For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/SG/2597
Release Date:  22 June 2000
Secretary-General Calls for Steadfast Fight Against Vile Human Act,
In Message on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

 NEW YORK, 21 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which is observed on 26 June:

 Torture is not only one of the vilest acts that one human being can inflict on another, it is also among the most insidious of all human rights violations.  All too often, it is veiled in secrecy -- except from those who, cowering in nearby prison cells, might be its next victims.  Victims are often too shamed or traumatized to speak out, or face further peril if they do; often, they die from their wounds.  Perpetrators, meanwhile, are shielded by conspiracies of silence and by the legal and political machinery of States that resort to torture.  Even when accounts of torture reach the light of day, there are those who contend that investigation will needlessly dredge up horrors long since past, and that prosecution could destabilize a society, especially a fragile democracy.  Thus does torture as a means of repression endure; thus does torture send a clear and deliberate message of intimidation to the public and especially to the brave lawyers, journalists, non-governmental organizations and others who try to defend against abuses; thus does a sense of impunity take hold.

 That is precisely why the international community must remain steadfast in the fight against torture.  As surely as the United Nations stands for peace and development, the United Nations stands equally for freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and for bringing the perpetrators of such grave crimes to justice.

 The fight proceeds on many fronts.  Legal protection is provided by the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, especially, the Convention against Torture.  The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court characterizes torture as a crime against humanity.  Education is another pillar of the campaign to eradicate torture.  United Nations technical assistance programmes help countries to establish national infrastructures for the protection and promotion of human rights, and to train public officials -- such as police forces and judicial personnel -- with responsibility for the realization of human rights.  In addition, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is working more and more closely with various United Nations mechanisms, including the Committee against Torture, the Special Rapporteur and the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme.

 Even as we fight to prevent torture in the future, we must do all we can for the victims.  In 1999, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture made grants amounting to more than $5 million to 130 organizations providing legal, humanitarian and other aid to about 60,000 victims worldwide.  The Fund relies entirely on voluntary contributions and faces ever-increasing demands.  I call on governments, private organizations, institutions and individuals to contribute immediately and generously to it.

 All of us must join the fight against torture and for justice.  As we continue to build an international community of collective action, responsibility and conscience, it is worth recalling a question posed by Feodor Dostoevski in The Brothers Karamazov:  "Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature ... would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?"  Our emphatic, unequivocal answer must be "no!"  The twenty-first century fabric of human destiny must be built on dignity and human rights for all.

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