Date: Fri, 3 Jul 98 15:31:40 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS: U.N. Dismayed by Widespread Use of Torture
Article: 38255
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** ips.english: 502.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS: U.N. Dismayed by Widespread Use of Torture//RELATE// **
** Written 4:17 PM Jun 29, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

U.N. Dismayed by Widespread Use of Torture

By Thalif Deen, InterPress Service, 26 June 1998

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 (IPS)— The United Nations says more and more countries are torturing prisoners despite a commitment by 105 governments to outlaw one of the world's most cruellest forms of human rights violations.

“Torture has become an instrument of power used to break, terrify and devastate people,” Bacre Waly Ndiaye of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday. “And it does not spare either women or children.”

Ndiaye said that in more than 40 countries, torture was still a method of punishment practised freely. A total of 105 governments have ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture which came into force in 1987. “It was not enough for states to ratify the Convention against Torture, but action should be taken to incorporate its provisions into domestic laws and criminalise them.”

Currently, the United Nations has a Special Rapporteur on Torture and a Committee Against Torture. The Committee was established by the General Assembly to monitor the implementation of the Convention. But Ndiaye said that only 105 government had ratified the Convention compared to 191 ratifications for the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The United Nations has also set up a Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. In 1998, a total of 4.2 million dollars would be distributed for 112 projects in 50 countries to help more than 59,000 victims of torture.

This was a significant achievement compared to five years ago when the Fund had only half that amount for 57 projects, and about half of the victims, Ndiaye said.

Last year the 185-member General Assembly, in an attempt to draw international attention to the growing problem, proclaimed June 26 as the annual International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

“June 26 is not a date chosen at random,” U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan said Friday, “It was the day 11 years ago, that the Convention against Torture came into force. It also was the day 53 years ago on which the U.N. charter was signed—the first international instrument to embody obligations for member states to promote and encourage respect for human rights.”

Although 105 out of 193 governments have ratified the convention, he said, there were many among the ratifiers who still practiced torture as an instrument of repression.

He said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 50th anniversary is being celebrated this year, provided for the first international prohibition of torture. Article 5 proclaims that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Annan said the conference on the International Criminal Court, currently underway in Rome, is studying proposals concerning a mandate to cover torture. “But as things stand today, sanctions are still sorely lacking at the international level,” Annan lamented.

Allen Keller, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine and Director of the Bellevue/New York University Programme for Survivors of Torture, said his is the first comprehensive treatment programme for survivors of torture and other human rights abuses in the New York city area.

The youngest patient was a six-year-old child from an Eastern European country who suffered severe burns on her arm because her parents refused to provide information about an opposition political party.

One of the older patients was a man in his sixties whose torture, more than 20 years ago in a South American country, included repeated beatings on his knees. As his arthritis had worsened now, Keller said, so too had his recurrent nightmares.

Keller said that in his work, he and his colleagues, mostly psychologists, psychiatrists and primary care physicians, were reminded of the darker side of humanity and the potential for cruelty in the world.

“But we are also reminded by the patients of the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit,” he noted.

“It is in their honour, and for the sake of all those who have suffered from torture or continue to face risk of being tortured, that we must commit ourselves to speaking out against torture and to ending this assault on human dignity,” he added.

Kelller said that in the United States alone, there may be between 10 and 15 centres for victims of torture. “Tragically, it is a growth field.”

He estimated that there might be as many as 400,000 torture victims in the United States. New York city, with many immigrants, might have the largest number. In a sample of about 200 immigrants, he said, it was found that about 10 percent had been victims of torture.

He pointed out that torturers were becoming more sophisticated in their methods, and that many forms of torture left no physical marks.

Asked if there were torture victims in the U.S., Keller said the focus of his programme was to provide care to immigrants and refugees who were victims of political violence abroad.

“This is not to say that there isn’t torture even here. There's no shortage of human rights concerns right in our own backyard,” he added.