CPT: 15TH GENERAL REPORT 5 PREFACE Present times continue to be marked by the fight against terrorism, and there is every likelihood that this will remain the case for some years to come. The manner in which this challenge is met has particular significance for democratic societies committed to human rights and the rule of law. Will they find the way to fulfil the obligation to protect their citizens whilst at the same time upholding the basic values which form part of their foundations? There are clear indications that, to date, the right way has not always been found. For instance, reports abound of persons being seized and spirited away without due process, and of incommunicado detention in secret holding facilities. Those reports have been lent further credence by recent legal proceedings; in June 2005, Italian judicial authorities issued arrest warrants against 13 foreign agents for the “aggravated abduction” of a person in a Milan street in February 2003; also in June 2005, a German court acknowledged that witnesses whom it had sought (in vain) to hear were being held in “unknown locations”. And evidence continues to come to light of resort to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in various places, in the context of the fight against terrorism. It is important in this area to be clear about one’s understanding of the terms being used; to give a concrete example, in the CPT’s opinion, to immerse persons under water so as to make them believe they might drown is not a professional interrogation technique, it is an act of torture. Employing methods of the kind described above (or aiding and abetting others to do so) is not the way democratic societies are meant to go about their business, not even in the most testing of times. But there can be little doubt that such methods are on occasion being used today by agents of democratic societies, including in certain parts of Europe. This type of action will not serve anyone’s interests well. The universal recognition of the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, and the collective enforcement of that human right at European level, occurred in the immediate aftermath of a world war, during which untold barbarities were committed in pursuit of intolerable ideologies. And it was a time of continuing uncertainty and danger. Is there anything so different about the international climate of today that would justify a change of course? In fact, it is precisely at a time of emergency that the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment is particularly relevant, and the strength of a society’s commitment to the fundamental value it embodies truly put to the test. Like the prohibition of slavery, the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment is one of those few human rights which admit of no derogations. Talk of “striking the right balance” is misguided when such human rights are at stake. Of course, resolute action is required to counter terrorism; but that action cannot be allowed to degenerate into exposing people to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. Democratic societies must remain true to the values that distinguish them from others.