Louise Arbour, the former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and, since July 2004, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, writes today in the International Herald Tribune on torture.
Her argument is not that of an activist, a polemicist, or even a lawyer. Instead, Ms. Arbour writes--simply, dispassionately, and authoritatively--as an expert on international human rights with a single point to make: "The right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment . . . may not be subject to any limitation, anywhere, under any condition." The right not to be tortured is, to use the term favored by human rights lawyers, non-derogable.
While Ms. Arbour does not cite the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in support of her position, Article 2 (2) looms large. It states, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Ms. Arbour concludes with an admonition:
On Human Rights Day, I call on all governments to reaffirm their commitment to the total prohibition of torture by:
Condemning torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and prohibiting it in national law;
Abiding by the principle of non-refoulement and refraining from returning persons to countries where they may face torture;
Ensuring access to prisoners and abolishing secret detention;
Prosecuting those responsible for torture and ill-treatment;
Prohibiting the use of statements extracted under torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, whether the interrogation has taken place at home or abroad;
Ratifying the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, as well as other international treaties banning torture.
"He who has ears to hear . . ."