By Lara Kajs
There are no conditions in which torture is acceptable; not even in war. Torture is a violation of our basic human rights as a society and it is prohibited in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. June 26 is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It is the day we show our support for the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are torture victims and we call on world leaders to stop the use of torture.
In its “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”, the UN defines torture 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.”
The UN convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect in 1987 and has since been ratified by 162 countries. Sadly, nearly half the countries ratifying the convention still use torture today.
Torture is not limited to beating, but may be inflicted in a number of ways including: rape, being threatened with rape, water boarding, stress positions, such as hanging by limbs to cause over extension of joints, being burned with cigarettes or open flame, sleep deprivation, starvation, electric shock, asphyxiation and isolation.
Torture is ineffective. Under torture, an individual will confess to anything, just to make the torture stop. In reality, it does not delay maltreatment, but prolongs it. There have been quite a few studies that support this view and perhaps one of the most publicized was the 525 page report issued by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA’s rendition program (also known as the CIA Torture Report), which had used water boarding and other enhanced interrogation (torture) techniques. In its findings, the committee determined that torture is not an effective means of gaining cooperation, or of obtaining accurate information from detainees. The committee further determined that the treatment was brutal and worse than described previously.
Although it may seem logical that it is okay to use torture against the “bad guys” – humanity cannot resort to heinous acts to combat heinous acts.
However, the U.S. is not alone when it comes to the use of torture. Across Asia, torture is endemic. It was reported that in Manila, Philippines, police have a “wheel of torture” to determine how to obtain information. In Sudan, amputation is used as a method of torture and punishment. In African countries where homosexuality is illegal, people thought to be gay have been subjected to forced anal examinations. And then there’s North Korea, who’s use of torture and other human rights abuses run the gamut. Of all the things North Korea is most known for, is its inhuman conditions.
Another type of torture phenomenon is the use of rape or the threat of rape. This has become a regular occurrence in countries experiencing political instability and/or conflict. Displaced persons fleeing conflict, violence or famine are vulnerable to becoming victims of torture. There are thousands upon thousands of stories where rape is used as torture and it is not used solely against females, but may be used against young or old, male or female. Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar are just a few of the countries where this type of torture occurs, but it is certainly not limited to these countries.
For the survivors, experts say that recovering from torture and the trauma it creates, requires specialized rehabilitation programs and it may take decades for victims to heal. The most important step is to help the torture victims to get the appropriate help so that their physical, mental and emotional wounds begin to heal.
The UN established the Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which provides assistance to victims and their families. Each year the fund helps more than 50,000 torture victims and their families.
This next step is to hold those responsible accountable. Torture is a crime and the victims of torture have the right to seek justice and to see their perpetrators punished for their crime.