Torture is according the United Nations Convention Against Torture
“...any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

Torture in any form and for any reason has been banned by international law, but it is still practiced on a million people each year around the world. Survivors of torture are found everywhere. Victims of torture and their families need rehabilitation to make it possible for them to re-establish control over their lives.

History, methods and effects of torture
Human Rights Bodies
Reparation, general issues
Guidelines and manuals on therapeutic aspects
Guidelines and manuals on documentation and investigation
Organizations working with different aspects of torture, and other helpful websites


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  • Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
    This article comes along with a solid definition of torture, and a short but comprehensive summary of several topics concerning torture. Here to mention rights, instruments of protection, some links to guidelines for advocacy, educational and training materials. Useful. – Human Rights Education Associates, HREA.
  • The Psychology of Torture
    This represents a great overview helping to understand the psychology of torture, with explanations, aspects on effects and recovery.- Stanford University
  • An overview of torture
    This website collects a broad and great overview of this topic, concerning subcategories as women, children, after-effects. – Canadian Center for Victims of Torture, 2004.
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History, methods and effects of torture

Torture was used as an instrument in trials of criminal law already in the mediaeval times f.e. in Europe, dating back to Roman Law where it was first only used on slaves. The law in the mediaeval times didn`t accept signs or indications (although credible), neither the testimony of only one witness, it needed either a confession or two witnesses. So the torture was meant not as punishment but as a method to detect the truth. It came in use more and more also because of a change in criminal law. In former times a crime became a court case only if some private person accused the criminal, which was not sufficient in times of increased criminality, so the law had to be changed in order to give the authorities the opportunity to start an investigation by themselves. At first torture was used quite at random, and not in all Europe allowed by law. In Germany f.e. therefore in 1532 there was a statute enacted to regulate torture. So torture was only allowed in case of there was already half-proof against the accused. The accused person had to confirm the testimony one day after the torture, only then it was accepted in court. Nevertheless also these rules collapsed completely for example during the inquisition and the witch-trials, were torture just was used until the favored testimony was given. England for example didn`t allow torture by law, but nevertheless torture was used to gain testimonies.

In the 18th century in Europe the concern against the use of torture became more and more obvious. At the end also authorities and their advocates changed their minds, and the torture was abolished in Europe legally by and by. Last abolition of torture was in Switzerland, Kanton Glarus in 1851.

The physically methods of torture can range from beating with fists and boots up to sophisticated designed devices such as a rack. There are other types which can include f.e. sensory or sleep deprivation. The victim can be held in awkward or damaging positions, temperature extremes, noises. Psychological torture on the other hand cuases psychological suffering, often altering the victims behavior. It is often more subtle and much easier to conceal than physical torture. Psychological torture aimes to damage the psychological structures of human beings, breakage of core-beliefs. It can use quite severe stress-moments, including a vary range from f.e. mock execution to solitary confinement. Because it is targeting a human beings psyche, it doesn`t leave visible traces, so it is sometimes very difficult to prove. Very often both types of torture are used, as an example to mention sexual abuse and rape.

The boundary between legally accepted interrogation and torture is unfortunately not globally the same per definition. There might be a consensus that the legal prohibition of torture is grounding on a philosophical consensus that torture is immoral, despicable, abominable. But very often in the aftermath of f.e. terrorist attacks there is t o find a discussion whether torture may be justified in certain circumstances. It is obviously under the right assumption not so difficult to get some persons into the role of the torturer, just in the belief to do something “right”. The results of two famous experiments, the Milgram Experiment in 1961 and especially the Stanford Prison Experiment from 1971 show this in a very appalling way.

The effects of torture are manifold and almost always severe. There are physical injuries that may remain, as chronic pain syndromes, muscle and skeleton damages, brain injuries with post traumatic epilepsy, infections, sexually transmitted diseases. In the recent years is has come more in focus that also the psychological effects are severe, sometimes more serious than the physical ones. To name here PTSD (post traumatic stress disease) in all its varieties, depression, panic disorders.

So one can conclude that inflicting pain (either physically or psychologically) to get information about whatsoever is a practice with deep roots back in history. The question remains all over, does torture ever produce reliable intelligence – put aside all moral and legal implications. Experts agree that as a rule, torture is not an effective method of extracting information of prisoners. Confessions are made under interrogation to the point of torture, because people wish to end the “questioning”, or sometimes they even get convinced they did it, creating “false memories” under psychological pressure.

