Torture: Humanity’s inhumanity

256px-Barbed_wire2Yesterday was the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this date, 26 June, in 1987 the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into being and in 1945 on this day the United Nations Charter was first signed. The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture was first launched in 1998.


Amnesty International has a brief and to the point definition of torture – “Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another, or on a third person, in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter.” More recently torture has related most commonly to state sanctioned acts rather than the acts of an independent individual. However the term torture can be applied to survivors of domestic violence and forms of child abuse as much as to the torture of (alleged) terrorists by the state.


It was a particularly low moment in the history of our world when in the US the use of torture was seen to be a justifiable means of attempting to prevent  terrorist attacks. In fact in a Washington Post poll in 2014, a majority of Americans thought that interrogation techniques, that were indeed forms of torture, were justified. “By a margin of almost 2 to 1 — 59 percent to 31 percent — those interviewed said that they support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying that they produced valuable intelligence.”


I think that this is a reasonable barometer of the state of our integrity as human beings and of the moral and ethical standards by which we live. According to the United Nations, (and one would have thought most of us human beings), torture is both a crime against humanity and one of the vilest acts perpetrated by human beings on other human beings (and also on other sentient beings I believe). And of course it is a crime under international law that for many, many years common consensus has decreed cannot be justified under any circumstance.


So I wonder what has happened to us that we can lost sight of the very basic human rights of others? It seems to me that sanctioned acts of torture are a fear based response to threats, both perceived and real. However I believe that they are both ineffective and essentially damaging responses that result in greater threat and a broad loss of integrity. I believe that resorting to these inhumane practices creates a new and different form of fear. A fear that we have lost our moral compass – and this for me is in some ways more terrifying than the threat posed by others.


Additionally, we simply cannot claim to be on the side of peace and all good things when we resort to these practices. We can no longer occupy the moral high ground when we too behave in despicable ways – even if it is in self-defence and out of great, and often very real, fear and insecurity. These practices are not a sign of our strength but rather of our weaknesses and our inability to maturely deal with the complex issues that confront us as a society, with wisdom and a genuine desire for understanding and peace.

Apart from the moral and ethical reasons for this practice, it also makes no sense.  When I first studied feminism one of the (many) principles of feminist theory that really resonated with me was the idea that the process we use impacts on the product or the outcome we achieve. This makes intuitive sense I think. The way we go about doing something influences the something that we end up with. This concept is well received in relation to research methodologies where the argument is that the way that knowledge is generated (the research methodology) influences that knowledge that is generated. And therefore, any information or insights gained through a negative process or practice, such as torturing a human being, simply cant be trusted.

There is no integrity to these inhumane practices whether they be perpetrated by an individual or sanctioned by the state. And for me this is the deal breaker – integrity.  If we are in touch with our humanity and connected with ourselves and each other we will be more likely act with integrity, considering the moral implications and consequences of our actions.

Amnesty International has had a global week of action to mark this important date and they are sharing some photos of members standing up in support of this important issue. Maybe it’s time for us all to step up and speak out – and therefore take some responsibility for ensuring our shared humanity is no longer based in fear and insecurity but rather in integrity and goodwill for each other.