September 9, 2011
An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission
The Asian Human Rights Commission is happy to announce the launching of the Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-Treatment (AAATI).
Kindly see the attached video on this launch at:
For more details about the AAATI kindly see the article below:
Why the Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-Treatment
Basil Fernando, Director, Policy & Programme Development, Asian Human Rights Commission & Asian Legal Resource Centre, Hong Kong
The idea that we have to form the Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-Treatment comes after almost 15 years of work to introduce the idea of the elimination of torture and ill-treatment to Asia. When the Asian Human Rights Commission started work on torture, we were pioneers in the region. The human rights movement in Asia did not pay much attention to this problem at that time. Perhaps many thought that it was too big a problem to be addressed. However, in our work we have found so many friends from almost all countries of Asia, and we have also found that the desire to address this issue firmly is very much a part of the consciousness of the ordinary folk in Asia.
Torture in Asia is a problem of the poor. This is not to say that people from affluent classes do not also get tortured. Indeed, there are many of such social backgrounds subjected to torture in almost every country. However, it is still valid to say that torture is a poor person’s problem, because it is the poor that are subjected to torture on such a large scale in almost every less developed country. The reason is that torture and ill-treatment are forms of social control of the poor. Torture and ill-treatment are among the basic strategies used to prevent the poor from coming into common association to fight against the forces that keep them poor. This may be a reason as to why often the more affluent social classes in less developed countries show little interest in dealing with the problem of torture and ill-treatment in their societies.
What I will do in this article is to bring up several themes that are relevant to our major concern (which is finding ways to work against the use of torture) and then, correlate them with a view to finding a synthesis. This way we will look at the large picture from a number of points of view.
Some economic considerations
When discussing the prevention of torture in Asia, it is essential to examine the contextual differences between developed countries and less developed countries. From an economists’ standpoint, developed countries can be characterized as “economies of modest scarcity”, to borrow a term from John Rawls. Indeed, today both Western Europe and the United States have reached a high level of development by means of their capitalist systems. As a result of the creation of wealth in past centuries, their economies do not suffer from problems of scarcity, relative to those in other parts of the world. They have resources to deal with the basic wellbeing of members of society, although whether or not they use them effectively is another matter. In any event, modest scarcity determines the possibility of the achievement of human rights in these countries.
Less developed countries do not enjoy modest scarcity. While the situation of different countries under this umbrella term may vary in degree, the overall problem of difficulty in meeting the basic needs of the population remains a major economic challenge.
The contextual difference between developed and less developed countries can be expressed in relation to the principle of the maximizing of minimum share. Over a long period of time, labour movements and other social movements, including philosophical schools, have allowed for a general acceptance of the maximization of the minimum share in developed countries. This means that those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder receive greater attention, as the concept of entitlement and strengthening of the basic minimum share for this stratum of society is built into legislation. Over a long period of time, this concept has become ingrained into the wider social consciousness to the extent that today if measures were taken that would harm the basic economic wellbeing of lower strata, it would generate enormous social protest within these societies. Ultimately, passing the burden of economic crises to those who are already at the very bottom of the economic ladder cannot be easily done in these countries without provoking serious resistance.
In contrast, the principle that is often followed in less developed countries is the minimizing of minimum share. This means that various problems relating to the economy and finances are often resolved by placing the burden on the lowest strata of society, thereby reducing their economic capacity. Often, the poorer sections of society are pushed into destitute poverty by economic measures taken by governments to deal with their budgets at times of economic difficulty. The upper classes and even the middle classes have agreed to place these burdens on the poor. By means of various forms of state-sanctioned or state-sponsored repression, the poor become increasingly impoverished with no room for resistance to these measures. From the point of view of legal entitlements, there are very few opportunities for the poor to achieve legal redress. If there is an attempt by the poor to resist these repressive measures by way of social movements, then harsher measures are applied to suppress them further. Indeed, extreme forms of violence are part of the strategy of minimizing the minimum share.
Another difference between developed countries and less developed countries in the economic sphere is the notion of security. In developed countries, basic securities have now become part of the fabric of society. For example, there are securities relating to healthcare from state institutions, and employment policies to favour the poor. A relatively high level of employment, as well as salaries that allow for a comfortable basic lifestyle are also considered the norm in many developed countries. Moreover, there are unemployment benefits and similar economic initiatives that exist to keep people afloat when they are unable to earn for themselves.
