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Discussion with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

For Immediate Release: October 11, 2011

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The Dangerous Over‐Use of Solitary Confinement

Religious and human rights groups to participate in panel discussion featuring UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

NEW YORK – Tuesday, October 18, Juan Méndez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, will deliver the keynote address at a briefing and panel discussion at the Church Center for the United Nations entitled: “The Dangerous Over‐Use of Solitary Confinement: Pervasive Human Rights Violations in Prisons, Jails & Other Places of Detention.”  The panel was organized by 11 organizations, including the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. He will be speaking to the General Assembly of the U.N. earlier that day.

Under an authoritarian military dictatorship ruling Argentina in the 1970s, Méndez, an Argentinean citizen, was imprisoned by his own government outside Buenos Aires. Held captive as a political detainee, he was subjected to torture by an electric prod.  Today, Méndez serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In that role and guided by the principles of the UN Convention Against Torture, he investigates charges of torture by governmental entities worldwide.

Each day, tens of thousands of prisoners and detainees in the U.S. and abroad are held in solitary confinement. Usually in isolation for at least 23 hours a day and denied all meaningful human contact, these prisoners and detainees are frequently held for months, years, and sometimes decades in conditions that Méndez has found can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and even torture. This briefing will examine the detrimental impacts of solitary confinement, what makes it a human rights violation, and the disproportionate impact of its use on mentally ill persons and youth. Panelists will also explore the legal framework for protecting prisoners and detainees from solitary confinement and strategies advocates and others are currently using to end its abusive use.

Over the last two decades American corrections systems have increasingly relied on solitary confinement as a prison management tool – even building entire institutions called “Supermax prisons” where prisoners are held in conditions of extreme isolation, sometimes for years or decades. Due to the human rights concerns implicated by these solitary confinement practices, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture submitted a complaint on May 16 to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to ask for an investigation of the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. Mendez has begun to investigate the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. and other nations.Media is encouraged to attend, and coverage of the panel discussion is welcome.  Details below:

WHO: Keynote by Juan E. Mendez, Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights

Council on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

Panel discussion with:

  • Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
  • David Fathi, Director, National Prison Project, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Jamie Fellner, Senior Advisor, U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch
  • Dr. Craig Haney, Department of Psychology University of California at Santa Cruz
  • Dr. Homer Venters, MD MS, Center for Health and Human Rights, NYU Medical School

WHAT: A briefing and panel discussion: The Dangerous Over‐Use of Solitary
          Confinement: Pervasive Human Rights Violations in Prisons, Jails
          and Other Places of Detention.

WHEN: 6-7:30 p.m., Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Church Center for the United Nations 
             777 United Nations Plaza, New York, N.Y.
             44th Street entrance – Second Floor Conference Room


The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch, Rabbis for Human Rights‐ North America, Physicians for Human Rights, Metro New York Religious Campaign Against Torture, The Mennonite Central Committee UN Office, Unitarian Universalist Association United Nations Office, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, Amnesty International USA

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a growing membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 300 religious organizations have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations.


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