You’ve hung from the ceiling for hours. Your muscles scream. Electric shocks convulse your body. Rape. Mock executions. Water forced into your mouth. You think you’re drowning. You are being exposed to whatever it takes to break you. To make you submit. To sign a confession, or hand over information. You’re hidden away from the world’s gaze. You think you are forgotten.
Every day, children and adults all over the world are exposed to these atrocities. Throughout the world states are torturing people like you and me.
Torture can never be justified. And that is why Amnesty now takes a concerted effort in the fight against such inhuman and barbaric assault. This year it is 30 years since the UN Convention Against Torture was implemented. Therefore, Amnesty has launched the “Stop Torture” campaign.
But what is torture?
Under Article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture, torture is defined as
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person action in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
There are some important aspects to take from this definition:
First, in order for an action to be classified as torture, the pain or suffering involved must be severe. Anything less than this might constitute cruel or degrading treatment, but does not give rise to torture. For some period of time, torture and cruel and degrading treatment were viewed as being one and the same. However, the 1978 decision by the European Court of Human Rights in Ireland v. United Kingdom changed at least some of the thinking in this area. The Court ruled that ‘five techniques’ – wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink – did not constitute torture, but rather, cruel and degrading treatment.
So, when is suffering or pain severe? It is difficult, if not impossible, to say when the threshold for torture is reached in a particular case. An example is that one of the issues raised repeatedly during the course of the Bush administration’s conduct of the ‘war on terror’ was whether ‘waterboarding’, which is repeatedly pouring water into the mouth of a person held under restraint, constituted torture or not. Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly, and rather infamously, claiming that it was not.
Second, torture can be either mental or physical. However, torture will often have elements of both.
Although it is 30 years since the UN Convention Against Torture was adopted and most states agree that the prohibition of torture is and should be absolute, states still continue to torture or be complicit in the acts of torture. In the last five years, Amnesty has reported torture in 141 countries. That is two-thirds of all world countries.
Amnesty’s new campaign #StopTorture will continue for the next two years. It will be focused on torture in all forms of detention. Torture can be stopped through effective protection mechanisms and Amnesty require that all governments get in place and practice these required protection mechanisms against torture. Amnesty will stand between the torturer and the tortured by positioning ourselves inside those systems that are failing to protect people. This will be achieved by making sure that detainees have contact with their families and a lawyer; that doctors are on hand to examine detainees properly and, that anyone involved in torture is brought to justice.
But Amnesty can’t do this alone. They need you and me to join them, and stand between the torturers and the tortured too.
Take action now and use #StopTorture in social media.