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Concerning the optional Protocol to the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishments

17-10-2006 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 61st session, Third Committee, item 67 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 17 October 2006

 Check against Delivery  

Mr. Chairman ,  

On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to address the pressing issue of torture and other forms of ill treatment.

The ICRC welcomes the entry into force of the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture on the 22nd of June this year. This Protocol provides for a crucial and comprehensive system of regular visits to persons deprived of their liberty, to be conducted both by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention and by National Preventive Mechanisms.

There is no question that States are entitled to detain people on a number of grounds, including for reasons related to security. With this right, however, comes the obligation to treat those who have been deprived of their liberty humanely – an obligation found in both international humanitarian and human rights law. These laws recognise the need to strike a balance between a State's legitimate security interests and the need to respect the dignity and rights of persons held. Both laws prohibit the use of torture and any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, be it physical or mental. This prohibition is absolute, meaning that such treatment cannot be legally or morally justified in any circumstances. The difference between what is lawful and what is prohibited cannot be determined by qualifying what is torture and what falls short of torture. Rather, the distinctio n lies between ill treatment in general terms and humane treatment.

Compliance with total prohibition of any form of ill treatment depends on the existence of a favourable environment ensuring respect for the rule of law and human dignity. Such an environment is characterised by a number of interdependent elements organised around the central aspect of political will.

This includes: the adoption of national laws and policies, the existence of internal control and review mechanisms, education and training programs for civilian and military personnel involved in law enforcement, interrogation and treatment of detainees, sufficient material, financial and human resources, international reliable instruments for prosecuting and sanctioning when ill treatment occurs, assistance and compensation for victims of torture.

Adequate openness to scrutiny is crucial in preventing and eliminating ill treatment. Regulatory mechanisms contribute to the favourable environment we mentioned earlier. There are, on the one hand, internal (or national) regulatory mechanisms and, on the other, external regulatory systems.

With more organisations and bodies working in the field of detention and visiting places of detention, the challenge of the coming years will be to develop an effective complementarity and coherence among all of them. Particular emphasis must be placed on avoiding the duplication of effort, excluding contradictory recommendations or references to different standards, and establishing a minimum of coordination.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC's activities are undoubtedly part of the global endeavour to prevent and eliminate any form of ill treatment. However, by its specific nature, mandate and its ways of operating, the ICRC holds a special place among the organisations that are active in this area.

The ICRC tackles ill treatment in a comprehensive way. From its long experience in the field, the ICRC has learned that repeated visits to places of detention are an effective means of identifying and documenting issues and problems. Visits can play, in themselves, an essential role in preventing abuse.

At the same time, experience has shown that, in order to be effective, visits must be conducted according to certain procedures, which have proved instrumental in the prevention of disappearances and torture.

The ICRC is pleased to note that the Optional Protocol has integrated a number of these procedures, in particular private interviews with detainees and repeated visits to all places of detention, as prerequisites for the Subcommittee on Prevention and for National Preventive Mechanisms to fulfil their mandates.

In the last year alone, ICRC delegates visited approximately 2,600 places of detention in 76 countries, visits that benefited more than half a million detainees. They also followed up on an individual basis more than 46,000 visited detainees, and allowed about 100,000 personal messages to be exchanged between detainees and their families.

The ICRC’s priority is to persuade authorities through confidential representations and recommendations to respect the fundamental rights of individuals. Depending on the causes of the problems observed, the will and abilities of the authorities, the ICRC also offers any advice and assistance required by the situation in order to improve compliance with the State's international obligations.

Mr. Chairman,

Ill treatment grows hatred, and hatred, as we know, threatens peace and our essential humanity. The ICRC is confident that the entry into force of the Optional Protocol will have a significant impact on the respect for the life and dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.