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November 30, 2014

Toward a World Free from Torture

By Elizabeth Andersen
Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative

November 2014

This month took me to Geneva for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention against Torture, the international treaty that binds signatory states to prevent, prohibit and punish all acts of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The occasion was marked at a special meeting of the UN Committee Against Torture, featuring an expert panel discussion of the Convention Against Torture Initiative—a project led by the governments of Chile, Denmark, Ghana, Indonesia and Morocco to achieve universal ratification and implementation of the convention within 10 years. This is a rule of law challenge if there ever was one, requiring states not only to make political and legal commitments to end torture, but also to undertake the painstaking legal reform and capacity building to uphold those commitments.

Ratified by 156 of 193 UN member states, the convention is widely embraced rhetorically, but implementation lags sorely behind, and torture and inhumane treatment remain persistent problems the world over. This is why the states leading the initiative are emphasizing the importance of technical assistance and the sharing of lessons learned in implementing the convention and combatting torture. Speaking at the convention, Danish Ambassador to the UN Carsten Staur put it this way:

If this fight is to be successful, and if we—in 2024—not only shall be able to achieve universal ratification of the Convention, but also universal implementation of the prohibition of torture, it will require a very strong focus on the legal sector in each country over the coming years. Police, prosecutors, courts and prisons will largely be at the center—with emphasis on strengthening these institutions’ legal framework, standards, capacity, economy and independence.

Add to this formula support for the defense bar—a critical check against torture and abuse—and you've got ABA ROLI's criminal justice capacity building programs in a nutshell. As this issue of the Update evidences—whether it's helping improve training for the Bahraini judiciary or preparing justice sector actors in the Balkans and Panama for new adversarial criminal procedures—our programs support states in developing their capacity to uphold their international obligations. 

The Convention Against Torture Initiative will provide a valuable framework for these programs in the coming months and years, and ABA ROLI looks forward to supporting the initiative through the sharing of lessons learned and best practices across the more than 50 countries in which we operate.