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Governments must protect those who help torture victims, say human rights experts

GENEVA (24 June 2021) – Victims of torture have the right to rehabilitation and those who help them in this process must be allowed to carry out their work without reprisals UN human rights experts* said in a statement on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June. Rehabilitation includes adequate medical psychological, social and other relevant specialized treatment.

“People who have endured the ordeal of torture and its long-term consequences have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including as full as possible rehabilitation,” the experts said. “The Convention against Torture provides these remedies in order to award fair and adequate compensation for the blatant human rights violations and to restore dignity.”

“It is particularly important that governments respect and uphold the right to redress,” they said. “They must pay particular attention to ensuring that medical and other professionals involved in the treatment of victims of torture, as well as civil society organizations and human right defenders can carry out the vital work of documenting torture and supporting the rehabilitation of victims, unfettered by restrictions and reprisals.”

They said the level of reprisals against civil society organisations remains high, while all-too-often torturers enjoy impunity. Not only do governments deny that they practice torture, they 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 compensation for victims, the experts said.

The UN experts warned in 2012 that victims of torture face reprisals for submitting complaints or cooperating with the UN. “Since then the trend of reported reprisals and severity against individuals and groups specifically for engaging with the UN has increased,” they said.   

The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Torture have all adopted measures to address retaliation and reprisals against civil society organizations working to end and prevent torture and to help victims.

In 2020, the UN Secretary-General, in addition, adopted a Call to Action for Human Rights that makes civic space a priority area and issued the UN Guidance Note: Protection and Promotion of Civic Space.

In their statement, the experts say civic space is vital in preventing and combatting torture and safeguarding the rights of victims of torture and ill-treatment.

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

To mark the day, the UN experts, in collaboration with the American University, Centre for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, will convene a public webinar on Friday, 25 June 2021. It will be held from 15:00 to 16:30 (UTC+2) under the theme “fostering civic space to obtain redress and accountability for victims of torture.” The webinar seeks to promote an open and secure civic space in order for victims of torture to obtain effective accountability and reparation, including the fullest rehabilitation possible.

The webinar will be live streamed through the following link:


* The UN experts: Suzanne Jabbour, UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; Claude Heller, UN Committee against Torture, Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Vivienne Nathanson, Chairperson Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture

For more information and media requests, please contact: SR on Torture: Koat Aleer (+41 22 917 9194 / kaleer@ohchr.org); Subcommittee on Prevention on Torture: Joao Nataf ( +41 22 917 9102 / jnataf@ohchr.org); Committee against Torture: Patrice Gillibert (+41 22 917 9332 / pgillibert@ohchr.org); UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture: Claudia Gerez Czitrom (+41 22 928 9133 / cgerezcgerez@ohchr.org)

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org), Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)
Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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