Why is June Torture Awareness Month?

June 1, 2012

Torture activism in front of the White HouseEvery year, human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Center for Victims of Torture mark June as Torture Awareness Month. Why?

The short answer is because it’s when a very important treaty against torture took effect and there are still people who flout it—people like Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who went on 60 Minutes recently to promote waterboarding and other forms of torture and ill-treatment.

Let’s start with the law. It’s called the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) and it entered into force on June 26, 1987. That’s why June 26 is marked as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture—and why we’re calling on President Obama to apologize to torture survivor Maher Arar on that day.

A fun fact about CAT is that it was President Ronald Reagan who urged the United States Senate to ratify the CAT, which it did. (Apparently there was a time when international law was not a four-letter word in Washington, DC.)

President Reagan said:

“Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.”

Another fun fact is that CAT is recognized internationally as preemptory norm of international law, which means it is binding on the United States and all other governments in all circumstances. It requires states to end and ensure accountability for torture and other ill treatment, no exceptions, no excuses. The law is so categorical because the practice of torture is so abhorrent, immoral and destructive to individuals (including the torturer), organizations, societies and humanity at large.

Unfortunately, the US government has tried to limit the CAT by attaching reservations to its adoption of the treaty, including by claiming the right to define torture as it sees fit instead of using CAT’s definition (that’s the way torture lawyers like Yoo tried to find wiggle room), and by rejecting the Optional Protocol to CAT, which set up a monitoring body.

Of course, the bigger problem is that governments don’t like to follow laws, even the ones they help bring in to being. And without a robust International Criminal Court (which the US government has refused to participate in – at least when it might affect US citizens), enforcement of CAT depends on other states (through the principle of universal jurisdiction) and civil society (pressure from you and I).

Which brings us back to Torture Awareness Month. It’s an important time to take a public stand against torture and torture supporters.  It’s sad but true that, 22 years after CAT entered into force, our country has returned to debating whether or not we should torture people. That conversation is not taking place in any other democracy on earth.

And that’s why we need to help educate our friends, neighbors and elected officials on the truth about torture: that it is illegal, immoral and—according to professional interrogatorsineffective and counterproductive.

You can help right now by doing one or all of the following:

  • Post this blog on Facebook or Twitter
  • Send an email on behalf of torture survivor Maher Arar
  • Urge the Senate to make its report on CIA torture public
  • Get more involved by using our Action Guide
  • Lead or join a delegation to lobby your members of Congress during our In-District Lobby Week,  July 1 – 8
  • Come to our march on Washington DC, June 24
  • Join our vigil in New York City on June 26
  • Stay tuned this month for a new interactive map of torture concerns around the world

Where do you stand on torture? Use the comments or Tweet @ZekeJohnsonAi