Torture is a reality in a majority of the world’s countries but many governments refuse to let the United Nations investigate whether it is happening on their territory, the UN expert on the issue said yesterday.
Austrian lawyer Manfred Nowak told the 47-member United Nations’ Human Rights Council that it should pay special attention to torture but complained that many governments, including some on the council, blocked his investigations.
“Although torture, as the most brutal form of ill-treatment, constitutes a serious crime and a direct attack on the core of human dignity, it is unfortunately a global phenomenon,” said Nowak, UN special investigator.
“Only very few countries, such as Denmark, seem to have managed to eradicate torture in practice.”
In the vast majority of states, he said it happened either in isolated cases, in a more regular manner, or was widespread and systematic. He cited Equatorial Guinea, which he visited last year, as an example of the third.
The major reason for the widespread practice was malfunctioning criminal justice systems, with confessions seen as prime evidence in many countries, said Nowak, who has held his post for 5 years and steps down at the end of the year.
But another important reason was the extraction of intelligence information in the context of the global fight against terrorism, as studies he and another UN expert made on the US detention base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba had shown.
Nowak said some countries who had invited him for visits including China, Jordan, Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea and Kazakhstan had put him under intense surveillance and intimidated witnesses and detainees he was to see.
China and Indonesia are on the human rights council.
Many others including Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Israel, Tunisia and Uzbekistan had failed to respond to requests for visits, while others including the United States and Russia had either refused clearance for him to carry out confidential interviews or put off his visit at the last moment.
Zimbabwe had detained him on arrival overnight at Harare airport and then expelled him, in an extreme example of what he called the growing disrespect of certain governments for UN special investigators on human rights issues.