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United Nations Convention Against Torture

From Academic Kids

The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) is an international human rights instrument, organized by the United Nations and intended to prevent torture and other similar activities. It created the UN Committee Against Torture, which focuses on the duties of national leaders in a preventive role. UNCAT came into force in June 1987 and to date, it has been ratified by 65 nations, with another 16 having signed but not yet ratified.

The Convention Against Torture is one of a series of UN agreements that seek to protect human rights. The most relevant articles on torture are articles 1, 2, 3 and the first paragraph of article 16.

Article 1
1. 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.
2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.
Article 2
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
Article 3
1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.
Article 16
1. Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article I, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture of references to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


There are several points which need highlighting:

  • Section 1: torture is defined as severe pain or suffering, which means there must be levels of pain and suffering which are not severe enough to be called torture. Discussions on this area of international law are influenced by a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights(ECHR) on sensory deprivation.
  • Section 2: If a state has signed the treaty without reservations, then there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever where a state can use torture and not break its treaty obligations. However the worst sanction which can be applied to a powerful county is the publishing of the information that they have broken their treaty obligations. In certain exceptional cases the authorities in those countries may consider that with plausible deniability that this is an acceptable risk to take as the definition of severe is open to flexible interpretation.
  • Section 16: contains the phrase territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, so if the government of a state authorises its personnel to use sensory deprivation on a detainee in territory not under its jurisdiction then it has not broken its treaty obligations.

The Convention has received new attention in the world press because of the Stress and duress interrogation techniques used on the detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison by United States military personnel. See Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.

The Convention also requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders, and forbids states to return people to their home country if there is reason to believe they will be tortured.

External links

de:UN-Anti-Folter-Konvention

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