The following is a guest post by Connie Johnson, a senior legal research analyst at the Law Library of Congress. Connie has posted several times before, including items on Water Rights on Star Island, Law Relating to Refugee Rights – Global Legal Collection Highlights, her summer vacation on Star Island, and World Health Day.
June 26 is set aside annually as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in 2012, noted that this day is one on which “we express our solidarity with, and support for, the hundreds of thousands of victims of torture and their family members throughout the world who endure such suffering.” He added that countries should not only prevent torture but also provide assistance to the victims.
Torture is banned under a number of international legal documents, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This pact was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1984, and became effective on June 26, 1987, twenty days after the twentieth country acceded to the convention. According to a U.N. website on the status of ratifications, there are now 159 nations that are parties to the convention. Among its provisions is the requirement spelled out in article 2 that parties “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.” The convention also states that “[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture” and that “[a]n order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Although it is not a binding agreement, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights commands wide international respect. It states in article 5 that “[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Almost identical wording can be found in article 5 of the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights, article 3 of the 1970 European Convention on Human Rights, and article 5 of the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Law Library Resources
Among the many works on the subject of torture in the Law Library’s collection are some that treat the topic in general and others that focus on a specific jurisdiction or on torture in connection with a particular focus, such as criminal justice or asylum. Here are some recent, English-language titles:
- Arbitrary Detention and Torture in the Terai. 53 pp. Kathmandu, Nepal: Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance, 2013.
- Chetwynd, Hugh. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) in Council of Europe (CoE) 127-41. Tanja E.J. Kleinsorge, ed. Alphen aan den Rijn, The Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2015.
- Luban, David. Torture, Power, and Law. 319 pp. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
- Ohlin, Jens David. The Torture Lawyers in Terrorism and Human Rights 146-209. Martin Sheinin, ed. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2013.
- Nowak, Manfred. What Practices Constitute Torture? US and UN Standards in Terrorism and Human Rights 113-45. Martin Sheinin, ed. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2013.
- Rumney, Philip NS. Torturing Terrorists: Exploring the Limits of Law, Human Rights, and Academic Freedom. 231 pp. New York: Routledge, 2015.
- Sifris, Ronlin. Reproductive Freedom, Torture and International Human Rights: Challenging the Masculinisation of Torture. 312 pp. / Ronli Sifris. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2014.
- Simon, Thomas W. Genocide, Torture, and Terrorism: Ranking International Crimes and Justifying Humanitarian Intervention. 244 pp. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.