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Torture on the increase around the world

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October 19, 2000 


LONDON (AP) - More people than ever around the world are being subjected to beatings, rape, electric shock and other forms of torture, despite the rising number of democratic regimes, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

Kicking off a global campaign against torture, the human rights organization said it had found evidence of the practice in more than 150 countries, including Britain and the United States.

"Torture occurs in democracies on a daily basis, on a routine basis," Amnesty secretary-general Pierre Sane said at a press conference in London. And, he added, "It's on the increase."

Amnesty launched the "Stamp Out Torture" campaign with events in London, Paris, Beirut, Nairobi, Tokyo and Buenos Aires in a bid to highlight the international nature of the problem.

The organization's researchers found reports of "widespread" torture by agents of the state in more than 70 countries between 1997 and 2000. In more than 80 countries, people died as the result of torture, Amnesty said.

In more than 40 countries, victims were given electric shocks, according to the researchers. In more than 50, they were subjected to mock execution and, in more than 30, they were beaten on the soles of their feet.

The organization studied cases of torture ranging from the rape and mutilation of civilians in war-torn Sierra Leone to the use of electric-shock "stun guns" on prisoners in the United States.

"Most people in this country get their image of torture from Madame Tussaud's or the London Dungeon," said Duncan Forrest of the London-based Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, which sees 3,000 torture victims a year.

But torturers, Forrest said, "move with the times."

Amnesty International, best-known for its work on behalf of political prisoners, said many torture victims are targeted because of their identity rather than their beliefs.

Most are accused criminals such as Margaret Mjeri, who was arrested last year by Kenyan police on suspicion of carjacking.

"They put me in a torture chamber, beat me everywhere with big wooden sticks. They put a piece of wood in my mouth and put pepper in my private parts ... to make me confess I was a carjacker," Mjeri told a press conference in Nairobi.

She was released without charge after spending five months in prison.

Yenny Rosa Damayanati, an Indonesian human rights activist, was jailed alongside children who had committed petty crimes. They were regularly beaten and raped by police, guards and other prisoners, she said.

"The police think they have the right to beat these prisoners. ... Everyone thinks this is the normal way of dealing with those small criminals," she told reporters in Tokyo.

Amnesty said torture is fueled by rising intolerance in many societies. Victims of police brutality are disproportionately members of ethnic minorities, including African-Americans in the United States, aboriginal Australians and Roma gypsies in Europe, the organization said.

Discrimination, said Sane, "paves the way to torture."

Kalsang Palmo, a Tibetan nun, said she was arrested and detained by Chinese authorities in 1988 after participating in an independence demonstration.

"In the detention centers we couldn't sleep because of the continued beating," she said at a Tokyo press conference. "Everyday, electric shocks were applied to my entire body. When I lost consciousness, my captors threw water on me and gave me shocks again."

Amnesty called on governments to live up to international agreements banning torture, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also called for an end to practices such as incommunicado detention and said governments should treat domestic violence as a form of torture.

It said countries must bring torturers to justice and ensure redress for their victims.

"It's a global phenomenon that will only disappear if we have both national and global solutions," Sane said.

Joseph Etima, Uganda's commissioner of prisons, said stamping out torture would require a shift in attitude.

"We throw people to prison as punishment, not for punishment," Etima said in Nairobi.

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