On 1 December 2004, Manfred Nowak was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the Chairperson of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. This independent expert function is of an honorary nature.
In addition to dealing with complaints from torture victims, their families and NGOs on a daily basis, the support work for the Special Rapporteur consists in extensive preparation and follow-up work in relation to fact finding missions carried out all over the world. In 2009, Manfred Nowak and his team conducted in total two missions to Uruguay and Kazakhstan in order to assess the situation regarding torture and conditions of detention in these countries and to offer cooperation in eliminating the practice of torture. Another planned mission to Zimbabwe was cancelled at the last moment. A three-day training of the Moldovan National Preventive Mechanism was linked with a follow-up to the 2008 mission to Moldova.
In March 2009, Manfred Nowak presented his report on the missions to Denmark and Moldova and a preliminary note on Equatorial Guinea to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. His main report to the same body on the question whether the death penalty could constitute cruel, inhuman and degrad-ing punishment received mixed replies from the side of States. While many State representatives praised him for raising the issue, some governmental authorities claimed that he had overstepped his mandate. Another focus of the report to the Council was the treatment of drug users in detention. The report to the UN General Assembly in October 2009 focused on conditions of detention and more particularly rights of persons in detention, as well as on children in detention.
In addition to supporting the mandate, the team implemented other projects related to the prevention of torture. For example, upon a request of the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSI) the team drafted a study on "Pre-trial detention and torture"; this study shall serve as a basis for an OSI campaign on the issue of pre-trial detention.
Materials and research findings on the situation of torture worldwide are documented on the website http://www.atlas-of-torture.org/ since April 2009.