Torture is the infliction of severe mental and physical pain on a person in order to intimidate or punish the victim or to elicit information, coercing a confession, or inflicting punishment.
It is normally committed by state actors or persons exercising comparable power and authority. Although the effectiveness of it has been defended by many throughout history, notably Aristotle and Sir Francis Bacon, it was attacked as early as Roman times for encouraging its victims to lie.
In ancient Greece and Rome, physical torment was lawfully used, usually on noncitizens or slaves, as a means of obtaining information or confessions. Later, in early medieval Europe, it was used as the trial itself in the ordeal, wherein the suspect’s response to extreme physical pain served as the basis for establishing guilt or innocence. In the later Middle Ages, torture was again used to secure confessions in cases of serious crime (confession was known by the term “the queen of proofs”), though it was nominally subject to strict conditions.
Torture can take different forms like beatings and electric shocks. It can be of a sexual nature, like rape or sexual humiliation. Or they can be of a physical nature, like sleep deprivation or prolonged solitary confinement.
Under international law, torment and other forms of ill-treatment are always illegal. They have been outlawed internationally for decades. Only 172 countries have adhered to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and 165 countries are parties to the UN Convention against torture which Amnesty International campaigned hard to create.
However, many countries have failed to criminalize it as a specific felony or misdemeanor under their legal system, and governments around the world continue to defy international law by torturing people. Between January 2009 and May 2013, Amnesty International received reports of torture in 141 countries from every region of the world.
Historical analysis of Torture
During the ancient, medieval, and early modern societies, it was legally and morally acceptable. There is archaeological evidence of it in Early Neolithic Europe, about 7,000 years ago. It is commonly mentioned in historical sources on Assyria and Achaemenid Persia. Societies used it both as part of the judicial process and as punishment, although some historians make a distinction between torture and painful punishments.
Historically, it was seen as a reliable way to elicit the truth, a suitable punishment, and deterrence against future offenses. When it was legally regulated, there were restrictions on the allowable methods. Common methods in Europe included the rack and strapped. In most societies, citizens could be judicially tortured only under exceptional circumstances and for a serious crime such as treason, often only when some evidence already existed. In contrast, non-citizens such as foreigners and slaves were commonly tortured.
It was rare in early medieval Europe but became more common between 1200 and 1400. Because medieval judges used an exceptional high standard of proof, they would sometimes authorize it’s application when circumstantial evidence tied a person to a capital crime, if there were fewer than the two eyewitnesses required to convict someone in the absence of a confession. However, it was still a labor-intensive process reserved for the most serious crimes; most victims were men accused of murder, treason, or theft.
Medieval ecclesiastical courts and the Inquisition used it under the same procedural rules as secular courts. The Ottoman Empire and Qajar Iran used it in cases where circumstantial evidence tied someone to a crime, although Islamic law has traditionally considered evidence obtained under it to be inadmissible.
Prohibition by UN and Continued use
During the seventeenth century, torture remained legal in Europe, but its practice declined. It was already of marginal importance to European criminal justice systems by its formal abolition in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Theories for why it was abolished include the rise of Enlightened ideas about the value of the human person, the lowering of the standard of proof in criminal cases, popular views that no longer saw pain as morally redemptive, and the expansion of imprisonment as an alternative to executions or painful punishments. It is not known if torture also declined in non-Western states or in European colonies during the nineteenth century. In China, judicial torture, which had been practiced for more than two millennia, was banned in 1905 along with flogging and lingchi (dismemberment) as a means of execution, although China continued it throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
This act was widely used by colonial powers to subdue resistance and reached a peak during the anti-colonial wars in the twentieth century. An estimated 300,000 people were tormented during the Algerian Wars of Independence (1954-1962), and the United Kingdom and Portugal also used it in attempts to retain their respective empires. Independence states in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia often used it in the twentieth century, but it is unknown whether their use of it increased or decreased compared to nineteenth-century levels. During the first half of the twentieth century, it became more prevalent in Europe with the advent of secret police, World war I and World war II, and the rise of communist and fascist states.
It was also used by both communist and anti-communist governments during the Cold War in Latin America, with an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 victims of the act by United States-backed regimes. The only countries in which the act was rare during the twentieth century were the liberal democracies of the West, but it was still used there, against ethnic minorities or criminal suspects from marginalized classes, and during overseas was against foreign populations. After the September 11 attacks, the US government embarked on an overseas torture program as part of its war on terror.
