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UN human rights chief calls for expanded definition of torture

UN human rights chief calls for expanded definition of torture

Declaring the current definition of torture in international conventions too vague, the top United Nations human rights official said today his office would submit an expanded definition that would show how to draw a line - a red line - that made clear that certain acts were not acceptable.

Even as it now stood in Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the definition was not known as widely as it should be, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello said in an opening address to the spring session of the Committee against Torture in Geneva.

Although the Committee frequently advised countries to include that definition in their penal law, far too many had not done so, he added. Encouraging the Committee in its efforts to change that, he said he felt it was necessary to go beyond the definition contained in the Convention since it was still too vague, as he was sure all would agree. He hoped to submit to the Committee at its next session a contribution from his office on how to expand the definition.

Article 1 of the Convention, adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1984 and entering into force 26 June 1987, defines the term torture to mean "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

Mr. Vieira de Mello said the world was living in a period where the principles and norms enshrined in the international human rights instruments were becoming ever more relevant. It was vital to spread information on the contents of these instruments and to ensure that they were implemented, he added.