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PRESS CONFERENCE BY SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON TORTURE

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

29 October 2007

The Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Council on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Manfred Nowak, said today he found such abuses widespread in all four countries he visited in the past year -- Paraguay, Nigeria, Togo and Sri Lanka.

Briefing correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning, he said that “In all the countries, I had the full cooperation of the Government, nevertheless”. He presented his final report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). (See Press Release GA/SHC/3896.)

In Nigeria, in particular, torture was systemic even in the criminal investigation departments, he said. In Togo the situation had improved since 2005, but the conditions in police lock-ups were inhuman and children as young as seven or eight years old were subject to corporal punishment in detention. He stressed that the Government promised it would investigate the situation, however, and to take measures to improve it.

Mr. Nowak said he also found overwhelming evidence that torture was routine in Sri Lanka, which he visited from 1 to 8 October, despite the existence of a Torture Act that criminalized the practice and other legal protections. Many alleged perpetrators had, in fact, been indicted since the Act came into force in 1994; however, only three had been convicted and sentenced. Part of the problem, he said, was the severe seven-year minimum sentence.

His report on Sri Lanka, he said, did not include any information on war-related torture because he could not visit the camps of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and particularly those of the Koruna group, about which serious abuses had been alleged.

In addition, the national army denied the existence of detention facilities, though serious allegations had also been received about the treatment of LTTE suspects in its camps. Reported practices included suspending a victim by his bound thumbs, an allegation that he had never heard of before, but which was deemed credible –- and excruciatingly painful -- by his forensic expert after claimants were interviewed.

Other problems in Sri Lanka included inhuman conditions of detention, partly resulting from 28,000 prisoners being crowded into a system meant for approximately 8,200. That situation was exacerbated by emergency regulations that allowed pretrial suspects to be held for a year in facilities that would not be tolerable for one day.

There were some positive developments, he said. The female prison system in Colombo had acceptable conditions, for example, and corporal punishment had been abolished, though there were still allegations of the latter. The Government promised to investigate such allegations and to dismiss those responsible.

In his general report, Mr. Nowak said, avoiding pretrial detention and deprivation of liberty for minor crimes were among his main recommendations, along with improving prison conditions and reducing overcrowding in other ways. Governments had been receptive to such recommendations; Nigeria had actually released thousands of prisoners as a result.

His other major observation in the report was on the importance of forensic expertise in combating torture, which was always difficult to prove since it took place behind closed doors. He brought a forensic expert on each of his country visits, so that bruises or other evidence could be properly interpreted.

Relaying his schedule for the near future, Mr. Nowak said he had been invited to Indonesia in November, and Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, South Africa and, possibly, Iran, were on his schedule for next year. He was waiting to reschedule a meeting with the Russian Federation and was pursuing talks with the United States on closing down irregular detention facilities.

Asked about the criteria he used to decide which countries to pay attention to, he said that he was constantly receiving allegations of torture from individuals and non-governmental organizations, along with requests to investigate. As those amassed in relationship to a country, he would get increasingly interested in it.

The countries he visited, he added, were not necessarily the worst offenders. Some countries would not invite him and others had their own rapporteurs assigned to them. In addition, he often paid the most attention to countries in which he could have the most impact. For example, Georgia had a new Government and wanted to improve its human rights policy, and he could consult with them. He did not only assess and criticize, he stressed; he also provided recommendations.

In addition, there was also a need to pay attention to countries with a prominent function in the United Nations system, he said. For example, South Africa was a member of the Security Council and had agreed to his visit in that context. Libya, which had just been named to the Council and in which he was interested, had not invited him, however. Still, other countries drew his attention because of the war on terror and accompanying rendition programmes.

Asked about his published comments on banning countries that tortured from peacekeeping missions, he said that it was a difficult problem and that his past comments were not part of any official report. The topic must be discussed further with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

In any case, he said, the difficulties came from the fact that many countries were not accountable in the area of taking action against human rights abusers. In addition, if a country had systematic torture, there was a good chance that commanders who allowed the practice could be in charge of peacekeeping contingents. “Then you really have problems,” he said.

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For information media • not an official record



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