UN expert slams Trump’s stance on torture

Anti-torture activists wearing hoods and jumpsuits protest outside the White House in 2011 against the use of Guantanamo prison Keystone

Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has warned that waterboarding and other methods are illegal and do not work, criticising remarks made by new United States President Donald Trump.

This content was published on January 27, 2017 - 16:25

“No, waterboarding does not work,” the Swiss UN expert told the Swiss News Agency on Friday.

He said scientific studies showed that torture and other coercive methods do not lead to reliable witness statements but instead to false confessions and false accusations by third parties.

In an interview with ABC news on Wednesday, Trump was asked whether he wants waterboarding as president.

He replied: "I will rely on [CIA director Mike] Pompeo and [Defense Secretary James] Mattis and my group. And if they don't want to do it, that's fine. If they do want to do it, then I will work toward that end," Trump said. "I want to do everything within the bounds of what we're allowed to do if it's legal. If they don't want to do it, that's fine. Do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works."

Melzer said waterboarding was ‘inadmissible’ and banned around the world by many international treaties.

“Methods like the use of chemical weapons or genocide also work very well. But we can’t say they are justifiable,” he said.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer Keystone

Melzer said he was very worried by the impact of Trump’s remarks on the leaders of other countries.

“The last thing we want is a US president who gives them the flexibility and legitimacy to use these inhumane methods,” he said. 

The Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have joined global human rights groups in their rebuke of Trump for condoning torture. 

UN agencies reactions

At a news briefing on Friday in Geneva, UN officials reaffirmed that torture is illegal and that refugees deserve protection, but ducked any direct criticism of remarks made by Trump.

"International human rights law is clear on the absolute prohibition on torture," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters.

It was still very early days in terms of how the UN human rights office interacts with the new administration, he said. "We have to work out strategically what is going to be effective."

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) was also tepid in its comments on Trump's moves to restrict refugees. He is expected to sign an executive order that would include a temporary ban on all refugees, and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries.

"Of course UNHCR believes that refugees should be offered assistance, protection, opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity," UNHCR spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci said.

Two US officials said also on Wednesday that Trump may order a review that could lead to bringing back a CIA programme for holding terrorism suspects in secret overseas "black site" prisons.

Melzer said he was especially worried by a return of secret prisons, where the ‘risk of ill treatment is extreme’ and very hard to prevent.  

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