25 June 2008Despite a strong international legal framework outlawing torture, much more needs to be done to end this scourge, United Nations human rights officials have stressed, adding that special attention be given to ensuring better protection for women. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, provided for the first international prohibition of torture, and successive human rights treaties have built on this provision. However, six decades later, greater efforts are needed to prevent torture, punish the perpetrators and ensure adequate assistance for the victims, six UN entities that deal with the issue stressed in a statement marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, observed annually on 26 June. They noted that women fall victim to torture in different ways, as highlighted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s global campaign to end violence against women, launched in February of this year. “Certain forms of gender-specific violence perpetrated by State actors, as well as by private individuals or organizations, clearly amount to torture, and it is now recognized that gender-specific violence falls within the definition of torture in the Convention against Torture,” they stated. They called for strengthening the global campaign to end violence against women, by ensuring a broader scope of prevention, protection, justice and reparation for victims, including access to international assistance, than currently exists. In addition, they appealed for increased contributions to the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture – which distributes funds to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and treatment centres to assist those subjected to this horrific practice and their families – so that more torture victims can receive the help they need. “We call on all States, in particular those which have been found to be responsible for widespread or systematic practices of torture, to contribute to the Voluntary Fund as part of a universal commitment for the rehabilitation of torture victims,” they stated. The signatories of the statement are UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour; the UN Committee against Torture; the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its cause and consequences; and the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Also marking the Day, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has called for all allegations of torture in the strife-torn nation to be properly investigated. UNAMA’s chief human rights official, Norah Niland, called for those responsible for such abuse to be brought to account. “Torture, without exception, is unacceptable. UNAMA will support and work with the Afghan authorities to help ensure the Government’s commitment to prohibit and inhibit torture is properly upheld as laid out in the Constitution,” she said. “As Afghanistan moves towards greater democratisation, while continuing to suffer the effects of armed conflict, it is important to re-iterate that it is the duty of the state to prevent, prohibit, investigate and penalise all acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” she added. Ms. Niland stressed that all parties to the conflict, including international actors engaged in detention in Afghanistan, should observe international legal standards and allow for outside scrutiny, adding that the prohibition on torture applies equally to anti-government elements. UNAMA has been working closely with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to enhance the protection of civilians, advance the rights of women and girls, improve access to justice, help safeguard freedom of expression, and support implementation of the transitional justice agenda.