Saturday, June 26, 2010

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture - Nothing can justify torture and ill-treatment under any circumstances


Washington, DC – Geneva, 26 June 2010. On the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and its member organisation in the United States, Human Rights USA, jointly call on the Government of the United States of America to show its commitment to abolish torture and other forms of ill-treatment by implementing effectively the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

OMCT and Human Rights USA welcome the Obama Administration’s stated desire to bring U.S. policies in line with international human rights norms and, to that end, the decision last year to release previously confidential documentation of torture ordered during interrogations. We also applaud the decisions to release some detainees from Guantánamo Bay to third countries, transfer one terrorism suspect to New York to stand trial in federal court rather than by military tribunal, and order the closure of CIA secret prisons.

However, the administration continues to enforce policies that, as President Obama recognized during his presidential campaign, do not respect human rights. These include detention of suspects at the Guantánamo Bay facility, extraordinary rendition policies, and use of coerced testimony in military tribunals. The U.S. Government has yet to hold accountable government officials who ordered or provided the legal justifications for torture. In addition, the Obama Administration has thwarted efforts by survivors of torture like Maher Arar and Khaled El-Masri to access the courts in order to assert their rights, seek remedies, and secure accountability.

On this day dedicated to victims of torture and other ill-treatment, OMCT and Human Rights USA urge the United States Government to launch prompt, effective, independent and impartial investigations into the alleged torture and ill-treatment as well as other human rights violations that took place during the previous administration. The result of such investigations must not only be made public, but criminal prosecutions must moreover be brought against the suspected perpetrators of ill-treatment. If they are found guilty, a penalty proportionate to their crimes should be imposed.

Furthermore, the victims must be granted adequate redress for their suffering, including rehabilitation for physical and psychological impacts of the abuses, as required by the Convention against Torture. The U.S. Government should cease its practice of improperly invoking the “state secrets doctrine,” so that victims will be afforded fair and effective access to independent and impartial courts of law as well as ensured access to all relevant information concerning the reasons for their arrests and detention in order to allow them to effectively challenge the abuses committed and seek adequate redress, including compensation and rehabilitation. The U.S. Government also should avoid seeking “qualified immunity” for Government officials as a means of avoiding liability for torture and other human rights abuses that are already universally prohibited as a matter of law and therefore cannot be considered “official acts” entitled to immunity.

Lastly, the U.S. Government should issue formal apologies to each individual victim of these abuses. By assuming responsibility for these grave abuses of fundamental human rights, the Obama administration would send a strong message to the world that the United States of America takes its duty to protect human rights, including the absolute prohibition against torture, seriously.

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