UN: Crucial vote at ECOSOC adopts new protocol on torture

The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture will now be sent for adoption by the UN General Assembly later this year, before being opened for ratification. The Optional Protocol establishes a system of regular visits to places of detention by an international body of experts, complemented by sustained regular visits conducted by national visiting bodies.

A coalition of eleven human rights organisations have campaigned together in support of the Optional Protocol, including Amnesty International (AI), Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (Fi.ACAT), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the International League for Human Rights, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), Redress Trust for Torture Survivors and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT).

The United States sought to block the adoption of the draft Optional Protocol by requesting that the text, which was adopted on 22 April 2002 by the 58th session of the Commission on Human Rights, be re-opened and subjected to further consultations. Other countries such as China, Cuba, Egypt, Libya and Sudan that are traditionally hostile to international human rights scrutiny also supported the USA proposal. But a majority of ECOSOC members, including states from South and Central America, Africa, Asia and Europe, rejected the USA proposal and voted in support of the current text.

The draft was adopted by a vote of 35 in Favor, with 8 Against and 10 Abstentions.

Human rights organisations welcome the strong show of support for the Optional Protocol, which would establish an important new preventive mechanism for combating torture.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Convention against Torture, yet despite the universal condemnation of torture it is still widespread and practiced systematically in many countries.

Human rights organisations urge governments committed to the fight against torture to rally support for adoption of the Optional Protocol by the UN General Assembly in the autumn, and to guard against further efforts by hostile governments to obstruct this initiative.

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