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Column Five torture myths debunked

Torture is used more often than you think – and in countries you wouldn’t suspect.

TO MARK THE International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, it’s time to debunk persistent myths and misconceptions about torture…

1. Torture is mainly used against terror suspects and during war

Amnesty International research shows that torture and other ill-treatment continue to be an issue in many countries facing real or perceived national security threats, including terrorism.

However, the focus on torture and other ill-treatment in what the US authorities then called the “war on terror” at the beginning of the century may have skewed the global picture. What our research also clearly shows is that most victims of torture and other ill-treatment worldwide are not dangerous terrorists but rather poor, marginalized and disempowered criminal suspects who unfortunately seldom draw the attention of the media and public opinion, either nationally or globally.

Real or perceived political “enemies” of the government who have never carried a bomb or any other weapon, including human rights defenders, opposition politicians and journalists, are also frequent victims of torture.

This means that yes, torture continues in anti-terrorism contexts, but even here torture is mostly practised as a means of dehumanizing enemies – real life doesn’t look like “24” or “Zero Dark Thirty.”

And globally most victims are tortured not because they’re terrorists but because they’re poor, or different, or dare to disagree with the government. Whatever the motive, torture and other ill-treatment are prohibited absolutely, and never justified, no matter who you are or what you’ve done.

2. Torture is the only way to get information, fast

Torture is a primitive and blunt instrument of obtaining information. States have a huge variety of ways to collect information on crimes – both past and planned – without losing their humanity. In particular, humane questioning techniques have proved to be efficient in obtaining information on crimes without the devastating personal, societal and legal consequences.

3. Some forms of torture are not that bad

Torture doesn’t come in levels.

It is defined legally as an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person to punish or obtain information. No torture is “lite”.

All forms of torture are despicable and illegal – including electric shocks, beatings, rape, humiliation, mock executions, burning, sleep deprivation, mock drowning, long hours in contorted positions, use of pincers, drugs and dogs. Sadly, all of these are widely used in countries across the world.

4. In certain circumstances, it serves a greater good

No. Torture is never legal or acceptable. Countries that currently fail to punish it by law are violating internationally agreed standards.

In legal terms, the absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment is “non-derogable” – that is, it cannot be relaxed even in times of emergency. The prohibition has achieved such a strong global consensus that it has become binding even on states which have not joined the relevant human rights treaties.

But many governments today continue to torture for a host of reasons, mainly because governments benefit from torture – or believe that they do – and because those responsible rarely face justice. Much more needs to be done to end this despicable practice.

5. Only a handful of the worst governments use torture

Over the past five years Amnesty International has reported on torture or other ill-treatment in 141 countries and from every world region.

While in some of these countries torture might be the exception, in others it is systemic, and even one case of torture or other ill-treatment is unacceptable.

Amnesty International’s evidence and global research combined with more than five decades of documenting and campaigning against this abuse, reveals that, torture is still flourishing.

Josefina Salomon is a News Writer at Amnesty International.

On 26 June 2014, Amnesty International will hold a demonstration against torture in Dublin: see more details here

For more information about torture visit Amnesty International’s Stop Torture Campaign.

Read: RTÉ documentary reveals evidence about torture methods used in Northern Ireland’s past

Read: Torture is a ‘global crisis’ – but more than a third of people think it can be justified

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