Amnesty International documented torture and ill-treatment in at least 122 countries in 2015. In the past decade, the ‘war on terror’ has attempted to legitimise the use of torture.
Torture takes many forms, including beating; electric shocks; partial hanging and asphyxiation; removal of fingernails, teeth, fingers or toes; inflicting wounds with guns or knives; mock executions; and sexual assault, especially rape.
Torture and ill-treatment have consequences far beyond the abusive acts. Victims often suffer lasting mental and physical health problems. These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety disorder.
Violence directed against a woman because she is a woman amounts to ill-treatment, whether it is physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering that is inflicted, or threats of such acts. It is widely recognised that rape constitutes torture when it is carried out by public officials, at their instigation or with their consent or acquiescence.
Solitary confinement raises the risk of torture or ill-treatment going undetected, as UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture have repeatedly noted. It may itself constitute ill-treatment or torture, particularly if prolonged or indefinite.
Victims of torture do not suffer alone, but torture also scars family members and friends. They are traumatised by the abuse of a loved one, must face the impact it has on their relationship, and must go through the fight for justice.
Prison monitoring is not a new concept, but the recognition of preventive monitoring mechanisms under international law is a more recent development. The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) established the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and requires parties to the treaty to establish a mechanism at national level to monitor places of deprivation of liberty (National Preventive Mechanisms or NPMs). 81 states are currently states parties to the Protocol, and 17 more are signatories. 64 countries have designated an NPM (January 2015).
The UN Convention against Torture (CAT)obliges states to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in any territory under their jurisdiction. These include protective, reactive and preventive measures. States are obliged to:
penalise torture as a specific offence in their criminal legislation, with a sanction that adequately reflects the severity of the crime;
investigate allegations of torture independently, promptly and thoroughly;
bring perpetrators to justice;
ensure the rehabilitation of victims of torture;
take every conceivable measure to prevent torture and ill-treatment;
not use statements obtained through torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as evidence in a judicial proceeding.