Governments across the Americas are being duplicitous on torture, Amnesty International said today, as it launched its latest global campaign, Stop Torture.
Torture and ill-treatment are widespread across the continent and those responsible rarely face justice despite some of the most robust anti-torture laws and mechanisms at the national and regional level.
“Governments in the Americas are failing to practice what they preach,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director.
“The impressive array of legal mechanisms established in the Americas to prevent and punish torture are being by-passed on a daily basis. This must end.”
The two-year campaign, Stop Torture, launched with a new media briefing, Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises, which provides an overview of the use of torture in the world today.
Amnesty International has reported on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in at least 141 countries from every region of the world over the past five years – virtually every country in which it works.
In several countries in the Americas, the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is routine and accepted by many as a legitimate response to high levels of violent crime.
Thirty years after the UN adopted the 1984 Convention Against Torture, Amnesty International observed authorities in at least 12 countries in the Americas still torturing. Given the secretive nature of the abuse, the true number is likely to be higher.
The 1985 Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture also commits governments to combatting the abuse.
A worldwide Globescan survey commissioned alongside the briefing for the launch found nearly half (44%) of respondents – from 21 countries across every continent – fear they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country.
In Brazil 80 per cent of people fear torture if taken into custody with Mexico polling 64 per cent – the highest figures out of all countries surveyed. Even in the USA 32 per cent of people fear torture and 21 per cent in Canada.
“The Globescan survey indicates that fear of torture ranks particularly high in the Americas, with high levels of concern expressed in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Peru,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.
“If half of your population are living in fear of torture if taken into custody, it’s time to take drastic action to stamp it out.”
Torture is present in prisons and detention facilities across the Americas. In many countries detainees are beaten, given electric shocks, sexually abused and denied access to health services. Extremely poor detention conditions, including severe overcrowding, is common place.
Torture continues to be used as a form of punishment against inmates or to extract “confessions” from criminal suspects. Ill-treatment and torture are used to police and punish public demonstrations, such as in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela.
Legislative advances have been made in some countries in the region to prevent torture but these have not been matched with effective investigations into reports of abuse. Those responsible very rarely face justice.
“The shortcomings of the justice systems in the region play a major role in the continuing prevalence of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and underscore the deep-rooted culture of impunity,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.
§ In Mexico, reports of torture have increased as violence has spiralled as a result of the government’s fight against organized crime, which began in 2006. Many arrests are made without a warrant, and all too often, people from poor and marginalized communities are arrested without evidence. They lack the resources to access effective legal support, increasing their risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
§ A lack of effective investigations into human rights abuses and violations, including torture, continue to be a hallmark of Colombia’s 50-year-long internal armed conflict. All the warring parties, including the security forces – acting either alone or in collusion with paramilitaries – as well as guerrilla groups, continue to be responsible for the killing, disappearance, abduction, torture, forced displacement and sexual abuse of thousands of people.
§ The US government is failing to ensure accountability for torture and enforced disappearances committed in the context of counter-terrorism operations of the so-called “War on Terror”. No one responsible for the use of interrogation techniques such as “water-boarding”, prolonged sleep deprivation, and stress positions in Central Intelligence Agency-run secret detention centres around the world, have been brought to justice.
§ Hundreds of torture-related offences committed in recent history during the region’s brutal military regimes in countries like Chile, El Salvador or Uruguay remain unprosecuted, often as a result of amnesty laws.
Amnesty International is calling on governments across the Americas to implement existing protective mechanisms to prevent and punish torture. These include impartial medical examinations, prompt access to lawyers, independent checks on places of detention, effective investigations of torture allegations and the prosecution of suspects and proper redress for victims.
“Authorities in the Americas are fortunate to be equipped with some of the most robust anti-torture mechanisms in the world – which makes the extent of torture in the region all the more inexcusable,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.
“Now governments must throw their political weight into making sure these mechanisms perform effectively.”
To arrange an interview with an Amnesty International spokesperson or a torture survivor, please contact:
Max Tucker, Press Officer – Global Campaigns, Thematic Issues and UN
[email protected] +44 (0) 207 413 5810