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Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
New York, 1984
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  Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are particularly serious violations of human rights and, as such, are strictly condemned by international law. This Convention strengthens the existing prohibition by providing for several forms of international supervision of countries' compliance with the Convention, including the creation of the Committee against Torture. This is an international supervisory body which can consider complaints from a country that is party to the Convention, or from (or on behalf of) individual people.

Key Provisions

  According to the Convention, the prohibition against torture is absolute; no "exceptional circumstances", including state of emergency, war, or an order from a public authority, can justify it. The Convention defines "torture" as:

... any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

  Countries that are parties to the Convention must prevent and punish acts of torture as the Convention defines it. But they must also prevent and punish other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, when such acts are committed by, at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

  Countries that are parties to the Convention must take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture from occurring on their territories. The Convention mentions such measures as:

  1. the prohibition and punishability of all acts of torture by appropriate penalties in domestic criminal law
  2. the full integration of education and information about the prohibition against torture into the training of law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and others
  3. the systematic review of interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices, as well as of arrangements for the custody and treatment of suspects, detainees and prisoners
  4. guarantees for the prompt and impartial investigation of allegations of torture by competent authorities
  5. the protection of witnesses
  6. the possibility for victims to obtain redress and fair and adequate compensation and rehabilitation

  In addition, countries that are parties to the Convention must not expel, return or extradite a person to another state where he or she might be tortured. An act of torture must be made an extraditable offense and a country that is party to the Convention must establish its jurisdiction over crimes of torture committed in any part of its territory by one of its nationals and when an alleged offender is present on its territory and not extradited.

  The Committee against Torture has four procedures for monitoring and reviewing actions taken by countries to fulfill their obligations.

  • All countries party to the Convention must submit periodic reports to the Committee for examination; this results in the adoption of recommendations by the Committee to the country in question.
  • If the Committee gets reliable information that torture is being systematically practiced in the territory of a country party to the Convention, it may initiate a confidential inquiry of the situation. Such an inquiry would be carried out in cooperation with the country concerned and would include country visits.
  • The Committee can consider complaints from individuals who claim to be victims of a violation by a country party to the Convention. This may be done only if the country concerned has declared that it recognizes the Committee as qualified to receive and examine such complaints. As of 15 June 2000, 44 State parties had made such a declaration.
  • A procedure of State-to-State complaints is provided for by the Convention, but has so far never been resorted to.
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