• Press Release

Amnesty International Launches Worldwide Campaign to Expose Global Crisis on Torture

May 12, 2014

One-Third of Americans Polled in New 21-Country Survey Say They Would Not Feel Safe From Torture if Taken into Custody in the United States

NEW YORK – Amnesty International today launched a new campaign against torture and other ill-treatment, from Chicago to Guantanamo to Nigeria and around the world. In its launch report, the organization revealed that more than half of 155 states that ratified the 1984 United Nations convention prohibiting torture are defying it by electrocuting, beating or sexually abusing detainees and accused governments of betraying their promises, often behind a mask of national security.

"Thirty years after adopting a landmark treaty against torture, the world's governments continue to violate it in practice," said Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International USA's Executive Director. "Torture is a crisis not only in Mexico or Nigeria, where torture by security personnel is widespread, but also here at home. The infamous cases of Chicago police torture and the still secret Senate report on CIA torture underscore that safeguards are still needed in our country."

Launched today, Amnesty's Stop Torture Campaign includes a detailed, global briefing Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises, as well as a new, 21-country Globescan survey that Amnesty International commissioned to gauge worldwide attitudes to torture. The vast majority (82%) of the more than 21,000 individuals interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between December 2013 and the start of April 2014, believe there should be clear laws against torture. However, more than a third (36%) still thought torture could be justified in certain circumstances.

"Raising awareness about human rights abuses both here at home and around the world is just the first step," Hawkins said. "From the abuses highlighted in the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's report on CIA torture that has yet to be released, to the men and women tortured in Chicago under the direction of former police commander Jon Burge who are still awaiting justice, to the detainees who were tortured and are being held indefinitely without charge at Guantanamo, we're calling on U.S. government and governments everywhere to implement safeguards to prevent and punish torture."

New Global Survey
Only two-thirds of Americans polled say they would feel safe from torture if taken into custody in the United States. Moreover, a majority (61%) of survey respondents disagree that torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public and 77% of people in the United States agree that, "clear rules against torture are crucial because any use of torture will weaken international human rights." Finally, nearly half (44%) of respondents globally – from 21 countries across every continent – fear they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country.

"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.

Of the 155 states to have ratified the U.N. convention, Amnesty International researched 142 and observed at least 79 states still torturing in 2014, including the United States. A further 40 U.N. Member States have not adopted the convention, although the global prohibition of on torture binds them too.

While Amnesty International has reported on torture and other forms of ill treatment in at least 141 countries from every region of the world over the past five years – virtually every country it works in – the actual number of countries that torture is likely to be higher still given the secrecy surrounding the practice.

Amnesty found that in some 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 briefing details a variety of torture techniques – from stress positions and sleep deprivation to electrocution of the genitals – that states use against criminal suspects, security suspects, dissenting voices, political rivals and others.

In countries that take their commitments under the U.N. Convention Against Torture seriously, measures such as the criminalization of torture in national legislation, opening detention centers to independent monitors and video recording interrogations have all led to a decrease in the use of torture.

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.

In the United States, this call starts at the local level. In April, Amnesty International USA held its annual meeting in Chicago, where hundreds of activists marched and launched a call to action to support survivors of police torture from 1972-1991. Amnesty International believes Chicago authorities should an ordinance that would ensure reparations to survivors of systematic police torture under former Police Commander Jon Burge.

International Focus Countries in Addition to the United States
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 be the backbone of the campaign.

  • In Mexico, the government argues that torture is the exception rather than the norm, but in reality abuses by police and security forces are widespread and go 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 offenses. 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 that will lead to 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 center, 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 routinely use torture. 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 transferred 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 is convinced she was tortured.

Detailed Survey Findings
On average, across the 21 countries, the survey finds that a significant majority (84%) agree that clear rules against torture are needed. Overall, over half are in strong agreement (57%) that rules are necessary because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights. Support is firm in European countries of Greece (80% strongly agree), Germany (72%), Spain (71%) and U.K. (70%), and in Australia (76%), Canada (74%), South Korea (69%) and Chile (69%). Opinion in favor of rules against torture is less pronounced in the U.S. (58% strongly agree) and is weakest in Mexico (27%) and China (33%).

Despite general agreement on the need for rules against torture, global opinion is much more divided on the use of torture to gain information. A majority of people (61%) across the twenty-one countries disagree that torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect that public. This view is strongest in Greece (where 87% disagree that torture can be justified), Spain (81%), Brazil (80%), Germany (78%), Argentina (76%), and Chile (77%). In contrast, a majority in China and India (74% in each) agree that torture can sometimes be justified.

There are also mixed perspectives of personal safety from torture across the twenty-one countries. Overall, 48% of those surveyed agree that they are confident that they would be safe from torture if they were taken into custody in their country. This compares with 44% that disagree that they would feel safe from torture. The remaining 8% were unable to answer this question. Fear of torture is highest in Latin America – a majority of Brazilians (80%) and Mexicans (64%) are not confident that they would be safe if taken into custody. In contrast, the vast majority in the U.K., Australia and Canada feel safe from torture, with over three quarters confident that would be safe from torture if they were taken into custody (83% in Australia and UK, 77% in Canada).

A total of 21,221 people across 21 countries were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between December 2013 and the start of April 2014. Countries polled included: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, the U.K., and the U.S. Polling was conducted for Amnesty International by the global research consultancy GlobeScan and its research partners in each country. In four of the countries (Brazil, China, Indonesia, Kenya), the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/- 2.1 to 3.7 percent, 19 times out of 20.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.