UN rights expert calls for protection against torture in anti-terrorism laws

4 September 2002

A United Nations human rights expert has called for basic legal safeguards against torture and other punishments in any law related to arrests and detention, including anti-terrorist legislation.

In a report to the UN General Assembly released today, the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Theo van Boven, says that according to information he has received, the provisions of some new anti-terrorist legislation may not provide sufficient legal safeguards against human rights violations.

He stresses that any person in detention should protected by the right to habeas corpus, the right to have access to a lawyer within 24 hours from the time of arrest, and the right to inform a relative or friend about the detention. Such protections would guarantee the detainee access to the outside world and ensure his or her humane treatment.

The report also addresses the issue of international and national mechanisms for visits to prisons and other detention centres. The Special Rapporteur expresses his "strong wish" that the competent UN organs, notably the General Assembly, quickly and seriously consider an effective protocol on visits to supplement the international treaty against torture.

"Law enforcement officials and other detention personnel and authorities who are aware that their behaviour may be scrutinized at any point by internal and external monitoring bodies are certainly much more inclined to follow existing rules and procedures pertaining to arrest and detention," Mr. van Boven writes. "Most legal systems have established procedures which, if properly applied, would drastically diminish the opportunities to commit torture and other forms of ill-treatment."

As for the corporal punishment of children, Mr. van Boven says such treatment is contrary to established principles on the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. He calls on States to take adequate measures, particularly legal and educational steps, to ensure that the right of children to physical and mental integrity is well protected.


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