Category Archives: Press Releases

The Anti-Torture Initiative and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights Call for the Immediate Release of Human Rights Defender Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla and University Lecturer Dr. Fontem Aforteka’a Neba

March 27, 2017 – Today, the Anti-Torture Initiative and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights called for the immediate release of lawyer and human rights defender Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla and of university lecturer Dr. Fontem Aforteka’a Neba from military detention in #Cameroon.
Mr. Nkongho and Dr. Fontem were arrested for organizing peaceful protests calling for respect for the rights of the Anglophone minority. Mr. Nkongho is charged with 8 counts, including treason, terrorism, incitement of civil unrest, and breach of the constitution and set to be tried by a military tribunal. If convicted of these charges he could face the death penalty. Mr. Nkongho’s trial adjourned on March 23 until April 27, at which point his application for bail will be heard.

“The arbitrary detention of Mr. Nkongho and Dr. Fontem on account of their peaceful protests and advocacy for the human rights of English-speaking Cameroonians is in blatant violation of international human rights law,” said the Anti-Torture Initiative’s Academic Director Prof. Juan E. Méndez, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. He went on to express “grave concern over allegations of excessive use of force and the use of torture against protesters and detainees, as well as over reported cases of arbitrary executions. I call on the Government to immediately release Mr. Nkongho and Dr. Fontem, to conduct an inquiry into the allegations of grave human rights abuses committed since October 2016, and to provide victims with adequate redress and rehabilitation,” Prof. Mendez concluded.

The press release can be found here

New Publication – Protecting Children against Torture in Detention: Global Solutions for A Global Problem

March 24, 2017 –  We are delighted to announce the publication of our NEW edited volume “Protecting Children against Torture in Detention: Global Solutions for A Global Problem!”

This edited volume brings together contributions by more than 30 international children’s rights experts in response to former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Ernesto Mendez’s groundbreaking thematic report on torture of children deprived of liberty. Each article in the volume provides valuable insights into the intersection between children’s rights and the international human rights law prohibition of torture. The publication addresses situations children face in a variety of contexts such as the criminal justice system, armed conflict situation, institutionalization, and detention in the context of migration. The diverse perspectives offered by our authors, paired with the former Special Rapporteur’s report, provide innovative solutions to an all-too-common reality faced by children deprived of liberty around the world, and illustrate a profound commitment to the ongoing challenge of protecting the fundamental human rights of children everywhere.

A heartfelt thanks to all of the contributing authors, including those from Human Rights Watch; Disability Rights International, Child Rights International Network; The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative; International Detention Coalition; Center for Children’s Law and Policy; Defence for Children International; End Violence Against Children; Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence against Children-Marta Santos Pais; UNICEF; Save the Children Perú; Council of Europe, INCLUSION INTERNATIONAL; ACLU of Southern California; Advanced Studies in International Children’s Rights – Leiden University; University College Cork; Penal Reform International; the International Juvenile Justice Observatory; and contributing Members of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families.

Together we can #STOPChildTorture and achieve a #TortureFreeWorld!

Follow us on Facebook on Twitter @antitorture_WCL for information about our upcoming book launch event in New York City!

You can read the publication in its entirety here.

Former Special Rapporteur on Torture Interviewed by CNN Español to discuss human rights challenges in Mexico and throughout Latin American

March 21, 2017 – En una entrevista con Carmen Aristegui – CNN en Español, el ex Relator Especial sobre la Tortura, Juan Ernesto Mendez discutió un informe de seguimiento sobre México y otras cuestiones apremiantes de derechos humanos a las que se enfrentan el Estado, y América Latina de manera más amplia. En México, afirmó que “el gobierno mexicano quería que dijera que la tortura era un problema recurrente, pero eso no capturaba lo que yo vi . . . es una práctica generalizada”.

The complete interview in Spanish can be found here. 

