The Torture Reporting Handbook
How to document and respond to allegations of torture within the international system for the protection of human rights
By Camille Giffard
Torture Reporting Handbook launch
STATEMENT BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, ROBIN COOK, AT THE LAUNCH OF THE TORTURE REPORTING HANDBOOK, FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE, LONDON, WEDNESDAY 29 MARCH 2000
I'm delighted to welcome you to this event. Your presence here, like the launch of this handbook, is a practical expression of the commitment we have made to working in partnership with NGOs on human rights issues.
Some of you were here when I announced that commitment in this room three years ago. Others were present when, at Amnesty International's Human Rights Festival, I promised a series of practical measures we would take to implement our commitment to human rights. In particular, I promised then that we would give priority to tackling one of the most terrible violations of human rights - the use of torture.
The Torture Reporting Handbook is a practical result of that commitment and of our partnership with NGOs. It may seem rather extravagant to claim that one book can be important in a global campaign against torture. Only one book, against all the apparatus that oppression can muster. But as the experts in the audience know, and as several NGOs have told the Foreign Office, such a handbook will be of immense help to NGOs, both locally and internationally and that is why we have produced it in collaboration with NGOs.
The handbook's author, Camille Giffard, explains very clearly why this exercise will be of value. As she says, torture is not a phenomenon of the past. Public defence of torture may nowadays be unacceptable. But those who practice torture have, in her words, 'quietly shut the door behind themselves to continue their thriving business in private.' The key to unlocking this door is information.
The Torture Reporting Handbook will help make that information available. It will give local human rights groups and activists, civil rights lawyers and, perhaps most importantly of all, the victims themselves the practical guidance and information they need to turn torture into testimony, personal experience into public evidence, individual anguish into international outrage.
The importance of doing that cannot be underestimated. Without grassroots information, the hands of the global community, and its representatives such as Sir Nigel, will be tied.
But with that information, we can start to turn the tables on the torturers. With hard facts, with compelling evidence, we will be able to point as harsh a light on those that torture as they themselves do on their victims. Exposing them, putting them in the spotlight, is one of the most effective ways we can put a stop to torture.
So the launch of this book is important. But it can only be the beginning. To be successful, we need to ensure that the handbook and its information are distributed and disseminated as widely as possible. We must ensure it reaches the human rights groups and activists working at national and community level in the countries concerned.
That is why, along with this English version, copies are now on the printing presses in four different languages - French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian. It is why we will be following up this event next month at the UN Commission on Human Rights by launching the handbook to an international NGO audience; and subsequently at a series of regional launches.
I am instructing our UK missions worldwide to distribute the handbook through their networks of local NGO contacts. And we will also make the handbook available through the internet, so it can be easily downloaded from the world wide web.
This handbook is only one of several initiatives that I promised to take over a year ago at the Amnesty Festival. Let me take this opportunity to update you on what we have done since then.
I promised a campaign to lobby those countries that had yet to ratify the UN convention on Torture to do so. I am pleased to report that since then, nine more countries have signed up to the UN Convention and ratified. I promised to instruct our missions to develop closer links to local human rights groups and to find ways to support them practically. Since then, we have done so, helping groups such as one in Africa which has, over that period, helped over 900 people.
We have stepped up our support for international bodies, and in the past year have donated over a quarter of a million pounds to the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. We have made substantial contributions to the OSCE, the Convention Against Torture Fund and the Association for the Prevention of Torture.
And we have also opened the doors of the Foreign Office and brought in secondees to help us, first from Amnesty International and now Ben Schonveld, from the World Organisation Against Torture. Ben will focus in particular on taking forward our efforts to counter torture round the world.
Of course I fully understand how much work remains to be done. The key will be to continue to do that work in partnership with NGOs, as we have done in producing this book.
I hope this exercise will serve as a model for what we in government can do with you in the NGOs together. It was one of the first projects to secure a commitment from the budget of the Foreign Office's Human Rights Fund which we established when we came to office. It is a first-class example of the kind of activity we have supported through the fund. Practical, realistic and working together with those outside the government.
Let me end by thanking the Handbook's author, Camille Giffard, and Essex University's excellent Human Rights Centre for the work they have done in producing this book. I would also thank Sir Nigel Rodley, and the members of the Editorial Board and the working groups who have contributed to the Handbook's production and without whom we could not have done this.
All of them have earned our appreciation. But I know that for each of them the best reward would be for the guidance in this book to produce action on the ground. And that it should help bring to justice today's torturers and thereby spare those who would otherwise be tomorrow's victims.
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