Editorial- No justification for torture, zero tolerance for torture

 

The right to live free from torture is enshrined in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. The International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and Customary International Law all explicitly and absolutely prohibit torture. Prohibition of torture also extends to times of disturbances and other emergencies as well as to armed conflict, whether international or non-international. Acts of torture and ill-treatment can also amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Many regional instruments also prohibit torture including the Arab Charter for Human rights.

Despite the fact that the Convention against Torture and the Arab Charter for Human Rights both obligate state parties for instance, to ensure that all acts of torture are criminal offenses under domestic law, relevant legislation in many Arab countries remain short of conforming with the Convention against Torture. Out of the 76 states that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, only 3 are from the Middles East and North Africa, namely Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco, all of which have not yet established, as required, a national preventive mechanism to visit and monitor places of detention.

In the Middles East and North Africa, many governments continue using systematic and wide scale torture, in the name of security or in the guise of “fight against terrorism”, to stifle political dissent and clamp down on freedom of expression and association. In the absence of the political will and the rule of law, torture in police custody, detention and prisons prosper. Serious investigations into allegations of torture remain scarce and short of necessary response and follow-up, while "confessions" extracted under torture find their way to courts. While governments have a responsibility to protect the people under their jurisdiction, torture is a multi-faceted tool used by governments in the region to serve multiple purposes, most of which – despite usual claims- do not serve the protection of the people or public security. Governments, national or foreign, are also supporting armed groups which commit acts that can amount to torture in countries that sank into armed conflict or use torture in their fight against them.

Failing in their obligations to prevent human rights violations, torture for instance, and punish perpetrators, ensure justice and redress for victims, governments fail to the learn lessons from the Arab uprisings and fail to understand the root causes of instability in this region. Of great resemblance to governments’ shortsighted vision of stability, is focusing on "state security" or "national security" at the expense of individual and human security, thus resulting in further undermining of human rights and deterioration in the human rights situation.

Though domestic laws that prohibit torture are crucial, they remain short of implementation in the absence of prevention mechanisms and the persistence of a culture that justifies or tolerates torture. The key to break this cycle and to stop one of the worst crimes known to humanity is a radical change in attitudes: no justification for torture and zero tolerance of torture. To achieve this, we have to stand together as youth activists, human rights defenders, academics and teachers, students at universities and schools, professionals, and all those who have the courage and the will to promote and protect their rights and the rights of others everywhere. We have to speak out and take action, to denounce torture, torturers, governments who allow or facilitate torture or fail to protect the victims’ rights to justice and redress.

This issue of Mawared, which comes 6 months after launching Amnesty International Stop Torture global campaign, aims at setting the international and regional legal framework for the prohibition against torture; providing a regional snapshot on torture in the Middle East and North Africa in addition to country specific ones; and highlighting initiatives taken and recommendations brought forward by NGOs and human rights defenders to bring an end to torture in the region. This issue also sheds light on a wealth of relevant tools and resources.

 

Mazen Jaber

Human Rights Education Information Officer and Editor

Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa

Amnesty International




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