The United Nations Committee Against Torture has
demanded that the United States and Britain present reports about the incidents
in the prisons in Iraq controlled by the armed forces of the occupying countries,
as more photographs and videos of mistreatment were made public Friday.
The Committee said the incidents of torture, humiliation and mistreatment of
Iraqis in the U.S. and British-controlled prisons has caused much concern among
its 10 independent member-experts.
The chairman of the committee, Spaniard Fernando Mariño Menéndez, said, "To
a certain degree, we are a body of the international community and as such it
is logical that we should take a position."
The Committee Against Torture was created in 1987 to monitor compliance with
the provisions of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
It has called on the United States to present its second periodic report on
its adherence to the Convention's provisions by Oct. 1. Washington is behind
schedule in its relations with the committee because the report was originally
to be presented in 1999, although the deadline was extended to November 2001.
But now the document that the United States will have to present in October
must also contain specific and up-to-date information on the episodes of torture
perpetrated by U.S. military personnel in the prisons in Iraq.
The Committee's message to the United States, presented to the Washington representatives
to the international organizations based in Geneva, calls attention in particular
to the Convention's Article 2.1.
That clause says that each state party to the treaty must "take effective legislative,
administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any
territory under its jurisdiction."
Although destabilized by internal resistance in Iraq, a coalition led by the
United States and Britain in practice has controlled Iraq for more than a year
and wields power in all spheres, in some cases through the provisional government
elected by the occupying powers themselves.
As such, in the communiqué addressed to the U.S. government, the Committee
Against Torture says the report should include the latest information available
about the situation in the detention centers in Iraq.
The British case is different because it has already presented its periodic
report to the Committee, which decided to send a letter to London announcing
that the text will be studied in the November sessions.
Nevertheless, the British authorities will have to present an appendix to that
text with information on the situation in Iraq and in particular the allegations
about the mistreatment and torture in the prisons under the control of the occupying
coalition members' armed forces.
Mariño recognized that in taking the decision to demand reports, the Committee
was responding to pressure from civil society organizations specializing in
The pressure is evident in the sense that the Committee is the only U.N. body
specifically dedicated to fighting torture without taking a position, explained
the Spanish academic.
"There is a certain amount of pressure, yes. But I would say it is positive,
not negative," Mariño added.
The institutions that have been asking the Committee to take action on the
torture in Iraq are the World Organization Against Torture, the Association
for the Prevention of Torture, Amnesty International, the International Commission
of Jurists and Human Rights Watch.
In other words, noted Mariño, these are the world's leading non-governmental
groups dedicated to fighting torture.
Dutch expert Teo van Boven, U.N. Commission on Human Rights special rapporteur
on torture, spoke out as soon as the first reports of U.S. military abuse of
Iraqi detainees were made public.
Guyana's Bertrand Ramcharan, interim U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights,
ordered an investigation whose results are to be known before the end of the
Ramcharan also expressed his alarm Friday about the news of the deaths of 40
Iraqi civilians at a wedding party near the Syrian border, killed in an air
attack by the U.S. forces.
The U.N. official underscored the responsibility of the occupying powers to
ensure the security and well being of Iraqi civilians and to abstain from excessive
use of force and indiscriminate attacks.
Despite the existing problems related to security in Iraq, there can be no
license to commit butchery, said the interim High Commissioner.
(Inter Press Service)