Global human rights NGO Amnesty International has come out with startling facts on torture. In a report published yesterday, Amnesty said that torture is rampant around the world thirty years after the 1984 UN Convention against Torture. With global conflicts rising and civil war-like situations in many parts of the world, torture has been used as a dark instrument of oppression with impunity by all sides. Torture involves subjecting human beings to painful experiences — physical and mental— that lead to inflicting extremely agonising bodily discomforts. Inflicting pain with the intention of extracting information from detainees has been the most popular form of torture from historical times. During Medieval ages, it was believed that torturing those suspected of wrongdoing or crime was legitimate and most regimes allowed its unrestricted use. Flogging and other forms of beating were common, it being believed that one would only admit to guilt when threatened by torture.
It is not that torture has come down drastically across the world. The awareness that any form of the practice is illegal has grown and global rights organisations have contributed significantly to the rising opposition to torture. Except for a few affluent countries, which have very high development indices, most nations’ security forces are known to torture people in custody, either to extract confessions or because they think the practice is legitimate. Custodial deaths are often the result of brutal beatings.
Till a few years ago, it was believed that criminals, who often come from rough and socially deprived backgrounds, would only yield to bodily pain or the threat of it. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear of rape and sexual assault as a potent form of torture.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, torture in custody acquired a new dimension. Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, who masterminded the plot to bring down important US buildings by crashing commercial planes into them, was subjected to waterboarding, which is considered simulated drowning. The debate whether the practice is torture informed US public debate for years. He was said to have been waterboarded more than 200 times. The George Bush administration justified the use of waterboarding on Mohamed by saying that the militant confessed only because of the use of the technique on him.
Torture, which makes use of pain, has no place in civilised society. Whether it is Somalia or the United States, the end doesn’t justify the means as far as torture is concerned. Rogue regimes like North Korea have been known to make extensive use of torture to suppress dissent and it has been used by military dictatorships to keep their rein of terror alive. Torture can be controlled by allowing for more political freedoms and fostering democracy, which allows for checks and balances in the exercise of power. Extensive police reforms and sensitizing troops about human rights can go a long way in fighting the scourge of torture.