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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

High Commissioner honours victims of torture

23 June 2023

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Statement by Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

26 June 2023

I remember vividly the first time I met a person who had been tortured. The harrowing story he told me marked me. It revealed the horror of what human beings are capable of inflicting on one another. He will carry that deep trauma for the rest of his life.

My heart goes out to him and all others who have suffered this despicable crime.

Every day, in both official and secret places of detention, pain is deliberately inflicted on defenceless adults and children.

Torture can range from severe beatings to sexual humiliation and rape; the use of specific machinery to inflict pain; mock executions; and being forced to watch one's vulnerable family members being tortured.

There are hundreds of thousands of torture victims, from prisoners of war and human rights activists to the simple inhabitants of neighbourhoods who have been picked up in a random sweep.

And there are thousands of places where torture takes place, in countries on every continent.

Torture is a serious crime. International law sets forth an absolute prohibition of torture. It can never be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. Under the UN Convention against Torture all States are obliged to investigate and prosecute allegations of torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and they must prevent torture by every possible means.

Yet in almost all cases, the people who ordered and commit the crime of torture escape justice.

Every year on the 26th of June, we honour the survivors of torture and the civil society groups who work to support them. And we stand in solidarity with them.

Over four decades, our UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture has channelled support to civil society groups, reaching a total of over one million survivors of torture in more than 120 countries.

Its support comprises social assistance, medical care, psychological support and strategic litigation projects that seek to achieve justice and deter future acts of torture.

But demand for the Fund’s help is increasing enormously – and every year we have to turn down thousands of requests, because we lack funds.

I am fully supportive of all efforts to limit trade in items that could be used for torture, including through a new international torture-free trade treaty.

Every torture victim has a right to acknowledgment, justice and redress.

And every torture victim must know that we are doing everything we can to get them support, and to ensure that torture, wherever it takes place, is documented, investigated, prosecuted, and punished.