New report: Torture-tainted evidence routinely used around the world

A comparative study of the law and practice in 17 countries by Fair Trials and REDRESS calls on States and UN bodies to do more to tackle this problem

In many countries around the world, authorities continue to rely on evidence obtained through torture, says a new report, ‘Tainted by Torture’, launched today by human rights groups Fair Trials and REDRESS, produced with support from Allen & Overy.

International law prohibits the use of ‘torture evidence’ because statements obtained through torture violate the right to a fair trial, undermine the rights of victims of torture and indirectly legitimise torture, a practice that is illegal and globally prohibited.

Despite this, state authorities continue to rely routinely on evidence obtained through torture in criminal cases, reveals a comparative study into the law and practice in 17 countries from Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Americas.

The report highlights how torture is often used by police, intelligence services, the military and others as a short-cut in criminal investigations, as a tool of exerting control over detainees; to gather “intelligence”; to solicit leads; and to obtain confessions.

Authorities resort to torture because relevant domestic legislation does not prohibit such evidence, or because judges often fail to declare such evidence inadmissible, contrary to international law. In many countries, confessions are used as the main piece of evidence for convictions, exacerbating the risk of torture.

The report calls on States to put in place stronger safeguards to prevent the use of torture evidence   and on United Nations bodies to do more to emphasise the importance of the exclusion of torture evidence to combat torture. In particular, it calls on the United Nations Committee Against Torture to engage with States and civil society, with a view to clarify international standards in this area.

The full report and recommendations are available here.

Jago Russell, Chief Executive of Fair Trials, said:

“Justice is impossible if the courts rely on evidence that is tainted by torture. In theory, reliance on torture evidence is already prohibited the world over but, in practice, torture evidence is being used to convict people on a daily basis. We must stop this practice, and remove one of the incentives for torturers the world over.”

Rupert Skilbeck, Director of REDRESS, added:

“In too many countries the police use torture to force people into confessions, but using evidence obtained by torture is unreliable and leads to unsafe convictions. By excluding these torture statements from the courtroom, international law eliminates one of the root causes of torture around the world. But this report reveals that many states do not apply the rule properly, or at all.”

The report is being launched today at an event in London, hosted by Allen & Overy, which will feature a panel with global experts on the prevention of torture in criminal justice systems, as well as international human rights lawyers who have first-hand experience of challenging the use of torture evidence. More information about the event is available here.

The report can be found at www.redress.org/publication/tainted-by-torture-examining-the-use-of-torture-evidence

REDRESS and Fair Trials are very grateful to Allen & Overy for their pro-bono support.

For more information or for an interview, please contact Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0)7980830157 or Eva Sanchis, REDRESS’ Head of Communications, on +44(0)20 7793 1777; +44(0)7857110076 (out of hours) or eva@redress.org.

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. About the report:

The report makes a number of recommendations, and calls for:

  • Stronger safeguards to prevent torture evidence being used, to reduce any incentives for authorities to rely on brutal and illegal treatment;
  • A general comment from the UN Committee Against Torture, recognising the prominence that should be afforded to the exclusionary rule;
  • A review of domestic legal regimes to make sure that they comply with international standards;
  • Firmer rules to prevent authorities relying on evidence derived from torture, under so called ‘fruit of the poisoned tree’ rules;
  • A reduction in the reliance on confessions in criminal prosecutions;
  • Better procedural rights protections, ensuring access to a lawyer as soon as possible to help prevent rights abuses;
  • Better data collection, to have a clearer picture of the extent of the problem.

 

  1. About the methodology:

Fair Trials and REDRESS, together with support from Allen and Overy, have worked on this comparative law project in which we analysed the law and practice on the exclusion of the use of torture evidence. The purpose of the project is to identify legislation and practice – both good practice that can be shared with other jurisdictions and problem areas that can be rectified in the course of both organisations’ ongoing work by engaging with justice actors in the countries concerned, advocacy, legal interventions and support to lawyers.

In addition, the analysis will be fed into the ongoing efforts of regional and international institutions working to combat torture, such as a future General Comment of the United Nations Convention Against Torture on the exclusionary rule and the work of regional bodies such as the African Committee for the Prevention Against Torture.

Allen & Overy lawyers collated the legislation and jurisprudence on the exclusion (and/or use) of torture evidence in criminal proceedings in various jurisdictions.  The jurisdictions were selected on the basis of the following criteria: regional diversity; prevalence of torture and ill-treatment; different stages of development of the legal system and capacity for follow-up work.

  1. About the organisations:
  • Fair Trials is a global criminal justice watchdog, with offices in London, Brussels, and Washington, D.C., focused on improving the right to a fair trial in accordance with international standards.
  • REDRESS is an international human rights organisation that represents victims of torture and related international crimes to obtain justice and reparation.  It brings legal cases on behalf of individual victims of torture, and advocates for better laws to provide effective reparations. Its work includes research and advocacy to identify the changes in law, policy and practice that are necessary.
  • Allen & Overy has the largest global footprint of any major law firm, with 44 offices in 31 countries. With this comes a real opportunity to make a difference around the world. Its pro-bono and community investment programme uses the skills and time of its people, and its global reach, to tackle pressing social issues and focuses on two major themes: access to justice and access to education and employment.
  1. About the spokespeople:

Fair Trials’s Chief Executive Jago Russell and REDRESS Director Rupert Skilbeck are available for media interviews. Jago oversees the organisation’s offices in London, Brussels and Washington, D.C. Jago is experienced at both pre-recorded and live media work, and has appeared on BBC, Sky News, and Al Jazeera, amongst others. Skilbeck overseas REDRESS’ offices in London and The Hague and is an experienced media commentator on the prohibition on torture and victims’ rights.

Photo credit: Nyani Quarmyre/PANOS