Torture

A variety of torture instruments. Many, including the large Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, were never used for torture.

Torture (from Latin tortus: to twist, to torment) is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological suffering on someone by another as a punishment or in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or force some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict suffering or pain, without a specific intent to do so, are not typically considered torture.[1]

Torture has been carried out or sanctioned by individuals, groups, and states throughout history from ancient times to modern day, and forms of torture can vary greatly in duration from only a few minutes to several days or longer. Reasons for torture can include punishment, revenge, extortion, persuasion, political re-education, deterrence, coercion of the victim or a third party, interrogation to extract information or a confession irrespective of whether it is false, or simply the sadistic gratification of those carrying out or observing the torture.[2][3] Alternatively, some forms of torture are designed to inflict psychological pain or leave as little physical injury or evidence as possible while achieving the same psychological devastation. The torturer may or may not kill or injure the victim, but torture may result in a deliberate death and serves as a form of capital punishment. Depending on the aim, even a form of torture that is intentionally fatal may be prolonged to allow the victim to suffer as long as possible (such as half-hanging). In other cases, the torturer may be indifferent to the condition of the victim.

Although torture is sanctioned by some states, it is prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries. Although widely illegal and reviled, there is an ongoing debate as to what exactly is and is not legally defined as torture. It is a serious violation of human rights, and is declared to be unacceptable (but not illegal) by Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols I and II of 8 June 1977 officially agree not to torture captured persons in armed conflicts, whether international or internal. Torture is also prohibited for the signatories of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has 163 state parties.[4]

National and international legal prohibitions on torture derive from a consensus that torture and similar ill-treatment are immoral, as well as impractical, and information obtained by torture is far less reliable than that obtained by other techniques.[5][6][7] Despite these findings and international conventions, organizations that monitor abuses of human rights (e.g., Amnesty International, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Freedom from Torture, etc.) report widespread use condoned by states in many regions of the world.[8] Amnesty International estimates that at least 81 world governments currently practice torture, some of them openly.[9]

Definitions

International level

UN Convention Against Torture

The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which is currently in force since 26 June 1987, provides a broad definition of torture. Article 1.1 of the UN Convention Against Torture reads:

For the purpose of this Convention, the term "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.[10]

This definition was restricted to apply only to nations and to government-sponsored torture and clearly limits the torture to that perpetrated, directly or indirectly, by those acting in an official capacity, such as government personnel, law enforcement personnel, medical personnel, military personnel, or politicians. It appears to exclude:

  1. torture perpetrated by gangs, hate groups, rebels, or terrorists who ignore national or international mandates;
  2. random violence during war; and
  3. punishment allowed by national laws, even if the punishment uses techniques similar to those used by torturers such as mutilation, whipping, or corporal punishment when practiced as lawful punishment. Some professionals in the torture rehabilitation field believe that this definition is too restrictive and that the definition of politically motivated torture should be broadened to include all acts of organized violence.[11]

Declaration of Tokyo

An even broader definition was used in the 1975 Declaration of Tokyo regarding the participation of medical professionals in acts of torture:

For the purpose of this Declaration, torture is defined as the deliberate, systematic or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons acting alone or on the orders of any authority, to force another person to yield information, to make a confession, or for any other reason.[12]

This definition includes torture as part of domestic violence or ritualistic abuse, as well as in criminal activities.

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

The Rome Statute is the treaty that set up the International Criminal Court (ICC). The treaty was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome on 17 July 1998 and went into effect on 1 July 2002. The Rome Statute provides a simplest definition of torture regarding the prosecution of war criminals by the International Criminal Court. Paragraph 1 under Article 7(e) of the Rome Statute provides that:

"Torture" means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions;[13]

Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture

The Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, which is in force since 28 February 1987, defines torture more expansively than the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Article 2 of the Inter-American Convention reads:

For the purposes of this Convention, torture shall be understood to be any act intentionally performed whereby physical or mental pain or suffering is inflicted on a person for purposes of criminal investigation, as a means of intimidation, as personal punishment, as a preventive measure, as a penalty, or for any other purpose. Torture shall also be understood to be the use of methods upon a person intended to obliterate the personality of the victim or to diminish his physical or mental capacities, even if they do not cause physical pain or mental anguish.

