with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment
The Anti-Torture Initiative and its partners successfully raise awareness against torture during Torture Awareness Month

The Anti-Torture Initiative and its partners successfully raise awareness against torture during Torture Awareness Month

June 29, 2015 – This year’s Torture Awareness Month was marked by the success of the Anti-Torture Initiative’s #TortureFreeWorld. Along with its partners, the ATI successfully raised awareness against torture throughout the world by spreading a message of hope and solidarity embodied by #TortureFreeWorld.

For its second edition, the #TortureFreeWorld campaign brought together 6 organizations fighting against torture in over 100 countries: the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), and REDRESS.

The webinar hosted by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez on June 26 to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, led to a productive and stimulating conversation with participants from the OMCT, Redress, the NRCAT and the CVT on focused on “Working Together to Create a #TortureFreeWorld.” You can view the webinar in full on the #TortureFreeWorld website.

Participants in the webinar included:

- Gerald Staberock, Secretary General, World Organizations Against Torture (OMCT)

- Carla Ferstman, Director, REDRESS

- Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director, U.S. Prisons & Policy Program, National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)

- Annie Sovcik, Director, Washington Office, Center for Victims of Torture (CVT)

 

A coordinated action throughout Torture Awareness Month

Throughout the month, the ATI’s partners held their own events, which were instrumental in contributing to the overall success of the #TortureFreeWorld campaign. Thanks to this coordinated action,  the #TortureFreeWorld campaign reached millions of people in more than 90 countries, including seven that are currently the object of the Special Rapporteur’s country visits, namely  Georgia, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia.

Those events included:

-       A June 22 webinar on “Making justice a reality for torture survivors.” The webinar, hosted by REDRESS featured former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Sir Nigel Rodley and representatives from human rights organizations in Perú, Libya, Kenya and Nepal who discussed the legal cases they are working on, the challenges that they face in their work and the wider impact of torture in their societies. You can view the webinar in full on the REDRESS website.

-       A June 24 benefit in honor of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, organized by the CVT in Washington D.C. The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture was awarded the CVT’s Eclipse Award in recognition of the work done by the fund in providing financial support to 179 torture survivor rehabilitation programs around the world to rebuild lives after torture. You can learn more about the reception on the CVT website.

-       A June 26 “Run against Torture” in support of Amnesty Switzerland, organized by the APT in Bern, Switzerland. You can learn more about the event on the APT website.

 

A widespread message

The Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez also made several addresses during events hosted by other organizations committed to fighting torture worldwide, further strengthening the links between the ATI and those organizations, and increasing the reach of the #TortureFreeWorld campaign. Those events included:

-       A June 24 conference in support torture survivors in Africa and all over the world, organized by TASSC at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. You can learn more about the event on the TASSC website.

-       A June 25 conversation on “Legalized Torture: From Guantánamo Bay to Rikers” organized by the Center for Constitutional Rights and its allies Amnesty International USA Mid-Atlantic Region, National Coalition To Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), Witness Against Torture and CODEPINK: Women For Peace. You can learn more about the event on the CCR website.

Once again the #TortureFreeWorld message was adopted and endorsed by organizations worldwide including the United Nations, the European Union, the International Criminal Court. The #TortureFreeWorld website will continue to serve as a platform where torture survivors and human rights activists can share their stories and their view of a #TortureFreeWorld with a view of increasing awareness against torture worldwide.

U.N. human rights experts call for U.S. moratorium on death penalty

U.N. human rights experts call for U.S. moratorium on death penalty

June 27, 2015 – United Nations human rights experts, including Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez urged the United States to impose a moratorium on death penalty, and to ultimately abolish the practice.

This call comes as Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, sentenced to death by lethal injection last May, was moved on Thursday to a Colorado “Supermax” facility for high-risk prisoners. While Massachusetts abolished the death penalty for state crimes in 1984, federal crimes such as the ones Tsarnaev was convicted of are still punishable by death.

The Special Rapporteur, joined by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Executions Christof Heyns, strongly condemned the decision which “contradicts the trends toward abolishing the death penalty in the country in law and practice,” noting that the death penalty, which has no proven deterrent effect, is no longer in use in more than three-quarters of countries worldwide.

The Special Rapporteur, who has been requesting access to United States’ prisons where 80,000 people are in solitary confinement, also denounced the Government’s lack of cooperation in granting the request, despite the U.S. human rights ambassador Keith Harper’s assurances that the visit would take place this year. You can read the article in full on Reuters.

