26 June 2019
By: Aditi Ramakrishnan
Today, 26 June 2019 marks the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Instituted in 1998, this day is meant for the international community to stand in solidarity with the victims of this grave crime, as well as for us to track the effective functioning of the UN Convention Against Torture.
This report aims to highlight the crime of torture in recent times in various parts of the world. One observes that no region is spared, as this report goes over instances in China, Myanmar, and the Middle East, and perpetrated by these governments as well as those of the US and UK.
On this day and every other, GICJ remains committed to fighting injustices such as torture, and advocates for its prevention, for compensation and redress to victims and their families, as well as for the elimination of impunity and complicity by the international community toward perpetrators.
International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
In February 1998, the UN General Assembly designated June 26 the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The aim, in addition to pledging support for those who had suffered at the hands of torture, was to track the effective functioning of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The present report aims to do the same, while documenting recent violations and action against torture.
Torture is defined as any act:
- Wherein severe pain or suffering (physical or mental) is intentionally inflicted,
- Conducted for purposes of information extraction, punishment, intimidation, discrimination etc.,
- Inflicted or sanctioned by a person in an official capacity, and
- Is not pain/suffering from or due to legitimate/lawful sanctions and punishment.
Legal framework agaisnt torture
Torture is explicitly and absolutely banned in accordance with international humanitarian as well as human rights law. States are subject, among other international, regional, and national legislation, to the following:
- The Convention Against Torture – Thus far, 164 states are party to CAT.
- Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions – 196 states are party to the Geneva Conventions and bound by this Article, making it universally applicable.
- Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – this sets out fundamental human rights that are universally agreed upon, and which eventually went on to become protected by covenants of international law.
- Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – the ICCPR has 172 state parties and 6 signatories.
Recent Instances of Torture
Despite the extensive legal obligations (and massive ethical concerns) regarding torture, the act continues to be employed the world over in extracting information, threatening prisoners, or sending a political message to other states. As follows are some (among many) recent examples of the use of torture:
Since 2017, China has adopted a policy of what it calls “de-extremification”, which has involved, among other things, the internment of nearly one million Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. This internment has involved surveillance, political indoctrination, and forced cultural assimilation. In its “vocational training centers”, the human rights community has documented the use of torture in the form of intimidation, involuntary detention, shackling, physical restraint, etc. No one appears to be freed from these camps of late, making the provision of compensation almost impossible. China has signed or ratified all of the above treaties.
The Myanmar government is responsible for crippling human rights violations, including murders, torture, and genocide of the Rohingya Muslim population in the Rakhine State. The military was responsible for indiscriminate killing, gang rapes, assaulting children, and burning villages. More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee across the border to Bangladesh. The government of Myanmar promised repatriation, in a tripartite agreement made with Bangladesh and the UN. However, it has not honored this promise, and has not dismantled its discriminatory laws and practices, nor has it provided citizenship for the Rohingya, or compensation to the families of victims. Myanmar is party to neither the CAT, nor to the ICCPR.
Since 2003, Iraqi authorities have regularly and extensively used torture methods such as waterboarding, beating, suspension from the ceiling, etc. in its prisons. Far from providing reparations, the cruel measures used in Iraq leaves victims physically and mentally weak and terrified, so much so that they often (even fallaciously) confess to crimes to escape torture. And there is absolutely no accountability for the government and perpetrators, due to the raging corruption and widespread use of this practice. The international community continues to remain problematically unresponsive, taking no action to ensure accountability. The use of torture was increased after the defeat of ISIL, on anyone with any alleged connection to ISIL, admittedly for PR purposes to put public fears to rest. Iraq is party to all of the above treaties, and its own constitution prohibits all forms of torture, and necessitates redress to victims.
Israel has followed a policy of “coercive interrogation” for a long time, arguing that imposing physical harm on a few people to protect the majority is morally acceptable. In particular, this has been prevalent in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, against Palestinian prisoners. It includes methods such as beatings, hanging, immersion in different temperatures of water, cuffing, etc. Despite this being a long-standing policy, in one of the grossest international double standards of all time, Israel was still elected Chair of the Sixth Committee in 2016, the UN body that oversees issues relating to international law. Israel is party to all of the above treaties.
- United States
In Iraq itself, during the 2003 US-led invasion, torture was practiced in prisons by American troops on dissidents, for which reparations still have not been provided. When news first became public, the US shirked accountability for it, calling it “disgraceful conduct” by a “few American troops who dishonored” the country. An example is when an Iraqi person led a team of journalists to a site to document evidence of ill-treatment and torture by the US troops, for which he was severely tortured. He was reportedly mauled by the troop dogs, subjected to electric shocks, hung, and starved. The US has a long history of employing torture to meet the ends it creates for itself, all while assuming a moral higher ground. This is unacceptable, and on this day, we stand with victims in advocating for accountability for all perpetrators, no matter how large they stand on the global stage.
