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Human Rights

Torture a widespread problem ahead of International Human Rights Day

Amnesty International has condemned a number of countries for continuing to perpetrate torture. The criticism comes as the US releases its "CIA torture report" and ahead of the anniversary of the anti-torture convention.

Amnesty International on Tuesday voiced concern over torture, which has been committed in 141 countries in the past five years, AI expert for international law Maria Scharlau said in Berlin.

A day ahead of the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – or UN Convention against Torture for short – AI named a number of countries in which torture was an every-day occurrence, among them Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Morocco and Western Sahara.

In most cases in the countries named, torture was perpetrated by police and security forces to extract confessions. The organization said there was an anti-torture law in the Philippines, but that it was not enforced and that the police there operated in a culture of torture in which the victims were mostly underprivileged members of society and that the culprits were rarely, if ever, prosecuted.

Germany criticized

AI said the situation was similar in Mexico and therefore called on Germany to re-think a planned security agreement with the country. "Germany must not make itself complicit with a police force that uses torture," Scharlau said.

The legal expert said torture was not "the lesser of two evils," but instead "always the opposite of rule of law."

Scharlau also called on Germany to review the funding of its federal anti-torture agency which was, according to the German church-affiliated news agency epd, highly-underfinanced.

CIA torture report

Scharlau made her statements in Berlin as the US Senate Intelligence Committee released their report on alleged misconduct of the CIA and maltreatment of suspected terrorist detainees in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The rights organization criticized the US and it's so-called "CIA torture report."

At the end of November, AI called on Washington to review its anti-torture policies. With regard to police brutality, prison conditions and torture, it said the US fell short of compliance with the UN treaty on torture, which the US signed in 1987.

"War crimes" committed by Israel

Meanwhile, Amnesty also criticized Israel on Tuesday, saying that it had committed war crimes during this summer's 50-day Gaza war, especially in the final days of the conflict, when Israeli forces bombed high-profile high-rise buildings.

AI said the Israeli airstrikes were "deliberate and direct attacks on civilian buildings."

In a new report, the human rights group demanded an independent and impartial investigation.

"All the evidence we have shows this large-scale destruction was carried out deliberately and with no military justification," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program director.

He said statements by Israeli officials indicated the attacks were a means of pressure, and therefore constituted collective punishment.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded by saying that the report focused on monetary losses. It said Jerusalem "went to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, including advance phone calls and the dropping of leaflets."

In a statement via its embassy in London, the ministry also questioned Amnesty's impartiality.

Last month, AI issued a damning report which also accused Israel of war crimes during the 50-day war in Gaza.

Maria Scharlau

Maria Scharlau called on Germany to rethink a security agreement with Mexico

"Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused," said Philip Luther in reference to the report released on November 5.

In a number of instances, that report found, no warning had been given to civilians prior to attacks. "The report exposes a pattern of attacks on civilian homes by Israeli forces which have shown a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, who were given no warning and had no chance to flee," Luther said.

In the war, which ended in August, more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilian, were killed. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and six civilians inside the country were killed.

sb/es (dpa, epd)

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