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Action urged to strengthen UN anti-torture treaty

Action urged to strengthen UN anti-torture treaty

On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, United Nations officials today called for efforts to strengthen the global treaty designed to combat the scourge.

In a joint statement released in Geneva, UN human rights officials voiced strong backing for calls to enact an optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“The optional protocol is designed to assist States parties in implementing their obligation under the Convention to prevent torture by providing for the establishment of effective international and national mechanisms for visiting places where persons are or may be deprived of their liberty,” said the statement, which was issued by the Committee against Torture and the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the question of torture. The Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, also added their names to the statement.

The officials called on States to "give the matter of an effective protocol to the Convention their earnest and immediate attention, and to move towards the final adoption of this instrument."

For his part, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the treaty was "as true and relevant" today as when the pact became a reality a decade and a half ago.

Mr. Annan also noted that the horrific events of 11 September have prompted a wide-ranging debate about the means that may be used to combat the threat of terrorism. He stressed that security would never be achieved by sacrificing human rights. "That would hand the terrorists a victory beyond their dreams - for rather than preventing terrorism, I fear we would encourage it," he said.

Humankind must continue its united stand against torture, the Secretary-General said, noting that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were already playing a leading role and that governments were also involved through the UN Voluntary Fund, which supports hundreds of NGO projects worldwide.

"Those projects provide crucial medical, psychological, economic, social, legal and other assistance to hundreds of thousands of victims of torture and their families," he said, calling on countries to continue to give generously to the Fund, so that even more projects could be funded in the coming year.