Most countries practice it, although few acknowledge it. The international prohibition of torment has not completely stopped this act; instead, states have changed which techniques are used and denied, covered up, or outsourced it program. Measuring the rate at which it occurs is difficult because it is typically committed in secrecy, and abuses are likelier to come to light in open societies where there is a commitment to protecting human rights. Many survivors, especially those from poor or marginalized populations, are unwilling to report. Monitoring has focused on police stations and prisons, although it can also occur in other facilities such as immigration detention and youth detention centers.
Some that occurs outside of custody-including extrajudicial punishment, intimidation, and crowd control-has traditionally not been counted, even though some studies have suggested it is more common than in places of detention. There is even less information on the prevalence of the offence before the twentieth century.
Although some studies have found that men are more likely to face it than women, other studies have found that both suffer torture at equal rates.
Although liberal democracies are less likely to abuse their citizens, they may practice torture against marginalized citizens and non-citizens to whom they are not democratically accountable. Voters may support violence against out-groups seen as threatening; majoritarian institutions are ineffective at preventing it against minorities or foreigners. It is more likely when a society feels threatened because of wars or crises, but studies have not found a consistent relationship between the use of torture and terrorist attacks.
Torture is directed against certain segments of the population, who are denied the protection against torture that others enjoy. Torture of political prisoners and torture during armed conflicts receive more attention compared to torture of the poor or criminal suspects. Most victims of torture are subjected of crimes; a disproportionate number of victims are from poor or marginalized communities.
Groups especially vulnerable to torture include unemployed young men, the urban poor, LGBT people, refugees and migrants, ethnic and racial minorities, indigenous people, and people with disabilities. relative poverty and the resulting inequality in particular leave poor people vulnerable to torture.
Criminalization of the poor, through laws targeting homelessness, sex work, or working in the informal economy, can lead to violent and arbitrary policing. Routine violence against poor and marginalized people is often not seen as torture ,and its perpetrators justify the violence as a legitimate policing tactics; victims lack the resources or standing to seek redress.
Many torturers see their actions as serving a higher political or ideological goal that justifies torture as a legitimate means of protecting the state. Tortures typically value self-control, discipline, and professionalism, helping them maintain a positive self-image. Torturers who inflict more suffering than necessary to break the victim, or who act out of revenge or sexual gratification, may be rejected by peers or relieved of duty. Torture victims are often viewed by the perpetrators as serious threats and enemies of the state. Philosopher Jessica Wolfendale argues that, since “the decision to torture a person involves a refusal to see the victim’s status as a person as setting limits on what may be done to them”, victims are already seen as less than fully human before being tortured. Psychiatrist Pau Perez-Sales finds that torturers act from a variety of motives such as ideological commitment, personal gain, group belonging, avoiding punishment, or avoiding guilt from previous acts of torture.
A combination of dispositional and situational effects lead a person to become a torturer. In most cases of systematic torture, the torturers were desensitized to violence by being exposed to physical or psychological effects lead a person to become a torturer. In most cases of systematic torture, the torturers were desensitized to violence by being exposed to physical or psychological abuse during training. Wolfendale argues that military training aims to inculcate unquestioning obedience, therefore making military personnel more likely to torture. Even when not explicitly ordered by the government to torture, perpetrators may feel peer pressure due to competitive masculinity. Elite and specialized police units are especially prone to torturing, perhaps because of their tight-knit nature and insultation from oversight.
Torture can be a side effect of a broken criminal justice system in which underfunding, lack of judicial independence, or corruption undermines effective investigations and fair trials. In this context, people who cannot afford bribes are likely to become victims of torture. Understaffed or poorly trained police are more likely to resort when interrogating suspects. In some countries, such as Kyrgyzstan, suspects are more likely to be tortured at the end of the month because of performance quotas.
Torturers rely on both active supporters and those who ignore it. Military, intelligence, psychology, medical, and legal professionals can all be complicit in torture. Incentives can favor the use of torture on an institutional or individual level, and some perpetrators are motivated by the prospect of career advancement.
Bureaucracy can diffuse responsibility for torture and help perpetrators excuse their actions. maintaining secrecy is often essential to maintaining a torture program, which can be accomplished in ways ranging from direct censorship, denial, or misleading torture as something else, to offshoring abuses to outside a state’s territory. Along with official denials, torture is enabled by moral disengagement from the victims and impunity for the perpetrators, criminal prosecutions for torture are rare. Public demand for decisive action against crime or even support for torture against criminals can facilitate its use.
