What is Torture Prevention

Why prevent torture?
Torture represents the assertion of unlimited power over absolute helplessness, out of public eye and scrutiny. The act not only renders victims powerless at the hands of the perpetrator but family members and relatives of the victims will also experience psychological trauma from the incident.  This is the reason why torture is placed among the greatest affronts to human dignity.

Furthermore, States have the duty to prevent torture by undertaking positive measures to prevent its occurrence. This duty complements the traditional obligations of States to respect, to protect, and to fulfil human rights. “In the case of torture, the requirement that States expeditiously institute national implementing measures is an integral part of the international obligation to prohibit this practice”.

Torture needs to be prevented because it is an act that dehumanises both the victims and the perpetrators, corrupts the states that use it, and degrades the legal system that accepts it. Such a practice has no place in a modern society that preserves human dignity and respects the rule of law and human rights.

What is torture prevention?                                                                                               
Torture prevention aims to ensure that cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and, ultimately, torture do not occur by creating an environment where such acts are less likely to happen. Therefore, torture prevention focuses less on the act itself than on the preservation of human dignity in the broadest possible sense. Consequently defining torture prevention is not an easy task. Previous attempts have distinguished between direct prevention and indirect prevention or primary, secondary and tertiary prevention.
As torture is a crime, this guideline proposes to use the definition of crime prevention stated in the 2002 UN Resolution on “Action to promote effective crime prevention”:

“Crime prevention comprises strategies and measures that seek to reduce the risk of crimes occurring, and their potential effects on individuals and society, including fear of crime, by intervening to influence their multiple causes”.

As a whole, torture prevention consists of the following aspects:

Steps to address the causes, not the symptoms
Torture prevention aims at reducing the risks and addressing the systemic root causes, rather than the symptoms or the consequences. This can avoid repetition of acts of torture and eliminate the reasons why they occur. There can be multiple causes for torture and ill-treatment and they can be found at different levels.

A focus on risk reduction
Torture prevention requires identification and analysis of the highest areas of risks (“the risk analysis”). These areas are:

  • Moments or circumstances when risks of torture are higher, e.g., during police interrogation or stop and search situations.
  • Persons most at risk or vulnerable to discrimination and ill-treatment, e.g., women, children or ethnic minorities.
  • Practices that condone or heighten the risks of torture, e.g., forced confession, corporal punishment or solitary confinement.
  • Regions, areas, or places where torture is likely to occur, e.g., unofficial secret cells, overseas or offshore detention facilities.

In addition to the four areas above, the broader and macro context that could enable risks of torture to flourish, include a lack of political will, conflict situations, external pressure to combat organised crime, a lack of democratic accountability or rule of law, authorisation of prolonged solitary confinement, strict or repressive public policies and institutional structures, culture and leadership.

The need for a combination of strategies and measures
Prevention requires a combination of diverse measures. Article 2 of the UN Convention against torture also makes this clear:

“Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures to prevent acts of torture”.

A proper legal framework is a necessary precondition, but it has to be accompanied by implementation measures (such as training) or procedural safeguards (such as registers), institutional incentives, and a broader human rights culture. In addition, oversight mechanisms, such as NHRIs, can play an important role in controlling the existence of the legal framework and its implementation.

An emphasis on dialogue and cooperation
Torture prevention seeks to address the causes of torture by engaging in dialogue with authorities rather than through denunciation or public condemnation. It is forward-looking and often aims at achieving mid-term or long-term changes, based on concrete solutions that mitigate the risks of torture.

It is necessary everywhere and at all times
No State, whatever its legal, political and social context, is immune from the risk of torture. All States are therefore required to take measures and remain vigilant. The NHRI also plays a key role in advancing measures to prevent torture. The ultimate objective of torture prevention is increased protection of all persons against the risk of ill-treatment and torture, to fulfil the right that “no one shall be subjected to torture”.