Torture, at present, is used in oppressive political systems, in ‘unofficial’ ways and with methods, in torture chambers. It is a tool for oppressive states of exercising control over the population, thus aiming to eliminate associations and struggles for democracy. Qualifying as acts of torture are abusive and humiliating procedures. The basic definition of torture is the one contained in the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment [1, Article (1)]:
“… ‘torture’ means 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.”
On the basis of this definition as well, it can be said that torture is the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of the state authorities for a specific purpose. The aim of torture is to break down the victim’s personality and is often used for punishing, obtaining information or a confession from, or taking revenge on a person, as well as creating terror and fear within a population.
Torture is distinguished from other forms of ill-treatment by the severe degree of suffering involved. It encompasses many forms of suffering, both physical and psychological, which are remarkably similar worldwide. Most techniques seek to prolong the victims’ pain and fear for as long as possible without leaving visible evidence.
Some of the most common methods of physical torture include beating, electric shocks, stretching, submersion, suffocation, burns, rape and sexual assault.
It is important not to forget about psychological forms of ill-treatment which very often have the most long-lasting consequences for victims. Common methods of psychological torture include: isolation, threats, humiliation, mock executions, mock amputations, and witnessing the torture of others.
The effects of torture
The consequences of torture reach far beyond immediate pain. Many victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which includes symptoms such as flashbacks (or intrusive thoughts), severe anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, depression and memory lapses.
Torture victims often feel guilt and shame, triggered by the humiliation they have endured. Many feel that they have betrayed themselves or their friends and family. All such symptoms are normal human responses to abnormal and inhuman treatment.
Who are the perpetrators?
Those most likely to be involved in torture and other forms of ill-treatment are:
- the police
- the military
- paramilitary forces
- state-controlled contra-guerrilla forces
But perpetrators may also include:
- prison officers
- death squads
- any government official
- health professionals
- co-detainees acting with the approval or on the orders of public officials
In the context of armed conflicts, torture and other forms of ill-treatment could also be inflicted by:
- opposition forces
- the general population
Torture in the world
Although prohibited under international law and condemned by a number of international conventions, torture is still a predominant and widespread occurrence in the world today.
Torture and ill-treatment continue to be practiced in over 100 countries, including countries that are parties to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
There are not precise figures about the number of victims of torture in the world, but the IRCT supports a global movement of almost 200 rehabilitation centres and programs for torture victims around the world that provide medical and psychosocial care to approximately 100,000 victims each year.
In countries with repressive regimes, torture has not only occurred but has also been prevalent and systematic because these regimes rely on torture in the constant oppression of their populations.
In recent years, the fight against terrorism has created an environment in which governments justify the use of torture even though its prohibition is absolute. Today there is an alarming trend for principles of international humanitarian and human rights law to be undermined in the name of the war against terrorism.
Even some countries with a long tradition of leading the fight against torture are authorising unlawful interrogation methods and recognising evidence obtained through torture by foreign agents as admissible. At present there is a debate on what constitutes appropriate interrogation techniques and the apparent ‘acceptability’ of the deliberate infliction of certain forms of ill-treatment and torture.
There is also the tendency of indirectly accepting torture by, for instance, expelling people to countries that adhere to torture prohibition less stringently or by permitting the use of testimonies retracted after torture, as long as it takes place outside ones own country.
Additionally, impunity for government officials and other agents of the state who order or condone torture and ill-treatment persist in many parts of the world.
International law and treaties place a special responsibility on governments to stop torture from taking place.
The governments that are party to the UN Convention have committed themselves to preventing torture in their own country, and to providing for the needs of torture victims, including as full rehabilitation as possible.
For this reason the IRCT actively lobbies governments to ratify and implement the UN Convention, as part of our commitment to the eradication of torture worldwide.
Although international human rights and humanitarian law consistently prohibits torture under any circumstances, torture and ill-treatment – as supported by scientific data – are practiced in more than half of the world’s countries. One of the most fundamental steps in protecting individuals from torture is effective and efficient documentation. Such documentation brings evidence of torture and ill-treatment to light so that perpetrators may be held accountable for their actions and the interest of justice may be served. Istanbul Protocol summarizes the internationally approved principles for the effective investigation and documentation of torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is intended to serve as guidelines for the assessment of persons who allege torture or ill-treatment, for investigating cases of alleged torture and for reporting findings to the judiciary or any other investigative body.
This manual includes principles for effective investigation and documentation of torture that outline minimum standards for States accepting it in order to ensure the proper documentation. The guidelines contained in this manual are not presented as fixed protocol, rather they represent minimum standards based on the principles and should be used taking into account available resources. The manual and principles are the result of three years of analysis, research and drafting, undertaken by more than 75 experts in law, health and human rights representing 40 organizations or institutions from 15 countries.
A fundamental part of our work consists of writing medical reports needed to the asylum application. Psychiatrists and psychologists of the Foundation thoroughly investigate and explore the cases of alleged torture revealing its somatic and psychiatric consequences. Istanbul Protocol approved by The United Nations serves as standard guidelines for the effective documentation of the assessment of alleged torture and for efficiently reported findings.