Prohibition of torture 'absolute,' UN officials reaffirm

26 June 2004

Secretary-General Kofi Annan led a chorus of United Nations human rights officials and experts denouncing torture today, saying that international prohibitions against such cruel treatment are absolute and apply whether in peacetime or war.

In a message on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, observed annually on 26 June, the Secretary-General called it an occasion for the world to reaffirm that torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.

"It is a day to renew our commitment to denounce such acts and seek justice for torture victims. Above all, it is a day for governments to ask themselves whether they are doing enough to prevent acts of torture, assist their victims, punish the perpetrators and ensure that they are not repeated," he said.

Mr. Annan noted that sadly, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment remains commonplace in too many countries. "Yet the prohibition of such acts is not ambiguous: it is absolute," he said. "It is binding on all States in all territories under their jurisdiction or effective control. It applies in all circumstances, in times of war as in times of peace. Nor is torture permissible when it is called something else. Euphemisms cannot be used to bypass legal obligations."

In Geneva, a group of UN human rights officials, led by the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, and the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the question of torture, Theo van Boven, issued a statement echoing the Secretary-General's.

"The non-derogable nature of this prohibition is enshrined in the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as in several other instruments," the statement said.

Under international law, they said, countries had a duty to investigate torture whenever it occurs, prosecute the guilty parties and award compensation and the means of rehabilitation to the victims. "Too often, public authorities are remiss in fulfilling their duties in this respect, allowing torture to continue to occur with impunity," the statement said.