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Rights Groups Decry Torture of Terrorism Suspects

FILE - A picture taken Aug. 26, 2015 shows suspected members of Boko Haram sitting in court in N'Djamena.

Human rights experts from 44 African countries have criticized the increasing use of torture against terrorism suspects in police custody, at military investigation centers and in traditional African institutions like palaces.

It is a conundrum that most nations that struggle against terrorism confront: how to treat terrorism suspects in custody and extract useful information to thwart their activities. At the conclusion of a three-day conference Friday, rights experts urged African leaders grappling with the issue to ensure that security personnel adhere to international standards of human rights.

Dealing with suspects

Omar Bongo of Gabon's national human rights commission says all African states faced with terrorism threats disrespect one of the fundamental principles of human rights, that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

He says African states should put in place policies and legislation that respect human rights while combating terrorism because many people are being tortured innocently.

Africa, in recent years, has been faced with growing terrorism.

Rights experts at the conference did not reveal which countries are the worst offenders of human rights. The experts did criticize laws enacted last year by Cameroon and Chad — two nations that suffer attacks by the Boko Haram group — that propose the death sentence for people guilty of carrying out, abetting or sponsoring acts of terrorism. The rights experts also said the military in African countries dealing with terrorist attacks torture suspects and give them inhumane treatment.

Training military

Namibian human rights activist John Walters says the military should be trained to respect human rights in the discharge of their duties.

"Prevention is better than cure. That is why we are trying to say train our police officers so that they know what is torture. That torture is absolutely prohibited," he said.

The United Nations on December 10, 1984 adopted the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and set the eradication of the practice as one of its main goal.