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Torture - A Modern Day Plague

* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *

22 January 2001 MDE 01/001/2000

In the last three years people reportedly died as a result of torture in over 80 countries, torture or ill-treatment by state agents was reported in over 150 countries and was widespread in more than 70, Amnesty International said today in a new report launching a global campaign against torture.

The organization's global survey strongly suggests that most victims of torture by state agents are criminal suspects from the poorest or most marginalised sectors of society. Most of these torturers are police officers.

"Despite entering a new millennium, thousands of men, women and children continue to suffer behind closed doors and in public. Amnesty International's survey into torture since 1997 reveals an urgent need for torture to be put back on the international agenda," the organization said.

"More shocking than the statistics on torture, is the fact that torture can be stopped but is allowed to persist. Governments continue to allow torture and ill-treatment to go on, often turning a blind eye or using it to hold on to power."

Amnesty International's one million members, in conjunction with community groups, will be challenging governments to commit themselves to combat torture and create "Torture Free Zones" in their areas of responsibility. Using email and SMS mobile phone text messaging, Amnesty International will take the campaign online enabling the public to send urgent appeals on behalf of those at immediate risk of torture.

"Only public pressure can force governments to take action to stop torture. Our task is to turn public indifference into outrage and outrage into action," Amnesty International said urging the public to take a step to stamp out torture.

Amnesty International calls on all the governments worldwide to ensure that no one is tortured or ill- treated and that his or her fundamental human rights are not violated. No one should be arrested or detained because of peacefully exercising his or her rights to freedom of expression or belief. All those arrested should have immediate access to the outside world, including legal counsel and their families.

Governments must ensure that they do not impose judicial punishments which are inconsistent with international law and the standards set by the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT). Amnesty International calls on all the countries which have not ratified UNCAT and the other human rights treaties to do so immediately, without reservation, and to implement them in law and practice.

Amnesty International's report issued today, brings to light new challenges in combating torture. Torture and ill-treatment is occurring in different settings, both in democracies and dictatorships, in places of detention, schools and homes.

Methods of torture have expanded as the trade in torture equipment has become more globalized. In some cases, torture is now more high-tech with the manufacture, export and use of devices designed specifically for use on human beings.

Amnesty International's report also highlights the role of discrimination in feeding torture. It is easier for the torturer to inflict pain on someone who is seen as less than human -- someone from a despised social, ethnic or political group. Discrimination paves the way for torture by allowing the victim to be seen not as human but as an object who can be treated inhumanely.

Amnesty International points to the importance of raising awareness of human rights issues and human rights education. Both are important as long term strategies to prevent human rights violations such as torture.

We hope that Amnesty International's regional office for the Middle East in Beirut, which is now beginning its work will contribute substantially to human rights education and awareness initiatives in the future.

Worldwide there is a pattern of racially motivated torture and ill-treatment by state officials. Many of the victims of police brutality in Europe and the US are black or members of ethnic minorities.

Children have reportedly been tortured or ill-treated in more than 50 countries in the last three years proving that youth is no protection against torture. Children in police custody are particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse. Governments have a duty to protect children from torture and ill-treatment in the community and the home, as well as in custody.

Discrimination against women continues to take violent forms -- women are raped in custody or as "spoils of war", they are genitally mutilated in the name of tradition, flogged or killed in the name of honour

Torture is illegal under international law and 119 countries have ratified the major international treaty banning it. Many governments choose not to bring torturers to justice -- impunity for torturers remains endemic.

The campaign is being launched by Amnesty International members and supporters across the globe. Key regional launch events are rolling out over a 24-hour-period starting from Japan to Lebanon, Kenya, France and Argentina.

The report and a media briefing are available at the campaign web site: www.stoptorture.org

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