24 Apr 2002
Oral Statement on Item 11(a): Civil and Political

58th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, 16 April 2002, Geneva

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I speak on behalf of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. The IRCT is an independent, international health professional organisation, which promotes and supports the rehabilitation of torture victims and works for the prevention of torture worldwide.

At this time of global uncertainty, the IRCT believes that the Commission has a special responsibility to reaffirm the absolute prohibition of torture.

There are inherent dangers in seeking to find a balance between national security concerns and human rights. In countries such as Zimbabwe and Turkey, our partners report an increase of harassment and obstruction to their work in support of torture victims since September 11 on the basis of 'war against terrorism' rhetoric. In countries such as Australia, the threat of terrorism has been used as a political tool to dehumanize asylum seekers and refugees or to justify the ongoing practice of mandatory detention in inhumane conditions. The Commission must address these and other Member States, whose response to the war against terror has included new legislative measures to restrict civil and political rights or which have attempted to legitimise or rationalise the use of torture.

At this session, we call on the Commission to adopt the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, a new instrument to promote the more effective implementation by States Parties of their obligation to prevent torture. The adoption of this text would be a significant step forward for the international work against torture. It would also be also be symbolic, as the Convention will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its entry into force this 26 June.

The IRCT emphasises the importance of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (UNVFVT) in providing support for the rehabilitation of torture victims. The IRCT urges all Member States to increase their contributions to the Fund to enable those torture victims who currently have no access to rehabilitation treatment the chance of recovery.

The IRCT welcomes the appointment of Professor Theo van Boven as Special Rapporteur on Torture and calls on the Commission to ensure that he receives the necessary support to carry out his mandate. The IRCT commends the outgoing Special Rapporteur, Sir Nigel Rodley, for his professional and committed contribution to the work against torture.

The IRCT welcomes the publication by the OHCHR of the Istanbul Protocol in its Professional Training Series. The Protocol is used by the IRCT as a standard reference point in its project and training activities and is an effective tool in the work against torture. The IRCT calls upon all Member States to promote use of the Istanbul Principles by law enforcement officers and medical personnel, who are involved in the investigation of cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Mr Chairman,

The global movement of civil society in the work against torture continues to grow. On 26 June this year, the IRCT will coordinate the fifth consecutive global campaign, 'Together against Torture', to commemorate the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Victims. The IRCT is pleased to report that more than 255 organisations in 97 countries joined our campaign last year. In the current geopolitical environment it is more important than ever for the whole international community to join together to reaffirm the absolute prohibition of the use of torture and the shared commitment in working towards its eradication.

Mr Chairman, I thank you.

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