Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Against torture

This month is Torture Awareness Month. And yesterday, June 26th, was the International Day to Support the Victims of Torture. I'd like to echo UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's comments [PDF], and say that

We must all work to erase this ugly stain on humanity’s conscience. We must speak out forcefully against all such practices, and renew our efforts to end torture in all its forms

The best way of doing that is by getting countries to sign and adhere to the commitments of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Currently, only 141 countries are parties, and some of them are backsliding and seeking to circumvent their obligations. But this is not something we can compromise on. We cannot allow "a little bit" of torture, or "torture-lite", and we cannot accept the arguments of some that water-boarding and strapado - techniques used by the Spanish Inquisition - "don't count". They are still torture, and their continued use degrades us all. Neither can we allow our governments to have people tortured on their behalf, or look the other way while it happens. As the Committee Against Torture and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights note, the ban on torture is well established, absolute, and non-derogable; it cannot be subject to any limitation, anywhere, under any conditions. if we want a world free from torture, then we have to remind our governments of that, and make sure they stick to it - by de-electing and if necessary prosecuting them.

Non-membership in the Convention is also a problem, and the EU has marked the day by urging all countries which have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention. This is a task New Zealand can help with; a look at the map linked above shows that only two South Pacific countries - New Zealand and Australia - are parties (Nauru has signed but not ratified). Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea are all non-members. We should be working to try and convince them to join this and other fundamental human rights instruments, and (if necessary) helping them with the cost of meeting their obligations.