By Patricia Jjuuko/GICJ
On the 26th of June, the world commemorates International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The Convention against Torture came into force on the 26th of June 1987 which was a crucial step in the process of globalising human rights and acknowledging that torture and other forms of degrading treatment should be criminalised. Most of the world’s countries have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, hence they accept that torture is always absolutely prohibited and never justified. The acknowledgement of this day in support of victims of torture came into effect on the 12th of December 1997, by resolution 52/149 of the UN General Assembly, and serves not only as a reminder to people that torture is a crime but for all governments and members of civil society to take action to defeat it.
The United Nations Convention Against Torture defines torture as, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person for any reason based on discrimination of any kind when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” Tens of thousands of people fall victim to torture every year all over the world and the 26th of June is an opportunity to call on all stakeholders, including UN members States, civil society, and individuals worldwide to unite in support of people who have been victims of torture.
Across the globe, survivors of torture face long-term effects. The consequences of torture are not only physical including headaches, chronic pain, and respiratory but often psychological. Psychological effects include living in constant fear, depression, and suffering panic attacks. To support victims of torture, the Convention against Torture provides that victims have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, as well as means to full rehabilitation. Civil society organisations play a crucial role in the protection of the rights of victims of torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment by providing them with medical psychosocial support including legal and social services.
Despite the high number of torture victims worldwide, states are reluctant to adopt effective measures to incorporate recommendations made in thematic reports into their national laws. This unwillingness was outlined by Nils Melzer, the former Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane treatment in his last report to the 49th session of the Human Rights Council in March of 2022. States tend to justify abusive practices to avoid accountability for violations and there is a reluctance to apply the recommendations given in the Special Rapporteur’s reports.
Even though many countries have ratified the Convention against Torture, torture is still widespread in several governments and dissident groups. The reasons individuals are targeted include their political affiliation, belonging to a minority ethnic or religious group.
Torture continues to occur in countries including Iran, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt to mention but a few. Torture and other human rights abuses are used by these governments to instill fear in the people and suppress political activity. Arbitrary detentions, acts of intimidation, imprisonment and reprisals against human rights defenders, and kidnappings occur frequently in these states.
Torture remains widespread across the globe despite many countries acknowledging the Convention against Torture. It is an impermissible evil that goes against international law. Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) remains concerned about many states’ reluctance to abolish torture and implement the recommendations provided in the Special Rapporteur’s reports. GICJ urges States to commit themselves to work towards reducing and eliminating cases of torture.
On this International Day in support of victims of torture, GICJ stands with all victims of torture. We encourage the international community to continue to create services that assist torture victims through rehabilitation and seek justice through compensation. On this day, let us remember that " This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable. It is long overdue that a day be dedicated to remembering and supporting the many victims and survivors of torture around the world." - Kofi Annan.