UNITED NATIONS -- A new UN protocol on torture prevention was adopted, despite
stiff US opposition to allowing outside inspection of individual countries' prisons
and terrorist detention centers.
The "optional protocol" to the Convention against Torture was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) by 35 votes to eight with 10 abstentions and will now go to the UN General Assembly for approval.
The United States, which has been criticized for its treatment of hundreds
of Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees at its Marine base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,
had tabled an amendment seeking further debate on the text of the treaty, saying
it was flawed and lacked consensus.
The United States lost a bid to block a draft anti-torture treaty that would require
U.N. inspections of prisons such as the U.S. base in Cuba set up to hold Taliban
and al Qaeda detainees, July 24, 2002. Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a
holding area guarded by Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on January
11, 2002. Photo by Shane T. Mccoy, U.S. Navy/Reuters
However, the amendment was roundly defeated by 29 votes to 15, with the protocol's supporters accusing the United States of seeking to permanently derail the treaty.
It was the second time in two weeks that the United States has found itself outnumbered at the United Nations.
On July 12, it was forced to compromise on its demands that US peacekeepers be permanently excluded from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
The torture protocol, which has been under negotiation for more than 10 years, seeks to establish an international system of inspection visits to places of detention, such as police stations and prisons.
The experts making the visits would then be able to make recommendations on practical measures to prevent torture.
Pushing for its adoption, the protocol's chief sponsor Cost Rica said it would provide a "crucial verification machinery" to ensure that signatories to the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture fulfil their obligations.
The Cost Rican representative pointed out that despite the best efforts of the United Nations and other groups, the regular use of torture remained widespread in many countries.
The United States, however, warned that any human rights instrument that could not be adopted unanimously would be unenforceable and therefore more discussion was essential to reach a consensus.
It also argued that external inspections would be contrary to the US constitution because they would intrude on the federal rights of individual states.
The US amendment drew the support of some uncomfortable allies for Washington,
including China, Cuba, Iran and Libya, which have been widely accused of condoning
and practicing torture.
The eventual adoption of the protocol was welcomed by human rights groups who had condemned the United States for trying to lay the "kiss of death" on the treaty.
"We are delighted," said Joanna Weschler," the Human Rights Watch observer representative to the United Nations.
"This protocol is a very important instrument with the rare potential to actually
prevent torture rather than just penalize it," Weschler said.
"It seems most governments saw through what was another attempt by the United States to try and use the issue of consensus as a sort of veto."
The UN Convention Against Torture was adopted by the General Assembly in 1984 and came into force four years later.
The treaty has been ratified by 130 countries, including the United States
Copyright 2002 AFP