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International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS)

Torture

 

Torture (from Latin tortus: to twist, to torment) is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological suffering on someone by another as a punishment or in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or force some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict suffering or pain, without a specific intent to do so, are not typically considered torture.

Although torture is sanctioned by some states, it is prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries. Although widely illegal and reviled, there is an ongoing debate as to what exactly is and is not legally defined as torture. It is a serious violation of human rights, and is declared to be unacceptable (but not illegal) by Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols I and II of 8 June 1977 officially agree not to torture captured persons in armed conflicts, whether international or internal. Torture is also prohibited for the signatories of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has 163 state parties.

In Ireland v. United Kingdom (19791980) the ECHR ruled that the five techniques developed by the United Kingdom (wall-standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink), as used against fourteen detainees in Northern Ireland by the United Kingdom were "inhuman and degrading" and breached the European Convention on Human Rights, but did not amount to "torture". In 2014, after new information was uncovered that showed the decision to use the five techniques in Northern Ireland in 19711972 had been taken by British ministers, The Irish Government asked the ECHR to review its judgement. In 2018, by six votes to one,the Court declined.

In the study of the history of torture, some authorities rigidly divide the history of torture per se from the history of capital punishment, while noting that most forms of capital punishment are extremely painful. Torture grew into an ornate discipline, where calibrated violence served two functions: to investigate and produce confessions and to attack the body as a form of punishment. Entire populaces of towns would show up to witness an execution by torture in the public square. Those who had been "spared" torture were commonly locked barefooted into the stocks, where children took delight in rubbing feces into their hair and mouths.

Judicial torture was probably first applied in Persia. Over time torture has been used as a means of reform, inducing public terror, interrogation, spectacle, and sadistic pleasure. The ancient Greeks and Romans used torture for interrogation. Until the 2nd century AD, torture was used only on slaves (with a few exceptions). After this point it began to be extended to all members of the lower classes. A slave's testimony was admissible only if extracted by torture, on the assumption that slaves could not be trusted to reveal the truth voluntarily. This torture occurred to break the bond between a master and his slave. Slaves were thought to be incapable of lying under torture.

The privy council attempted to have John Felton who stabbed George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham to death in 1628 questioned under torture on the rack, but the judges resisted, unanimously declaring its use to be contrary to the laws of England. Torture was abolished in England around 1640 (except peine forte et dure, which was abolished in 1772).

Modern sensibilities have been shaped by a profound reaction to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Axis Powers and Allied Powers in the Second World War, which have led to a sweeping international rejection of most if not all aspects of the practice. Even as many states engage in torture, few wish to be described as doing so, either to their own citizens or to the international community. A variety of devices bridge this gap, including state denial, "secret police", "need to know", a denial that given treatments are torturous in nature, appeal to various laws (national or international), the use of jurisdictional argument and the claim of "overriding need". Throughout history and today, many states have engaged in torture, albeit unofficially. Torture ranges from physical, psychological, political, interrogations techniques, and also includes rape of anyone outside of law enforcement.

The modern concept of torture methods that leave no physical evidence is noted in 1995 by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV within the changing definition of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD. This revised definition included psychological torture stating: "Expresses concern that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders definition of posttraumatic stress disorder does not include those forms of psychological torture in which the physical integrity of a person is not threatened. It is suggested that any diagnostic criterion that characterizes the traumatic stressors leading to PTSD should be expressed in such a way that psychological forms of torture are included." After 1995, the sweeping definition of changes from 'any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether mental or physical, is intentionally inflicted on a person' to including the terms psychological torture and including examples such as, interrogation techniques range from sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, fear and humiliation to severe sexual and cultural humiliation and use of threats and phobias to induce fear of death or injury.

The breaking wheel was a torturous capital punishment device used in the Middle Ages and early modern times for public execution by cudgeling to death, especially in France and Germany. In France the condemned were placed on a cart-wheel with their limbs stretched out along the spokes over two sturdy wooden beams. The wheel was made to slowly revolve. Through the openings between the spokes, the executioner hit the victim with an iron hammer that could easily break the victim's bones. This process was repeated several times per limb. Once his bones were broken, he was left on the wheel to die. It could take hours, even days, before shock and dehydration caused death. The punishment was abolished in Germany as late as 1827.

 
 

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