UN must do more to prevent torture, say campaigners

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May 15, 2018
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The report said that torture was used as a short-cut in criminal investigations

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Human rights campaigners have called on the UN to do more to prevent international regimes from using torture to obtain evidence from suspects.

In a report sponsored by a City of London law firm that assessed practices in different global jurisdictions, the researchers said that torture was rife despite being prohibited under international law.  

Police, intelligence services and the military frequently use torture as “a short-cut in criminal investigations, as a tool of exerting control over detainees, to gather intelligence, to solicit leads and to obtain confessions,” the report from the human rights groups Redress and Fair Trial said.

Domestic legislation in many countries does not prohibit the use of evidence obtained from torture, and judges often fail to declare such evidence inadmissible, contrary to international law, giving regimes an incentive to adopt extreme measures, the report said. Confessions are sometimes used as the main piece of evidence for convictions, exacerbating the risk of torture.

The report calls on the UN to do more “to emphasise the importance of the exclusion of torture evidence to combat torture”. In particular, campaigners said that the UN’s committee against torture should “engage with states and civil society” to clarify international standards.

“Justice is impossible if the courts rely on evidence that is tainted by torture,” Jago Russell, the chief executive of Fair Trials, said.

“In theory, reliance on torture evidence is already prohibited the world over but, in practice, torture evidence is being used to convict people on a daily basis. We must stop this practice, and remove one of the incentives for torturers the world over.”

Rupert Skilbeck, the director of Redress, added: “In too many countries the police use torture to force people into confessions, but using evidence obtained by torture is unreliable and leads to unsafe convictions.

“By excluding these torture statements from the courtroom, international law eliminates one of the root causes of torture around the world. But this report reveals that many states do not apply the rule properly, or at all.”

The research was sponsored by Allen & Overy, the City of London “magic circle” law firm.

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