Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I find myself dealing with the issue of torture many times over during the course of any given year–torture committed by Russian forces in Chechnya, systematic police abuse of Roma in Greece, prisoners tortured to death in Uzbekistan, to give just a few recent examples.
Unfortunately, torture remains the weapon of choice by many oppressive regimes, systematically used to silence political opposition, punish religious minorities, or target those who are ethnically or racially different from those in power.
But on the occasion of the United Nations’ Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, I’d like to reflect on the steps that can be taken to help prevent torture from occurring in the first place.
Torture is prohibited by a multitude of international instruments, including documents of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Moreover, it is absolute and nonderogable under any circumstances, even wartime. The challenge, then, is to translate this commitment into practice.
Amnesty International has issued a number of recommendations to help end torture. They are remarkably straightforward and easy to grasp: officials at the highest level should condemn torture; governments should ensure access to prisoners; secret detentions should be prohibited; and confessions obtained through torture should be excluded from evidence in the courtroom. I believe the implementation of these fundamental principles would have a significant impact in reducing torture. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Annual Session two years ago, I introduced a resolution, passed by the Assembly, that built on these basic concepts.
While we work to eradicate torture, we must not forget those who have already become its victims. Along with Representative TOM LANTOS, I have introduced H.R. 1813, legislation to re-authorize the Torture Victims Relief Act and the list of cosponsors is growing. The Senate companion bill, S. 854 was introduced by Senator COLEMAN. This reauthorization will continue funding for centers here in the United States that help provide treatment for the estimated half million survivors, most of whom came to this country as refugees. It will also provide funds, distributed through the Agency for International Development or the U.N. Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture, for treatment centers abroad. While life for torture survivors can never be the same, treatment can provide victims the hope of becoming stable and productive members of their communities. I urge my colleagues in the House to join in supporting this measure as a tangible support of the victims of torture.