The prohibition of torture is set out in one sentence in the Human Rights Act 1998:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
What does this mean?
Torture can be defined as an act where severe physical or mental pain is intentionally inflicted on a person, for one of a number of potential reasons – such as obtaining information or for punishment.
Historically, it is a process which has been carried out throughout much of history and it was widely accepted as part of the system by many until the 1800’s. Since then, torture has transitioned to a practice which is deemed to be unacceptable in any situation, with numerous national and international rules and regulations prohibiting the act. The Human Rights Act provides yet another reminder that torture is bad, by making it one of our most fundamental freedoms in the UK.
What are the exceptions?
Unlike Article 2, there are no exceptions, no justified situations where torture or inhuman/degrading treatment is acceptable – the state can in no circumstances take away this right. This is what is defined as an ‘absolute right’. The other two types of rights are; ‘limited rights’, which by definition can be limited in certain explicit circumstances (for example, the right to liberty) and ‘qualified rights’ which require the right of an individual and the needs/interests of the state to be balanced depending on the situation (for example, the right to respect for private and family life).
Is it adhered to?
There is no doubt that governments around the world condemn the use of torture. However, unfortunately this global prohibition does not seemed to have stopped countries participating in the practice.
Rights Info reports that 21 of the 47 signatories to the ECHR have violated Article 3 between 1959-2014.
In the UK
Recent news has suggested that the UK has been a little more involved in torture than suggest. Last year there was a report into the CIA’s ‘Detention and Interrogation Program’ by a Select Committee in the US, after widespread reports of acts such as waterboarding and mock executions being carried out on detainees during the ‘War on Terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now although this involved an investigation into American practices, it is well-known that the UK worked very closely with the Americans in the War on Terror as it is known and seemingly the UK did not want some of the details of this report being released to the British public – censoring large parts of it. This is not the first time we have had to question the UK’s role in torturous practices. They have paid off numerous torture victims, most often to avoid details of torture coming out, MI5 and MI6 have used information gained from torture carried out by other countries. Yet no real details of this malpractice have ever been released. Instead reasons such as national security (a common one for infringing human rights) and a special relationship defence (IE the “we’re really good mates with America and they might not talk to us anymore if we tell on them” excuse) have been used to continue keeping the public in a clueless bliss.
So it would seem the leaders of recent history don’t quite understand what ‘absolute right’ means, as this practice continues to be carried out and the details of it continue to be hidden from justice. But, you now know what an absolute right is! So, if you ever become a world leader and one of the members of the many organisations under your control ask you if they should torture the person who has been detained, to make sure they learn their lesson and tell us the answers you want to hear – simply say “do you not know what absolute right means? It means no-one can use torture. You can’t even do it if you’re Batman”.
So, there it is, a simple definition of Article 3’s prohibition of torture. Tomorrow, we tackle our right not to be held in slavery. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday everyone!