Human Rights Council of
The events of
Successive Australian governments have worked to outlaw
torture around the world and to develop international standards and mechanisms
that will prevent unscrupulous governments from torturing those in their
custody. These efforts risk becoming part of the collateral
International human rights law prohibits torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no clear boundaries between what is acceptable and what is prohibited. Some kinds of treatment are so extreme as to be obviously and universally unacceptable. Other actions might be acceptable in some contexts but not in others. For example, interrogation of an adult can be more rigorous than interrogation of a child. It is necessary to look at the impact of the actions on the individual.
Torture is regarded as one of the most serious human rights
violations and is usually associated with regimes like Saddam Hussein’s in
Yet since the terrorist attacks in the
Some government officials and intelligence agents argue that
torture is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and for that reason it is
justified. They say that, if a person has information about an impending
terrorist attack, there’s nothing wrong with a little torture to get him or her
to disclose it. Even a noted human rights academic has contributed to the
cause. He argues that torture occurs whether we like it or not and so we should
be seeking to regulate the use of torture and to ensure the accountability of
those who authorize it rather than seeking to eliminate it. He has proposed
Have they got a point? No.
Torture is outlawed for two reasons. First and most importantly, it is wrong in principle. It denies the human dignity of the victim and it demeans the perpetrator and thereby it diminishes us all. All human beings are entitled to the respect due to us by virtue of our common humanity. We are equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to have those rights respected and protected. It is as simple as that. “Low level torture in limited circumstances with high level authority” might sound innocuous enough to some people but it starts us on the slippery slope of tolerating and then approving human rights violations. If we abandon these values of human dignity, our legal and political systems and our moral standards become no better than those of the terrorists we abhor. We have the moral high ground in opposing terrorism. We cannot afford to lose it.
Second, and far less importantly, torture is also wrong as a practical issue. Most people involved in criminal justice – judges, police, prosecutors and defence lawyers – know that information obtained under duress is inherently unreliable. A person will say anything under torture with no regard for its truthfulness or accuracy. I know I would. More orthodox interrogation techniques, including persuasion, moral pressure and rigorous questioning, are far more likely to produce useful information than crude violence. If we are truly interested in obtaining good information to prevent terrorism, then we won’t torture.
The war against terrorism is now being complemented by the
So let’s make it crystal clear now. Torture is illegal anywhere, any time, under any circumstances.
Chris Sidoti is National Spokesperson for the Human Rights Council of Australia and
Visiting Professor at the