The U.N Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment came into force on 26 June 1987. This convention unconditionally prohibits any form of torture. The United States ratified this instrument in October 1994.
The implementation of the Convention against torture is monitored by the UN Committee against torture (“CAT”), a body of 10 independent experts. The CAT performs its monitoring through the reporting procedure, individual complaints or individual communications, inquiries and inter-state complaints.
The 53rd session of the CAT is currently held in Geneva, until 28 November 2014. Australia, Burundi, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Ukraine, the USA and Venezuela are submitting their reports.
In his 2013 speech at the National Defense University, the President Obama affirmed that the USA has “unequivocally banned torture” (US third to fifth periodic reports due in 2011, page 1. The document can be downloaded below).
Many documented and alleged cases of torture have arisen these past years in the United States. Practices of the CIA and the military officials have been seriously questioned by several NGOs, such as Human Rights First. Waterboarding, a form of torture in which “water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning”, has been widely analysed by the NGO Freedom from Torture.
In 2006, the CAT observed that there were “reliable reports of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment committed by certain members of the State’s party military or civilians personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq” (CAT Concluding observations on the US country report, 36th Session, July 2006.The document can be downloaded below).
The 53rd session is the opportunity for the US government to clarify its position on the extraterritorial application of the Convention. Does the Convention against torture apply to aliens overseas?
In 2005 and 2006, the answer provided by the US administration was either explicitly negative or ambiguous.
However, on 12 November 2014, the Representative of National Security Council said that “all US personnel are legally prohibited under international and domestic law from engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at all times, and in all places”.
Human rights activists have welcomed this new step but still ask the Government to do more to end torture. Twelve Nobel Peace Prize Laureates recently wrote to President Obama to ask him to declassify the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence summary report.
Murat Kurnaz, an ex Guantanamo detainee will be directly heard by the CAT. According to Mr Kurnaz, who was detained in Guantanamo during 6 years, the US has not only failed to comply with its obligation to prohibit torture under the UN Convention but has also failed to prosecute those responsible for these appalling acts.
Posted by Flavie Fuentes