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Torture is a man-made disaster
by UN human rights office (OHCHR)
April 2015
“Torture is a man-made disaster,” says Felicitas Treue. “Wherever it takes place it is an emergency situation and a direct attack against the victim, against their family and their community.”
Treue is the co-founder of Colectivo Contra la Tortura y la Impunidad, a Mexican organization that provides support for torture victims and their families. She made her statement during a public meeting on the issue of redress to victims of torture organized by the UN Fund for Victims of Torture in Geneva. The meeting brought together practitioners and experts in the medical, psychological, legal and social rehabilitation of torture victims to exchange knowledge and best practices.
Since 1981, the Fund has financed rehabilitation centres providing assistance to close to one million torture victims. The aim is to assist victims and their families in rebuilding their lives and seeking redress for the human rights violations they have suffered.
“But is enough being done to fight against torture and impunity?” asked Suzanne Jabbour, director of Restart Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture in Lebanon. That answer, she said, is no.
“If you feel embarrassed about the answer, and you still doubt how fundamental this should be, please, allow today to be the day, of renewed commitment,” Jabbour said.
The consequences of inaction in dealing with torture is the creation of a generation of young people who believe that pain and suffering are usual, said Peter Kiama, executive director of the Independent Medico Legal Unit based in Kenya. Poverty is the new face of torture, with poor young people being recruited into groups that routinely use the practice, he said.
“What this means is that youth grow up believing pain is normal and then these people come back and inflict pain on us, and we are surprised,” he said. “This is the time to increase support for the fight against torture and ill treatment so that we stop normalizing pain as.. part of growing up in our society.”
According to a recent report from Amnesty International, 141 countries have committed torture and ill-treatment to their citizens, said Lin Piwowarczyk, a psychiatrist at the Boston Medical Center in the United States. An estimated 30 percent of the current population of refugees worldwide have experienced some form of torture, and agencies have to learn how to deal with this increasing challenge, she said.
Piwowarczky related the story of a patient called Mary. When Mary came to the centre, it was clear she was suffering from the after effects of torture-related trauma. She made no eye contact. She cried much of the time and hardly spoke. She was 27 weeks pregnant from the multiple rapes she had to endure at the hands of the military in her home country, Piwowarczky said.
However, through intense therapy Mary has begun to heal. During one therapy session, Mary took the hands of the therapist and gave her a deep blue wooden necklace. Before she escaped her country, Mary’s mother gave her the necklace with instructions: “Someday you will find someone who will protect you. Give this to them.”
“I hand this necklace to each of you symbolically,” she said, holding up the necklace to the audience. “The question I have for each of you here today, who are in the position to have great impact, is, will you?”
14 April 2015
UN rights experts urge greater accountability for private security
The outsourcing of national security to private firms creates risks for human rights and accountability, the United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries confirmed today as it welcomed the sentencing of four former Blackwater Worldwide personnel for the 2007 killing of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.
The four security personnel were convicted for the shooting deaths of 14 unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad’s crowded Nissour Square in 2007. Another 17 Iraqi civilians were also injured when the private contractors opened fire.
According to a press release issued by the UN’s human rights office (OHCHR), one Blackwater security guard was convicted to life in prison while three others were sentenced to 30 years.
“We endorse the sentences meted out to the private military actors in this landmark trial,” said Elzbieta Karska, the working group’s chairperson, in the press release. “Private military and security companies must always be held accountable for violations committed under international human rights and humanitarian law.”
However, Ms. Karska added, such examples of accountability are the “exception rather than the rule.”
“The difficulty in bringing a prosecution in this case shows the need for an international treaty to address the increasingly significant role that private military companies play in transnational conflicts.”
Ms. Karska and the Working Group acknowledged that the adoption of a new international legal instrument within the UN would provide a clear framework to effectively monitor abuses and violations of human rights committed by private security contractors and develop an independent avenue to compensate victims of such violations.
The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination was established in 2005 by the then Commission on Human Rights. It is composed of five independent experts.
The UN human rights 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 independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Council 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.
“There can be no justice without effective accountability and redress mechanisms for victims,” Ms. Karska continued, noting that human rights violations committed by private security companies cannot remain unpunished.
“States have a responsibility to ensure that victims and their families have equal and effective access to justice, as well as adequate, effective and prompt reparation for the harm suffered.”

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Uruguay Sued for Saving Lives
by NYT, BBC, Avaaz, agencies
The tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Uruguay for having some of the best anti-smoking laws in the world, and there’s a good chance it could win, unless we strengthen the fight in court.
It''s a scary reality that one company, whose product kills, could overturn laws that protect our public health. But if our community''s voices are brought into court by a world class legal team, we could fight back with a force no judge could ignore, showing how this sets an unacceptable precedent for the world.
Let’s tell the court that this doesn’t just affect Uruguay -- if Big Tobacco gets their way it opens the door for challenges everywhere -- companies already have at least 4 other countries in their crosshairs, and many more have anti-smoking laws at risk.
We have to move fast - the court is already hearing arguments. Click on the link below to protect our public health and our democracies from corporate greed -- each of our names will be submitted to the court.
Uruguay requires 80% of the cigarette package to be covered with medical warnings and graphic images. Smoking had reached crisis levels, killing around 7 Uruguayans each day, but since this law was put in place smoking has decreased every year! Now tobacco giant Philip Morris is arguing that the warning labels leave no space for its trademarks.
It''s all part of a global Philip Morris strategy to sue and intimidate countries. The company already slapped an expensive lawsuit on Australia -- and if it wins against Uruguay, it could run cases against more than a hundred other countries including France, Norway, New Zealand, and Finland who are all considering new life-saving legislation.
Experts say Philip Morris has a good chance of winning because it’s using a closed door international tribunal that ruled for corporations two-thirds of the time last year. And their rulings are binding, even though many of the judges are private citizens with corporate ties instead of impartial legal experts. It’s up to us to force them to consider the devastating effect their ruling could have on health across the world.
Uruguay has its own legal team, but they’re rightly focused on arguing their individual defence. We can submit a unique legal argument about how this ruling would set a precedent for every country with smoking laws and a similar trade agreement. And we can show the court that public opinion is behind them if they rule in favour of Uruguay and health protection everywhere. The more of us sign, the harder it is for the court to ignore us.
When big corporations launch deadly attacks on our public good, our community has jumped into action to ensure that profits don''t come before people.
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