Human Rights Election Brief: Denouncing Torture

Human Rights Election Brief: Denouncing Torture

Thank you for your commitment to improving human rights and making human rights a part of the public debate. As the 2012 Presidential election approaches there will be opportunities for you to play a major role in highlighting a variety of important human rights issues.  As an AIUSA activist, you may be perceived as speaking for the entire organization when you speak about Amnesty's human rights concerns in public environments such as political rallies, debates, press conferences, or print, broadcast, or online media. 

As a nonprofit, nonpartisan, international human rights organization with a tax exempt 501 (c) (3) status, AIUSA neither supports nor opposes any political party or any candidate for public office.  Amnesty does not seek to influence elections.  It is critical that you be aware of the legal framework for our work and carefully follow the Activist Do's and Don'ts listed below.

Do's and Don'ts

Amnesty International seeks to provide public information and education on a broad range of human rights issues.   Founded as a human rights organization in 1961, Amnesty International has a long history of working on a wide variety of human rights issues.  We have prepared a series of sample questions on several important human rights issues.  If you choose to raise these human rights issues from the perspective of Amnesty International USA, here are some helpful pointers:

  • Do not indicate support or opposition for any political candidate or party. This is critical.
  • Do not indicate support or opposition for any political candidate or party. This is critical.
  • Do introduce AIUSA as a nonpartisan organization that monitors over 150 countries and territories around the world, and a variety of issues including immigrant rights, torture, the death penalty, violence against women, and prisoners of conscience.
  • Do try to adhere closely to the script below if you identify yourself as being part of Amnesty International.
  • Do thank the candidate for his or her response.
  • Do not follow up with opinions and commentary after the candidate responds to your question(s).

Background Information for Activists

The statistics on the use of torture and ill treatment worldwide are shocking. There have been reports of torture or ill-treatment by state officials in more than 150 countries. In more than 70, they were widespread or persistent. In more than 80 countries, people reportedly died as a result. Victims include political activists, family members of activists, criminal defendants and individuals targeted simply because of aspects of their identity (ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, etc).

Techniques for physical torture include: beating, whipping, burning, rape, suspension upside down, submersion into water almost to the point of suffocation, and electric torture with shocks of high voltage on various parts of the body, very often on the genitals. Techniques for psychological torture include: threats, humiliation, insults, sleep deprivation, blindfolding, isolation, mock executions, witnessing torture of others (including one's own family), being forced to torture or kill others, and the withholding of medication or personal items.

Torture is always illegal, regardless of the situation. The Convention against Torture prohibits torture in all circumstances, stating “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” The Geneva Conventions prohibit the war crime of torture in both international wars and non international armed conflicts such as civil wars or rebellions. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court prohibits torture when it constitutes genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also bans torture and ill-treatment in all circumstances. Many countries, including the United States, also have domestic laws against torture.

Despite clear international and domestic laws against torture, there are credible reports that the US government authorized and carried out torture and other ill-treatment in the name of countering terrorism. While some steps towards reform have been taken by the current administration, there has been little accountability, as required by law. Furthermore, indefinite detention and unfair trials continue at Guantanamo and the US detention facility at Bagram in Afghanistan. It is well past time for the US government to respect human rights and the rule of law instead of undermining them. Amnesty International has made the following recommendations to address this situation:

  • Congress and the administration should recommit to uphold U.S. and international laws against torture, including by setting up an independent commission of inquiry, prosecuting those responsible where the evidence exists to do so and by fulfilling victims’ right to remedy.
  • Members of the House and Senate should support the closure of Guantanamo and ensure that detainees are either charged and fairly tried in US federal court or released to countries that will respect their human rights. Indefinite detention, military commissions and the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” whereby prisoners captured or detained by the U.S. government are transferred for interrogation or detention to countries known to use torture, must end.

Sample Question

Hi my name is ---- and I am (your role) with Amnesty International USA. Amnesty International is a grassroots human rights organization with more than 3 million members worldwide, including 300,000 in the United States. In the name of countering terrorism, the US government has resorted to torture and other human rights violations. While some reforms have been made, human rights violations continue, including indefinite detention and unfair trials at Guantanamo, and no senior government officials have been held accountable for authorizing torture and other crimes. These human rights violations—and impunity for them—violate international law and are illegal. They are also—according to military experts—ineffective and counterproductive to US security. As President, how will you ensure that torture and other forms of ill-treatment are never used again, and ensure that the human rights to due process, fair trials and the rule of law are upheld?

(Candidate responds)

Thank you, I appreciate your candid response.


Thank you, we will agree and disagree at times on various issues but I do appreciate your response.

Amnesty International USA is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3), international human rights organization registered in New York. We do not favor or oppose any candidate for public office. The information stated here does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Amnesty International USA.

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