Fight against terrorism does not justify torture

Subcommittee on Human Rights discussed the fight against torture and counter-terrorism on 15th of June with Ms Hina Jilani, former UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders and Mr Eric Sottas, Secretary General of the World Organisation against Torture, to commemorate the nearing International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26th of June.

Chairwoman Hautala noted that the UN Special Rapporteur on the fight against Torture had in his last general report stressed that for the states to show their commitment to address torture, ratification without reservation of the UN Convention against Torture is the most effective way.

Ms Jilani presented in her intervention the main challenges to the absolute prohibition of torture in the context of counter terrorism and intelligence cooperation. She noted that the fight against terrorism is the key reason for the erosion of the universal human rights norms in recent years. Counter-terrorism in itself does not need to undermine the universal norms, what has done this is the way the governments have chosen to exercise their powers in this regard. It is by now also evidenced by now that torture has been widely used in this regard. She also underlined that while the discussion about the fight against torture must be conducted within the traditional framework of prevention and accountability, an issue of the operation and oversight of the intelligence services must be integrated into this debate more extensively.

In his intervention, Mr Sottas noted the growing trend of watering down the absolute prohibition of torture and change in attitudes that in the past condemned such violations without hesitation. He underlined that the realpolitik outlook of governments who see torture or other similar coercive measures as necessary, does not match what is reality. Torture is not necessary to fight terrorism and this is a notion that the international community must defend more vigorously.

The members of the Subcommittee applauded the efforts by Ms Jilani and Mr Sottas in fight against torture and noted that the issues of treatment of prisoners in pre-trial detention, non-refoulment and diplomatic assurances as well as secret detention remain grave challenges, not least with regards the European states. Indeed, the members emphasised that the EU Member States still have a long way to go to ensure that all acts of torture on European soil would be thoroughly investigated and those responsible would be brought to justice.