16 June 2003


NEW YORK, 13 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June:

The torturer seeks to break the will and spirit of his victim.  Each year on this day, we reaffirm our unbroken will and spirit to stamp out this vile practice, bring the torturer to justice, and care for his innocent victims.  Torture is a barbaric violation of human dignity and human rights.  No political, military, religious or other cause can justify it.

The sad truth is that we have a long way to go in stamping out torture.  We sometimes get to hear the testimony of those who have been tortured by brutal regimes, and to see the chambers in which the deeds were done.  But we should remember that most victims never get to tell the world their stories, and that torture is not confined to one particular region or political system, or to only a few countries.

As surely as it 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.  There is a range of legal and other mechanisms which the United Nations uses in the fight against torture.  We must continue to develop new strategies and follow through on those already in place.


That is why I welcome the adoption by the General Assembly in December 2002 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which establishes a framework that will allow visits by independent international and national bodies to places where persons are deprived of liberty.  By reducing the isolation of persons kept in detention, who are often the most vulnerable to abuse, we hope to protect them from torture.  Let us at the same time remember that human rights should first and foremost be respected and protected by governments and that international and national mechanisms of protection are complementary.  The Protocol will create new possibilities for dialogue with and among national authorities to ensure that the right to be protected from torture is translated into reality.  I call upon all States that have not yet done so to ratify the Convention and its Optional Protocol as a concrete step in the struggle to prevent torture in our world.

If they do not die from their wounds, the victims of torture often carry the physical and mental scars with them throughout their lives.  This past year, contributions from governments, non-governmental organizations and individuals to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture have supported some 200 non-governmental organization projects worldwide which provide crucial psychological, medical, social, legal, economic and other assistance to about 100,000 victims of torture.  I express my gratitude to these contributors for their solidarity with torture victims.  I call on all others to follow this example by giving generously to the Fund, so that an even greater number of projects can be funded in the coming year.

On this International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, let us harness our moral outrage at this practice and commit ourselves to concrete steps to end it once and for all.  We owe this to the victims of torture.  And we owe it to our common humanity.

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