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torture and the law

The absolute prohibition of torture is a fundamental principle of international law.

Because torture and other forms of ill-treatment are among the worst violations of the integrity and dignity of a human being, the prohibition of torture is one of a handful that are universally recognized, together, in particular, with slavery.


Since the end of World War II, governments have agreed to ban torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at all times. No exceptions are allowed, whether during peace or war, or during any type of emergency, including when terrorist acts have been committed. Moreover, no one can be sent back to a place where one is at risk of torture. The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is among the most widely ratified or acceded to international human rights treaties.

This universal ban has reduced cases of torture and other ill-treatment in a number of countries. At the same time, torture continues to be practiced across all regions of the world, as witnessed daily by the 200 members of our SOS-Torture Network. Governments torture under the pretext of protecting national security, of counter-terrorism, of the fight against drugs, or of solving a crime. Torture is promoted as an “effective” means to obtain information, a fast-track, or even a lesser evil.

Torture is the infliction of extreme forms of suffering upon men, women and children.

But this is not the reality. Torture is the infliction of extreme forms of suffering upon men, women and children. It does not extract useful information, as people may give any answer to stop excruciating pain. Torture and other ill-treatment are about power relations and humiliation. They break people and their families. They brutalise societies as they create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust and feed a cycle of violence. They replace the rule of law with terror. No one is safe when governments allow its use.

Many States have not yet made torture a specific crime under their national laws. Lack of punishment of the culprits is one main reason why torture continues unabated.

Together with our SOS-Torture Network members, we strive to press governments to prevent torture, make it a crime under their national laws, and bring culprits to justice, while providing victims with remedies, including reparation and rehabilitation. One of our important activities is to engage with the United Nations Committee Against Torture, a mechanism of 10 independent experts who monitor whether States are complying with their obligations under the Convention against Torture. Since 2014, we have been acting as the official coordinator for the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs) during the Committee’s three yearly meetings in Geneva. We:

  • Submit joint country reports to the Committee Against Torture, with the SOS-Torture Network and other partners
  • Mobilise CSOs to provide information from the ground to the Committee, and coordinate their meetings during the Committee’s sessions
  • Undertake monitoring and information-gathering missions
  • Train journalists and work with them to make the torture issue visible.

Our Network Members Working in this Area

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