“No one shall be subjected to torture or other forms of cruel inhuman or degrading treatment” – Time to honour the promise of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights
70 years ago, on 10 December 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). Article 5 proclaimed for the first time the right to be free from torture. This article is preventive in essence. It is about ensuring that torture does not happen. Societies have to take concrete measures to protect all persons, without any forms of discrimination.
Today, this is still a promise rather than a reality. No country is immune from the risk of torture and ill-treatment. It starts well before the act of torture itself and proliferates in societies where leadership is tolerating abuses, where the police considers it as a force, and where violence is accepted in schools or at home. It starts when “the other” is not considered as an equal but somebody who deserves to be treated differently and badly.
Torture prevention is one of the responses, and it works. Concrete, simple and cost-effective measures can reduce the risk of torture and ill-treatment. The most effective are safeguards during the first hours of police custody. The family must be informed immediately when a relative is arrested and detained. The detained person should be able to contact and have a lawyer present during police questioning. And all persons should be informed of their rights upon their arrest.
Another key measure to reduce the risk of torture is professional and operational training of law enforcement. In particular, the police should be effectively trained to conduct ethical and non-coercive interviewing to avoid violence and risks of forced confessions.
Opening places of detention to outside scrutiny also has positive results. Independent experts should be authorised to visit police stations, prisons, centre for juveniles, psychiatric institutions or transit zone in ports or airports, and to make recommendations to authorities to improve the detainees’ treatment and conditions.
Finally, persons in situation of vulnerability, such as children, women, persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons or migrants, require specific protection. In this regard, the adoption today in Marrakech of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the objective to use immigration detention “only as a measure of last resort” is an opportunity for States to honour the promise made 70 years ago.