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Protecting civic space critical to ensuring redress and accountability for victims of torture - 26 June 2021

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24 June 2021

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Across the globe, people who have survived the ordeal of torture, also face long-term consequences. To redress such blatant human rights violation and restore dignity, the Convention against Torture provides that victims of torture have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.

On this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the UN Anti-Torture mechanisms call on States to respect and uphold the right to redress in all its aspects and dimensions, in particular by ensuring that civil society organizations and human right defenders can carry out their vital work in documenting torture and supporting the rehabilitation of victims, unfettered of restrictions and reprisals.

"In the context of redress, civil society organizations play a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by providing them medical and psychosocial support as well as legal and social services", said Suzanne Jabbour, Chair of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.

The UN human rights experts* expressed concern that torture survivors continue to face challenges in accessing redress and reparations, including the fullest rehabilitation possible. 

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture has been supporting civil society organization worldwide to bridge the widening gap in the right to redress and rehabilitation for torture victims, amidst an array of increasingly repressive laws, regulations, and practices.

"Today, impunity for torture is widespread in all regions of the world. Governments continue to systematically deny the existence of such abhorrent practices, refuse to prosecute perpetrators and use intimidation and reprisals against civil society organizations, human rights defenders, whistleblowers and journalists in order to deter them from speaking out and obtaining redress for victims," says Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The trend of reprisals, through restrictive and retaliatory measures against civil society and torture survivors seeking redress through the UN mechanisms, remains prevalent and shows no signs of subsiding, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic that started last year.

According to the experts, states efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their respective territories must not result in the silencing of human rights defenders or in further shrinking civic space.

The intersection between accountability and redress was stressed by Claude Heller, Chair of the Committee against Torture, who stated, "the ability of torture victims, their families and those intervening on their behalf to file complaints and to seek and obtain redress is essential to guarantee non-repetition of torture or ill-treatment. There is a danger that a culture of impunity and acceptance of torture, where it exists de facto, will be perpetuated when victims, witnesses and others are not protected against retaliation before, during and after proceedings and victims are barred from seeking full redress".

"On this day, we remind States of their obligations and issue a clarion call to them to enable civic space that will allow the Fund’s beneficiaries and partners to assist victims of torture rebuild their lives and access vital direct humanitarian assistance", said Vivienne Nathanson, Chairperson Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

We urge States to uphold the absolute and universal prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. To enable a conducive environment for redress and rehabilitation for victims of torture, and for civil society to operate freely.

ENDS

(*) The joint statement was issued by the UN Committee against Torture, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

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