- United Kingdom
The UK was also part of the coalition that invaded Iraq, and also operated detention centers where torture, sexual violence, and other ill treatment were regularly practiced between 2003 till its withdrawal. Some died as a result of the mistreatment, or were killed by soldiers. However, even after a decade, it still delays justice for victims, much like its American allies. After bureaucratic manipulations and political interference, victims of torture and their families have still not received justice. This is despite the fact that a “Iraq Inquiry” Council established by the UK government of the time found that the circumstances in which “it was decided that there was legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory”. The British High Court concluded that its troops had breached the Geneva Conventions. While this acknowledgement is a first step in the process of compensating victims, a delay in justice is just as bad as remaining unaccountable. We urge the government of UK to speed up its redress procedures for victims.
The needs of victims
Torture victims almost always suffer physical, mental, and emotional after-effects of their traumatic experiences. Some have physical wounds; others develop PTSD, anxiety, depression and other such mental health conditions. Therefore, compensation aside, society and governments owe it to victims to aid their rehabilitation and healing in any way possible. This may include counseling, support, or merely not imposing judgement. Regardless, it is key to make this process entirely victim-centric, and not impose an external understanding of their needs on them. Each victim has a deeply different experience with, and response to, torture. It is not right for anyone other than them to decide how they wish to heal. Also, there is a need to provide closure by ensuring appropriate accountability and punishment of the perpetrator.
Recents developments in the fight against torture
There have been two important recent developments regarding torture. First, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture released a thematic report to the 40th session of the Human Rights Council exploring the relationship between corruption and torture, and whether the presence of one inevitably leads to the other. He found that despite the fact that both are clearly unlawful and destructive to society, both continue to be widely used. They don’t necessarily correlate to each other conceptually, but in practice in a wide range of contexts and situations, there is some degree of interaction between them, both being structural failures of the government. Therefore, to eradicate either, we must eradicate the failure by the government.
The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations include the ratification & implementation of the conventions against corruption and torture, the implementation of national-level zero-tolerance policies on both and the integration/mainstreaming of policies relating to both, among other things. He proposes checks and balances against the above failures, as well as synergies within the UN.
The second development is a venture to introduce legislation that bans global trade in the “tools” of torture. The Global Alliance for Torture-Free Trade, launched in September 2017, is a venture under the leadership of Argentina, Mongolia, and the EU to end international trade in instruments of torture and capital punishment. It is now introducing a draft resolution in the UNGA on the matter.
The types of torture equipment being traded around the world include two categories of goods:
- Those tools that law enforcement actually uses to cause harm and pain, which are “completely unacceptable” to be both manufactured and traded in
- Those tools that law enforcement uses, that can be misused to cause harm and pain. Trade in these needs to be “restricted and controlled”.
The EU Commissioner for Trade, in an address about the effort, stressed the need to involve countries and their national legislatures, and expressed hope to continue to receive useful inputs on this and other parallel anti-torture processes.
Meanwhile, specifically regarding victims, NGOs and UN agencies continue to advocate for compensation and redress, but in practice, this requires the dedication and cooperation of perpetrator states. This is much easier said than done, especially given the “schizophrenia” of our global fight against torture (in the words of the Secretary-General of the World Organization against Torture) – the very states that are perpetrators of torture and ill treatment enjoy high status and respect in the international community. This is not only hypocritical of the international community, but also deeply disrespectful of victims of torture.
Despite several international binding agreements, torture continues to be employed around the world as a tool of supposed justice or law enforcement; however, it is neither just nor lawful.
Torture represents nothing but the very basest, meanest impulses of our humanity, or lack thereof. It has been in use since ancient times, and GICJ strongly believes that is where it should stay. Humanity cannot progress as long as we continue to be okay with – and to practice – grossly assaulting one another physically, mentally, and psychologically for personal or collective gain.
GICJ stands in strong solidarity with victims and survivors of torture. We advocate for the complete eradication of the use of torture; the compensation of victims as well as their families, and accountability for perpetrators of this act, regardless of their positions of power. The international community cannot continue its indifference and complicity toward torture, respecting the very nations and governments that practice it.
torture, civil and political rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre for Justice
Justice, Human rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice
International Days of Remembrance articles by GICJ:
|World Day of Social Justice||Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation||International Day of Education||International Human Solidarity Day||World Arabic Language Day|