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UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak speaks on human rights

BY HOLLY HINES | MARCH 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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Pictures of a “torture room” filled with detainees, wounds covering their bodies, served as the backdrop for U.N. special rapporteur Manfred Nowak’s Thursday lecture.

Nowak responds to allegations from torture victims and their families on a daily basis. He then investigates the credibility of the information, reports his assessment to officials, and requests that they report back once they’ve taken action. He also travels around the world investigating human-rights concerns.

Nowak traveled to the UI from Austria, where he is a professor at the University of Vienna’s Institute of Constitutional and Administrative Law, to speak at two events for the College of Law’s Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, in collaboration with the University Lecture Committee.

At Thursday’s event — held in a packed Shambaugh Auditorium — he discussed the definition of torture and ideas regarding prevention, combating impunity, and the rights of torture victims.

“Victims of torture suffer, usually the rest of their lives,” he said, and they often suffer from mental-health problems that need ongoing treatment.

Nowak is set to speak in a panel for the law journal’s symposium, “A Critical Juncture: Human Rights and U.S. Standing in the World Under the Obama Administration,” at 9 a.m. today.

Nowak said he plans to discuss ways in which human-rights policies have changed under the Obama administration.

“Where I’m really disappointed by the Obama administration is in that it has a very clear mantra of looking into the future but not really touching the past,” he said.

The Obama administration has prohibited torture, he said, thus changing the way U.S. officials interrogate suspected terrorists.

But, he said, the current administration has an obligation to look into past human-rights issues, take action against perpetrators, and provide compensation and rehabilitation to victims.

Some think the change in leadership is an opportunity for alterations in U.S. human-rights policy, said Rita Bettis, the editor-in-chief of Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems.

UI junior Mike Hagerty said he attended Thursday’s event in part because of his curiosity about peoples’ visions for improving others’ lives.

“Human rights is just something I’m really interested in,” he said, noting he’s looking into a human-rights internship with Amnesty International.

Bettis said many UI students and Iowa City residents showed commitment to issues regarding these policies by supporting Obama’s campaign.

“Engagement with U.S. foreign policy, in particular with our human-rights practices, is something that’s fundamentally important as a citizen and as a student,” she said.


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