Again in contrast, the situation in less developed countries is often a kind of Dickensian nightmare. There are few standardized health care systems, a lack of subsistence-level salaries even for people who are employed, and there are no unemployment benefits and other safeguards for old age and infirmity.
This brief description of the differences between developed and less developed countries from an economic standpoint helps to explain the wide prevalence of torture in the latter. Governments that do not provide adequately for the basic needs of the people are aware of the protest that this can generate; they are aware of the potential for public backlash. In order to suppress potential protests, law-enforcement agencies and extralegal groups are used to control populations. As such, the violence practiced by these agencies is part of a larger strategy of social control in the context of populations that face great scarcity. Therefore, when we examine issues of torture, we must consider policies that allow state agencies to practice torture and ill-treatment as strategies for societal control.
Some political considerations
A comparison between developed countries and less developed countries from a political viewpoint raises a number of interesting distinctions relating to state development. Europe, which once consisted of many fragmented kingdoms, went through a long process of transformation through the establishment of monarchies followed by democratic revolutions, which led over time to the emergence of sophisticated state structures. Military campaigns played a great role in the process of state creation. The consolidation of states under monarchies also enabled the development of territorially bounded units. Many big political upheavals pushed states towards the establishment of institutions based on law. Accompanying modernization was the development of a social consciousness, and consolidation of various kinds of organized structures within various professions. The developments of science and technology also encouraged secularization and the predominant place given to reason as the foundation of the state.
A similar process happened in the United States. First, separate colonies struggled both for independence against the British and the establishment of this independence under a constitution drew upon political philosophies established in Europe. The state was developed further through a long period of civil war, which transformed the social consciousness of society to great degree. With industrialization and a heavy reliance on technology, the United States emerged as the most powerful state in the modern world.
Through the process of state development in developed countries, the relationship of the individual to the state has been framed so as to recognize the entitlements of individuals and provide a political and legal structure through which these individuals can assert rights. The basic notions of constitutionalism serve as a foundation of principles relating to the relationship between the individual and the state. Different countries might have different expressions on this issue, but ultimately individual rights and the recognition of liberty together constitute the primary framework within which the relationship between the government and the people is created. Power being based on consensual agreements established through constitutions and laws enables individuals and the state interact with each other as distinct entities. Although these provisions are constantly negotiated, the basic elements of the relationship are sustained.
The relationship between state and citizens in more developed countries is underpinned by the separation of powers. Again, how separation is expressed differs from country to country, but the notion that the legislature, executive and judiciary are separate branches playing complimentary roles and also operating with checks and balances is accepted. The power of the legislature to make laws and the power of the judiciary to decide on the liberty of the individual and human rights are conceptually entrenched in functioning institutions.
In contrast to all these features, most less developed countries went through a prolonged period of feudalism followed by a long period of colonialism. The creation of the modern state is a recent phenomenon and in many of the countries this process has not yet been completed to any degree, when compared to developed countries. Consequently, there is also precious little recognition of the individual. The citizen is generally considered to be a part of the state rather than a separate unit with certain legal entitlements. Indeed, the very concept of legal entitlements is rarely adequately recognized in less developed countries.
Similarly, from country to country in Asia there have been some attempts to develop the separation of powers model, but the success of these ventures has been limited. The dominance of the executive is often common, though the degree of dominance varies. The power of the legislature to act independently with regard to the development of laws is often questionable, as is the situation of the judiciary. There are many countries in which judicial power is limited or not recognized at all. Strong, powerful judiciaries exist only in very few countries. By and large, the capacity of the judiciary to protect the rights of the individual is extremely limited.
These overall features of the political structure play a significant role in the use of coercion against individual citizens. In more developed countries, the use of coercion is mediated through legal processes which are also controlled by democratic processes. By contrast, in less developed countries the use of force is naked and direct. Law-enforcement agencies and extrajudicial agencies often have approval to use extralegal violence against individuals.
When discussing the problem of torture and ill treatment, it is imperative that we look at the larger political framework for the approved use of physical force on individual citizens by the state in less developed countries. Much of what happens by way of torture is an approved form of social control. This is the reason that states are reluctant to enforce international norms relating to the absolute prohibition of torture, became it runs contrary to the approved use of torture used within these situations.
