The use of torture is completely prohibited by international law. However, many countries still employ torture methods. Read our guide to learn more about where these human rights violations happen.
What is the UN Convention Against Torture?
An overwhelming majority of the world’s countries have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, since it was first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1984.
By ratifying the Convention, a state accepts that torture is always absolutely prohibited and never justified.
Despite this, the use of torture is still widespread and many governments, as well as dissident groups that control territory (such as the Taliban in Afghanistan), continue to oppress and persecute citizens to this day.
There are various reasons people may be targeted. Chief amongst them are political activity, belonging to an ethnic or religious minority, or being LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer). Often political activity is low level, such as handing out leaflets or wearing a t-shirt, or being accused of associating with an opposition group.
Physical and psychological torture techniques include beatings, electrocution and sexual torture including rape, as well as sleep deprivation, threat to family members, and mock executions.
Where is torture happening?
At Freedom from Torture, we support people who seek refuge in the UK having fled torture all over the world. Our data shows torture is still rife in many countries.
Our specialist doctors use medico-legal reports to provide independent evidence of torture to people seeking asylum in the UK. Using data from those reports, we can see worrying trends of torture in certain countries across the world.
Despite being a top holiday destination, over the past 10 years, Sri Lanka has consistently been the country from where we receive the most clients.
It was hoped that the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 would mean the end of human rights violations in the country.
Torture continues to be rife in the country, however, including ongoing torture of Tamils allegedly in a security context.
Everyone could say there is a new government, but there have only been a few changes of faces at the top. Rape, torture and kidnapping are still happening, nothing has changed.
In 2019 we released the report, ‘Too little change: ongoing torture in security operations in Sri Lanka.’ Drawn from medico-legal reports undertaken by our doctors, our research found that people were tortured by state officials in a security context despite none being charged under anti-terror or any other laws.
In Iran, torture and other human rights abuses are used by the government to sow fear among the population, suppress political activity, force confessions and act as punishment.
We have evidence that since the Cultural Revolution of 1980, torture has been used by the state to control a broad range of political, religious and social activity.
Our evidence shows that torture in Afghanistan is used frequently by state actors largely to attain information regarding the Taliban or links to the Taliban.
However, our records reveal a terrifying reality as they show an equal number of Afghanis have been tortured by militant groups like the Taliban for either refusing orders or refusing to join them. Most of the Afghan clients seen by Freedom from Torture are children or young people.
Despite the commitments made by the government to adhere to the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, much work is needed to be done to eradicate the practice.
For decades, President Isaias Afewerki has led Eritrea with an iron fist. There is no legislature, no non-governmental organisations or media outlets or even a judiciary.
There is a harsh system of conscription which sees every Eritrean serve for an indefinite period often lasting around 10 years. Whilst in service, Eritreans are subjected to treatment which has been characterised as enslavement and attempts to avoid national service has led to imprisonment and torture.
Afewerki’s regime has also conspired to squash any resounding political opposition and a number of religions leading to arbitrary imprisonment and torture.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been rife throughout the 18-year rule of former President Joseph Kabila.
We have evidence that women and men exercising their rights to participate in political or human rights activism have frequently been detained and tortured by the state to silence any political opposition. Our 2018 report, ‘A tool to silence: torture to crush dissent in the Democratic Republic of Congo’ studies the experiences of 74 Congolese men and women and reveals that torture, including rape, is rife within the detention system.
Since then, elections have been held in the Congolese state, and a new President, Félix Tshisekedi, has taken office.
She was woken from sleep for the purpose of the rape and taken out of the room she was detained in. She thinks that three different soldiers were involved and she would be raped by two of them at any one time. She was pushed onto her knees and raped vaginally and anally. She was also raped orally.
There have been a variety of human rights abuses permitted by the former Sudanese government of Omar al-Bashir over his 29-year rule. In particular, we have evidence of torture committed from 2003 after the Darfuri war under the premise of non-Arab ethnic cleansing.
More recently, protests in early 2019 calling for Omar al-Bashir to step down led to a new torrent of oppression with government forces detaining, torturing, and killing scores of civilians. Since then, al-Bashir relinquished power and the military council formed a transitional government with the main opposition coalition.
Where I lived in Sudan young boys like me would be forced into the army, they made you kill your own family. The boys in my village refused so the army took us. I was burnt, beaten, locked up on my own. I still have the scars. I was just crying for my mum every day.
For years, there has been authoritarian rule in Ethiopia where torture has been a staple of the government. Attempts to claim a wide range of rights, including land rights or freedoms of expression or association etc. have been met with arbitrary arrests and severe restrictions. There has also been persecution against various ethnic groups, including the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
The majority of clients seen by Freedom from Torture are of Oromo ethnicity. Many are children.
In 2018, Ethiopia’s first Oromo Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in and since taking power, he has released thousands of political prisoners in detention and admitted that security forces heavily relied on the use of torture and repressive laws.
The use of torture has been extensive since the US invasion and subsequent occupation in 2003.
When Daesh took the state, torture was used consistently on citizens as a means of oppression and control.
Since Daesh lost its grip on the Mesopotamian state in 2018, the Iraqi government has repeatedly used torture as an interrogation technique instead of carrying out proper criminal investigations.
Our evidence suggests that torture is still practised by both sides.
Our evidence shows that torture has been happening in Turkey for decades, mainly to repress the Kurdish minority and the political involvement of its people.
Turkey’s record on human rights has further worsened since the failed coup of 2016.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, warring parties have continuously disregarded human rights and humanitarian law protections. Arbitrary detentions, kidnappings and torture have been widely reported on both sides.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, over 14,000 people have been killed under the use of torture between 2011 and 2019.
In Egypt, torture has been used routinely by successive regimes in response to any form of opposition including peaceful protests. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government is no different and has used strengthened counter-terrorism laws to justify a crackdown on perceived opposition (including against people with real or perceived links to the Muslim Brotherhood).
In addition to people being tortured for their peaceful protest against the last three Egyptian governments, we also have evidence of people being tortured for their sexual orientation.
The government response to separatism in Cameroon has been heavy-handed. Though waves of abuse have come from both sides, Anglophone separatists have equally used force against civilians perceived to be associated with the government.
Whilst oppositionists from Cameroon have been tortured for opposing the state, our evidence shows that many people - both men and women - are tortured on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
Are people tortured in the UK?
Despite espousing the values of human rights, even the UK has been implicated in torture in recent years.
In 2018, the government's Intelligence and Security Committee published a report showing that the UK allowed the rendition, kidnap and torture of people accused of terrorism after the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.
Although the ISC report was a good start, we still don't know the full extent of abuses and how politicians were involved.
In May 2019, the United Nations Committee Against Torture stressed the need for the UK government to deliver on former Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to conduct an independent, judge-led enquiry into the matter.
In July 2019, though, Theresa May’s government shockingly sought to close down efforts to bring real closure on British complicity in torture for good.
This latest refusal to allow a spotlight to be shone on this darkest corner of recent British history undermines the UK’s position as a beacon of justice, fairness and the rule of law.
If the UK is to live up to the reputation it sets itself as a global leader post-Brexit, it needs to deliver accountability for its past crimes, and make clear that torture will never again be tolerated.
We have joined with other human rights organisations to call for the government to take the necessary actions to get to the bottom of this shameful period in UK history, and we’ll continue to make our voices heard until they listen.