The third International Day in Support of Victims of Torture will be observed on Monday, 26 June. The Day, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 12 December 1997, aims at eliminating torture and ensuring the application of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which entered into force on 26 June 1987.
Underlining United Nations efforts to combat torture, the four main actors of the United Nations engaged in the fight against torture -- the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee against Torture, the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on questions relating to torture and the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture -- adopted a joint declaration again this year, urging all States to ratify without reservations the Convention.
The declaration urges all States parties to the Convention which have not yet accepted the treaty's optional provisions to do so as soon as possible, so that individuals who claim to be victims of a violation of the rights protected by the Convention can submit complaints for consideration by the Committee, which monitors its implementation. The joint declaration calls on all States to ensure that torture is considered a crime in their domestic law and to rigorously pursue perpetrators. States are also urged to become parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as a matter of priority.
Under article 7 of the Rome Statute, torture is one of the acts constituting a "crime against humanity" when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack. Also, according to article 8 of the Statute, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, is one of the acts constituting a "war crime".
In keeping with this year's theme, States are urged to provide for compensation and rehabilitation of victims of torture in their domestic law and to contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture as fully and as often as they can. The declaration adds that all States should cooperate with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture on fulfilling his mandate when requested to do so.
Since its creation, the United Nations has worked to eradicate torture. In 1984, the General Assembly adopted the Convention, which obliges States parties to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.
As of May, the Convention has been ratified by 119 States and nine have signed pending ratification. These States parties are required to report to the Committee against Torture, a human rights treaty body set up in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions. The Committee is composed of 10 experts who serve in their personal capacity and are elected by States parties.
The Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on torture also plays a key role in the international fight against torture by: asking governments to ensure that the right to physical and mental integrity of individuals who are said to be at risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment is protected; requesting them to submit information regarding alleged cases of torture; and addressing recommendations aimed at eradicating this scourge. The Special Rapporteur receives information from various sources and reports to the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly.
In 1999, the Special Rapporteur -- Sir Nigel Rodley (United Kingdom) -- transmitted 144 urgent appeals to 51 governments on behalf of more than 430 individuals whose physical and/or mental integrity was reportedly at risk, as well as 60 letters to 56 countries on behalf of hundreds of alleged victims of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. He also undertook fact-finding missions to Romania, Cameroon and Kenya, as well as to Azerbaijan in the first semester of 2000.
Torture is one of the most profound human rights abuses, taking a terrible toll on millions of individuals and their families. Torturers commonly use rape, blows to the soles of the feet, suffocation in water, burns, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, shaking and beating to break down an individual's personality. As terrible as the physical wounds are, the psychological and emotional scars are usually the most devastating and the most difficult to repair. Many torture survivors suffer recurring nightmares and flashbacks. They withdraw from family, school and work and feel a loss of trust.
Thirty years ago there were no treatment centres or services to treat torture survivors. Today, there are some 200 centres or programmes all over the world. There is now profound knowledge of torture methods, the effects of torture, and how to diagnose and rehabilitate torture victims. Over 100 programmes treating torture victims in more than 50 countries -- from the United States to Nepal -- receive funding from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which was established in 1981.
Forty years ago there were no organizations or programmes to assist torture survivors. Today, hundreds of programmes all over the world provide for medical, psychological, social, economic, legal or humanitarian assistance to victims of torture and members of their families. There is now profound knowledge about the effects of torture and how to assist and rehabilitate torture victims. About 190 applications for grants were received this year for consideration by the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund. On behalf of the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights approved about $7 million for grants to 160 programmes submitted by 150 non-governmental organizations in 65 countries which will provide assistance to victims of torture and members of their families in 2000/2001.