Once a torture program is begun, it is difficult or impossible to prevent it from escalating to more severe techniques and expanding to larger groups of victims, beyond what is originally intended or desired by decision-makers. Escalation of torture is especially difficult to contain in counterinsurgency operations.
Torture and specific techniques spread between different countries, especially by soldiers returning home from overseas wars, although this process is poorly understood.
Reasons for torture
The use of torture for punishment dates back to antiquity, and still employed in the 21st century. A common practice in countries with dysfunctional justice systems or overcrowded prisons is for police to apprehend suspects, torture them, and release them without a charge. Such torture could be performed in a police station, the victim’s home, or a public place. In South Africa, the police have been observed handling suspects over to vigilantes to be tortured. This type of extrajudicial violence is often carried out in public to deter others.
It discriminatorily targets minorities and marginalized groups and may be supported by the public, especially if people do not trust the official justice system.
The classification of judicial corporal punishment as torture is internationally controversial, although it is explicitly prohibited under the Geneva Conventions. Some authors, such as John D, Bessler, argue that capital punishment is inherently a form of torture carried out for punishment. Executions may be carried out in brutal ways, such as stoning, death by burning, or dismemberment. The psychological harm of capital punishment is sometimes considered a form of psychological torture. Others do not consider corporal punishment with a fixed penalty to be torture, as it does not seek to break the victim’s will.
Torture as a means of deterrence
Torture may also be used indiscriminately to terrorize people other than the direct victim or to deter opposition to the government. In the United States, torture was used to deter slaves from escaping or rebelling. Some defenders of judicial torture prior to its abolition saw it as a useful means of deterring crime, reformers argued that because torture was carried out in secret, it could not be an effective deterrent. In the twentieth century, well-known examples include the Khmer Rouge and anti-communist regimes in Latin America, who tortured and murdered their victims as part of forced disappearance. Regimes that are otherwise weak are more likely to resort to torture to deter opposition.
Authoritarian regimes often resort to indiscriminate repression because they cannot accurately identify potential opponents. Many insurgencies lack the necessary infrastructure for a torture program and instead intimidate by killing. research has found that state torture can extend the lifespan of terrorist organizations, increase incentives for insurgents to use violence, and radicalize the opposition.
Researchers James Worrall and Victoria Penziner Hightower argue that the Syrian government’s systematic and widespread use of torture during the Syrian civil was shows that it can be effective in instilling fear into certain groups or neighborhoods during a civil war. Another form of torture for deterrence is violence against migrants, as has been reported during pushbacks on the European Union’s external borders.
Torture as a means of extracting confessional statements from detainees
Torture has been used throughout history to extract confessional statements from detainees. In 1764, Italian reformer Cesare Beccaria denounced torture as “a sure way to acquit robust scoundrels and to condemn weak but innocent people”. Similar doubts torture’s effectiveness had been voiced for centuries previously, including Aristotle. Despite the abolition of judicial torment, it is still used to extract confessions, especially in judicial systems placing a high value on confessions in criminal matters.
The use of torment to force suspects to confess is facilitated by laws allowing extensive pre-trial detention. Research has found that coercive interrogation is slightly more effective than cognitive interviewing for extracting a confession from a suspect, but presents a higher risk of false confession.
Many victims will say whatever the torture wants to hear to end the pain. Others who are guilty refuse to make a confession, especially if they believe that confessing will only bring more torment or punishment. Medieval justice systems attempted to counteract the risk of false confession under torture by requiring confessors to provide falsifiable details about the crime, and only allowing torture if there was already some evidence against the accused.
In some countries, political opponents use it to force them to confess publicly as a form of state propaganda.
The use of it to obtain information during interrogation accounts for small percentage of worldwide torture cases; its use for obtaining confessions or intimidation is more common. Although interrogational pain has been used in conventional wars, it is even more common in systemmetric was or civil wars. The ticking time bomb scenario is extremely rare, if not impossible, but is cited to justify it for interrogation. Fictional portrayals of torture as an effective interrogational method have fueled misconceptions that justify the use of torture.
Experiments comparing torture with other interrogation methods cannot be performed for ethical and practical reasons, but most scholars of the act are skeptical about its efficacy in obtaining accurate information, although torture sometimes has obtained actionable intelligence. Interrogational torture can often shade into confessional or simply into entertainment, and some do not distinguished between interrogation and confession.
