Torture persists as standard practice in many countries, says UN expert

24 October 2008

Torture is still a frequent or even standard practice in many nations, six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a United Nations expert on the subject said today in New York.

“Today, human rights form the only universally accepted system of the world, but the implementation gap is growing,” Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, told reporters in New York.

He pointed out that torture has decreased significantly in several parts of the world, with the practice being reduced sharply after the military dictatorships of Latin America were replaced by democratic governments.

“But on the global level, I still come to the conclusion on the basis of many fact-finding missions and other forms of evidence that torture and ill-treatment is still practised on a widespread, partly even systematic and routine level in many countries of the world, and the conditions of detention have even gotten worse in many countries of the world.”

Addressing the General Assembly today, the expert pointed out that millions of people worldwide are deprived of their liberty, living in conditions of detention amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Torture occurs behind closed doors and that the lack of public scrutiny allows for the abuses of detainees to continue, he said, calling for transparency in both public and private institutions.

Mr. Nowak, an Austrian human rights lawyer who has served as Rapporteur since 2004, presented a report to the Assembly's Third Committee on the connection between torture and the treatment of people with disabilities.

“People with mental disabilities are very often just excluded,” he told UNiFEED, a video service which covers the UN. “They are put in a single cell without any adequate health or psychological care and we have found in various prisons persons in a deplorable and appalling state from a hygienic point of view who are just neglected, forgotten by the outside world.”

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