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Torture Remains Widespread, says Red Cross - 2002-06-26

The International Committee of the Red Cross says torture remains widespread throughout the world and shows no signs of abating. On this the International Day Against Torture, the ICRC is appealing to governments to end the practice.

Red Cross delegates come face to face with torture on a daily basis. They currently visit tens of thousands of prisoners in 72 countries, many of whom, Red Cross officials say, are subject to torture. The International Committee of the Red Cross does not publicly denounce or point fingers at governments who practice torture. Instead, it tries to gain access to places of detention. This way it can try to prevent torture from happening and alleviate the suffering of victims.

The deputy Head of ICRC's Protection Unit, Paul Bonard, says once torture is being used and accepted, there no longer are any limits to its use. "The long-run effects of torture on a society have devastating effects," said Mr. Bonard. "It triggers the vicious circle of retaliations and sooner or later, the notion of civilization itself, in the end, it disappears."

The International Committee of the Red Cross helped prepare the so-called Istanbul Protocol, a United Nations agreement for the documentation of torture. One of the most important aspects of the Istanbul protocol is that it recognizes psychological torture exists and is as important as physical torture, says Hernan Reyes, an ICRC specialist on the effects of torture.

"Before, the attitude of many judges was well there is nothing to show, there are no scars, so we do not really know if this person is making it up. Therefore, I dismiss the case and I do not want to know about it," he explained. "Now, it is there in writing, psychological torture is just as much torture as the medieval wrack or the modern equivalents we use today."

The ICRC says it sometimes is very difficult to obtain permission from governments to visit prisoners, but it says most eventually agree because they do not want to appear to be hiding anything.

Red Cross officials say they insist all their visits with prisoners be conducted in private. Prisoners undergo a medical examination to see if torture has occurred. Delegates register detainees so they can keep track of them and try to prevent so-called mysterious disappearances.