Some social and cultural considerations
Industrial revolutions transformed European countries socially and culturally, as have corresponding developments in science and technology. These social shifts have affected wider opinion and helped to bring about secularization of government. Religious reforms have impacted on the basic value systems of people, allowing them to adjust to new circumstances. Today these countries have achieved a complete transformation from medieval times. The religious foundation of society has been altered irreversibly, as religions themselves have gone through deep transformations, compelled by such movements as the Reformation. At present, large populations in these countries live outside the grip of religion and for all purposes, cultural life is secularized. The development of music, art, poetry and dance reflect this great transformation. Furthermore, basic notions of sexuality have undergone considerable changes and attitudes towards romantic and sexual relationships today give more recognition to the freedom of the individual than they did in earlier times.
This is not the case in most less developed countries. Of course, the degree to which social or cultural change has occurred differs from place to place. However, it can be said that most less developed countries remain caught in the transition between feudal and modern capitalist societies. Unfortunately, the societal norms of feudal times often continue to exist to the present day. For example, feudal attitudes relating to woman’s place in society illustrate the conflict between the modern and the free modern. Moreover, there are serious taboos relating to women’s freedom of choice, ability to gain education and participate freely in social life. These taboos are often reinforced through extreme forms of violence and often very little can be done by way of the enforcement of laws to control this violence.
Feudal attitudes extend across all areas of society and impact on the relationship of people to authority. Authoritarian forms of social control are often prevalent and societal attitudes towards these controls are caught between free modern conceptions and feudal attitudes. A change similar to that which took place in Europe does not seem imminent in Asia, where societies remain pre-modern in their lack of recognition of the individual. Although there is in some places a greater recognition of the individual, intense conflict between authoritarian structures that undermine individual rights and the assertive individual continues in many of these.
These societal factors affect the attitudes of state agencies with regard to the use of coercion and violence. Social control by way of torture and very serious forms of physical punishment were an accepted norm in pre-modern societies. Since a significant transformation has not taken place in many countries, the attitudes towards the use of torture and other forms of violence as legitimate forms of social control remain.
Some legal considerations
The above economic, political, social and cultural considerations are all relevant in assessing the differences in legislation to address torture and ill-treatment between more developed and less developed countries.
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of western civilization is the development of the concept of equality before law. While the notion initially developed in relation to trade and commerce, it has trickled down into numerous other legal areas. The centrality of this notion to law is profoundly important when studying the situation of human rights around the world today. All struggles against discrimination, from the prohibition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom to the abolition of slavery in the United States, were possible because of the recognition of the principle of equality before law. This principle has been well established as a fundamental norm of legal systems in the west, and was extended over time to contend with conflicts between principles and social practices in these societies. Indeed, this principle has been expanded to encompass gender relationships, the recognition of the rights of children, those of the disabled, and so on. Workers’ movements in particular have used the notion of equality before law to fight for improved working conditions or higher wages. Laws relating to labour, rent and financial structures to protect various rights have developed through this notion. In common law countries, the entirety of writ jurisdiction was developed under the notion of equality before the law.
In many less developed countries, the notion of equality before the law is accepted in an abstract, conceptual sense but not in practice. Many of the legal systems in these countries are beset with problems of delivering justice on the basis of equality before the law. There is a common saying that the law is available only for the rich and not the poor. Legal aid, which should exist in order to ensure that the poorer sections of society have access to the law, is almost non-existent in many countries. Even when it does exist, it is capable of assisting lesser income groups to an adequate degree.
The application of the law very much depends on the attitudes of judges, lawyers and other professionals who play an important role in the administration of justice. In developed countries, many movements have worked to develop new approaches where equality before the law can be realized to a greater extent. Of course, this has not been perfectly achieved in any country; however, it can be easily shown that in less developed countries, the attitudes of judges, lawyers and other professionals are still mostly elitist, and there is a vast gap between the realities of these countries and the notions of justice which remain in the minds of the professional groups.
Such understandings affect attitudes relating to violence and authority. Both of these factors affect the manner in which international norms relating to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment are practiced. There need to be vast changes in understanding of these matters, and a commitment to international norms on the part of judges, lawyers and other professionals if the notion of equality before law, which is the foundation of all rights and a prerequisite for the prohibition of torture, is to be given effect in these countries.