There are a limited number of ways of inflicting pain while minimizing the risk of death. Survivors report that the exact method used is not significant. Most forms of it include both physical and psychological elements and multiple methods are typically used on one person. Different methods of the act are popular in different countries.
Lo-tech methods are more commonly used than high-tech ones, and attempts to develop scientifically validated torture technology have failed. The prohibition of torture motivated a shift to methods that do not leave marks to aid in deniability and to deprive victims of legal redress. As they faced more pressure and scrutiny, democracies led the innovation in clean torture practices in the early twentieth century; such techniques diffused world wild by the 1960s. Patterns of torture differ based on a torturer’s time limits-for example, resulting from legal limits on pre-trial detention.
Beating or blunt trauma are the most common form of physical abuse. They may be either unsystematic or focused on a specific part of the body, as in Falange (the soles of the feet), repeated strikes against both ears, or shaking the detainees so that their head moves back and fort. Often, people are suspended in painful positions such as strappado or upside-down hanging in combination with beatings. People may also be subjected to stabbings or puncture wounds, have their nails removed, or body parts amputated. Burns are also common, especially cigarette burns, but other instruments are also employed, including hot metal, hot fluids, the sun, or acid.
Forced ingestion of water, food, or other substances, or injections are also used to effect it. Electric shocks are often used equally, especially to avoid other methods that are more likely to leave scars. Asphyxiation, of which waterboarding is a form, inflicts torture on the victim by cutting off their air supply.
Psychological torture includes methods that involve no physical element as well as forcing a person to do something and physical attacks that ultimately target the mind. Death threats, mock execution, or being forced to witness the torture of another person are often reported to be subjectively worse than being physically tortured and are associated with severe sequelae. Other techniques include sleep deprivation, overcrowding or solitary confinement, withholding of forced or water, sensory deprivation (such as hooding), exposure to extremes of light or noise (e.g., music torture), humiliation (which can be based on sexuality or on the victim’s religious or national identity), and the use of animals such as dogs to frighten or injure a prisoner.
Positional torture works by forcing the person to adopt a stance, putting their weight on a few muscles, causing pain without leaving marks, for example standing or squatting for extended periods.
Rape and sexual assault are universal methods and frequently instill a permanent sense of shame in the victim, and in some cultures humiliate their family and society. Cultural and individual differences affect how different torture methods are perceived by the victim. Many survivors from Arab or Muslim countries report that forced nudity is worse than beatings or isolation.
Studies have found that most people around the world oppose it’s use in general. Some hold categorical views on torture; for others, torture’s acceptability depends on the victim. Support for torture in specific cases is correlated with the belief that torture is effective and used in ticking time bomb cases. Women are more likely to oppose torture than men.
Nonreligious actors are less likely to support the use of it than religious actors, although for the latter group, increased religiosity increases opposition to torture. The personality traits of right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, and retributivism are correlated with higher support for torture; embrace of democratic values such as liberty and equality reduces support for it. Public opinion is most favorable to torture, on average, in countries with low per capita income and high levels of state repression. Public opinion is an important constraint on the use of torture by states.
Amnesty roles in preventing torture
This act happens in secret-in police lock-up celss, interrogation rooms or prisons. For more than 50 years Amnesty International has been documenting torture, exposing the perpetrators and helping victims get justice.
We make people aware of their rights and make sure that governemnts who torture can’t get away with it.
We are campaigning for the adoption and implementation of measures to protect people from torture and bring the perpetrators to justice. These include independence checks on detention centres, monitoring of interrogations, prompt access to lawyers and courts, visits and communication with family members, and through and effective investigations into torture allegations.
And we fight for justice for victims of it. For example; Moses Akatugba, who spent 1o years on death row in Nigeria following his conviction for stealing three mobile phones. Police officers tortured Moses to force him to confess, using pillars yo pull out his toenails and fingernails.
As part of Amnesty’s Stop Torture campaign, more than 800,000 people worldwide wrote to the Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan asking him to release Moses.
Nigeria Courts vis-à-vis torture
Once an accused raises a plea that the confessional statement before the court was forcefully extracted from him by the state through torture, the court will automatically suspend trial and conduct a trial-within-trial to ascertain the veracity of the claim. If the accused was torture the confessional statement will be expunged.