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Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Prevention of Torture at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

WARSAW, POLAND – The following statement on Prevention of Torture was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland:

Prevention of Torture

Statement Delivered by Lt. Colonel (Retired) Cynthia Shain

U.S. Delegation to the

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Mister Moderator, at the OSCE’s Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on torture last year, one of the cases the U.S. delegation discussed was the case of Abner Louima. Mr. Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was horrifically tortured in 1997; a New York City police officer, Justin Volpe, is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for leading this attack in a police precinct station.

Earlier this year, on July 12th, Abner Louima reached a settlement in the civil suit he had brought against New York City and its police union. According to the settlement, New York City will pay $7.125 million to Mr. Louima; the police union agreed to pay an additional $1.625 million. What is perhaps most remarkable in this case is that, after reaching agreement on a financial settlement, Mr. Louima spent an additional 8 months at the negotiating table. To his great credit, Mr. Louima held out for changes in the way the police department handles allegations of abuse.

As the Louima case has illustrated, there is no OSCE participating State that is completely free from the possibility of police abuse. What distinguishes States is how they respond to specific cases and establish safeguards to prevent the future occurrence of torture.

The problem of torture in Turkey raises a number of concerns. First, human rights organizations have document that torture continues to occur frequently. Further, those in the medical community who treat the victims of torture and those who come forward with their reports of abuse are on occasion prosecuted. Currently, 18 women who, at a conference last year, publicly described the rape and other forms of torture committed by police are facing charges of “insulting and raising suspicions about Turkish security forces.” We urge Turkey to work with ODIHR’s expert panel to consider steps that would ensure victims of torture are protected and not prosecuted.

Cases of torture in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan also merit our attention. In Uzbekistan, Shovrug Ruzimuradov’s death at the hands of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is tragic evidence of the manner in which authorities use torture to repress human rights activitism. Those responsible should be prosecuted and punished. In Turkmenistan, there are credible allegations that Baptist minister Shageldy Atakov was tortured. He remains imprisoned and his case represents a willingness to use torture as a means to suppress religious freedom. We call for his immediate release.

Police officers throughout the world represent the “front line” and first contact with citizens and with the criminal justice system in the investigation and detection of crime. Therefore, policing in democratic societies must be service-based and must provide a framework for upholding individuals’ rights and maintaining internal stability. This framework comprises four essential elements: 1) a corpus of laws that is legitimately derived and widely promulgated and understood; 2) a consistent, visible, fair and active network of police authority to enforce the laws, especially at the local level; 3) an independent, equitable, and accessible grievance redress system, including, above all, an impartial judicial system; and, finally, 4) a penal system that is fair and prudent in meting out punishment. (Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, Preventing Deadly Conflict: Final Report (Washington DC: The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, 1997)

Throughout the world, there remains evidence of police brutality and excessive force amounting to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and citizens. These actions by police officers undermine and erode the basic foundation of the fundamental mission and values of police in democratic societies. This basic mission is “to protect and serve” all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, race or gender, homeland or nationality.

American law enforcement professionals advocate the implementation of control mechanisms at local, state and national levels in order to ensure police accountability to the public. One such mechanism is clear written policy and procedural guidelines regarding the use of force, treatment of prisoners, arrests, and search and seizure activities. Another control mechanism is the establishment of early warning systems, which can assist in identifying police officers who have the potential of engaging in abusive behaviors with citizens. A third recommendation is to collect and analyze information on police traffic and pedestrian encounters in order to identify and prohibit racial and ethnic profiling practices.

Of perhaps the greatest importance is the need for greater transparency in the investigation of complaints of ill treatment or abuse made against the police, to ensure public accountability and confidence in this process. A final recommendation is that police training policies and programs should be carefully reviewed in order to ensure that they include education in the international norms and standards on human rights, particularly on the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, and international standards laid down in the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. (Amnesty International Recommendations, “Police Brutality and Excessive Force n the New York City Police Department”)

Mister Moderator, there are steps that each of our participating States must undertake to implement our common commitment to eradicate torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. There are also additional steps that the OSCE participating States, as a community, can and should take.

Participating States should agree to treat confessions or other evidence obtained through the use of torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as inadmissible in courts of law or legal proceedings. Participating States should also agree to prohibit, in law and in practice, incommunicado detention. Finally, we urge States to consult with ODIHR’s expert panel on the prevention of torture to consider concrete steps that would address the problem of impunity and prevent future incidence of torture. Thank You Mister Moderator.

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