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Human Rights Bodies

To offer expertise and support to the different human rights monitoring mechanisms in the United Nations system, is the function of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). There are to distinguish two different kinds of bodies in general: some UN Charter-based bodies (these including the Human Rights Council), and on the other hand the treaty-based bodies. The latter have been created under the international human rights treaties, and consists of independent experts. They are mandated to monitor State parties` compliance with their treaty obligations. Most of these bodies get secretariat support from the OHCHR.

There are 4 charter-based bodies. Also we have nine core international human rights treaties (one of which – on enforced disappearance – has not yet entered into force). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, and all UN Member States have ratified at least one core international human rights treaty since, 80 % of Member States have ratified four or more.

Amongst these eight treaty based bodies there is one (in two parts) concerning torture and its banishment.

  • United Nations Committee against Torture
    The Committee against Torture CAT is the body of 10 independent experts that monitors implementation of the “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” by its State Parties. – OHCHR.
  • Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture
    The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture SPT started its work in 2007. According the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture OPCAT the STP is given the right to visit places of detention and examine the treatment of people held there. – OHCHR.

More in the periphery but also implemented under the United Nations or other State Organizations (around the globe) there are more bodies and organizations monitoring and investigating cases of torture.

  • UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
    In the resolution 1985/33 the United Nations Commission of Human Rights decided to appoint an expert, a special rapporteur, to examine questions relevant to torture. This mandate covers all countries, irrespective of whether a State has ratified the Convention against Torture. – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
    Organization of American states (middle and south), on this website there are lots of links to rapports on human rights in general. No special focus on torture. – IACHR.
  • Inter-American Court of Human Rights
    Situated in Costa Rica, this court is an “autonomous judicial institution of the Organization of American States”. Objectives of this court are the application and interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights and other treaties concerning the same matter. – Homepage in Spanish and English.
  • African Commission on Human and People's rights
    This commission was established in 1987 by the African Charter on Human and Peoples`Rights, adopted in 1981 by the Organization of African Unity OAU. The commissions task is to ensure the “promotion and protection of Human and Peoples`Rights throughout the African Continent. Headquarter is in Banjul/Gambia. Homepage in French and English.
  • Asian Human Rights Commission
    This Commission targets to protect and promote human rights (by monitoring, investigation, advocacy, taking solidarity actions). In addition to more general information on the topic human rights we find also very solid and informative collection (links) to the situation on torture in various asian countries. There are also statements and reports, up to date press-releases. Very useful to get a current status on the topic. – AHRC, 06/2010.
  • Australian Human Rights Commission
    Established in 1986, an independent statutory organization, reporting to the Australian federal parliament. Targeting the promotion and protection of human rights in Australia. No special focus on torture.
  • European Court of Human Rights
    The Court was established in 1959, headquarter in Strasbourg/France. It rules on individual or State application alleging violations of the civil or political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (no special focus on torture, which is part of the whole). To mention here is also an interesting fact sheeds collection with examples on violations of human rights in european countries.
  • European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or punishment
    The CPT consists of independent and impartial experts, elected by the Committee of Ministers (the Council of Europe`s decision-making body). "The Committee shall, by means of visits, examine the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty with a view to strengthening, if necessary, the protection of such persons from torture and from inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." You find the reports of the Committee here.
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Reparation, general issues

