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The International Prohibition against Torture

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Presentation on theme: "The International Prohibition against Torture"— Presentation transcript:

1 The International Prohibition against Torture
Katie Wood Governance Coordinator, Amnesty International Australia About Amnesty International (AI) – our vision and mission The beginnings of the international prohibition against torture The definition in CAT Key international treaties and law on torture Obligations of Governments wrt torture Syria

2 About Amnesty International
Global movement with 2.8 million supporters in more than 150 countries We campaign to end grave abuses of human rights wherever they occur Our vision – for everyone to enjoy all those rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments Our campaigning work is based on our research work undertaken in countries around the world Independent of all governments, religious institutions, corporate entities and political parties Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people standing up for human rights. We are independent and impartial and our campaigning is based on accurate and timely research. Our network extends to more than two million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries around the world. Each one of us is outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world – and together we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity.

3 Why was torture prohibited?
Current understanding post atrocities of WW2 Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading practices are a denial of the victim’s inherent humanity It is facilitated by detention that is in secret or isolated from contact with the outside world Used by the State and its agents not only to intimidate, but also to discriminate

4 The international prohibition - definition
Torture is: The intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering for purposes such as obtaining information or a confession, or punishing, intimidating or coercing someone. Under international law, some human rights can be suspended during times of national emergency however, that country must formally notify the UN that it is in a state of emergency and that it intends to set aside some rights. The right to be free from torture can never be suspended. There is no real distinction at law between torture and CID – they are both absolutely prohibited at all times and in all circumstances. What constitutes torture has expanded over time – originally limited practices, now includes rape, sexual abuse, corporal punishment, the death penalty, and can be seen as a war crime and as a crime against humanity (Rome Statute)

5 Key International treaties prohibiting torture
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Convention against Torture (CAT) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols (part of the laws of war) Rome Statute (International Criminal Court) Torture is also recognised (settled law, reflected in important judicial rulings) as forming part of: customary international law as per UN HRC (opinio juris – the principal source of general international law) which comprises rules derived from state practice and regarded as law AND acceptance as a peremptory norm (jus cogens) – that is, those rules of international law which are of such importance that states cannot derogate or resile from them. (Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties Art 53 defines jus cogens as ‘a norm accepted and recognised by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character) - ICJ has recognised that some obligations are obligations erga omenes, that is obligations which a state has toward the international community as a whole and in the fulfilment of which every state has a legal interest. A reflection of this would be to exercise jurisdiction over an alleged perpetrator within their territories.

6 Obligations on countries to uphold the prohibition against torture
Condemn all forms of torture and other ill treatment and speak out against governments that perpetrate, are complicit in or fail to act against such abuse Bring to justice those responsible for authorising and inflicting torture and other ill treatment, as well as provide redress and reparations Ensure that information obtained by torture cannot be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of abuse as evidence of that abuse. The law has come to recognise also that States have an obligation to protect people from the acts of private individuals which are contrary to the prohibition against CID and torture. To do nothing amounts to negligence which could mean the state is guilty of CID. Under the principles of international humanitarian law, grave breaches of the GCs (‘torture or inhuman treatment including biological experiments’ and ‘wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health’) are subject to universal jurisdiction – that is, states have an obligation to investigate and prosecute those who are suspected of perpetrating torture. ICTY held that all states have an obligation – as a peremptory norm – to exercise jurisdiction over any alleged perpetrator in their territories. As being erga omnes, it means also that a state that breaches the prohibition has committed a crime against all other states and other states are entitled to become involved in the matter and to demand satisfaction.

7 Conflict in Syria – reports of torture
Since March 2011 Amnesty International has documented: The deaths of over 10,000 people The deaths in custody of more than 276 people (as at March 2012) 31 forms of torture being practised in an organised and systematic way

8 Some torture techniques employed in Syria
Beatings Cigarette burns Flesh gouged by pincers Falaqa (beatings on the soles of the feet) Stress positions Exposure to extreme temps Being subjected to sexual violence Being subjected to sounds of torture being inflicted on others From testimony given to Amnesty International by victims in Jordan – either experienced directly themselves or witnessed by them.

9 Testimony from Syria I had long hair and a beard. They grabbed me by both while beating me hard with their fists, rifle butts and kicking me. One of them grabbed me by my beard and then hit me hard on my throat so I could not breathe. Another guy hit me on the temple with the bottom of his gun. “Mohammed”, 23 year old student from Damascus Mohammed had taken part in protests in Damascus and his leg had been broken during a funeral of a fellow protester. He is describing what happened when around 30 armed members of the so-called Popular Protection Committees, a pro-government militia, captured him and two of his friends on 26 December They were then handed into the custody of Military intelligence officials in Damascus.

10 Testimony from Syria I also suffered bisat al-rih [flying carpet]. I was on a wooden board like a table, face up, in underpants and blindfolded. I don’t know how the ends are raised but some mechanism makes it go up. I suffered terrible pain on my lower back as the body is forced into a V-shape. And I was beaten at the same time. Three men took it in turns with the kurbaj (whip). When they rested they drink tea, smoke a cigarett until it’s their turn again. It lasts about one hour. “Ghazi”, 22 year old decorator Ghazi was describing hi treatment by Military Intelligence officials in Damascus. He was detained on 26 July 2011 on his way to the hospital in Dera’a. About two months earlier security forces had shot him in his upper chest with a tear gas canister, causing broken ribs, during a protest in Dera’a city. He was ddetained at a Military Intelligence Branch 291 in Damascus for 43 days.

11 Thank you End the discussion.

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