Civil society organizations have written to Prime Minister Harper today – International Human Rights Day – calling on the Canadian government to take decisive action to prevent torture.
The letter from 50 organizations including the Council of Canadians urges the Canadian government to “take a long overdue step in addressing the continuing grim and harrowing crisis of torture around the world” by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.
The letter states “The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture establishes national and international systems for inspecting detention centres, all with an eye to identifying and exposing the conditions that permit and encourage torture to take place. It seeks to pierce the shroud of secrecy that allows torture to continue at such alarming rates around the world. Amnesty International has documented torture in 141 countries in the last five years.”
The protocol has been ratified by 76 countries and signed by another 19.
The letter also points out that “Canada needs to ratify the Optional Protocol for the fundamentally important reason that preventing torture anywhere and everywhere, globally, is of concern to Canadians. As the multicultural diversity of Canada continues to grow it is a particularly serious preoccupation for the increasing number of Canadians who worry about the safety of family and friends who live in other countries where the risk of torture and ill-treatment is very high… Canada needs to ratify the Optional Protocol as well because in an increasingly inter-connected world, more and more Canadians have experienced or have been at serious risk of being tortured in a growing list of countries – countries without the oversight and monitoring that would help prevent torture in the first place.”
Amnesty International – Canada points out that “Canada can only be part of the global effort to make the world safer for everyone by pushing for the inspection of detention centres under the Optional Protocol. It is a necessary means to prevent torture.”
This is all the more urgent given the new 600 page U.S. Senate report detailing the disturbing extent of the CIA’s torture program. According to the Globe and Mail, the report from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee says “the Central Intelligence Agency used brutal interrogation techniques that violated U.S. laws and treaty obligations and failed to yield valuable information. At least one detainee died of suspected hypothermia and another was waterboarded more than 180 times.”
According to the CBC, Prime Minister Harper has tried to deflect the issue in the House of Commons by saying “This is a report of the United States Senate… It has nothing to do whatsoever with the government of Canada.” This is at best misleading.
ThinkProgress has compiled 17 disgraceful facts about the report on the CIA torture program, including:
Torture doesn’t work
Innocent people were tortured by the CIA
The CIA “intentionally mislead the media”
“CIA officers threatened to kill and rape detainees’ mothers”
“The CIA dismissed information that wasn’t obtained through torture, even though it proved to be true.”
“Some interrogators had previously admitted to sexual assault.”
“One interrogator played Russian roulette.”
“The CIA tortured its own informants by accident.”
“The CIA tortured detainees in a dungeon.”
These illegal activities, shrouded in secrecy, are an affront to justice, human rights, and democracy.
While the current Canadian government continues to claim it is tough on crime, this doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to torture (or election fraud for that matter, but that’s another story). This needs to change.
Canada should ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture as an important step toward ending the secrecy that enables these unacceptable practices to continue around the world.