  • Committee against Torture´s Third General Comment, on implementation of article 14 the right to Redress
    Article 14 provides that States Parties should ensure a victim of torture with an effective remedy and that there is an enforceable right to compensation and rehabilitation. - CAT 2012
  • Torture survivors’ perceptions of reparation
    This rapport (112 p) presents a solid overview on the survivor`s perceptions of reparation. It comes along with definitions and discusses the problem of the reactions to reparations and the processes which are necessarily involved.- Redress, 2001
  • What is reparation?
    This article gives information about Who can claim reparation? - Who can claim reparation? - Perceptions of reparation - Redress
  • Victims of torture and access to justice, a primer
  • Right of torture victims to adequate remedy and reparation
    A good essay which outlines aspects concerning the victims right to reparations. Atlas of torture.-
  • The Law and Practice of Rehabilitation in Domestic Administrative Reparation Programmes’
    The Essex Transitional Justice Network at the University of Essex, the American Society of International Law Interest Group on Transitional Justice and the Rule of Law, and the Clemens Nathan Research Centre, Second International Conference 2012
  • Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Countering Terrorism
    Solid and detailed study (186 p.) on the issue of Secret Detention, which is concluded to be a violation of international human rights law, and may facilitate the perpetration of torture. Detailed status quo concerning Secret Detention in the different continents/states.- United Nations Human Rights Council, 02/2010.
  • Dealing With the Past: Survivors’ Perspectives on Economic Reparations in Argentina
    N. Sveaass og A.M. Sønneland (2015) The right to redress for victims of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide is soundly established as a right under international law, including both the right to an “effective remedy” and to “reparation”. Reparation refers to ways in which the victim can be restored, and it may be understood as attempts to reestablish dignity, recreate a sense of balance, and reconstruct a life after human rights violations. In this article the experiences of persons affected by gross human rights violations during the dictatorship in Argentina, with regard to economic reparations for their suffering and losses, are explored (pdf, 16 pages).

    From the Committee against Torture
    New General Comment on Article 14 – the Right to Redress

    On 16 November 2012 the Committee against Torture announced the adoption of its Third General Comment, on implementation of article 14 of the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT). Article 14 provides that States Parties should ensure a victim of torture with an effective remedy and that there is an enforceable right to compensation and rehabilitation. The Committee against torture has in this third general comment explained and clarified what this particular article means. "That All States parties are required to ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible." The Committee considers that the term “redress” in article 14 encompasses the concepts of “effective remedy” and “reparation”. The comprehensive reparative concept therefore entails restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition and refers to the full scope of measures required to redress violations under the Convention. The comments also explain the term “victim” and that it extends not only to victims of torture but also to victims of ill-treatment. For more insight, Christen Broecker has elaborated on points of particular importance and also the obstacles to the right to redress.

    Nora Sveaass, the HHRI Director, has published a relevant article on this subject Gross human rights violations and reparation under international law: approaching rehabilitation as a form of reparation. The strengthening of international criminal law through an increased focus on the right to reparation and rehabilitation for victims of crimes against humanity represents an important challenge to health professionals, particularly to those in the field of trauma research and treatment.

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Guidelines and manuals on therapeutic aspects

Here we present a collection of guidelines and articles more specific in approaching therapeutic aspects. Almost all torture victims suffer of severe consequences. There are lots of physical and psychological damages to take care of, amongst the latter as the most important distress PTSD. So the treatment is mainly the same as the approach for PTSD, taking into account the origin of this PTSD.

  • World Organization Against Torture – Handbook Series and Reports
    OMTC presents here a collection of guidelines (links, downloads). They represent “detailed guide to the practice, procedures and jurisprudence of regional and international mechanisms that are competent to examine individual complaints concerning the violation of the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment”. As well we find here annual rapports and similar releases of the OMCT.
  • DIGNITY Field Manual on Rehabilitation
    This book with 420 pages provides with a solid and very detailed overview concerning almost all aspects on torture. It intends to “meet the need for sound evidence-based and/or consensus-based advice in attempt to rehabilitate survivors of torture or organized violence”. There are descriptions of physical and psychological symptoms as well as altered behavior/activities. There is a chapter on “context” where the problems concerning f.e. armed conflicts, violence but also practical points (f.e. working with translators) are highlighted. Overview over possible approaches and therapies. Lots of references. A very useful manual. – Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims, DIGNITY, Copenhagen, 2012.
  • DIGNITY Documentation Centre and Library
    The RCT Documentation Centre and Library “holds the world's most extensive special collection of published documents on torture and related subjects. In addition to books, reports, and articles the library holds a large collection of pictures and video materials.” Open to the public. – Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims, DIGNITY.
  • A Remedy for Torture Survivors in International Law - Interpreting Rehabilitation
    In order to render the right to rehabilitation meaningful, there needs to be a coherent basis on which to articulate and measure it, and this requires an interdisciplinary approach which embraces both a clinical and legal understanding. This report explores how remedies in international law are understood, with specific focus on the right to rehabilitation. – Ellie Smith, Nimisha Patel, Leanne MacMilan, 2011.
  • Assessment and treatment of torture victims
    Short abstract of the respective article. – PubMed, 1991.
  • Psychotherapy Treatment of Torture Survivors
    Solid overview on treatment possibilities, with discussion of a model of brief therapy. – International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, Peter Berliner et al, 2003.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation of Rehabilitation Services for Torture Survivors: Handbook for Service Providers
    The manual provides good practice guidelines and suggestions on steps to establish and improve monitoring and evaluation systems and how to conduct monitoring, clinical audits, service-related evaluations and clinical outcome evaluation. It is aimed at managers, practitioners and those responsible for designing, establishing and developing monitoring and evaluation of rehabilitation services for torture survivors in their organisations. Patel, N. and Williams C de C, A. ICHHR 2014.
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Guidelines and manuals on documentation and investigation

