Torture: An Expert’s Confrontation with an Everyday Evil

In this podcast, Professor Manfred Nowak shares his experiences from working as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture between 2004-2010. Has torture increased or decreased globally? And what methods are necessary in order for states to prevent torture from happening?

Mr Nowak later summarized, together with other UN experts, his experiences from the assignment into a book (original German title “Folter – Die Alltäglichkeit des Unfassbaren” Verlag Kremayr & Scheriau KG, Vienna) where he shares personal meetings with thousands of detainees that have been tortured:

“I actually realized that I couldn’t stand his [detaine] descriptions on what he had been through, so I had to break up the interview,” says Nowak, regarding one of his earlier interviews with a detainee. 

He initially said no to the request on whether he could write a book about his experiences, stating that he had dealt enough with it. One year later he had however changed his mind:

“I thought perhaps it is good for me to do it. Whatever you have seen, you still had your dreams and flashbacks and it was there with you very strongly,” he says. “To write a book about it and go through documents and countries brought back many memories. But that was good for me in order to overcome them.”

The book covers his experiences from all world regions of unannounced visits of places of detention and confidential interviews with detainees, torture survivors and witnesses. Nowak dedicates this book to the many torture survivors who were kind and brave enough to share their horrific experiences with him. “Whatever (the detainees) might have done, they truly deserve a world without torture and with humane conditions of detention,” he says.

Manfred Nowak, Professor of International Law and Human Rights – University of Vienna, and Co-Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann institute of Human Rights (BIM), is the new Secretary General at EIUC. Prof. Nowak has also been Head of the interdisciplinary research centre Human Rights at the University of Vienna since 2014, vice chair of the Management Board of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna and Scientific Director of the Vienna Master of Arts in Human Rights, University of Vienna, since 2012.

Manfred Nowak was United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2004 to 2010. In this function, he conducted fact-finding missions to Georgia, Mongolia, Nepal, China, Jordan, Paraguay, Nigeria, Togo, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Denmark and Greenland, Moldova, Equatorial Guinea, Uruguay, Kazakhstan, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, and Greece; joint reports on Guantánamo Bay, Darfur and Secret Detention in the Fight against Terrorism from 2004 to 2010. Before, he serves as UN Expert on Enforced Disappearances between 1993 and 2006 and advised the Working Group of the Commission on Human Rights drafting a Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was adopted by the General Assembly in December 2006. Between 1996 and 2003, he served as international judge at the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo.


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