Torture or other ill-treatment reported in 141 countries in past five years, and in at least 79 already in 2014, with 27 different types of torture during 2013-14
New global survey reveals widespread fear of torture, yet more than a third believe torture can be justified
Stop Torture campaign launched to hold ‘two-faced’ governments to account
Torture “is flourishing” around the world, said Amnesty International today (13 May), as it published a new briefing showing that already this year at least 79 countries have carried out torture.
Meanwhile, during the last five years, Amnesty has recorded torture and other forms of ill-treatment in at least 141 countries from every region of the world - virtually every country on which it has worked - while the secretive nature of torture means the true number is likely to be even higher.
Amnesty’s new 50-page briefing, Torture in 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises, details a shocking variety of torture techniques - with at least 27 different kinds of torture and other cruel treatment recorded during 2013-14. These include beatings with fists, rifle butts, wooden clubs and other objects; needles being forced underneath a victim’s fingernails; prisoner having their joints drilled; boiling water being poured onto the body; the administering of electric shocks; the stubbing out of cigarettes on the body; water torture/partial suffocation; and the use of stress positions and sustained sleep deprivation. Torture has been used against criminal and security suspects, dissidents, political rivals and even schoolchildren. In some countries torture is routine and systematic, said Amnesty, while in others cases of abuse are isolated and exceptional, though even one case of torture or ill-treatment is totally unacceptable and prohibited by international law.
Since 1984, 155 countries have ratified the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture - a milestone convention that Amnesty campaigned hard for in the 1970s and 1980s - yet Amnesty is now accusing governments around the world of betraying their commitments to stamp out torture.
While measures such as the criminalisation of torture in national legislation, the independent monitoring of detention centres and the video recording of interrogations have led to a decrease in the use of torture in some countries, Amnesty is calling for the wide implementation of rigorous protective mechanisms such as proper medical examinations, prompt access to lawyers, independent and effective investigations of torture allegations, and the prosecution of suspects and proper redress for victims.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said:
“Torture is not just alive and well - it is flourishing in many parts of the world.
“Governments around the world are two-faced on torture - prohibiting it in law, but facilitating it in practice.
“As more governments seek to justify torture in the name of national security, the steady progress made in this field over the last 30 years is being eroded.
“Thirty years ago Amnesty led the campaign for a worldwide commitment to combat torture resulting in the UN’s Convention Against Torture. Much progress has been made since, but it is disheartening that today we still need a worldwide campaign to ensure that those promises are fulfilled.”
Global opinion poll
Amnesty has commissioned a new survey to gauge worldwide attitudes to torture, with some 21,000 people in 21 countries asked their views by the polling company GlobeScan.
The survey found that nearly half (44%) of respondents fear that they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country. In Mexico this figure was far higher - nearly two-thirds (64%) feared torture in detention - while high levels of fear over torture were also recorded in Pakistan, Turkey, Kenya, Peru, South Korea, Indonesia, Greece and Brazil. In the UK this figure was much lower (15%), though even this means that three people in every 20 fear being tortured if they are detained by the authorities.
Meanwhile, while the survey showed that a large majority (82%) of respondents believe there should be clear laws against torture, more than a third (36%) still thought “torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public”. Shockingly, almost three-quarters of the respondents in China (74%) and two-thirds in Kenya (66%) thought that torture could be justified. In the UK the figure was 29%, almost one in three people.
Caroline Holme, the Director of GlobeScan, said:
“The results from this new global survey are startling, with nearly half of the people we surveyed feeling fearful and personally vulnerable to torture.
“The vast majority of people believe that there should be clear rules against torture, although more than a third still think that torture could be justified in certain circumstances.
“Overall, we can see broad global support amongst the public for action to prevent torture.”
Five countries where torture is rife
Amnesty’s global work against torture is ongoing, but its Stop Torture campaign will particularly focus on five countries where torture is rife and Amnesty believes it can achieve significant impact. Substantive reports with specific recommendations for each will form the main basis of the campaign.
In Nigeria police and military personnel use torture as a matter of routine. For example, in 2005, 16-year-old schoolboy Moses Akatugba was arrested by soldiers who, he said, beat him and shot him in the hand. According to Akatugba, he was then transferred to the police, who hung him by his limbs for hours at a police station, beat him with machetes and batons, and tore out his fingernails and toe-nails, forcing him to sign a “confession” that he had stolen mobile phones. The allegation that he “confessed” as a result of torture was never fully investigated and, last November, after eight years waiting for a verdict, Akatugba was sentenced to death.
Note: Justine Ijeomah, a Nigerian human rights activist who campaigns on Akatugba’s case, is in the UK and available for interview.
In Mexico the government argues that torture is the exception rather than the norm, but in reality abuse by the police and the security forces is widespread and goes unpunished. For example, in February 2011, Miriam López Vargas, a 31-year-old mother of four, was abducted from her home town of Ensenada by two soldiers in plainclothes, and taken to a military barracks. She was held there for a week, raped three times, partially asphyxiated and subjected her to electric shocks to force her to “confess” that she was involved in drug-related offences. More than three years later, none of her torturers have been brought to justice.
Note: Isis Goldberg, who is Miriam Lopez’s lawyer, is in the UK and available for interview.
In Morocco the authorities rarely investigate reports of torture. For example, when the Spanish authorities extradited the Belgian-Moroccan national Ali Aarrass to Morocco in December 2010 despite fears that he would be tortured, he was picked up by intelligence officers and taken to a secret detention centre, where he says they applied electric shocks to his testicles, beat the soles of his feet and hung him by his wrists for hours. He says the officers forced him to confess to assisting a terrorist group and Aarass was convicted and sentenced to 12 years on the basis of this “confession”. His allegation of torture has never been investigated.
In Uzbekistan torture is pervasive but few torturers are ever brought to justice. For example, in March 2010, Dilorom Abdukadirova, a small-scale farmer and vegetable seller, was detained and charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order in connection with her participation in largely peaceful protests five years earlier. Having been kept in a cell for two weeks without access to a lawyer or her family, she appeared at her trial looking emaciated, bruised and dishevelled. After an unfair trial she was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, which was later extended to 18 years after a second closed trial within the prison.
In the Philippines a secret detention facility was recently discovered where police officers abused detainees “for fun”. Police officers reportedly spun a “wheel of torture” to decide how to torture prisoners. Media coverage led to an internal investigation and some officers being dismissed, but Amnesty is calling for a thorough and impartial investigation which will lead to the prosecution in court of the officers involved. Most acts of police torture in the Philippines remain unreported and torture survivors continue to suffer in silence.
Note: Loretta Rosales, who was tortured in the Philippines in the 1970s and now campaigns against torture, is in the UK and available for interview.