UN Experts Call For International Commission to Help Investigate Systematic Violence Against Protesters in Ethiopia

10 October 2016 –United Nations human rights experts today, including Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez, urged the Ethiopian authorities to end their violent crackdown on peaceful protests, which has reportedly led to the death of over 600 people since November 2015. They further called on the Government to allow an international commission of inquiry to investigate the protests and the violence used against peaceful demonstrators.

“We are outraged at the alarming allegations of mass killings, thousands of injuries, tens of thousands of arrests and hundreds of enforced disappearances,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard. “We are also extremely concerned by numerous reports that those arrested had faced torture and ill-treatment in military detention centres.”

“In light of the lack of progress in investigating the systematic violence against protesters, we urge the Ethiopian Government to allow an international independent commission to assist in shedding light on these allegations,” they stated.

The human rights experts highlighted in particular the 2 October events in Oromia, where 55 people were killed in a stampede.

“The deaths in the Oromia region last weekend are only the latest in a long string of incidents where the authorities’ use of excessive force has led to mass deaths,” Mr. Kiai said noting that peaceful protests in the Ahmara and Konso Wereda regions have also been met with violence from authorities.

“The scale of this violence and the shocking number of deaths make it clear that this is a calculated campaign to eliminate opposition movements and silence dissenting voices,” he added.

The UN Special Rapporteurs voiced particular concern over the use of national security provisions and counterterrorism legislation – the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation 652/2009 – to target individuals exercising their rights to peaceful assembly.

Special Rapporteur regrets postponement of country visit by Government of Turkey

October 1, 2016 – Special Rapportuer on Torture Juan E Méndez has expressed deep disappointment with the Turkish government’s decision to postpone his visit to the country, which was scheduled to begin on 10 October. “While I understand that the developments in Turkey during the last months demand the government’s fullest attention, I believe that postponing my visit at this late stage sends the wrong message,” the Special Rapporteur stated. “In light of the thousands of arrests made following the failed coup-attempt of 15 July 2016, and the allegations of severe overcrowding and poor conditions in many detention centres throughout the country, my visit is of utmost importance,” he continued.

The Special Rapporteur stressed that independent monitoring is a crucial safeguard against ill-treatment and torture, explaining that due to the sensitivity of his mandate, there will never be a perfect time for a visit. He further stressed that even in a state of emergency, safeguards against torture and ill-treatment and other fundamental human rights must remain in place, and conveyed to the Turkish Government his understanding that the invitation for a fact-finding visit is extended to his successor.

To read the press release in full, please visit the OHCHR website

Special Rapporteur calls on States across the world to repeal restrictive abortion laws

September 29, 2016 – Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez and other independent United Nations Human Rights experts called on States across the world to repeal restrictive #abortion laws and policies, as well as all punitive measures and discriminatory barriers to access safe reproductive health services.

The experts explained that in the twenty-first century unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity. According to the World Health Organization, about 22 million unsafe abortions take place each year worldwide and an estimated 47,000 women die annually from complications resulting from the resort to unsafe practices for termination of pregnancy,” they continued.

“Criminalisation of abortion and failure to provide adequate access to services for termination of an unwanted pregnancy are forms of discrimination based on sex. Restrictive legislation which denies access to safe abortion is one of most damaging ways of instrumentalising women’s bodies and a grave violation of women’s human rights. The consequences for women are severe, with women sometimes paying with their lives,” the experts stated.

“We cannot tolerate the severe violation of women’s human rights on the basis of their sex and biological differences. We cannot tolerate the high incidence of women’s and girls’ preventable deaths resulting from maternity-related issues, including from unsafe abortion,” they concluded. #sept28

Read the full message here

Special Rapporteur discusses importance of incorporating gender perspective in regards to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment

September 28, 2016 – Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez participated in a high-level panel discussion on the integration of#GenderPerspectives in the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur discussed the importance of adopting a gender perspective in the work of his mandate, and provided an overview of his thematic report on gender perspectives on #torture, which addresses the unique experiences of, and particular risks of torture and other ill-treatment faced by, women, girls, and LGBTI persons, in a variety of contexts, ranging from detention in the criminal justice system to private actor violence in homes and communities.