The administration of justice is, generally speaking, adequately funded in developed countries. Policing systems have the money to hire and train people and acquire technical resources so as to effectively and competently function. The same principles apply to prosecuting departments and the judiciary. Adequate numbers of judges, prosecutors, courtrooms and other facilities enable judicial systems to function in reasonably competent and effective manner.
In less developed countries, the situation is very different. Funding for the administration of justice is not usually seen as a priority. Often, budgetary allocations are far less than what is required to maintain even existing standards, let alone to make improvements. Often, structures are obsolete and overloaded, causing great problems, such as enormous delays in court systems. In India, it would take the courts over 300 years working at their current pace to deal with the legal backlog that exists today. There are many other countries facing such problems and as a result, a normal criminal trial can take anything between five and 20 years. The biggest complaints about inadequate funding concern a lack of adequate provisions for policing, prosecutorial and judicial agencies. Often they come from professionals, as well as those who have a leadership capacity within these agencies. However, despite the outcry, which may persist for decades, no significant changes take place.
Dealing with the problem of adequate funding for the administration of justice is an essential element in dealing with the overall strategy of preventing torture and ill treatment. The systemic problems within the administration of justice are a very important contributing factor to the prevalence of widespread torture.
The adequacy of funding for police, courts and prosecutors is closely linked to the incidence of corruption in a country. In more developed countries, there has been a long struggle to eliminate corruption, and various laws and practices have been developed to this end. The call for accountability and transparency is often made in these countries and the possibility for achieving this does exist. While no country can claim to be completely rid of corruption, it can be argued that the elimination of corruption has been achieved on many levels.
In contrast, most less developed countries are seriously lagging behind. Corruption prevails in all areas of life and therefore factors heavily within the administration of justice. Extortion is often the cause of torture and its practice often receives tacit approval by state agencies. Because there is such approval, the state is unwilling to take firm action against the corruption of officials. As a result, extortion and extortion-related torture takes place, reinforced by guarantees of impunity.
A convergence of views
These are some of the main areas that need to be discussed in dealing with and building an alliance of countries against torture and ill treatment in Asia. The task may sometimes seem daunting, however without realistic appraisal of these problems, the mere repetition of various international norms will not result in the creation of any significant changes against torture and ill treatment. Beyond the repetition of international norms, there is a need to recognize the existing problems and develop an approach that encourages accountability so as to further human rights.
These considerations the Asian Human Rights Commission has worked out on the basis of over 15 years of work on the problem of torture in Asia. However, it is also finding a convergence of its views with those of some organizations in the west who instead of simply iterating human rights norms have also spent years working in specific contexts and studying conditions, upon which they have reached similar conclusions.
Among these, the chairman of the International Justice Mission, Gary Haugen, in a talk given at the University of Chicago Law School during February 2010 raises similar issues to those set out above. (Audio of the talk is online at: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/audio/haugen021810.)
Haugen’s talk is not on the elimination of torture and ill-treatment specifically, but in general about the realisation of international norms and standards in less developed countries. After observing the work of the global human rights project relating to the articulation of international norms as the initial stage in this process, and the development of domestic legislation embodying international norms into domestic laws, he observes that these achievements will not reach the people in less developed countries unless public institutions for the administration of justice exist. He makes the following observations:
Looking back… one can see that two generations of global human rights work have been predicated, consciously or unconsciously, upon assumptions of a functioning public justice system in the developing world which, if incorrect, effectively undercut the usefulness of those efforts for their intended beneficiaries. Now, absent an effective enforcement mechanism, the great work of the first two generations of the international human rights movement can deliver to the poor only empty parchment promises.
>From the long experience of the AHRC we can confirm this observation about global human rights work being predicated upon the assumption of the availability of a functioning public justice system similar to that of developed countries existing in less developed ones. The AHRC has over some years and through very extensive documentation–much of it published in this journal, article 2–demonstrated that such an assumption is completely baseless. In almost all Asian countries, public justice systems are profoundly dysfunctional. Therefore, it is imperative that the global human rights movement should look as a matter of priority into the ways to deal with the issue of dysfunctional public justice systems, if the long years of work on the articulation of international norms and the adoption of domestic legislation on the basis of such norms are to bear any fruit.
