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Governments must stop denying torture and hold officials to account – UN human rights expert

NEW YORK (12 October 2021) – Too many countries blame torture on rogue officials, deny systemic patterns of torture, and fail to hold torturers to account, an independent UN human rights expert today told the General Assembly.

“There is a worldwide accountability gap for torture and ill-treatment,” Nils Melzer, UN special rapporteur on torture and inhumane treatment, said in presenting a report on accountability. “Torture and ill-treatment are almost always a systemic problem, but scapegoating individuals allows States to deny the existence of structural or systemic patterns and evade their duty to take effective preventative and corrective measures.”

The absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment obliges States to prevent, investigate, prosecute and redress any such abuse occurring within their jurisdiction,  but governments continue to obstruct true accountability through outright denial and legal and structural barriers, he said.

“As a result, the vast majority of those responsible for perpetrating, instigating, consenting or acquiescing to torture or ill-treatment are never held to account,” Melzer said. “This generalized attitude of denial and trivialization not only betrays millions of individual victims and their families but, more generally, profoundly damages the credibility of states’ commitment to the entire international system of human rights protection.”

Accountability for torture and ill-treatment are a prerequisite for ensuring justice, reconciliation, the rule of law, and the prevention of future violations, Melzer said.

He urged States to take immediate steps – backed by adequate resources -- towards ensuring comprehensive implementation and enforcement of the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, in line with their obligation to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish and redress such crimes.

“States must distance themselves from any form of window-dressing, and demonstrate the political courage and determination required to eradicate systemic patterns of secrecy, collusion, and impunity for torture and ill-treatment and to ensure both institutional and individual accountability for such abuse,” Melzer said.

The interactive dialogue will be carried live on UN WebTV, on 12 October 2021, from 15:00 to 18:00 New York time.


Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Yasmine Ashraf (+41 22 917 2059 / yasmine.ashraf@un.org).

In New York, contact Nenad Vasic (vasic@un.org, +1 917 941 7558)

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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