Amnesty International has accused governments around the world of betraying their commitments to stamp out torture, three decades after the ground-breaking Convention Against Torture was adopted by the UN in 1984.
“Governments around the world are two-faced on torture - prohibiting it in law, but facilitating it in practice” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, as he launched Stop Torture, Amnesty International’s latest global campaign to combat widespread torture and other ill-treatment in the modern world.
“Torture is not just alive and well – it is flourishing in many parts of the world. As more governments seek to justify torture in the name of national security, the steady progress made in this field over the last thirty years is being eroded.”
Since 1984, 155 states have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, 142 of which are researched by Amnesty International. In 2014, Amnesty International observed at least 79 of these still torturing – more than half the states party to the Convention that the organisation reports on. A further 40 UN states haven’t adopted the Convention, although the global legal ban on torture binds them too.
Over the last five years, Amnesty International has reported on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in at least 141 countries from every region of the world – virtually every country on which it works. The secretive nature of torture means the true number of countries that torture is likely to be higher still.
In some of these countries torture is routine and systematic. In others, Amnesty International has only documented isolated and exceptional cases. The organization finds even one case of torture or other ill-treatment totally unacceptable.
The Stop Torture campaign launches with a new media briefing, Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises, which provides an overview of the use of torture in the world today.
The briefing details a variety of torture techniques – from stress positions and sleep deprivation to electrocution of the genitals – used against criminal suspects, security suspects, dissenting voices, political rivals and others.
As part of the campaign Amnesty International commissioned a Globescan survey to gauge worldwide attitudes to torture. Alarmingly, the survey found nearly half (44%) of respondents – from 21 countries across every continent - fear they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country.
The vast majority (82%) believe there should be clear laws against torture. However, more than a third (36%) still thought torture could be justified in certain circumstances.
“The results from this new global survey are startling, with nearly half of the people we surveyed feeling fearful and personally vulnerable to torture. The vast majority of people believe that there should be clear rules against torture, although more than a third still think that torture could be justified in certain circumstances. Overall, we can see broad global support amongst the public for action to prevent torture,” said Caroline Holme, Director at GlobeScan.
Measures such as the criminalisation of torture in national legislation, opening detention centres to independent monitors, and video recording interrogations have all led to a decrease in the use of torture in those countries taking their commitments under the Convention Against Torture seriously.
Amnesty International is calling on governments to implement protective mechanisms to prevent and punish torture – such as proper medical examinations, prompt access to lawyers, independent checks on places of detention, independent and effective investigations of torture allegations, the prosecution of suspects and proper redress for victims.
The organization’s global work against torture continues, but will focus in particular on five countries where torture is rife and Amnesty International believes it can achieve significant impact. Substantive reports with specific recommendations for each will form the spine of the campaign.
- In Mexico the government argues that torture is the exception rather than the norm, but in reality abuse by police and security forces is widespread and goes unpunished. Miriam López Vargas, a 31 year-old mother of four, was abducted from her hometown of Ensenada by two soldiers in plainclothes, and taken to a military barracks. She was held there for a week, raped three times, asphyxiated and electrocuted to force her to confess that she was involved in drug-related offences. Three years have passed, but none of her torturers have been brought to justice.
- Justice is out of reach for most torture survivors in the Philippines. A secret detention facility was recently discovered where police officers abused detainees ‘for fun'. Police officers reportedly spun a ‘wheel of torture’ to decide how to torture prisoners. Media coverage led to an internal investigation and some officers being dismissed, but Amnesty International is calling for a thorough and impartial investigation which will lead to the prosecution in court of the officers involved. Most acts of police torture remain unreported and torture survivors continue to suffer in silence.
- In Morocco and Western Sahara, authorities rarely investigate reports of torture. Spanish authorities extradited Ali Aarrass to Morocco despite fears he would be tortured. He was picked up by intelligence officers and taken to a secret detention centre, where he says they electrocuted his testicles, beat the soles of his feet and hanged him by his wrists for hours on end. He says the officers forced him to confess to assisting a terrorist group. Ali Aarass was convicted and sentenced to 12 years behind bars on the basis of that “confession”. His allegation of torture has never been investigated.
- In Nigeria, police and military personnel use torture as a matter of routine. When Moses Akatugba was arrested by soldiers he was 16 years old. He said they beat him and shot him in the hand. According to Moses he was then transfered to the police, who hanged him by his limbs for hours at a police station. Moses says he was tortured into signing a “confession” that he was involved in a robbery. The allegation that he confessed as a result of torture was never fully investigated. In November 2013, after eight years waiting for a verdict, Moses was sentenced to death.
- In Uzbekistan, torture is pervasive but few torturers are ever brought to justice. The country is closed to Amnesty International. Dilorom Abdukadirova spent five years in exile after security forces opened fire on a protest she was attending. On returning to Uzbekistan, she was detained, barred from seeing her family, and charged with attempting to overthrow the government. During her trial, she looked emaciated with bruising on her face. Her family are convinced she had been tortured.
“Thirty years ago Amnesty led the campaign for a worldwide commitment to combat torture resulting in the UN’s Convention Against Torture. Much progress has been made since, but it is disheartening that today we still need a worldwide campaign to ensure that those promises are fulfilled,” said Salil Shetty.