Torture must end

The effectiveness of torture to obtain information is a myth that needs to be refuted

Jean-François Cautain June 26, 2017
The writer is Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan

Today, on the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, I would like to reiterate the strong commitment of the European Union against the use of torture under any circumstances and remember the sufferance of the victims and survivors of torture throughout the world, no matter whether innocent or guilty of a crime.

Thirty years ago, on this day, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect. Ratified by a large majority of the world countries (159 in total), the Convention prohibits the use of torture under any circumstances.

Stopping torture is one of the priorities of the European Union’s foreign policy. The absolute ban on torture and ill-treatment enshrined in core United Nations human rights conventions is reflected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

As an absolute right in the international human rights framework, the freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment cannot be limited for any reason. No circumstance justifies a qualification or limitation of absolute rights. No state of emergency is relevant to suspend or restrict them.

The European Union is concerned about the fact that in recent years, this absolute requirement of freedom of torture and the correspondent obligation of states to ensure this freedom has changed drastically around the world.

The war on terror that was declared after 9/11 and the attacks by radicalised individuals and groups contributed greatly to this change of mindset. Today, many people believe that freedom of torture is no longer a key guarantee for every citizen in a democratic state. More and more torture is said to be justified under certain circumstances such as national security or the fight against terrorism. Torture is increasingly considered by some state actors as legitimate interrogation technique for suspects of crimes while it should remain a despicable act considered as a crime under international law.

Torture is particularly destructive for the victims, but is also degrading for the ones who perpetrate it and harmful for the whole society. This is why it deserves to be eliminated globally.

In addition, the effectiveness of torture to obtain information is a myth that needs to be refuted. In this matter, it is even blatantly inefficient: not only is the information obtained widely unreliable, but is also extremely difficult, if not impossible, to verify. In many cases, the use of torture to obtain confessions is even more useless since it generally leads to false confessions.

Beyond the sole victims, torture also damages its perpetrators: if agents of a state carry on torture acts, it will damage the justice system as a whole, allowing it to work on the basis of unreliable forced confessions. Authorities carrying on torture will also see their moral authority damaged, giving legitimacy to its opponents.

The use of torture by the state institutions strengthens indeed the insurgencies. It gives voice to their claim of an unfair, immoral and inhumane justice system, consequently fuelling and giving credit to their propaganda. Torture has the capacity to turn the population against the state, depriving it of the popular support it needs to fight terrorism and insurgency, widening the recruiting grounds of militants. Torture is thus counterproductive. It is a failure of the authorities towards their own population: states should protect, not oppress, not torture.

Unfortunately still in a number of countries an improvement of the situation is mostly obstructed by a general climate of impunity. The lack of accountability of the state institutions pushes further away the possibility to punish them. Eradicating impunity after torture allegations will also require a strong and independent judiciary able to hold the other institutions accountable after a fair inquiry.

Putting an end to torture is not only the responsibility of the judiciary, it is the matter of everyone — civil society, media and families of the victims as well as the rest of the population — to make people aware of the existence of such deeds. It should also be remembered that the elimination of torture, when carried out, should never be taken for granted. A backsliding is always possible, annihilating decades of efforts.

The European Union has from its beginning pledged against the use of torture, and for the abolition of torture around the world. It has encouraged the adoption of legal guarantees, the reporting of torture acts, the judicial proceedings against perpetrators, but also the rehabilitation of victims. The recent review by the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture has shown that a lot of work remains to be done. The EU will continue to stand by those courageous individuals and institutions fighting to end torture around the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2017.

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