News / Europe

    Rights Groups Urge End to Use of Torture

    FILE - Syrian opposition members take part in a demonstration calling for more human rights in Syria, including putting a stop to physical torture in prisons, Beirut, Lebanon.
    FILE - Syrian opposition members take part in a demonstration calling for more human rights in Syria, including putting a stop to physical torture in prisons, Beirut, Lebanon.
    Lisa Schlein

    The United Nations and human rights activists worldwide are demanding states end the practice of torture, which is prohibited under all circumstances under international law. Every year on June 26, the world marks the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture to honor and support the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are victims of this heinous crime.

    Torture is not a new phenomenon. It has been practiced throughout the ages and continues to be employed today in all regions of the world. Reliable statistics are not possible because torture is hidden. It occurs in secret in police stations, prisons and places of detention.

    To get a sense of its scope, the human rights organization Amnesty International reports over the past five years, it has received reports of torture in 141 countries from every region of the world. Additionally, the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva says every day it receives new reports of torture from Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and Oceania.

    Mona Rishmawi, chief of the Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination branch of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told VOA torture occurs in states that turn a blind eye to this practice and allow it to continue with impunity. While it mainly takes place in repressive regimes, she said, torture also occurs in democracies.

    “The difference is that when it happens somebody acts. There is a Parliament. There is a question in the parliament. The minister gets embarrassed.  Somebody does something. But, if the State really, if the State does not feel accountable to its people, then these excesses happen a lot more,” said Rishmawi. 

    Numerous international treaties and national and domestic laws prohibit the practice of torture. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the seminal Convention Against Torture, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 10, Human Rights Day.

    Though the Convention has been ratified by 154 states, torture continues to be widely and systematically practiced in many of these countries. The United Nations reports 41 States have refused to ratify the Convention, and several of them continue to permit torture and ill treatment against detainees.

    Torture ranges from severe beatings to public sexual humiliation and rape. The victim is often forced to witness pain being inflicted on children or other family members. Rishmawi said the impact on the victim is substantial.

    While many are left with severe physical injuries, Rishmawi said the worst effect is the mental anguish victims are forced to endure.

    “These people were victims of intentional injury. These people were intentionally brutalized… You know, the moment you humiliate somebody and you take their dignity away, it is very difficult for these people to reconcile with themselves. Actually, that moment stays with them for a very long time,” said Rishmawi. 

    Despite the horrors inflicted upon survivors, healing is possible. The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture provides humanitarian, medical, psychological, legal and financial aid to many in need. The Fund also supports many of the non-governmental organizations that run programs to rehabilitate victims of torture.

    Under international law, states must ensure that victims of torture and ill treatment are fully compensated for their pain and suffering. The United Nations is calling on governments to fulfill this obligation.

    It notes governments are accountable for their actions and warns they cannot torture people with impunity. It says victims of torture deserve justice and those who perpetrate these crimes must be punished. 

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