  • The Istanbul Protocol Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
    The manual gives a very broad, solid guideline on all aspects of torture. We find a summary on relevant ethical codes, as well as guidelines for investigation of torture-victims/cases. There is a summary on possible physical evidence which includes a description of the most used torture methods. A very useful and solid chapter on psychological damages is included as well as forms for investigation for print-out. – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNHCR, 2004.
  • Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishmen
    This UN resolution sends a strong signal for the importance of the investigation and documentation of torture. Endorsing the Istanbul Protocol as a UN manual. United Nations General Assembly resolution 55/89 4 December 2000 (Annex),
  • Guidelines for the examination of survivors of torture (second edition)
    Duncan Forrest, Françoise Hutton, Medical Foundation for the Care of Victimes of Torture, 2011.
    This booklet contains guidelines for writing medical legal reports. The advice contained in this book concerns the provision of medical evidence to help substantiate (or evaluate) claims of ill-treatment and torture.
  • How to Document Torture Redress has gathered useful links on why and how to dcument torture.
  • Working with the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.
    IRCT 2012 - A practical guide for NGOs engaging with the process of SPT country visits. This guide aims at providing tor¬ture rehabilitation centres and other NGOs involved in anti-torture activities with easi¬ly accessible and practi cal advice on how to most effectively engage with and contrib¬ute to country visits by the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) to promote relevant and high quality outcomes from the visit.
  • The Torture Reporting Handbook
    Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. 2000.
    A reference guide for anyone who wishes to know how to take action in response to allegations of torture or ill-treatment. It explains simply and clearly how the process of reporting and submitting complaints to international bodies and mechanisms actually works, and how to make the most of it: how you might go about documenting allegations, what you can do with the information once it has been collected, how to choose between the various mechanisms according to your particular objectives, and how to present your information in a way which makes it most likely that you will obtain a response.
  • Medical Investigation and Documentation of Torture.
    Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. M. Peel, N. Lubell, J Beynon.
    A practical guide that aims at providing tor¬ture rehabilitation centres and other NGOs involved in anti-torture activities with easi¬ly accessible and practi cal advice on how to most effectively engage with and contrib¬ute to country visits by the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) to promote relevant and high quality outcomes from the visit. 2005
  • Forensic examination missions by medical teams investigating and documenting alleged cases of torture: operational manual IRCT 2012 - International law obliges states to investigate allegations of torture and to punish those responsible. One of the major challenges in fighting impunity is to obtain sufficient evidence in cases against alleged perpetrators. The manual is meant as a tool to be used in conjunction with the Istanbul Protocol. It is an operational tool to facilitate the preparation and operational aspects of a mission for the examination and documentation of alleged torture, particularly relating to the survivors of torture.
  • Shedding light on a dark practice
    IRCT 2009 - This book is primarily intended for health and legal profes¬sionals who work with or are likely to come into contact with torture survivors, but anyone with an interest in the question of torture will find useful insights. These short articles provide an array of illuminating and readable perspectives on different aspects of a complicated subject. Together they comprise an excellent introduction to the many challenges and op¬portunities associated with the task of establishing medical evidence in cases of alleged torture.
  • Preventing torture through investigation and documentation
    Use this website to find information and guidance on the investigation and documentation of torture as a means to combat impunity, ensure reparation for survivors and prevent torture.
  • Medical, physical examination in connection with torture IRCT 2004 Ole V. Rasmussen, et al.
    The 4 article below focuses on the medical, physical examination in connection with torture and other related human rights violations. The major content theme is divided into different organ systems that will be described with regard to the acute and somatic consequences of torture here and in the following two issues.
    Part I contains information regarding Literature review, Pitfalls, Skin lesions.
  • Medical physical examination in connection with torture IRCT 2005 Ole V. Rasmussen, et al.
    Part II contains information regarding symptoms related to the musculoskeletal system
  • Medical physical examination in connection with torture IRCT 2006 Ole V. Rasmussen, et al
    Part III contains information regarding Neurological, Cardiopulmonary, Gastrointestinal, Urological, Examination of children
  • The medical aspects of the UN Convention against Torture IRCT 2006, Ole V. Rasmussen
  • Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror
    The report is based on two years of review of records in the public domain by a 19-member task force. The report details how DoD and CIA policies institutionalized a variety of interventions by military and intelligence agency doctors and psychologists that breach ethical standards to promote well-being and avoid harm. Institute on Medicine as a Profession 2013
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Organizations working with different aspects of torture, and other helpful websites

