Convention against Torture

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In 1984, the United Nations General Assembly enacted a Convention against Torture (CAT). Torture, in the scope of the Convention, is 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 acting in an official capacity." It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions." The CAT establishes rules for states to prevent torture and try to banish its use.

Torture is defined, in this context, "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 acting in an official capacity." It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions." [1] It excludes pain and suffering caused by lawful sanctions, such as corporal or capital punishment. It does, however, broaden the classic definition of physical harm to include intimidation.

Requirements for States Party

Nations party to the convention take responsibility to:

  • Take all legal, administrative, judicial and other measure to prevent torture anywhere in its jurisdiction, rejecting any claim of special circumstances or superior orders as justifying torture. [2]. It shall criminalize acts of torture [3]
  • Send no person, by expulsion, return ("refouler") or international extradition to a state in which there is substantial reason to believe that person may be tortured.[4]
  • Establish its jurisdiction in the conditions where the torture takes place in any territory, ship, or aircraft it controls; when the torturer is one of its citizens; if it considers appropriate, when the victim is a citizen. It need not, however, extradite the alleged torturer if local enforcement seems appropriate. [5]

There are a series of articles dealing with the proper adjudication of allegations of torture. Keeping records of adjudication and conducting active education are expected as part of an active prevention program.

Confessions obtained through torture are to be inadmissible [6] and victims of torture are to receive redress. [7]

Implementation

After ratification, the Convention shall elect "Committee against Torture", made of ten "experts of high moral standing and recognized competence in the field of human rights, who shall serve in their personal capacity." The selection should reflect geographical balance and appropriate knowledge.

This Committee shall report every four years, or, when it determines a specific problem exists, shall investigate and make appropriate reports.

76 states are full signatories and 146 states are party. [8] Many, however, made declarations or reservations at the time they signed. National reservations often included accepting the general principles, but not investigation or enforcement through the Committee. Some of the states denying jurisdiction did indicate they would accept that of other bodies, such as the International Court of Justice.

References

  1. United Nations General Assembly (10 December 1984), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, A/RES/39/46
  2. CAT, Article 2
  3. CAT, Article 4
  4. CAT, Article 3
  5. CAT, Article 5
  6. CAT, Article 15
  7. CAT, Article 14
  8. Status as of March 7, 2009, 07-03-2009, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, UN Treaty Collection