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May 22, 2004

UN Demands US, Britain Give Reports on Prison Torture


by Gustavo Capdevila

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 human rights.

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 month.

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)


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