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Unless States start “walking their talk” the torture ban will remain “pie in the sky” – UN expert

12 March 2022

GENEVA (11 March 2022) – A UN expert today warned the Human Rights Council that governments in all regions of the world still routinely fail to implement the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.

Taking stock during his sixth and final year as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer deplored that States had a “generalized, strongly distorted self-perception” regarding their own compliance with the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.  

“While governments readily promote respect for human rights in other States, they rarely, if ever, show genuine political will to address violations or shortcomings within their own jurisdictions,” he said.

Melzer also criticised States’ ineffective cooperation with his office. “When faced with allegations of torture, governments almost invariably tend to deny, justify or trivialize such abuse, avoid accountability, procrastinate reforms, and deprive victims of redress and rehabilitation,” said the expert. “Whenever I insist, States tend to adopt a progressively defensive, evasive, obstructive or even aggressive stance, or they simply terminate the dialogue altogether.”

The expert reiterated his recommendation to the Office of the High Commissioner to lead a multi-stakeholder process aiming to identify agreed standards for assessing and improving the effectiveness of the interaction of States with mandated human rights experts in all areas of their work, including official communications, country visits and thematic reporting. 

“I must admit that my outlook is bleak,” Melzer said as he presented his concluding report to the Human Rights Council. 

“As long as governments fail to evolve beyond their currently predominant attitude of indifference, self-righteousness and denial, torture and ill-treatment will remain widespread, and impunity rampant throughout the world, traumatizing millions of victims without any prospect of justice and dignity. 

“Unless governments finally start walking their talk, the worldwide eradication of torture and ill-treatment will remain pie in the sky,” he said.

“Today, as my time in office comes to an end, I would like to thank the Council and all UN Member States for their confidence and for the many frank and constructive exchanges held during my tenure, and I look forward to continuing our fruitful cooperation in my new function,” Melzer added. 

The interactive dialogue is covered live through UN WebTV, on 11 March 2022, the morning session, from 10:00 to 13:00 in Geneva.


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

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 ([email protected]), and Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 79 444 7578 / [email protected])

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