenting the findings of my latest report, please allow me to highlight some of my activities since my report to the Human Rights Council in March this year.

Country visits

In addition to Turkey, I have now have visited Serbia and Kosovo, Argentina and most recently Ukraine. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Governments of these countries for the excellent cooperation extended to my mandate. My mission reports will be presented at the Human Rights Council Session of March 2019.

I am also very pleased to report that, in addition to pending invitations extended by Libya and Spain, I have now also received invitations to visit Comoros, Mongolia and Paraguay. In view of the limited resources available for missions, and of other factors such as regional rotation, I plan to prioritize the visits to Comoros and Mongolia in the first half of 2019 and to conduct other pending visits at a later stage, in consultation with the respective Governments.

I encourage those States who have not yet responded to my requests to kindly do so and, thereby, to demonstrate their commitment to the progressive eradication of the root-causes of torture and ill-treatment in their respective jurisdictions.

Communications

On a daily basis, my mandate continues to transmit communications on behalf of individuals at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. Regrettably the impact of this protection tool is limited, due to insufficient resources to Special Procedures, which not only impacts on the ability to take up credible cases, but also impedes the effective follow up of the response, or lack thereof, from the concerned State.

I wish to take this opportunity to reiterate my sincere gratitude to the Governments of Norway and Switzerland for their continued support to the mandate which has significantly strengthened and facilitated my work on multiple levels including, most notably, my thematic reporting to the Council and this Assembly, as well as the mandate’s impact through extended social media outreach.

Mister President and distinguished delegates,

Main Report

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which proclaimed in its article 5 that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Since 1948, unprecedented efforts have been made by States, international organizations, civil society and private citizens to eradicate torture and other ill-treatment throughout the world. In particular, a sophisticated international normative and institutional framework that has been developed for the implementation of the universal, absolute, non-derogable and peremptory prohibition of such abuse.

In my view, the development of this framework constitutes one of the most significant achievements in human history towards securing respect for the dignity of all human beings at all times and in all circumstances.

Despite this extraordinary achievement, however, torture and ill-treatment continue to be practised with impunity throughout the world. The reasons for this sobering reality are many and multi-layered. My report highlights five areas of primary concern:

  1. First, the international normative and institutional framework has been insufficiently adopted in terms of treaty ratification;
  2. Second, there are frequent and significant gaps in the national implementation of the international normative and institutional framework;
  3. Third, we increasingly see direct or indirect challenges to the prohibition itself;
  4. Fourth, we witness increasingly violent and discriminatory political narratives and environments;
  5. Fifth, many States still fail to provide sufficient protection against widespread and serious abuse committed by non-State actors.

Overall, as far as the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is concerned, our international community still falls short of delivering on the promises of the Universal Declaration.

My recommendations on how to best address these challenges focus primarily on measures to be taken on the national level:

1. Ratification of international instruments: First, States should ratify, without reservations, all international legal instruments aiming to give effect to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.

2. National legislation, policies and practices: Second, States should ensure that their national legislation meets, as a minimum, the requirements of international law and that their policies, procedures and institutions support the eradication of torture and ill-treatment.

3. National and international institutions: Third, States should establish fully independent complaints and investigation mechanisms embedded in an independent, impartial and accessible justice system.

4. Preventive safeguards: Fourth, States should ensure that preventive safeguards are put into place throughout all institutions, mechanisms and procedures. Incommunicado detention should be prohibited and criminalized under national law. Open-ended administrative detention and forced institutionalization, without regular independent review, should be abolished.

5. Training: Fifth, all military, police and security officials must be trained with a view to avoiding excessive use of force. Prosecutors and investigators should move away from confessions-based investigation and receive specialized training in forensic investigation and non-coercive interviewing. An international multi-stakeholder process should produce a universal protocol for this purpose. Personnel tasked with medical examinations or the adjudication of alleged abuse should be trained in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol.

6. Legal review of weapons and other equipment: Sixth, in the development, procurement or trading of weapons, restraints and other equipment or technologies likely to inflict pain, suffering or humiliation, States should conduct systematic legal reviews with a view to determining whether their use, in some or all circumstances, would violate the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.

7. Reaffirmation of the prohibition: Seventh, States should unequivocally reaffirm the absolute and non-derogable character of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and interpret and apply the prohibition in good faith, and in line with other relevant legal principles, such as human dignity, non-discrimination and non-refoulement.

8. Preventing impunity: Eight, whenever they receive credible allegations of torture or ill-treatment, States should conduct a prompt and impartial investigation to ensure full accountability, including for commanders and other superiors failing to exercise appropriate control over their subordinates.

9. Non-discrimination: Ninth, State leaders should discard violent or discriminatory political narratives, policies and practices based on stigmatization, demonization or marginalization of any kind. Particular efforts should be made to prevent torture and ill-treatment against persons experiencing specific vulnerabilities.

10. Tenth: Finally, States should ensure that victims of torture or ill-treatment are protected and provided with the means for as full a rehabilitation as possible.

Mister President,

In conclusion, seventy years ago, arising from the ashes of World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed nothing less than a new world order based on human rights and dignity. Today, despite impressive achievements of the international community to develop a robust normative and institutional framework in support of the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, such practice still persists in all regions of the world and even remains widespread in many countries. I observe with particular alarm the increasing acceptance by some segments of public opinion, even including parts of the political establishment, of the idea that such abhorrent practice should be permissible in certain circumstances or against certain groups. This extremely troubling trend, and the dehumanising ideologies or practices that accompany it, must be confronted now and without any compromise.

Today, not only is the world still plagued by torture, but we are at risk of backsliding on what I consider to be one of the most important achievements in human history: the universal recognition of the absolute, non-derogable and peremptory prohibition of torture and ill-treatment under the same compelling terms as the prohibitions of slavery and of genocide.

Today, all of us bear the historical responsibility to address these challenges and deliver on the promise made by the Universal Declaration of human dignity for all members of the human family, everywhere, at all times and in all circumstances.

I thank you for your attention and look forward to a fruitful and constructive dialogue.