Category Archives: Media

Special Rapporteur on Torture celebrates a landmark settlement which will effectively end indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons

September 4 2015- Special Rapporteur on Torture together with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and many others celebrates a landmark settlement in the federal class action Ashker v. Governor of California, which will effectively end indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons. The Special Rapporteur, Professor Juan E. Méndez, in his capacity as an expert witness, provided expert testimony after visiting and interviewing eleven prisoners held in prolonged and indefinitely solitary confinement in Pelican Bay prison in December 2014. Professor Méndez also visited the premises of the Special Housing Unit (SHU) and the wing for Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay, concluding that “the conditions of confinement at the SHU of Pelican Bay prison amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to customary international law rules codified in the Convention Against Torture.” You can read the expert report here

For more information about the settlement, please visit the CCR webpage

Special Rapporteur on Torture discusses the negative impact of solitary confinement with NPR

August 23 2015- Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez appeals to authorities and the public to reflect on whether subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement, and particularly to prolonged and indefinite isolation, is a humane practice. Throughout his mandate, the Special Rapporteur has consistently reminded States that the unfettered use of solitary confinement and its negative impact on prisoners can often give rise to severe pain and suffering amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture, in violation of fundamental international human rights norms. In this report, the Special Rapporteur also notes that it is regrettably common for prisons in the United States to hold young people, persons suffering from mental illness, and pregnant mothers in long-term isolation – practices that must be absolutely prohibited. 

To read the full article, please click here

Special Rapporteur on Torture endorses the call on Iran to commute the death sentence of Mohammad Ali Tehari

August 5, 2015- Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez has endorsed the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran Ahmed Shaheed’s call on Iranian authorities to immediately commute the death sentence recently handed down to Mohammad Ali Tehari, a well-known author of alternative medical theories practiced in Iran and abroad, and founder of an arts and culture institute in Tehran.

Mr. Taheri was reportedly sentenced to death on 1 August on charges of ‘Fisad-fil-Arz’ (‘Corruption on Earth’), while he was already serving a five year prison sentence from May 2011 for insulting Islamic sanctities.

“It is unacceptable and a clear violation of international law for an individual to be imprisoned and condemned to death for peacefully exercising his rights to freedoms of religion and of expression,” the Special Rapporteur Mr. Shaheed stressed. “Mr. Taheri has been handed a death sentence for his spiritual beliefs and teachings.”

The Special Rapporteur on the State of Human Rights in Iran reminded that the UN opposes the use of death penalty in all circumstances and recalled that Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which protect freedom of religion and belief, and allow the death penalty (if still practiced) only in cases involving an intentional killing.

Special Rapporteur Shaheed has declared that “Mr. Taheri’s actions were peaceful and constitute protected activities under international human rights law.”

For the full article click here.

Special Rapporteur urges Israel to halt legalization of force-feeding of hunger-strikers in detention

28 July 2015 – Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, reiterated his call for Israeli authorities to stop the legalization of force-feeding and medical treatment of prisoners and detainees on hunger strike. The Special Rapporteur stressed that even when intended to benefit the health of the detainees, force-feeding induced by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints can be “tantamount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

This call comes after the Israeli parliament moved to reconsider a proposed amendment Bill to the Prisons Act that would allow force-feeding and forced medical treatment of detainees regardless of their consent. This Bill is expected to primarily affect Palestinians held by Israel, including those in administrative detention.

Special Rapporteur Danius Pûras on the Right to Health has joined Méndez in emphasizing that “the way to end the hunger strikes is not to force feed hunger-strikers but to address the underlying human rights violations against which they are protesting, namely, the practice of administrative detention.” Both UN experts have urged the Government of Israel to consider resolving the hunger strikes through good faith dialogue, rather than resorting to coercive remedial measures that intentionally disregard the detainees’ consent.

To see the full article click here. 

Special Rapporteur reiterates desire to make an official visit to United States following President Obama’s recent call for criminal justice reform

July 21, 2015 – Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez today called on the United States Government to facilitate his request to carry out an official visit to the United States. The call comes after President Obama’s visit last week to El Reno prison in Oklahoma and his statements highlighting the need for criminal justice reform in the US, particularly as regards unacceptably high rates of incarceration that have a disparate impact on racial minorities, overcrowding, and the extensive use of solitary confinement.

The Special Rapporteur added that he looks forward to “working with the US Department of Justice on the special study commissioned by the President on the need to regulate solitary confinement, which affects 80,000 inmates in the United States, in most cases for periods of months and years.”

The Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong stated at the same time that the Working Group has also asked the Government for an opportunity to visit federal and state institutions where persons are deprived of their liberty.

