9 December 2005

Absolute Ban on Torture - Cornerstone of International Human Rights

This Year's Human Rights Day Message Pleads: Stop Torture Now!

VIENNA, 9 December (UN Information Service) - Stop torture now, is the theme of this year's Human Rights Day, which is observed annually on 10 December.

In his message to mark the occasion, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan reminds us that the absolute ban on torture is a cornerstone of the international Human Rights edifice. He stated that the prohibition of torture is "binding to all States in all territories under their jurisdiction or effective control. It applies in all circumstances, in times of war as in times of peace." Mr. Annan further declared that torture is also not permissible "when it is called something else: cruel and inhuman treatment is unacceptable and illegal, irrespective of the name we give it." Consequently, "torture can never be an instrument to fight terror, for torture is an instrument of terror", the Secretary-General emphasized.

The United Nations has always condemned torture as one of the vilest acts a human being can perpetrate on another. It is defined as the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering to obtain information or a confession, to punish, intimidate or coerce. Torture is a serious violation of the inherent dignity of the human being and a crime under international law.

Among other countries, the UN Committee Against Torture has recently advised Austria that it should continue its vigilance to ensure that the relevant existing legal and administrative measures are strictly observed. The Committee further recommended that Austria establish adequate provisions in order to legally define torture in accordance with Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

At the 2005 World Summit in September, a resolution was passed for the establishment of a Human Rights Council to replace the currently operating Commission on Human Rights by a more effective body. The General Assembly is holding intensive consultations during the month of December on the terms and details of this Council. There are different views concerning membership with some countries believing it should have 30 members and others suggesting up to 80 members. The Council's election method is also being debated, whether, for example, a two-thirds majority or a simple majority vote should be the basis of decision-making. In a letter, which was circulated this week to all Member States giving a review of the status of negotiations on the Summit follow-up activities, the President of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, noted that "meetings have been scheduled from now until 23 December, with the intention to continue as long as necessary to reach a conclusion before the end of the year."

Austria marks Human Rights Day with a series of events called Human Rights Days ("Menschenrechtstage"). This event is organised for the second time by the Service Point for Human Rights Education and the Austrian Ministry for Education, Science and Culture. They are taking place from 20 November, the International Children's Day, up until the Human Rights Day on 10 December. The initiative is also Austria's contribution to the United Nations World Programme on Human Rights Education. Events, which were held all around Austria, included a workshop on globalization and Human Rights, a symposium on the Human Rights responsibility of the European Union, a public special session of the Human Rights committee of the Austrian parliament, a seminar for teachers on the topic of human rights education and democracy, as well as a symposium on the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

Respect for human rights and human dignity "is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world", the General Assembly declared in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, all States and interested organizations were invited by the General Assembly to observe 10 December as Human Rights Day. This Day marks the anniversary of the Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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