The City College of New York

The series of lectures, conversations, film showings, exhibitions, and courses brings together faculty, students, and staff at CCNY and the New York City community to examine human rights through multiple lenses.


Thursday, March 27, 2014
6:30 p.m.
The City College of New York
NAC, Room 1/203


For March 27th evening event: the NAC is the modern building between Amsterdam and Convent Avenues at 137th Street. Subways: 1 to 137th Street (Walk up the hill, towards the east towards Amsterdam Avenue. Cut through the college and walk down the hill from Amsterdam Avenue to Convent Avenue); also you may take the A, C, B, or D to 145th Street (Walk up the hill from St. Nicholas Avenue to Convent Avenue and turn left onto Convent Avenue.) 

“Torture, International Law, and the Fight against Terrorism,” with Juan E. Méndez, Visiting Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in conversation with Amrit Singh Senior Legal Officer for the National Security and Counterterrorism program at the Open Society Justice Initiative in New York, moderated by Rajan Menon, Anne and Bernard Spitzer Chair in Political Science at the City College of New York

Torture is of special concern to the international community. International law has developed standards to prohibit it absolutely and mechanisms to prevent it.   The normative framework favors a total abolition of torture in practice.  And yet various forms of torment are practiced every day in at least half of the countries of the world.  Public condemnation of torture has been temporarily replaced by resignation or even tolerance in the wake of the "war on terror."  We must interrogate ourselves as to whether those mechanisms are working and what else needs to be done to abolish torture in our lifetime.

Juan E. Méndez is Visiting Professor at the Washington College of Law, The American University and the author – with Marjory Wentworth – of Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights (New York and London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).  As of November 1, 2010, he has been the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In 2012, he obtained a doctorate honoris causa  from the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina. In the summer of 2009 he was a Scholar-in-Residence at the Ford Foundation in New York.  Between 2004 and 2009 he was President of the International Center for Transitional Justice.  Starting in August 2004 and until March 31, 2007, he was also concurrently the Special Advisor to the Secretary General of the UN on the Prevention of Genocide.  In 2010 and 2011 he was Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association.  A native of Lomas de Zamora, Argentina, Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. As a result of his involvement in representing political prisoners, the Argentinean military dictatorship arrested him and subjected him to torture and administrative detention for a year and a half. During this time, Amnesty International adopted him as a "Prisoner of Conscience." After being expelled from his country in 1977, Mr. Mendez settled in the United States with his family. 

For 15 years, he worked with Human Rights Watch, concentrating his efforts on human rights issues in the western hemisphere, and helping to build the organization into one of the most widely respected in the world. In 1994, he became General Counsel of Human Rights Watch, with worldwide duties in support of the organization's mission, including responsibility for the organization's litigation and standard setting activities. From 1996 to 1999, Mr. Méndez was the Executive Director of the Inter American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica. Between October 1999 and May 2004 he was Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.  Between 2000 and 2003 he was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, and served as President in 2002. 

He has taught International Human Rights Law at Georgetown Law School and at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and he teaches regularly at the Oxford Masters Program in International Human Rights Law in the United Kingdom and in the summer Human Rights Academy at American University in Washington.  In June 2007 he received a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). He is the recipient of several human rights awards, the most recent being the Goler T. Butcher Medal from the American Society of International Law, in 2010.  He has also received the inaugural “Monsignor Oscar A. Romero Award for Leadership in Service to Human Rights,” by the University of Dayton in April 2000, and the “Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan Award” of the Heartland Alliance, Chicago, in May 2003. Mr. Méndez is a member of the bar of Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires, Argentina and of the District of Columbia, U.S., having earned a J.D. from Stella Maris University in Argentina and a certificate from the American University, Washington College of Law.

Amrit Singh

Amrit Singh is Senior Legal Officer for the National Security and Counterterrorism program at the Open Society Justice Initiative in New York, where she directs strategic litigation, documentation, and advocacy on national security-related human rights abuses across the world. Among other cases, Ms. Singh is counsel in al-Nashiri v. Poland, and al-Nashiri v. Romania, litigation on behalf of a Guantánamo prisoner before the European Court of Human Rights that challenges the complicity of Poland and Romania in his CIA-driven torture and rendition. She is the author of a recently published Justice Initiative report entitled, Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition, which documents the complicity of dozens of governments in the CIA’s torture program. Prior to joining the Open Society Justice Initiative, Ms. Singh was a Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she litigated numerous cases relating to immigrants’ rights issues and post-September 11, 2001 human rights abuses, including ACLU v. Dep't of Defense, which yielded the public disclosure of the “torture memos,” among thousands of other government records relating to the Bush administration’s torture program. She is co-author (with Jameel Jaffer) of Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond (Columbia University Press 2007). Ms. Singh has previously testified before the United States Congress on the subject of prisoner abuse and torture associated with the Bush Administration’s application of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” She is a graduate of the Yale Law School, Oxford University, and Cambridge University, U.K.


Rajan Menon holds the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Chair in Political Science at the City College of New York/City University of New York and is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. Until August 2012 he was the Monroe J. Rathbone Distinguished Professor of International Relations and chairman of the International Relations Department at Lehigh University. He has also taught at Vanderbilt and Columbia Universities.  Professor Menon has served as Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Fellow at the New America Foundation, Visiting Fellow at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, Senior Advisor and Academic Fellow at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Director of Eurasia Policy Studies at the National Bureau of Asian Research NBR). He has received fellowships and grants from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Carnegie Corporation, the German Marshall Fund, the US Institute of Peace, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. His most recent book is The End of Alliances (Oxford University Press, 2007). His recent articles include “Prisoners of the Caucasus: Russia’s Invisible Civil War,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2010). “Breaking the State,” National Interest (May/June 2011), “Counterrevolution in Kiev: Hope Fade for Ukraine,” Foreign Affairs (November/December 2011), and “When America Leaves: Asia After the Afghan War,” The American Interest (May/June 2012), “Why Beijing and Moscow Oppose Intervention,” Current History (November 2012), and “R2P: It’s Fatally Flawed,” The American Interest (July-August 2013), and “Asia’s Looming Power Shift, The National Interest (September-October 2013). He blogs at the Huffington Post, writes a column twice monthly for the online edition of National Interest, and is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. His opinion pieces have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Newsweek, Christian Science Monitor, Financial Times, Newsday, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune,,, and He has been a commentator on ABC, CNN, MS-NBC, BBC, France 24, NPR, American Public Radio, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Russian Television Network (RTR). He is a consultant to various US government agencies.

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