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REDRESS’s chair, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, offers his reflections on the United Nations’ Annual Day in support of ‘Victims of Torture, lessons from the Arab Spring: time to stand up to end the use of torture’

Today is the United Nation’s Annual Day in Support of Victims of Torture, a day when we remember all those world-wide who are suffering and have suffered torture. Established to mark the day the UN Convention Against Torture came into force (June 26, 1987) it coincides this year with momentous events.

In countries across the Arab world people are risking their lives to protest against oppression, torture and human rights abuses. The scenes we are witnessing from Syria, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen now and saw in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this Arab Spring are deeply humbling: ordinary people overcoming paralysing fear to demand their right to freedom and dignity.

At the same time the brutality of the response of those regimes currently resisting change has reminded us – if indeed we needed reminding – how nations claiming to stand for human rights have ignored the tyrannical reality of government in many parts of this region. In many Middle Eastern countries as in too many other countries of the world torture is entrenched in the ruling system and a routine instrument of control.

Last week at the House of Lords in London we at REDRESS were honoured to meet some of the people who have suffered in the Middle East. Their personal stories are harrowing and the reports from local civil society organisations of torture perpetrated in seemingly infinite and merciless forms are deeply shocking.

The systematic human rights violations taking place this Arab Spring and this very day underline that it is time to back the people in their struggle for humanity, rather than those responsible for such torture and abuse. Almost a quarter of a century since the UN Convention was ratified, it is time for governments and international institutions to support those brave and genuine protesters who are saying no to cruelty despite the threat to themselves, friends and family.

Political and financial support for countries must be conditional on respect for human rights. This is not to pretend that change is easy, it is not, but the EU, its member states, the USA and other economic powers have to be more willing to stand up for the values they purport to respect.

Moreover, we all have to remember that freedom and dignity are universal rights and such universal rights bring universal obligations. Torture is reprehensive, counter-productive, immoral and illegal. Globally, 147 States have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture. Yet, we have failed collectively to prevent torture, in Zimbabwe, in Sri Lanka and in the Middle East, and to ensure justice and redress for the victims.

All States need to look to how they behave towards their own nationals and the extent to which their own practices encourage or facilitate torture; to think again. No-one and no State is above responsibility.