WORLDWIDE CONDEMNATION- In 1997, the United Nations General Assembly designated June 26 each year as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It was an important step in the much needed process of globalizing human rights and acknowledging that torture, and all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are absolutely and universally illegal. This prohibition forms part of customary international law, which means that it is binding on every member of the international community, regardless of whether a State has ratified international treaties in which torture is expressly prohibited. The systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity.
In October 2011, UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Mendez declared that “Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit…whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique.” He further stated that “Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system” and “Indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition”. “Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment…when used as a punishment…indefinitely or for a prolonged period. For persons with mental disabilities or juveniles…” “I call for an absolute ban of solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities or other disabilities or health conditions, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers as well as those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row,” he said.
Mr. Mendez noted that the use of solitary confinement and its negative effects on inmates is widespread throughout the United States penitentiary system. The human rights expert urged the US Government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances. He noted that in the US an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 individuals are being held insolation.
CHICAGO’s SHAMEFUL ROLE- Mr. Mendez’s report is not the first United Nations’ body to express concern about acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the United States. In May 2006, The UN Committee against Torture (CAT) expressed concern about “…the limited investigation and lack of prosecution in respect of the allegations of torture perpetrated…” by Chicago Police Officers. The CAT recommended that the US “promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate all allegations of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law enforcement personnel and bring perpetrators to justice…”
The CAT was responding to evidence that from 1970 into 1990, over 100 African-American boys and men were tortured by Chicago Police Detectives. Most of these victims of torture are still incarcerated due to forced confessions obtained by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his supervision. These “confessions” were obtained via various torture techniques: suffocation by placing plastic bags over the head; electric shock of armpits, ears, and testicles; Russian roulette; beatings with fists, flashlights, and guns repeated racial epithets, and use of cattle prods. After landing in the Illinois prison system, some of these victims were again subjected to torture by placement in solitary confinement by prison officials. For example, Burge torture victim Keith Walker has languished in solitary confinement for over 20 years. Darrell Cannon, another Burge torture victim, spent years in TAMMS, Illinois’ supermax prison facility.
CALL TO ACTION:
- We join the UN Special Rapporteur’s demand that the United States Government and the State governments eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances.
- We further demand that the Governor of the State of Illinois immediately pardon all victims of torture by Jon Burge and/or by Chicago Police Detectives involved in the conspiracy to torture African-American and Latino boys and men. The Governments must recognize the “Right to Rehabilitation” pursuant to Article 14 of the UN Convention Against Torture for victims inside and outside of prison.
CONTACT: Atty. Stan Willis, The Law Office of Standish E. Willis, National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL); and Black People Against Police Torture (BPAPT). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, (312) 750-1950 ofc; Vickie Casanova Willis, NCBL; BPAPT; email@example.com