EVERY year, on 26 June, the international community marks the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day, we remember those who have endured the unimaginable horror of being tortured, and stand in solidarity with victims and their families.
This day also serves as an important reminder to states of their obligation not only to prevent torture, but to provide all torture victims with redress, compensation, and appropriate social, psychological, medical, and other forms of rehabilitation.
Above all, we reaffirm our collective resolve to eradicate this inhumane practice around the world.
TORTURE is one of the most horrific crimes that can be perpetrated against a human being. Its purpose is to dehumanise the victims through calculated acts of cruelty, to remove their dignity and leave them powerless. It is a grotesque violation of human rights which can never be justified and is universally banned.
Its pervasive effects often go beyond the isolated act on an individual, leaving scars on families, friends, communities, and societies which last from one generation to another. Torture frequently affects those who are already among the most vulnerable in society — such as ethnic and religious minorities; the LGBTI community; and refugees and migrants — compounding these devastating effects.
Although absolutely prohibited under international law, torture persists across the globe. In 2014, torture and ill-treatment were recorded in 141 countries: three-quarters of the world.
The charity Redress is working with torture survivors in about 40 countries. These include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother who has been detained in Iran for more than three years, in inhumane conditions, and deprived of urgent medical care (News, 24 June 2016); or survivors such as Olivier Acuña Barba, a veteran Mexican journalist who, owing to his work covering corruption and organised crime in Mexico, was tortured, lost his home, and all his possessions. He remains separated from his family in exile in the UK.
Torture is not limited to parts of our world other than our own, however. A recent report in The Political Quarterly stated that “while the UK’s official position is that it neither uses or condones torture or inhuman and degrading treatment, credible evidence shows otherwise”. The report quoted the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament who said that the part played by the UK in prisoner abuse in counter-terrorism operations overseas was “even more extensive than research had previously found”.
Redress, together with nearly 80 human-rights organisations and experts, submitted evidence last month to the UN Committee Against Torture. They expressed concern about inhuman and degrading treatment by the UK in areas such as prisons, immigration detention centres, and health-care settings.
Our submission noted that the UK remains the only country in Europe with no upper time limit for immigration detention; and many of the detainees are survivors of torture. In prisons, there is more use of solitary confinement, more prisoner violence, and more deaths in custody. The submission also contained evidence of shocking human-rights violations of people with mental-health problems, and also children, including the increasing use of restraint and isolation on disabled children and children in prison.
Ongoing concerns also remain about lack of accountability for military and security personnel. A Freedom of Information request recently revealed that the Ministry of Defence was prepared to receive and act on intelligence gained through torture.
THE Psalmist writes that “God hears the groan of the prisoners.” It is important that each year, on 26 June, we, too, hear the groans of those who are being tortured or continue to suffer from the effects of torture.
But just hearing their suffering is not enough: we must speak out against it, and try to do something about this outrage against both God and man.
This is why marking 26 June is so important. The UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is an opportunity to bring the pervasiveness of these crimes to light. Whether through prayer or discussion, it is a time to raise awareness about the experiences of survivors of torture, and a chance to advocate for a world in which others do not have to suffer the same mistreatment.
In the lead-up to 26 June, Redress is running a campaign to bring together places of worship to mark the experiences of torture survivors all around the world. By holding a vigil, leading a sermon, or organising a collection for organisations that work to support torture survivors, any congregation can make a real difference to the lives of torture survivors, and their families and communities.
Eradicating this crime from the world will be possible only if we come together to denounce torture and render its pervasiveness clear to all. The fight against torture can be won only if we fight it together.
Torture is an offence against mankind. It must stop — now.
The Revd Nicholas Mercer is Rector of Bolton Abbey and a former Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army. He is a trustee of Redress, a human-rights charity that uses the law to seek justice and reparation for torture survivors.