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Torture is a 'global crisis' - but more than a third of people think it can be justified

Amnesty International launches its global anti-torture campaign today.

Image: Torture via Shutterstock

Source: AmnestyInternational/YouTube

THE GLOBAL SCALE of torture is huge, and even though governments are pledging to fight it, they aren’t all acting on their word.

That’s according to Amnesty International, which has just launched a new worldwide campaign aimed at exposing the global crisis of torture.

Amnesty International has accused governments around the world of betraying their commitments to stamp out torture, three decades after the Convention Against Torture was adopted by the UN in 1984.

“Governments around the world are two-faced on torture – prohibiting it in law, but facilitating it in practice” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director, Amnesty International Ireland.

Torture is not just alive and well – it is flourishing in many parts of the world. As more governments seek to justify torture in the name of national security, the steady progress made in this field over the last thirty years is being eroded.

Since 1984, 155 states have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, 142 of which are researched by Amnesty International.

In 2014, Amnesty International observed at least 79 of these still torturing. A further 40 UN Member States haven’t adopted the Convention, although the global legal ban on torture binds them too.

In some of the 141 countries, torture is routine and systematic. In others, Amnesty International has only documented isolated and exceptional cases. The organsiation said it finds even one case of torture or other ill-treatment totally unacceptable.

Torture techniques

Amnesty details that torture techniques include from stress positions and sleep deprivation to electrocution of the genitals.

Its survey found nearly half (44 per cent) of respondents – from 21 countries across every continent – fear they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country.

The vast majority (82 per cent) believe there should be clear laws against torture. However, more than a third (36 per cent) still thought torture could be justified in certain circumstances.

Measures such as the criminalisation of torture in national legislation, opening detention centres to independent monitors, and video recording interrogations have all led to a decrease in the use of torture in those countries taking their commitments under the Convention Against Torture seriously.

Amnesty International is calling on governments to implement protective mechanisms to prevent and punish torture. These include 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.

Torture on a global scale

Amnesty International’s global work against torture continues, but it is to focus in particular on five countries where torture is rife and where it believes it can achieve significant impact.

In Mexico the government argues that torture is the exception rather than the norm, but in reality abuse by police and security forces is widespread and goes 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 offences. Three years have passed, but none of her torturers have been brought to justice.

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 which will lead to the prosecution in court of the officers involved.

In Morocco and Western Sahara, authorities rarely investigate reports of torture, said Amnesty.

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 centre, 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 “use torture as a matter of routine”.

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 transfered 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 are convinced she had been tortured.

Read: Argentina want to try a Spanish Fascist-era policeman accused of torture, but Spain won’t extradite him>

Read: Silent vigil for two Irish peacekeepers tortured and murdered in Lebanon>

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