  • World Organisation Against Torture
    This organization represents “the main coalition of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fighting against torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Here we find quite a solid collection of several topics concerning torture, as assistance, rights and violence against children and women, socio-economic aspects. – OMCT.
  • Rehabilitation- and Research Centre for Torture Victims
    RCT's proclaimed objective is to help alleviate the human suffering resulting from torture – both for the individual, the family members and the community. RCT also aims at preventing torture and seeks to achieve this aim by altering the mechanisms resulting in torture in each country.
  • Freedom from Torture
    The MF was established in 1985 in the United Kingdom, dedicated solely to the treatment of torture survivors. MF works in the UK, but the website provides good links and information concerning lots of aspects of torture.
  • UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture
    Established by General Assembly resolution 36/151 in 1981, this fund receives voluntary contributions (from governments, NGO`s, individuals) which are to distribute to NGO`s providing humanitarian assistance to victims of torture and members of their family.
  • UNHCHR Committee against torture
    The Committee against Torture CAT is the body of 10 independent experts that monitors implementation of the “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” by its State Parties.
    This human rights organization helps torture survivors to obtain justice and reparation. Initiated by a torture survivor, established in 1992 as a charity organization in the UK. REDRESS works with survivors to help restore their dignity and to make tortures accountable.
  • Association for the Prevention of Torture(APT)
    APT is a non-governmental organization, offering legal advice on criminalizing torture, providing training on visiting places of detention, advocates legislative reform, ratification and implementation of relevant international treaties.
  • Canadian Center for the Victims of Torture
    The CCVT presents on its website a useful collection of definitions, publications and links, publications and links.
  • The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
    The TASSC is an organization founded by and for torture survivors. They intend to help survivors with reintegration, focus on support also psychologically.
  • The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims
    The IRCT is an umbrella organization for more than 140 independent torture rehabilitation organizations, in over 70 countries. They target to offer rehabilitation, counter impunity for perpetrators, raise awareness among people.
  • IRCT - TORTURE journal
    This publication is intended to provide a multidisciplinary forum for the exchange of original research and systematic reviews among professionals concerned with the biomedical, psychological and social interface of torture. In depth material on the effects of torture and with a diffent theme in each issue.
  • Resources for Torture Survivors, Refugees, Detainees, & Asylum-Seekers
    This website (set up by a clinical psychologist) collects over 130 useful links to help torture survivors and asylum seekers to find information on lots of topics import to know (guidelines, networks, legal services etc).
  • TORTURE: Asian and Global Perspectives
    A bi-monthly magazine on the issue of torture. Torture is often used by authoritarian regimes as a means of maintaining control and suppressing dissent. Our policy is against any form of torture and creates a common platform to everyone in Asia and around the globe, to come forward to speak out against torture.
  • Asian Human Rights Commission
    The AHRC is an independent, non-governmental body, which seeks to promote greater awareness and realisation of human rights in the Asian region, and to mobilise Asian and international public opinion to obtain relief and redress for the victims of human rights violations. AHRC promotes civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.
  • Survivors International
    Survivors International is an organization working with torture survivors and refugees who have come from all over the world to the San Francisco Bay Area. Lots of their programs are targeting locally San Francisco Bay Area.

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