“We hope the President’s recent actions will ensure concrete steps are taken to facilitate these visits to US detention facilities, including private interviews with detainees” the independent experts said. “We stand ready to provide any additional expertise to ensure that prison reforms are implemented in accordance with international human rights standards,” they concluded.

 See the full article here.

Special Rapporteur Interviews with LA NACION in Argentina

July 9, 2015 – In this Spanish language article, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez speaks with Argentine newspaper LaNacion about his work and obstacles that present themselves in the fight for a ‪#‎TortureFreeWorld‬, including state practices that do not conform to existing legal standards and public opinion.

“Before 2001 and the 9/11 attacks, there was a clear global consensus that the use of torture was immoral and inefficient. Today, pop culture, TV and cinema are conditioning us to accept torture as a necessary evil in the fight against terrorism. Until we recover a universal moral consensus against the use of torture, it will be very difficult to eradicate worldwide.”

The Special Rapporteur further emphasized the need for States to find a solution to prison overcrowding, to decriminalize certain minor offenses with a view to reducing the prison population, and to implement national preventive mechanisms against torture. By accepting the use of torture in prisons, the Special Rapporteur warned, we risk “destroying the fabric of our society.”

To read the full article in LANACION, please click here.

Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez addresses the importance of holding the CIA accountable in in Politico op-ed

June 24, 2015 – Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez recounts his personal experience of torture suffered decades ago in Argentina in a Politico op-ed and explains the importance of holding the CIA accountable, following the release of the Senate Torture Report.

“To my abusers. . . this was merely “enhanced interrogation””, a euphemism that downplays the pain and inhumanity of torture, the Special Rapporteur revealed, while pointing out that U.S. political figures – including presidential candidate Rick Perry – use the same euphemism to describe the CIA’s torture and ill treatment during its secret detention operations from 2002 to 2008. “Instead, torture becomes a matter of rational decision making and calibrated legality,” explained the Special Rapporteur, who also expressed concern to the fact that only four of the fourteen declared U.S. presidential candidates said they would keep an executive order put in place by President Barack Obama in his first days in office that seeks to ensure the U.S. does not commit torture.

Yet, although Obama abandoned the flawed legal reasoning the Bush administration used to justify torture – a crime under U.S. and international law – enhanced interrogation still hasn’t been prosecuted in the U.S., a situation that has left torturers free to campaign for its return while emboldening them worldwide.

Despite that, the Special Rapporteur remains convinced that the situation has improved, noting that the latest Senate amendment to the defense authorization bill strengthens the U.S. ban on torture. However, much remains to be done as torture “will continue to be known merely — and shamefully — as enhanced interrogation” as long as it goes unpunished.  You can read the article in full on Politico.

Special Rapporteur Delivers Lecture on International Law and the Abolition of Torture at University of Michigan

January 22, 2014 – Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez gave a lecture entitled “International Law and the Abolition of Torture” hosted by the University of Michigan International Institute’s Human Rights Initiative. The lecture provides an overview of the obligations related to the prohibition of torture in international law and of the work of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, and is available here.

Special Rapporteur Discusses Solitary Confinement in the United States in New Amnesty International USA Video

January 15, 2014 – In this new video created by Amnesty International USA, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez discusses the extensive use of solitary confinement in US prisons, expressing particular concern about the lack of safeguards against its use, and its use for prolonged periods of time.”Solitary confinement truly does inflict the pain and suffering of a mental nature that is associated with the prohibition on torture and on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, [which is] absolute and unqualified in international law under any circumstances,” the Special Rapporteur states. The Special Rapporteur has in the past spoken publicly about his pending request to carry out a fact-finding visit to assess the use of solitary confinement in state and federal US prisons. The full video is available here. To learn more about Amnesty’s campaign on solitary confinement, please visit this page.

Special Rapporteur Delivers Video Address on Human Rights Situation in Bahrain for UK House of Commons Hearing

June 27, 2014 – Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez delivered a video address on human rights in Bahrain during a hearing held at the UK House of Commons on June 26. The Special Rapporteur explained that the human rights situation in Bahrain continues to be of grave concern to UN Special Procedures mandate holders, citing in particular the harsh clampdown on human rights defenders and excessive use of force against protesters in the country. The Special Rapporteur noted that his mandate receives regular allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees and of denial of medical treatment in places of detention, in contravention of international law. He further expressed concern about Bahrain’s non-fulfillment of the obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and the non-implementation of the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The Special Rapporteur also reiterated that the decision to cancel his intended visit to Bahrain was taken unilaterally by the Government and that he has not reneged on his intention to visit. He elaborated that his repeated requests to reschedule the visit have been unanswered by the Government. To watch the video address in full, please visit this link.