You can read the Special Rapporteur’s report on gender perspectives on torture here

A webcast of the panel discussion is available here and summary of the panel discussions is available here

Special Rapporteur urges Pakistan authorities to halt the execution of a 50 year-old man with psychosocial disability

28 September 2016 — Yesterday, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez, together with the Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the independence of judges and lawyers, and the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, called for Pakistan authorities to halt the execution of a 50 year-old man with psychosocial disability and re-try him in compliance with international standards.  Mr. Imad Ali was sentenced to death in 2002 for the alleged murder of a religious scholar.  Despite the fact that his psychosocial disability was raised at his first trial, Mr. Ali’s condition was not mentioned in the court ruling sentencing him to death. The experts issued a joint statement, noting that “[w]e are concerned at Mr. Ali’s deteriorating psychosocial condition, among other things, due to lack of appropriate treatment and reasonable accommodation in detention.”  They urged that “States must do their utmost to address this risk, including by providing accommodation during all phases of legal proceedings, and by granting adequate protection from any form of discrimination against them because of their mental health condition.”

See the website of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights for more information.

UN rights Expert, joined by Special Rapporteur on Torture, Calls for Independent Investigation into Lethal Use of Water Cannon

28 September 2016 – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, joined by Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez, expressed dismay over the 25 September death of South Korean protester Baek Nam-gi, and called for a full and independent investigation into the police’s use of a water cannon last year that led to his death.

Mr. Baek, a 69-year old farmer, was knocked to the ground by a water cannon operated by the police while taking part in a peaceful rally in Seoul on 14 November 2015. He had remained in a coma until his passing.

“I express my deepest condolences to the relatives and friends of Mr. Baek Nam-gi for this tragic loss. I had the chance to meet Mr. Baek’s daughters in Seoul during my country visit in January 2016 and in Geneva last June. I was very humbled by their courage and determination to seek justice for their father in such harrowing times,” Mr. Kiai said.

“I call for a full and independent investigation into the police’s use of water cannon during the rally of November 2015 that unambiguously led to Mr. Baek’s death according to video footage available,” the expert stated. “The perpetrators should be held accountable and the family of Mr. Baek receive appropriate compensation; in addition, adequate measures must be taken to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future”, added Mr. Kiai.

The Special Rapporteur also reiterated his recommendation made to the South Korean authorities in his country report* of June 2016 to “review tactics used for the management of assemblies – including the use of water cannons and bus barricades – to ensure that they are not applied indiscriminately or against peaceful protestors, they do not result in escalation of tensions, and are directed at facilitating rather than preventing the exercise of assembly rights.”

He also echoed similar recommendations made in his joint report** with the former Special Rapporteur on the extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, on the proper management of assemblies presented to the Human Rights Council in March this year.

“It is critical that the authorities learn the lessons from this painful tragedy so that it never happens again,” the human rights expert stressed.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur called on the authorities to respect the will of the family not to have the body of Mr. Baek taken for autopsy. The police and the Prosecutor’s Office requested a warrant from the Seoul Central District Court to proceed with an autopsy as the cause of death is allegedly not clear, but it was denied by the court. They have reportedly filed another request.

Roundtable discussion of the progress and challenges regarding the prevention of torture in Kyrgyzstan

September 20, 2016 – the Anti-Torture Initiative hosted a half-day Roundtable in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, together with partners from the Open Society Foundations and the Golos Svobody, the National Coalition against Torture in Kyrgyzstan. More than 30 participants represented local civil society, international and regional organizations including the OSCE – The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union – EU, and national bodies including the National Center for the Prevention of Torture and the Ombudsman’s Office. Participants shared experiences and discussed progress and challenges in efforts to prevent torture on the ground since the Special Rapporteur’s 2011 visit to Kyrgyzstan, particularly in terms of measures that have been taken to implement his recommendations.

You can read the Special Rapporteur’s 2012 report on Kyrgyzstan here