UN Torture Prevention Plan Adopted Despite US Opposition

by Agence France Presse, July 25, 2002

UNITED NATIONS -- A new UN protocol on torture prevention was adopted, despite stiff United States opposition to allowing outside inspection of individual countries' prisons and terrorist detention centers.

The "optional protocol" to the Convention against Torture was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) by 35 votes to eight with 10 abstentions and will now go to the UN General Assembly for approval.

The United States, which has been criticized for its treatment of hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees at its Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had tabled an amendment seeking further debate on the text of the treaty, saying it was flawed and lacked consensus.

However, the amendment was roundly defeated by 29 votes to 15, with the protocol's supporters accusing the United States of seeking to permanently derail the treaty.

It was the second time in two weeks that the United States has found itself outnumbered at the United Nations.

On July 12, it was forced to compromise on its demands that US peacekeepers be permanently excluded from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

The torture protocol, which has been under negotiation for more than 10 years, seeks to establish an international system of inspection visits to places of detention, such as police stations and prisons.

The experts making the visits would then be able to make recommendations on practical measures to prevent torture.

Pushing for its adoption, the protocol's chief sponsor Cost Rica said it would provide a "crucial verification machinery" to ensure that signatories to the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture fulfil their obligations.

The Cost Rican representative pointed out that despite the best efforts of the United Nations and other groups, the regular use of torture remained widespread in many countries.

The United States, however, warned that any human rights instrument that could not be adopted unanimously would be unenforceable and therefore more discussion was essential to reach a consensus.

It also argued that external inspections would be contrary to the US constitution because they would intrude on the federal rights of individual states.

The US amendment drew the support of some uncomfortable allies for Washington, including China, Cuba, Iran and Libya, which have been widely accused of condoning and practicing torture.

The eventual adoption of the protocol was welcomed by human rights groups who had condemned the United States for trying to lay the "kiss of death" on the treaty.

"We are delighted," said Joanna Weschler," the Human Rights Watch observer representative to the United Nations.

"This protocol is a very important instrument with the rare potential to actually prevent torture rather than just penalize it," Weschler said.

"It seems most governments saw through what was another attempt by the United States to try and use the issue of consensus as a sort of veto."

The UN Convention Against Torture was adopted by the General Assembly in 1984 and came into force four years later.

The treaty has been ratified by 130 countries, including the United States in 1994.


Source: http://www.afp.com

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