Haugen further observes:
This reality should, I think, radically impact the way we prioritize the investments of the human rights movement in the twenty first century. Suppose for example that scientists worked feverishly for two generations to develop and fill warehouses with miracle vaccines that hundreds of millions of sick people in the developing world desperately needed but could not access. The absence of a delivery system that would effectively carry those vaccines to those who needed them the most would take nothing away from the medical advances the scientists had achieved, but it would suggest an urgent new priority for the international public health community. Likewise, it takes nothing away from the historic significance of the modern human rights movement to say that the brokenness of the public justice systems in the developing world render the promise of that movement largely undelivered to those who need it the most. But it suggests the urgent need for a fundamental shift in the agenda for human rights in the twenty first century. After sixty years of developing and refining vaccines that rarely reach the bloodstreams of actual sick people, we must now shift our focus toward delivering those vaccines to those who are dying without them.
Now given all this, one might expect that remedying the failure to provide the rule of law to the poor would become the central focus of human rights efforts. Yet few if any international human rights organizations or development agencies focus specifically on building public justice systems that work for the poor. These agencies do other very important work but none measures organizational success by its ability to help police and courts in the developing world bring effective law enforcement to the poor. None.
The problem is not that these agencies fail to see the dysfunction of public justice systems in the developing world. Indeed, some of their researchers have been meticulously documenting the problem for decades. Why then, have none of these great international agencies made it a fundamental operational priority? First, international human rights organizations and development agencies manifest doubts that building functioning public justice systems in the developing world is even possible. However, as a historical matter, the fact that almost all functioning public justice systems in the developed world were once malfunctioning suggests otherwise. For example, 125 years ago, police and courts in the United States were nothing like the professional, albeit still very imperfect, law enforcement system that we generally take for granted. In fact, they very much resembled the public justice systems that we see in the developing world today.
These observations are completely consistent with the findings of the Asian Human Rights Commission, independently reached through intense work in several of the countries of Asia. Therefore we can say, happily, that at least so far as some in the west are concerned there is a convergence of views with those of our own organization.
Some important ideas that emerged from the first consultation of the Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-Treatment
An alliance working towards the elimination of torture and ill-treatment already effectively exists in Asia. This alliance is the result of consistent and strenuous work done by the Asian Human Rights Commission, which has gathered around it several partners from countries in Asia. Some of these partners have quite extensive networks of their own, as in Sri Lanka and Nepal. In many other countries also initial work has been done. The AHRC’s Urgent Appeals system has provided a forum for many activists to engage in global advocacy against torture, as well as many other human rights violations, through regular Internet-based networking with a large number of associates. Already there is considerable work on documenting torture, as well as the providing of various types of assistance to torture victims, such as medical assistance, psychological assistance, legal assistance and assistance in advocacy and lobbying. The Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-Treatment (AAATI) should be built on this existing network by way of collaboration to strengthen the work that has already been done and by adding new initiatives and bringing about a closer association of all those who are engaged in this work. Closer associations can be formed around the issue of torture among groups working on diverse issues, such as those focused on economic, social and cultural rights and others who are engaged in issues such as assistance to refugees and other vulnerable groups.
The alliance should be built on a comprehensive concept with its core ideas being expressed clearly. The issue of accountability also needs to be placed in the forefront. Reforms of basic institutions of justice should always be accompanied by the call for accountability, made with reference to the reality of conditions in less developed countries, lest the call be meaningless because basic institutions of the administration of justice are not given the funds to develop adequately deal with the problems faced. Calling for accountability without fundamental institutional reform is illusory, just as the idea of fighting impunity without an adequately functioning justice system is illusory. These matters must become issues of international discussion and debate. The sooner such discussion and debate takes place, the greater will be the possibilities for the elimination of torture and ill-treatment. Intellectual energy should replace the present-day apathy in this regard.
Among the alliance’s other core concepts must be the protection of the poor. The protection of the victim of torture as well as the human rights defender fighting for the interests of the victim should be taken into serious consideration. There are intense pressures against those who seek redress and also against those who promote the interest of the victims. The alliance should come to a greater understanding of protection in all its aspects, and also develop various forms of advocacy for victims and others who need protection. Providing opportunities for victims to air their own ideas and to share their experiences should also be one of the regular pursuits of the AAATI. Through partner organisations such work should be carried out consistently.
The concepts expressed in United Nations conventions should also be situated centrally among the alliance’s core ideas. UN mechanisms for the protection of human rights are of the greatest significance in promoting the elimination of torture and ill-treatment. The recommendations of the Committee Against Torture as well as the Special Rapporteur against Torture should be disseminated widely and pursued consistently.
