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Torture is torture, and waterboarding is not an exception – UN expert urges the US not to reinstate it

Torture is torture

30 January 2017

GENEVA (30 January 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has appealed to US President Donald Trump not to reconsider the acceptability of waterboarding and other methods of torture used as interrogation techniques.

“Without any doubt, waterboarding amounts to torture,” said the independent expert tasked by the Human Rights Council with monitoring and reporting on the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.

“Any tolerance, complacence or acquiescence with such practice, however exceptional and well-argued, will inevitably lead down a slippery slope towards complete arbitrariness and brute force,” Mr. Melzer cautioned.

“I urgently appeal to President Trump to carefully consider not only US legal obligations, doctrine and tradition, but also the consolidated legal and moral views of the entire international community before allowing the re-introduction of methods or interrogation that are more closely associated with barbarism than with civilization. I remain open to engage in a direct and constructive dialogue with the President.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that the US has always publicly affirmed its belief in the rule of law and respect for truth, and called on the Government to live up to the standards the nation has set both for itself and others.

“If the new Administration were to revive the use of torture, however, the consequences around the world would be catastrophic,” he warned. “Should Mr. Trump follow through on all of his pledges, more countries are likely to follow his lead and get back into the torture business – an ultimate disgrace for all of humanity.”

Three reasons why not to reinstate it
First, waterboarding is a form of torture and, contrary to popular belief, torture simply does not work,” Mr. Melzer emphasized.

“Torture is known to consistently produce false confessions and unreliable or misleading information,” he said. “Faced with the imminent threat of excruciating pain or anguish, victims simply will say anything –regardless of whether it is true– to make the pain stop and try to stay alive.”

The expert recalled the 2014 US Senate Intelligence Committee Report, which concluded that the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, was ‘not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees’, a conclusion echoed by countless law enforcement agencies and scientific studies worldwide.

Second, even if torture did work, that does not make it legally or morally acceptable,” he added. “Let us be clear: if you are looking for military advantage in war, you can argue that chemical weapons ‘work’, or terrorism ‘works’ as well.”

“However, all civilized peoples of this world have stood together to outlaw such abhorrent practices because, just as torture, they irreparably destroy the humanity and integrity not only of the victim, but also of the perpetrator and, ultimately of society as a whole,” Mr. Melzer underscored.

Third”, the expert stressed, “the use or incitement of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has been absolutely prohibited in treaty law, such as the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva Conventions.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that the prohibition is absolute and breaches amount to internationally recognized crimes and, in armed conflict, even to war crimes.

“In my view”, the human rights expert concluded, “the universal recognition of the absolute nature of this prohibition may well constitute the most fundamental achievement of mankind.”

Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) 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 2016. Mr. Melzer has previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and is currently the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: United States
Andrea Furger (+41 22 917 9603 / [email protected]) Alia El Khatib (+41 22 917 9209 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected].

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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