DIGNITY-focus on corruption and torture at the UN

With a half-day conference at the UN in Geneva on March 1, DIGNITY focuses on the connection between torture and the everyday corruption many poor people are exposed to worldwide.

Photo: Stock-photo.

Imagine you're on your way home from work. You have cash in your pocket which needs to be spent on food for your family. You are driving when you suddenly see a roadblock ahead. There’s a police officer. You must go through the roadblock to get to your home town, but he won't let you through - unless you give him the money. He threatens you with a beating if you don't pay, and eventually you give in.

It may be hard to fathom for a Westerner, but that is the reality for millions of poor people around the world. They are regularly forced to pay bribery, protection money, illegal charges and fines to avoid physical punishment from corrupt authorities.

The unholy alliance between torture and corruption is also evident in the legal systems. For example, prisoners often have to pay the prison officers exorbitant amounts to get food, medicine, or family visits.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture now publishes a thematic report to the UN Human Rights Council on precisely torture and corruption, and it is on this occasion DIGNITY hosts a side-event on the subject. It happens Friday, March 1, and can be followed live on DIGNITY's youtube channel from 11.30am.

- Torture and corruption have traditionally been analyzed and dealt with in widely differing forums; torture in human rights circles, and corruption in the development context. The correlation between corruption and torture is a relatively new subject in human rights circles, but thanks to the Danish government's focus on the topic in 2018, and research from, among others, DIGNITY, the topic has now been put on the UN's human rights agenda, says chief legal counsel and head of legal department in DIGNITY, Therese Rytter.

The so-called side event, which coincides with the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, will address the predominant patterns of interaction between corruption and torture, as well as the systemic root causes of both phenomena - and offer recommendations with a view to strengthening the protection against torture and ill-treatment in contexts affected by corruption.

The expert panel consists of Professor Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Sir Malcolm Evans, Chair of UNSPT, Professor Steffen Jensen, Senior Researcher at DIGNITY and Aalborg University, and Ahmed Mefreh, Executive Director, Committee for Justice (CFJ), Egypt.

For several years DIGNITY has studied the connection between corruption and torture in Nairobi, Kenya, in Goma in eastern Congo, in Sri Lanka, and in Cape Town in South Africa. And corruption is a big problem, with far-reaching consequences for the people it affects. - Studies of corruption most often look at the "big" corruption at state level, but for the vast majority of people it is the “small” corruption that matters. If they pay, they can avoid being tortured and beat up, but it also drains their pockets of the means they need to improve their own lives. It is therefore an extremely important issue to focus on, says Henrik Rønsbo, head of the department for prevention of Urban Violence in DIGNITY.

Livestream - Torture and Corruption

On the occasion of the launch of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s 2019 thematic report to the Human Rights Council on torture and corruption, this panel brings together key international actors, notably the UN Special Rapporteur and the Chair of the UN Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture, as well as human rights researchers and practitioners, in order to examine the relationship between corruption and torture.