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Legal aspects

There are a number of human rights frameworks as well as international and domestic laws which are legally-binding and prohibit the use of torture. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law and underpins a substantial number of international and regional human right treaties. According to its article 5, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights from 1966 repeats the same in its article 7.

International law and regional human right frameworks which prohibit torture:

United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) (1984)

  • This has been widely ratified, as of September 2015 the convention has 158 States legally bound to provisions within the treaty.
  • This obliges States to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent torture.
  • It requires States to investigate allegations of torture and to punish those responsible.
  • Requires effective remedies and reparation for victims
  • International law also recognises that it would be unlawful to return someone to a country where there is a reasonable likelihood that they may be tortured.

The Geneva Conventions (1949)

  • Provide legal protections to safeguard soldiers, civilians, and prisoners during wartime
  • Ratified by 194 states
  • Prohibit cruel treatment and torture and outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment of civilians and prisoners of war

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998)

  • 123 States have ratified the Rome Statute to establish a permanent international criminal court.
  • The International Criminal Court issues legal proceedings against individuals responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, including torture, and war crimes.

The American Convention on Human Rights/Pact of San Jose (OAS, 1969)

  • Article 5 states “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR, 1981)

  • Article 5 states “every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man, particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.”

Arab Charter on Human Rights (ACHR, 2004)

  • Article 8 states “No one shall be subjected to physical or mental torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The State Parties shall protect every person in their territory from being subjected to such practices and take effective measures to prevent such acts. The practice thereof, or participation therein, shall be regarded as a punishable offense. Each victim of an act of torture is entitled to a right to compensation and rehabilitation.”

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR, 1950)

  • Article 3 states “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”
  • Unlike other conventions where traditionally only States are considered actors under international law, under the ECHR any person who feels their rights have been violated by a State party can take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. Any judgements made by the Court are binding on the State concerned.

As you may see from the above summaries, the regional human rights frameworks and international conventions are similar and overlapping. It is common that a state will report to several supranational human rights bodies.

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