The concept of torture shall not include physical or mental pain or suffering that is inherent in or solely the consequence of lawful measures, provided that they do not include the performance of the acts or use of the methods referred to in this article.[14]

Amnesty International

Since 1973, Amnesty International has adopted the simplest, broadest definition of torture. It reads:

Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another, or on a third person, in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter.[15]

European Court of Human Rights

The UN Convention Against Torture and Rome Statute and the definitions of torture include terms such as "severe pain or suffering". The international European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled on the difference between what is inhuman and degrading treatment and what is pain and suffering severe enough to be torture.

In Ireland v. United Kingdom (1979–1980) the ECHR ruled that the five techniques developed by the United Kingdom (wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink), as used against fourteen detainees in Northern Ireland by the United Kingdom were "inhuman and degrading" and breached the European Convention on Human Rights, but did not amount to "torture".[16] In 2014, after new information was uncovered that showed the decision to use the five techniques in Northern Ireland in 1971–1972 had been taken by British ministers,[17] The Irish Government asked the ECHR to review its judgement. In 2018, by six votes to one,the Court declined.[18]

In Aksoy v. Turkey (1997) the Court found Turky guilty of torture in 1996 in the case of a detainee who was suspended by his arms while his hands were tied behind his back.[19]

The Court's ruling that the five techniques did not amount to torture was later cited by the United States and Israel to justify their own interrogation methods,[20] which included the five techniques.[21]

Municipal level

United States

U.S. Code § 2340

Title 18 of the United States Code contains the definition of torture in 18 U.S.C. § 2340, which is only applicable to persons committing or attempting to commit torture outside of the United States.[22] It reads:

As used in this chapter—

(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) “United States” means the several states of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States.

In order for the United States to assume control over this jurisdiction, the alleged offender must be a U.S. national or the alleged offender must be present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender. Any person who conspires to commit an offense shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for an actual act or attempting to commit an act, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.[22]

Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991

The Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 provides remedies to individuals who are victims of torture by persons acting in an official capacity of any foreign nation. The definition is similar to the U.S. Code § 2340, which reads:

(b) TORTURE.—For the purposes of this Act—

(1) the term "torture" means any act, directed against an individual in the offender's custody or physical control, by which severe pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering arising only from or inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions), whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on that individual for such purposes as obtaining from that individual or a third person information or a confession, punishing that individual for an act that individual or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, intimidating or coercing that individual or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind; and
2) mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another individual will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.[23]
Other Languages
Afrikaans: Marteling
العربية: تعذيب
asturianu: Tortura
azərbaycanca: İşgəncə
беларуская: Катаванні
brezhoneg: Boureverezh
català: Tortura
čeština: Mučení
Cymraeg: Artaith
dansk: Tortur
Deutsch: Folter
eesti: Piinamine
español: Tortura
Esperanto: Torturo
euskara: Tortura
فارسی: شکنجه
français: Torture
Frysk: Marteling
Gaeilge: Céasadh
Gàidhlig: Cur fo chràdh
galego: Tortura
한국어: 고문
hrvatski: Mučenje
Bahasa Indonesia: Siksaan
íslenska: Pyntingar
italiano: Tortura
עברית: עינויים
ქართული: წამება
kurdî: Êşkence
Latina: Cruciatus
latviešu: Spīdzināšana
lietuvių: Kankinimas
magyar: Kínzás
مصرى: تعذيب
مازِرونی: شکنجه
Bahasa Melayu: Penyeksaan
Nederlands: Marteling
日本語: 拷問
norsk: Tortur
norsk nynorsk: Tortur
occitan: Tortura
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਤਸ਼ੱਦਦ
polski: Tortura
português: Tortura
română: Tortură
Runa Simi: Hipachiy
русский: Пытка
Scots: Tortur
සිංහල: වධ හිංසාව
Simple English: Torture
slovenčina: Mučenie
slovenščina: Mučenje
српски / srpski: Tortura
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Tortura
suomi: Kidutus
svenska: Tortyr
Türkçe: İşkence
українська: Тортури
Tiếng Việt: Tra tấn
中文: 酷刑