Torture by Police, Forced Disappearance

& Other Ill Treatment



[Country-by-Country Reports]


Eight of 10 Countries Ill-Treat and Torture Citizens: Amnesty

Lucy Westcott, Newsweek, 25 February 2015

[accessed 31 March 2015]

A majority of the world’s countries torture or mistreat their citizens, and more people are at risk this year from the threat of violent armed groups, according to a far-reaching report by Amnesty International.

“We found that last year the number of countries where both governments and armed groups have gotten away with not protecting civilians or causing serious human rights violations has been quite exceptional in the context of conflicts,” said Shetty, citing Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and Nigeria as examples.

A lack of protection for civilians has also led to the worst refugee crisis since World War II, Amnesty said. There are more refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people than at any time since the middle of the 20th century, more than 51 million, according to the United Nations’s refugee agency.

Who’s degraded more — the torture victim or the torturer?

Russ Wellen, Foreign Policy in Focus FPIF, January 23, 2013

[accessed 24 January 2013]

[accessed 14 August 2017]

Also, even though interrogators were presumably vetted to weed out psychopaths, if the practice alone doesn't suggest unbridled sadism at work, the repetition does. In -- facetiousness alert! -- fairness, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed may have been extraordinarily tough as well as holding out for concessions of some sort -- better conditions in jail, treatment of their families.

Or the repetition may have been a measure of the interrogator's frustration with the perceived inadequacy of the tools of torture with which he'd been supplied: "They call this waterboarding and all we're allowed to use is a common water bottle? Let me dunk his entire head in a tub and I'll get answers after his first immersion."

Perhaps, too, the more they tortured, the more they hated themselves and took out their anger on their subjects.

Diplomatic Assurances are No Safeguard against Torture

Human Rights Watch, April 15, 2005

[accessed 6 February 2013]

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THE LIMITS OF DIPLOMACY - Diplomacy entails the tactful management of foreign relations to promote the overall interests of the state. Human rights may be one of those interests, but it is seldom the only one, and as a consequence diplomacy cannot be an exclusive and reliable lever for human rights protection.

The tender arts of negotiation and compromise that characterize diplomacy can undermine straightforward and assertive human rights protection. The fundamental right to be free from torture, however, is not negotiable or permitting of compromise.

Diplomats are often quite candid that their top priority is to ensure friendly relations with other states, sometimes at the expense of confronting governments about possible human rights violations, including about breaches of pre-agreed diplomatic assurances. For example, when the former Swedish Ambassador to Egypt was asked why he let five weeks lapse before visiting two Egyptians expelled in December 2001 from Stockholm to Cairo following diplomatic assurances, he replied that the Swedes could not have visited the men immediately because that would have signaled a lack of trust in the Egyptian authorities.[49] The men were held incommunicado in police custody and subsequently credibly claimed that they had been brutally mistreated in the course of those five weeks (see section on Sweden below).

UN says Pacific nations should outlaw torture

Australian Broadcasting Corporation ABC Radio Australia, 1 July 2013

[accessed 2 July 2013]

The United Nations wants more Pacific nations to sign up to a convention against torture.

HILL: Some people in the Pacific might come back and say, well these sound like Western standards of behaviour. In the Pacific, there are different cultural perceptions. In Fiji, miscreance getting a bit of a hiding at the hands of the authorities has always been part of it. PNG they might say well, our local culture is perhaps a little bit more hands on than you have in Western Europe and North America. Is it entirely appropriate for people in the Pacific to accept these standards? Is torture or violence ever, in any sense, justified?

ROBINSON: We must reiterate that the community of nations in the world would have to stand by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948, after the atrocities of World War Two and so everybody signed - 193 members of the world - signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights are non-negotiable. In other words, if you have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in it Article 5 that says, no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment that becomes international law. And so it doesn't matter what region of the world you're from. These are human rights standards that all nations in the world should be practicing.

Enforced Disappearances

Amnesty International Report, 7 November 2014

[accessed 6 March 2015]

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An enforced disappearance takes place when a person is arrested, detained or abducted by the state or agents acting for the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.

Very often, people who have disappeared are never released and their fate remains unknown. Their families and friends may never find out what has happened to them.

But the person has not just vanished.  Someone, somewhere, knows what has happened to them.  Someone is responsible.  Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law but all too often the perpetrators are never bought to justice.

Policing and Human Rights -- Assessing southern African countries’ compliance with the SARPCCO Code of Conduct for Police Officials

Edited by Amanda Dissel & Cheryl Frank, African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum APCOF, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-920489-81-6

[accessed 25 March 2014]

The SARPCCO Constitution outlines certain principles of cooperation which include: respect for national sovereignty, equality of the police force/services, nonpolitical professionalism, non-discrimination and flexibility of working method, and mutual benefit for all members. Importantly, it refers to the observance of human rights, mutual respect and goodwill.

In furtherance of this commitment to human rights, SARPCCO held a human rights workshop in Kasame, Botswana in 2000. The workshop aimed to raise awareness and understanding of international human rights with regard to the police. It also aimed to facilitate discussion among police officers as to how police organisations could implement human rights standards and strengthen human rights-based policing. The meeting recommended the development of a protocol to facilitate the implementation of human rights in training and implementation. Accordingly, a Code of Conduct was developed and adopted at the 6th Annual General Meeting of SARPCCO on 31 August 2001.

The Code of Conduct is intended as a minimum standard for policing in the region. It is guided by respect for all human life, for reverence of the law, integrity, respect for property and service excellence. It recognises that human rights norms and ethical practices are essential aspects of professionalising the police services.

"Does Torture Work?" is an Immoral Question

Judith Levine, Boston Review, 29 December 2014

[accessed 5 January 2015]

In its wisdom, international law does not ask whether torture works. But because empathy and moral revulsion are not sufficient to prevent people, in the name of efficacy, from committing abominations on the bodies and minds of those under their power, the civilized world has found it necessary to build an unbreachable wall around torture—to include it among the injuries from which human rights doctrine protects everyone.

“No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever,” state the Geneva Conventions of 1949. In fact, the punishment need not be cruel or unusual to be illegal. The Conventions forbid a captor to so much as “insult” an intransigent prisoner or expose him to “unpleasant” treatment.

Is torture effective? The question is akin to asking if slavery is good economic policy or forced sterilization is an effective means of slowing population growth.  Even if torture does work, it is still wrong. And the minute we start considering it as a tool to select to get the job done—like a wrench or a pliers to turn a bolt, a spade or pickax to dig a hole—then we do not only dehumanize those we torture, we cease to be human ourselves.