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Governments’ commitment to torture ban lacks credibility worldwide: UN expert

08 March 2021

GENEVA (8 March 2021) – A UN expert said today governments worldwide lacked credible commitment to the absolute and universal prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and most are defensive, dismissive or evasive over allegations of such abuse.

“While the reactions of governments to allegations and requests transmitted to them range from complete silence to aggressive rejection, unsubstantiated denial, bureaucratic obstruction and even sophisticated forms of pretence, the common denominator of all of these patterns is that they ensure impunity for torturers and deprive victims of reparation and redress,” said Nils Melzer, the Special Rapporteur on torture.

In a report presented to the Human Rights Council, Melzer said based on some 500 official communications transmitted to States from 2016 to 2020, 90 per cent of responses consistently fell short of the standards of cooperation required by the Council.

“Over the years, nine out of 10 allegations of torture and ill-treatment officially transmitted to governments in all regions of the world either have been completely ignored or otherwise did not receive a response permitting to effectively prevent, investigate or redress the violation in question,” Melzer said.
A similar lack of cooperation also persists when Special Rapporteurs ask for official country visits, particularly in States where torture and ill-treatment are reported to be frequent.

“Approximately 80 per cent of our country visit requests have been ignored, postponed or declined by governments. This has prevented us from carrying out independent monitoring visits where they are most needed,” Melzer said. Even States that have issued standing invitations to UN experts ignore or reject country visit requests, failing to honour their own commitments.

“The absolute and universal prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is not some kind of declaratory slogan to be routinely repeated and celebrated at international conferences, but that it inevitably requires the political determination to take difficult decisions and the courage to face uncomfortable truths – not elsewhere, but right there at home.”

Melzer recommended that the Office of the High Commissioner leads a multi-stakeholder process aiming to identify agreed generic standards for assessing and improving the effectiveness of the interaction of States with mandated human rights experts in all areas of their work, including, in particular, official communications, country visits and thematic reporting.

The interactive dialogue is covered live today through UN WebTV, in the morning session.


Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is 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 of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Yasmine Ashraf (+41 22 917 2059 / [email protected]).

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected])

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