Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture

On March 5th, 2012, as part of the Human Rights Council at Palais des Nations, the UN held an interactive dialogue on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  The focus of this discussion centered around accounts in recent years of harassment undergone by human rights defenders and citizen journalists in particular, usually at the hands of the State, in an invidious effort to silence their reports of human rights violations.  

Mr. Mendes, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, highlighted, in addition to the necessity of accountability of State institutions, the indispensability of other stakeholders, such as civil society organizations, in playing a role in understanding the context in which human rights violations take place.  He stated that such mechanisms serve as an impetus to making and facilitating investigations into regimes that have a “legacy of torture,” adding that proximity to the population in question adds legitimacy to their reports.  He reaffirmed that States must fulfill their obligations and seek international assistance where they lack resources or expertise and suggested the establishment of an international commission of inquiry for when States fail to break the cycle of impunity and to ensure effective preventative interventions.
Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, focused on groups who are especially at risk due to the nature of their work and the context in which they operate: namely, journalists, environmentalists, and youth rights defenders, all of which comprised one-fourth of all human rights cases from 2006 to 2011.  She stated that she was “appalled” by the number of these defenders who paid with their lives and the numerous others subjected to physical attacks, torture, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, forced labor and excessive use of force, usually taking place during times of civil unrest.  A concern of hers was the perception of the youth generated by media outlets, in which they are seen as troublemakers rather than serious actors and thus prohibited from taking part in public assemblies.  To conclude, she said she was greatly concerned that the legal framework is also abused to criminalize their work, in which the State itself perpetrates violence against them.