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Sad fact fight against torture must continue

Sad fact that fight against torture must continue in the 21st Century

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5. Adopted in 1948.

"He had a pair of pliers in his hand. He kept asking where the mobile was. I told him I had not seen it. He then told me to bring my thumb forward. He got hold of my thumb and placed it between the pliers. He pressed it hard and crushed my thumb. I do not remember what happened next." A nine-year-old boy from Bangladesh describes his treatment by a policeman.

(Geneva) More than 50 years on torture persists and takes on new forms, Amnesty International said today June 26, United Nations International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, as it launched a new campaigning manual: Combating Torture: a manual for action.

"The campaign and fight to eradicate all forms of torture is as vital as ever. From 1997 to the middle of 2000 Amnesty International received reports of torture or ill-treatment in over 150 countries. People had died as a result of torture in over 80 countries."

"It is worrying that in this day and age not all countries are taking steps to eradicate all forms of state sponsored torture -- and some are even actively promoting it while others are turning a blind eye or allowing other countries to undertake it on their behalf."

Israel, the only country in the world to have legalized torture, modified its legislation in 1999 but left a loophole: interrogators may still use torture and escape prosecution by invoking the "defence of necessity" argument, as a post facto defence. To date no security service agents are known to have been prosecuted for torture.

Combating torture: A manual for action is an invaluable tool for all those who want to understand and fight against torture in the 21st century. It brings together the standards and recommendations of the various UN institutions, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and other sources from around the world, as well as Amnesty International's recommendations concerning the prevention of torture and ill-treatment. There are chapters on the prohibition of torture under international law, safeguards in custody, conditions of detention, torture in other settings, and overcoming impunity. Case studies highlight successful action that has been taken to combat torture in different countries, and there are checklists of international standards and suggested further reading. The manual was produced as part of Amnesty International's worldwide campaign against torture.

Much of the torture and ill-treatment recorded by human rights organizations is inflicted on people who have been taken into custody by agents of the state. Law enforcement officials are endowed by the state with the power to arrest and detain. A person taken into custody is vulnerable to the risk of abuse of these powers through violent and unlawful behaviour. Isolation from the outside world increases the risk.

However torture does not only occur in custody: around the world, great numbers of prisoners are held in conditions which are damaging to their physical and mental well-being and can constitute threats to health and life. Conditions, such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of food and medicines and denial of contact with families and friends, fall short of UN standards for the treatment of detainees and prisoners. Singly or in combination, the worst conditions can constitute ill-treatment or even torture. Between 1997 and 2000 Amnesty International received reports of cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions of detention in 90 countries; such conditions were widespread in over 50 countries. People confined in institutions for the mentally disabled and institutions for people with other forms of illness or disability are also at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

Moreover, acts of violence by private individuals can constitute torture or ill-treatment when they are of the nature and severity envisaged by the concept of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in international standards and when the state has failed to fulfil its obligation to provide effective protection.

Building a world without torture

There is much that governments can do to promote the eradication of torture and ill-treatment in other countries: through their embassies, they can monitor the situation of torture in a particular country and raise their concerns with the government involved. Steps also need to be taken to control the trade in equipment used for torture. The export of equipment designed for torture must be forbidden and there should be strict controls on the export of other law enforcement equipment to ensure that it is not used to inflict torture or ill-treatment.

"Sadly, even in the 21st century there is work to be done to change public attitudes to torture. Torture can never be justified and we must continue to fight for a world in which it is universally regarded as unacceptable," Amnesty International concluded.


The final agreement on a new treaty to prevent torture, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, was an important achievement in 2002. States which become party to this treaty commit themselves to accepting inspections to places of detention by an international group of experts, working alongside national experts, and improving conditions according to their recommendations.

Amnesty International's Stop Torture Campaign:

Take action to stop torture:

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