Freedom from Torture - Is torture legal?

Is torture legal?

Torture is always wrong, and is absolutely prohibited in international law. At a time when President Trump endorses torture, and the UK has been found to be complicit in the torture and rendition of detainees, such as Abdel Hakim Belhaj, we are reiterating this message loud and clear.  

  • Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states; “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
  • The UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) came into force on 26 June 1987. It requires countries to take active steps to prevent torture and declares: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
  • In the UK, the Human Rights Act was introduced in 1998 and Article 3 states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." As well as prohibiting torture in all circumstances, it all prevents the UK from deporting or extraditing people to another country where they are at risk of torture.

The prohibition against torture is a fundamental principle of international law and applies to all countries, even those who have not specifically signed and ratified the UNCAT.

Despite torture being illegal, it is still happening in many countries - even those that have signed and ratified the UNCAT. Other governments refuse to acknowledge their complicity in torture, and fail to take responsibility for upholding human rights standards and holding states to account. This encourages a culture of impunity and allows torture to continue.

Useless, ineffective, and devastating

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres calls torture an “abominable and useless practice."  Indeed, scientific evidence demonstrates that torture is an ineffective interrogation method. A study by the United States Senate into the CIA’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, also concluded that torture does not work.

Torture leaves physical and psychological scars, and has a devastating, long-lasting impact on survivors of torture and their families. We know this only too well. In 2017, we provided over 20,000 psychological therapy sessions to survivors of torture, helping support their rehabilitation and recovery. 

Why are people tortured?

People are tortured for different reasons. They may be political activists and engaged in lawful and peaceful activities. They may be targeted because of their ethnicity, race, community, gender, sexual orientation or other characteristics, or for personal reasons, or even at random. People of all ages are tortured: Of those we treated in 2017, 24% were children and young people under the age of 25 years.  

Where are people tortured?

Torture takes place in many settings, most commonly in police stations, military and security establishments, during and after conflicts, and in areas where institutions, including the rule of law, are fragile or non-existent.

In 2017, people from 96 countries sought our help to overcome torture. The countries our clients are from include: Sri Lanka, Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Nigeria, Iraq, India, Sudan, Turkey and Syria.

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