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The Importance of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture & Pakistan

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Gaffar Nizamani

The United Nations General Assembly, as a global platform for collective action, has consistently condemned torture as one of the most heinous acts committed by individuals against their fellow human beings. In a significant move towards eradicating torture, the General Assembly declared 26 June as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This day serves as a powerful reminder for all stakeholders, including UN Member States, civil society, and individuals, to unite in support of victims of torture and work towards its complete abolition.

Despite the unequivocal prohibition of torture in international law, its occurrence continues worldwide, with a significant increase linked to the prevalence of armed conflicts. The use of torture is often justified under the pretext of national security, but its far-reaching consequences can perpetuate cycles of violence across generations. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Alice Jill Edwards, underscores that disciplined troops do not resort to torture and that there are no justifications for its use in any circumstances. She draws attention to the correlation between the increase in armed conflicts and the rise in torture and other forms of inhuman treatment, highlighting the urgent need for concerted efforts to combat its occurrence.

Healing through rehabilitation is a crucial aspect of the recovery process for victims of torture. Specialized programs provided by rehabilitation centers and organizations across the globe have shown that victims can move from experiencing extreme trauma to finding healing and recovery. The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, managed by the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, serves as a unique victim-centered resource. It allocates funding to support victims of torture and their families, providing a wide range of services including legal, social, humanitarian, psychological, and medical support. Since its establishment in 1981, the Fund has been instrumental in providing these services to a diverse range of beneficiaries, including human rights defenders, individuals deprived of liberty, children, adolescents, refugees, migrants, victims of enforced disappearance, indigenous peoples, victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and LGBTI persons, among others. A trailer produced by the UN Torture Fund showcases how these rehabilitation services aid torture survivors in their journey towards healing, featuring interviews with beneficiary organizations, survivors, and trustees.

The recognition of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June marks the significant moment in 1987 when the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment entered into force. Presently, there are 174 State parties to the Convention.

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The definition of torture, as stated in the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, encompasses any act that deliberately inflicts severe physical or mental pain or suffering on an individual for purposes such as obtaining information or a confession, punishing the person for an act committed or suspected of being committed, or intimidating or coercing the individual based on discrimination of any kind, when authorized by a public official or another person acting in an official capacity. The definition expressly excludes pain or suffering arising solely from lawful sanctions.

The international condemnation of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is evident in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. This condemnation was further solidified in 1975 when, in response to active engagement by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the General Assembly endorsed the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Substantial progress has been made in laying down legal standards and instruments to combat torture during the 1980s and 1990s. The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, established in 1981, serves to financially support organizations providing assistance to victims of torture and their families. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted by the General Assembly in 1984 and came into effect in 1987, with monitoring conducted by an independent body of experts, the Committee against Torture. The appointment of the first Special Rapporteur on torture by the Commission on Human Rights in 1985 marked a significant step in addressing global torture issues. Moreover, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, adopted in 2002, serves as a treaty aimed at preventing torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by enabling an international visitation system for places of detention while obliging States to establish independent National Preventive Mechanisms to oversee the humane treatment of individuals in detention. This global effort, with 94 States currently parties to the Protocol, demonstrates our collective responsibility to combat torture.

The United Nations has acknowledged on multiple occasions the significant contribution made by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in combating torture. Apart from advocating for the creation of UN measures and oversight mechanisms, NGOs have played a crucial role in ensuring their implementation. Expert individuals, like the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, as well as treaty monitoring bodies such as the Committee against Torture, heavily depend on the information provided by NGOs and individuals to fulfill their mandates. This recognition underscores the invaluable role of NGOs in our collective efforts to combat torture.

Accordingly, it is important that Pakistan must implement the spirit of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June

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