The alliance should have a comprehensive approach to the economic, political, social, cultural and legal aspects set out above, which together contribute to factors enabling torture. Effective, long-term work not only provides data with which to reveal the forces at work and extent of torture, but also how the incidence of torture and ill-treatment is tied to the political, economic, social, cultural and legal systems. We need such a comprehensive understanding of the problem both for the benefit of our own work and also to attract the attention of others, including scholars in a variety of fields. The alliance should provide a forum for scholars from various disciplines to come together and give their perspective on the issue based on their respective disciplines. It should also have meetings for parliamentarians, professional groups with direct involvement in the issues–such as doctors, psychologists and lawyers.
Victims of torture suffer enormous consequences psychologically. The problems of acute stress as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and many other psychological consequences are little understood in our societies. It is not only the victims that suffer such psychological consequences but also the officers who engage in torture. This psychological aspect should be highlighted very much through the alliance, because a much larger number of people will support it if the consequences are better understood in society. Governments also would direct greater attention to the issues if highlighted properly.
Documentation is the most important activity in any human rights work for the prevention of violations, and this is the case also regarding torture and ill-treatment. During the inaugural discussion of the alliance, participants reflected upon the work done by the activists for the prohibition of slavery in the United Kingdom. The manner in which slaves were being transported in ships was meticulously documented. Pictures graphically portrayed the inhumanity and cruelty involved in this trade. These documents shook the conscience of many people in the United Kingdom. It was due to such advocacy that the slave trade was prohibited, even though the prohibition cost the country large sums of money in lost revenue and in new costs incurred through use of the navy to stop the trade.
On the issue of torture and ill-treatment much more documentation is needed in order to expose the frequency as well as the utter brutality and senselessness of such use of violence on human beings. The causes of torture and ill-treatment also need to be documented meticulously, as do the links between the backward and ineffective justice systems which allow governments to adopt a policy of torture and the failed attempts of victims and human rights activists to obtain redress for such violations. For example, the scandalous length of delays in criminal trials as well as the negligent attitudes of judges, prosecutors and the investigators who have become accustomed to such delays in some countries is a major cause of impunity for torture and ill-treatment. Those who live in the developed world often fail to understand such links between torture and ill-treatment and the obstacles to attempts to eliminate them. Documentation and incisive analysis is essential to address such misunderstanding.
Engagement in documentation work requires a moral belief in the search of the truth as a powerful agent of change. The capacity to challenge official versions of events and approved explanations of institutional arrangements can be built only on a moral foundation. The capacity to seek out victims, record their versions of events and make observations on the circumstances under which they are forced to live is elementary to documentation work, and it too must have a moral basis.
After documentation, the next most important activity is effective communication. Modern technology has created huge advantages for the present generation of activists that did not exist in previous times. The potential to communicate is practically unlimited. However, activists are often rooted in habits formed before this period. It is necessary to make activists aware of the full potential of communication under these new circumstances. The creating of such awareness should be accompanied by the provision of opportunities for exposure and training for the use of new technologies in communications. Investment in such technologies in all local associations linked to the AAATI would likely produce great results. The transition from ‘never-ists’ to gradualists and in turn from gradualists to ‘immediate-ists’ could be achieved rapidly by better use of communications facilities. The AAATI should very consciously develop its people and technology to make the best use of the facilities and mentalities of the communication age.
The AAATI should also communicate constantly with UN agencies on the actual situation in various countries, so as to bring about a greater appreciation of the problems faced in reality among the staff and mandate-holders of those agencies. There are many aspects of the UN mechanisms that need to be improved in order to achieve their aims. One very important area is to bring to the realisation of these agencies that the implementation of international norms requires local institutions for the administration of justice that are able to provide the kind of redress required under international norms. Mere recommendations to governments to investigate abuses and to prosecute offenders are of little use if the justice system concerned is beset with such problems and contradictions as to make it incapable of doing that which has been recommended. UN agencies should develop their capacities to assess the adequacy and credibility of relevant government institutions. Problems such as the absence of witness protection, delays in adjudication and corruption ice should be constantly raised, and UN agencies should develop their capacities to do work on these issues.
Footnote: This article is adapted from the keynote speech launching the Asian Alliance against Torture and Ill-treatment (AAATI), a joint initiative of the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims, Denmark, held in Hong Kong from 15 to 19 August 2011.