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ARBITRARY POLICE VIOLENCE CAN AMOUNT TO TORTURE, EVEN IN PUBLIC SPACES, UN EXPERT WARNS

16 October 2017

NEW YORK, 13 October 2017 (Issued as received) – Arbitrary violence by police can amount to torture, even when it takes place outside prison walls, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has told the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Any unnecessary, excessive or otherwise arbitrary use of force by law enforcement officials is incompatible with the absolute prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the expert said, presenting his latest report to the UN General Assembly.

“Where such force intentionally and purposefully inflicts pain or suffering on powerless individuals, who are unable to escape or resist, it is always conclusively unlawful and may even amount to torture,” he stated.

Mr. Melzer said he wanted to clarify that the prohibition of torture applied to “all and any use of force by law enforcement officials, including outside prison walls”, to help ensure that States prevented torture and ill-treatment in all circumstances.

“States must ensure that their law enforcement agents are trained, equipped and instructed to avoid any unnecessary, excessive or otherwise arbitrary use of force, and to give priority to non-violent means of carrying out their duty,” Mr. Melzer said, outlining a series of recommendations to reduce the use of force.

“If the use of force is unavoidable, State officials must exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate purpose to be achieved.”

Specific weapons and riot control devices used by police and security forces could themselves be illegal, the Special Rapporteur warned.

“A weapon or any other means of law enforcement must be considered as inherently cruel, inhuman or degrading, and therefore absolutely prohibited, whenever it is specifically designed, or is of a nature, to employ unnecessary, excessive or otherwise arbitrary force, against human beings,” the expert said.

“Overall, I hope my report will clarify that arbitrary police violence is not just bad policy, but amounts to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” he concluded. “Any tolerance, acquiescence or impunity for such abuse amounts to a serious violation of international law.”

Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2016. Mr. Melzer has previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and is currently the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. The Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. For inquiries and media requests, please contact Ms. Alia El Khatib (+41 22 917 9209 aelkhatib@ohchr.org), or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Bryan Wilson – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / mediaconsultant2@ohchr.org)

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For use of the information media; not an official record

HR/17/315E

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