Reuters, Nov. 7, 2002
BY IRWIN ARIEFF
UNITED NATIONS – A U.N. committee dealt the United States a heavy defeat on Thursday in its bid to block or cripple a draft anti-torture treaty that has been a decade in the making, paving the way for the pact’s final approval next month.
Overriding opposition from Washington, the U.N. General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee approved the draft treaty by a vote of 104 to eight, with 37 abstentions.
Joining Washington were China, Cuba, Israel, Japan, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam.
The pact next goes to the full 191-nation U.N. General Assembly, where routine approval is expected next month, as the assembly and the committee have identical memberships.
To come into force, the pact must be signed and ratified by at least 20 governments, a number set by the treaty itself.
The treaty, which the United States has opposed since the drafting process began 10 years ago, would set up an international system of inspections for all sites where prisoners are held to insure that torture was not taking place.
Washington argued the pact would divert limited U.N. resources from other, more effective, anti-torture mechanisms and enjoyed only limited support from the U.N. membership.
It has also argued that opening state prisons to international inspection would violate states’ rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The campaign against the anti-torture pact was the latest in a wave of go-it-alone actions that have infuriated many of Washington’s closest allies at the United Nations, including rejection of the Kyoto pact on global warming and the new International Criminal Court aimed at combating genocide and war crimes.
Debra Long of the Association for the Prevention of Torture said the lopsided result showed Washington was in the minority on what many countries saw as a key human rights vote despite its claims the treaty had only limited support.
“They don’t want this type of mechanism to be in place because they will not accept visits to their own prisons. But it is scandalous that they would try to block visits to prisons in other countries,” Long told Reuters.
Before approving the draft treaty, the committee defeated, 98 to 11 with 37 abstentions, a U.S. amendment that would have shifted the burden of paying for the prison visits and the treaty’s administrative costs to those countries that ratify the pact rather than the U.N. general budget.
U.S. envoy Frank Gaffney drew hoots of laughter from delegates when he said many U.N. member-nations had difficulty paying their dues. Washington has a long history of piling up arrears and granting itself unilateral U.N. dues cuts.
Treaty backers argued the U.S. amendment would have crippled the treaty by discouraging poor countries from ratifying it.
“No country should hesitate to join these efforts because of financial concerns,” said Danish envoy Henrik Hahn, speaking on behalf of the European Union.
The anti-torture pact would supplement an existing Convention Against Torture which went into force in 1987 and has been ratified by 130 countries including the United States in 1994.