The U.N.'s top human rights official has expressed concern over reports that terrorism suspects are being held in secret prisons, and cautioned against the erosion of laws banning torture in the fight against terrorism. U.N. human rights commissioner's annual report presented a somber assessment of the world's human rights situation.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour cautioned against circumventing the law in the name of fighting the war on terror.
"To disregard the law, or to carve out improper exceptions, as has been attempted by many governments, would lead to a steady erosion of fundamental rights, and, ultimately, undermine the legitimacy of government action itself," she said. "Of particular concern in recent years has been the increasing challenge to the absolute prohibition on torture that has emerged in the context of counter-terrorism activities."
Speaking before the U.N. Human Rights Council, Arbour said governments must provide suspects with a fair trial, and she said states must not forcibly deport any person to a country where he or she might be exposed to torture.
She did not mention any country by name. But her remarks come as the European Union is investigating news reports that emerged late last year that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is holding terrorism suspects in secret detention centers in European and other countries to avoid a U.S. ban on torture.
The U.N. human rights commissioner said states have an obligation to protect individuals from exposure to torture.
"Whatever its asserted effectiveness, torture de-legitimizes state action to the point where the state can no longer assert its moral authority," she added. "Moreover, the reported existence of secret detention centers where suspects are held incommunicado, is also of grave concern. Such practices have a corrosive effect on the rule of law and human rights, and create an environment ripe for other abusive conduct."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Warren Tichenor said the United States is absolutely committed to eradicating torture and preventing cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment worldwide.
Arbour urged all countries to disclose and prosecute alleged abuses of human rights in the fight against terrorism.