Monitoring the Prohibition on Torture

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Despite an absolute prohibition on torture, it is still in practice. How is freedom from torture being enforced internationally?


The preamble to each constituent part of the International Bill of Human Rights - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - explicitly mentions respect for human dignity as one of the foundational principles of the human rights movement. The prohibition of torture, along with the right to life, is a springboard from which many other human rights proceed and is said to guarantee the inherent dignity of individuals.

Yet the use of torture in modern times has continued. It has been used as a tool of repression, and has largely been tied to the realm of security operations - a place often beyond critique, in the name of 'national interests'. Moreover, as methods of torture have diversified and grown in sophistication, they have become harder to detect.


Given its importance to the international community, it should be of no surprise that the prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm and is thus expressed in several treaties and recognised as being part of customary international law.

i) International condemnation

Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "no-one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" and forms the foundation upon which subsequent documents have been drawn at both an international and a regional level. Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are designed to enact this prohibition.

Regional instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 3), the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 5) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Article 5) have given this further expression. The prohibition is so widespread and fundamental to conceptions of a just society that it is also part of customary international law.

Torture is also prohibited in international humanitarian law through Articles 3, 12 and 50 of the Geneva Convention I, Articles 3, 12 and 51 of the Geneva Convention II, Articles 3, 17, 87 and 139 of Geneva Convention III and Articles 3, 32 and 147 of Geneva Convention IV. Furthermore, as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have shown, individuals can be held liable under international criminal law for acts of torture.

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