Despite progress in law, torture is still prevalent: experts

Many countries have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol, but incidents of torture by state authorities continue to increase in certain parts of the world such as Uganda and Indonesia, experts on human rights and the law said in a seminar on the Human Rights Situation in Different Regions: Torture Prevention on Thursday. 
 
According to Matilda Bogner, Regional Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 69 countries have ratified the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires state parties to maintain independent preventive national mechanisms and allow the international monitoring body to visit detainees regularly, regardless of place. 
 
While 153 countries have already ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, only the 69 countries ratifying the Optional Protocol can be held accountable by these preventive mechanisms. 
 
The Convention enables the monitoring body to identify the possibility of torture, Bogner said, calling the Protocol a "new and innovative tool in terms of prevention." 
 
However, the situation on the ground is far from matched by the progress in international legal mechanisms, experts find. Torture in Indonesia is still prevalent almost all the country's 460 districts, though 15 years have passed since Indonesia ratified the convention, said Rafendi Djamin, Indonesian representative on the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
 
He said 80% of suspects in criminal cases in Indonesia during 2005-2008 were tortured by police officers, particularly during the pre-trial period. 
 
“Another serious concern is with respect to suspects of terrorist crimes and suspects of separatist movements,” he said. “It almost becomes so like a daily practice that I think there has been no effective mechanism at all to prevent torture.” 
 
In Uganda, despite the country's ratification to the convention in 1986, weak enforcement by the National Human Rights Commission failed to convince people to report cases of torture, said Paul Okirig, Senior State Attorney from Uganda's Ministry of Justice. 
 
He said a lack of cooperation from witnesses, of access to victims and of remedies all contribute to a loss of faith in the human rights institution. So even though the national statistics on torture reported to the UN seem to decrease, in reality torture is still widespread.  
 
According to the Ugandan Ministry of Justice, officially reported cases of torture in 2005 amounted to 286 cases, while civil society organizations found 754 cases the same year. 
 
"Police, army and security officers are not aware that torture is an offence. They still use it as a common interrogation technique," said the Ugandan Senior State Attorney, adding that the judiciary still views torture as a minor crime, instead of a crime against humanity as defined by the International Criminal Court. 
 
Uganda has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture, but in 2012 the government passed the Prohibition of Torture Act, which will shift liability to the individual personnel who commit torture, rather than to institutional responsibility. This, Okirig said, would help reduce acts of torture among state authorities. 
 
Amnesty International’s 2010 report stated that torture and other ill treatment is still practiced in at least 111 countries. In Thailand, the Cross Cultural Foundation found around 300 cases during 2007-2012, while the National Human Rights Commission, from interviewing detainees and former torture victims, found 102 cases during the same period. 
 
Thailand ratified the Convention Against Torture in 2007, and is now in the process of amending domestic law to increase the punishment for torture and other ill treatment, and also increase reparation measures for victims. 
 
The seminar was a part of an International Human Rights Conference organized by Thailand’s Ministry of Justice at the Rama Gardens Hotel in Bangkok
 

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