"[T]he term 'torture' means 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."
Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
(1984, art. 1, para.1)
In 1948, the international community condemned torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. In 1975, responding to vigorous activity by non-governmental organizations(NGOs), the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
During the 1980s and 1990s, progress was made both in the development of legal standards and instruments and in enforcement of the prohibition of torture. The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture was established by the General Assembly in 1981 to fund organizations providing assistance to victims of torture and their families. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted by the General Assembly in 1984 and came into force in 1987. Its implementation by States parties is monitored by a body of independent experts, the Committee against Torture. The first Special Rapporteur on torture, an independent expert mandated to report on the situation of torture in the world, was appointed by the Commission on Human Rights in 1985. During the same period, the General Assembly adopted resolutions in which it highlighted the role of health personnel in protecting prisoners and detainees against torture and established general principles for the treatment of detained persons. In December 1997, the General Assembly proclaimed 26 June United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
The United Nations has repeatedly acknowledged the important role played by NGOs in the fight against torture. In addition to lobbying for the establishment of United Nations instruments and monitoring mechanisms, they have made a valuable contribution to their enforcement. Individual experts, including the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, and treaty monitoring bodies such as the Committee against Torture rely heavily on information brought to their attention by NGOs and individuals.