Anti-Torture Initiative’s #TortureFreeWorld campaign honors victims of torture throughout Torture Awareness Month

Anti-Torture Initiative’s #TortureFreeWorld campaign honors victims of torture throughout Torture Awareness Month

June 26, 2015  – Today, to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law’s Anti-Torture Initiative is organizing a global Webinar on “Working Together to Create a #TortureFreeWorld.” The Webinar, hosted by Special Rapporteur Juan E. Méndez  will take place at 10 am EST with participants from leading organizations committed to fighting torture in over one hundred countries. You can view the Webinar in full on our #TortureFreeWorld website

About the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture was created on 12 December 1997, by resolution 52/149 of the UN General Assembly. The goal is to completely eradicate torture and ensure the effectiveness of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, “the rise of violent extremism and unprecedented levels of forced displacement in our world demand a comprehensive response – and no aspect is more urgent than assisting the many victims of rising levels of torture that these and related trends generate,” and human rights organizations play a vital role in ensuring that victims of torture are not left to fend for themselves, or forgotten. You can learn more about the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on the United Nations website.

Why the #TortureFreeWorld campaign?

The #TortureFreeWorld campaign and website (torturefreeworld.org), launched on June 17, seek to spread a message of hope. Rather than simply imagining a #TortureFreeWorld, the focus of the campaign it to create one to create one. As United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (SRT) Juan E. Méndez has stated, a #TortureFreeWorld “is not just something we imagine, but something we work towards every day. As a survivor of torture I know how important it is to work in solidarity, support survivors, and change laws and policies to truly realize a #TortureFreeWorld.” In order to reach this goal the #TortureFreeWorld website serves as a platform for survivors of torture, anti-torture advocates, and human rights experts and practitioners from around the world to share stories, videos, and work together towards a #TortureFreeWorld. You can learn more about the #TortureFreeWorld campaign on the ATI website or by visiting  torturefreeworld.org.

Working to create a #TortureFreeWorld

This year’s campaign has received the support of six organizations, committed to fighting torture worldwide. The #TortureFreeWorld message has already reached millions of people and has garnered support from organizations, activists and citizens from across the globe. With well above 100 viewers registered for the #TortureFreeWorld June 26 Webinar, inspirational videos and stories shared by organizations and people, this year’s #TortureFreeWorld campaign has already proving that working together for a #TortureFreeWorld is not merely a dream, but a reality. You can learn more about this year’s campaign on the ATI website or by visiting  torturefreeworld.org.

United Nations Human Rights experts remind States not to overlook traumas of torture victims amid migration challenges

United Nations Human Rights experts remind States not to overlook traumas of torture victims amid migration challenges

June 24, 2015 – A group of United Nations human rights including Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez remind States of their prominent role, amid the upsurge in migration, of ensuring that people fleeing torture are immediately identified to avoid exposing them to further trauma, ill-treatment or being forcibly returned. In comments made to mark the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June, the experts stressed that migration authorities should refrain from causing further traumatise victims, and provide immediate support and care to prevent irreversible physical and psychological harm. In this context, the Special Rapporteur,  joined by other experts, reminded States that the principle of non-refoulement as set out in the Convention against Torture applies to all, regardless of their status as refugees or asylum seekers, and added that “States must separately assess the risk of torture and refrain from deporting anyone to a place where he or she would be at risk of torture.” You can read the press release in full on the OHCHR website.

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

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 on Torture Juan E. Méndez discusses the case of Jose Luis Munoz Santos v. Linda R. Thomas in the San Francisco Chronicle

Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez discusses the case of Jose Luis Munoz Santos v. Linda R. Thomas in the San Francisco Chronicle

June 9, 2015 – This week, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle on the case of Jose Luis Munoz Santos v. Linda R. Thomas, which he describes as a test case on the United States’ leadership on torture. The extradition case relies on the testimony of witnesses who allege that they were tortured by Mexican authorities and, if extradited, Munoz might face torture himself. The Special Rapporteur highlights that the UN Convention Against Torture prohibits the use of statements obtained through torture in any court proceedings and states that if the United States permits the extradition of Munoz back to Mexico, it will violate this prohibition, leading to wider acceptance of violations of the Convention worldwide. “A court ruling that sends Munoz back to Mexico without addressing the allegations of torture would be a big step in exactly the wrong direction,” the Special Rapporteur notes, concluding that “[t]his much is certain: The U.S. government is a global leader on torture. Whether it is anti-torture or pro-torture leader is the question.” You can read the article in full on the San Francisco Chronicle website.

Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez addresses the issue of solitary confinement in National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) documentary

Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez addresses the issue of solitary confinement in National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) documentary

June 9, 2015 – The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) has released a new documentary entitled “Breaking Down the Box,” which examines issues of mental health, racial justice, and the human rights implications of the systemic use of solitary confinement in United States prisons, including the ways in which solitary confinement can amount to torture. The documentary features an interview with United Nations Special Juan E. Méndez, who explains that the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and even torture under international law, and notes that it is “very important” for the international community to remind states of their legal obligations, including the need to respect the right of every person to physical and moral integrity. The documentary is a call to action for greater engagement in the growing nationwide movement for restorative alternatives to isolated confinement that prioritize rehabilitation, therapeutic interventions, and recovery. To watch this video and learn more about NRCAT’s nationwide movement against prolonged solitary confinement, please visit their website: http://www.nrcat.org/torture-in-us-pr…/breaking-down-the-box.

Silencing journalist and activists weakens protection of human rights in Iran, UN experts warn

Silencing journalist and activists weakens protection of human rights in Iran, UN experts warn

Last week, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez joined Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, and other UN human rights experts in urging Iran to release all journalists and human rights defenders who have been arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested. Warning that the silencing of journalists and activists weakens human rights protections in Iran, Mr. Shaheed expressed grave concern over the recent sentencing and imprisonment of married journalists Jason Rezaian and Yeganeh Salehi.  He condemned the authorities’ use of vague references to threats to national security, propaganda against the system and insult to authorities to justify the convictions, stressing that “human rights defenders play a fundamental role in ensuring a democratic society which respects human rights. Journalists must be protected, not harassed and prosecuted for doing their jobs. The detention and trial of Mr. Rezaian and Ms. Salehi not only violate their individual rights, but also intimidates those working in the media in Iran,” Mr. Shaheed stated. You can read the press release in full on the OHCHR website.

United Nations Human Rights experts urge Pakistan to halt execution of child offender Shafqat Hussain

United Nations Human Rights experts urge Pakistan to halt execution of child offender Shafqat Hussain

June 5, 2015 – A group of United Nations human rights including Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez today urged Pakistan to immediately stay the execution of child offender Shafqat Hussain, which is scheduled for June 9, 2015. Mr. Hussain was convicted and sentenced to death for kidnapping and involuntary manslaughter, despite allegations that he was 14 years old at the time of his arrest and trial and that his confession was obtained after he was tortured for at least nine days while in police custody in 2004. The execution, originally scheduled for March 2015, was stayed while the authorities conducted an inquiry into his age at the time of the crime. The legitimacy and results of the inquiry, which found that Mr. Hussain was not a child at the time of the killing, have been contested. In this context, the experts warn that “to proceed with Mr. Hussain’s execution without proper investigation into the allegation that his confession was coerced under torture, and in spite of evidence that he was a child at the time of his alleged offence and of his possible innocence would be utterly unacceptable and in flagrant contravention of Pakistan’s national and international obligations.” They further call on Pakistan to reinstate the death penalty moratorium that was lifted in 2014. You can read the press release in full on the OHCHR website.

Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez discusses the unfinished business of dealing with torture at the American Society of International Law

Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez discusses the unfinished business of dealing with torture at the American Society of International Law

June 4, 2015 – Earlier this week, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez joined former Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak and moderator Elizabeth Ferris, the director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, at the American Society of International Law in discussing the unfinished business of dealing with torture. The Special Rapporteur reiterated that all States have an obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish every act of torture, and deplored the failure of many, including the United States, in this regard. He lamented the fact that the legal system of the United States has not afforded remedies to victims of torture that occurred under the last administration, and reiterated his outstanding visit requests to the United States, for unfettered access, including private interviews with detainees, to the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, as well as to state and federal prisons. Discussing the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, the Special Rapporteur expressed his regret that much of the debate following its release has revolved around the question of whether torture is effective. In this context, he touched about the absolute and non-derogable nature of the prohibition of torture under international law, which allows for no exceptions, before addressing other topics including solitary confinement and the need for a complete prohibition of immigration detention for children. You can find the description of the event on the ASIL website. To learn more about the Brookings-LSE Project on International Displacement, please visit the Brookings-LSE Project website.