Describing torture as an “atrocious violation of human dignity,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed in a message that freedom from torture was a fundamental human right that must be protected under all circumstances. “Growing awareness of international legal instruments and protection mechanisms gives hope that the wall of silence around this terrible practice is gradually being eroded,” he said, warning however that ending the impunity with which torture has been practised will take “all our collective strength.” “[Torture] dehumanizes both the victim and the perpetrator,” Mr. Annan said. “The pain and terror deliberately inflicted by one human being upon another leave permanent scars: spines twisted by beatings, skulls dented by rifle butts, recurring nightmares that keep the victims in constant fear.”The Secretary-General underscored that ending impunity meant prosecuting torture “as the international crime it is,” ratifying and implementing the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and following the related Principles on Effective Investigation and Documentation. It also meant ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines torture as a crime against humanity and a war crime, and raising the level of education and development in every society, he said.Many of the same themes were echoed in a joint declaration released by the four main actors involved in the UN’s fight against torture — the Committee against Torture, the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on the question of torture and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The declaration appealed to governments to end torture, sanction all those who have ordered torture, and take measures to prevent torture within their territories. It also called for more contributions to the Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, and urged universal ratification, by the year 2005, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocols and of the Convention against Torture. Today’s commemoration, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 12 December 1997, aims at eliminating torture and ensuring the application of the Convention against torture, which entered into force on 26 June 1987.