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PRESS CONFERENCE BY SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON TORTURE

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

26 October 2005

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment called on all countries to abolish corporal punishment without delay because the preponderance of human rights law globally had developed to the point where it considered such practices inhuman and a form of torture.

The Special Rapporteur, Manfred Nowak, spoke with the press at Headquarters this afternoon following his briefing to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) on his first report as Special Rapporteur.

In his report, which focused on five major points, Mr. Nowak also said that refoulement violated article 3 of the United Nations Convention against Torture, and those countries who sought to return suspected terrorists to countries where they might be at risk of torture, while requesting diplomatic assurances, were hypocritical. That article stated that “no one shall be exported to any country where there is a serious risk of being subjected to torture”.

Countries that cited anti-terrorism as a reason for seeking refoulement with diplomatic assurances were doing so “in order to circumvent the (article 3) prohibition”, he said. The fact that requests for diplomatic assurances that remandees not be tortured were made indicated that torture was already occurring in the requested States. For States such as the United States and the United Kingdom to seek diplomatic assurances from Algeria, Syria, Egypt and other countries, all of which were parties to the Convention against Torture, was to create a “double standard”.

“They want assurances that the people sent back are not tortured but also ignore that there is systematic torture of all others”, he said.

Mr. Nowak said he had met with Charles Clarke, the British Home Secretary, on Monday on the issue. Although they did not reach agreement, they did agree to further talks, and the Special Rapporteur urged the United Kingdom to refrain from such requests of refoulement.

Mr. Nowak also reported on his visits to Georgia, Nepal and Mongolia earlier this year, as well as on his ongoing investigation, along with several other entities, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Arbiter on the Independence of the Judiciary, of the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities. The investigators had sought permission to visit the facility and hoped to have an answer by the end of the week. Even if they were not permitted to visit, the investigation was proceeding with documents obtained through the United States Freedom of Information Act and with information gained from interviews with doctors and lawyers, who had visited the facilities, and from ex-detainees.

His report also indicated that 13 States had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. He saw as his mandate both to persuade additional States to ratify the Protocol and to assist them in setting up independent, monitoring bodies with the right to visit all places of detention within each State. He pointed to the recent ratification of the Protocol by Georgia and Mexico, and the steps taken by them to set up their own monitoring bodies, as encouraging developments.

Asked where he placed Nepal on the spectrum of States that practised torture, Mr. Nowak said there was systematic torture in Nepal, practised by the police and security forces, the Royal Nepalese Army, as well as by Maoists. His conclusion was based on interviews with victims and witnesses, on visits to detention facilities and on discussions with commanders of such facilities. Police commanders in Kathmandu said explicitly that torture occurred at police headquarters.

While he refused to rank Nepal, he did state that, although there was torture in Georgia and Mongolia -- the two other States he had recently visited -- there was not systematic torture as in Nepal. Nepal was in a difficult situation because it was enduring an ongoing armed conflict with Maoists. In Mongolia, it was particularly troubling that people were detained in isolation for up to 30 years and those sentenced to death could be handcuffed and shackled for months.

Asked what was being done in response to the sending back of North Korean refugees from China, Mr. Nowak said he planned to visit China on the matter in late November. He declined to comment on human rights violations in the area prior to his mission. His report on that mission would probably be made public in March.

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For information media • not an official record



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