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Human Rights Quarterly 22.2 (2000) 630-634

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Book Review

An End to Torture: Strategies for its Eradication

An End to Torture: Strategies for its Eradication edited by Bertil Dunér (London: Zed Books, 1998).

Maria is the seventeen-year-old daughter of Juan, a known labor organizer in a small Latin American nation. In attempting to crack down on dissent activities, the authoritarian government abducts both Maria and her father. If Maria is raped in order to punish Juan, does this action fall within the definition of torture? Under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (hereinafter the Convention), "torture" is defined as:

1) Intentional infliction of;

2) Mental or physical pain or suffering;

3) With the consent or acquiescence of a public official;

4) For such purposes as obtaining a confession, punishing, intimidating or for any reason based upon discrimination; or

5) To a person or third person. 1

For this action to be classified as torture one must first decide who is the person tortured and who is the torturer. If the perpetrators are police or soldiers then it is easy to declare them torturers under the Convention. A tricky question remains: who is tortured? If Juan is forced to witnesses the rape of his daughter as punishment for his political activities, this would be considered torture of Juan. Witnessing the sexual assault of a loved one while powerless to stop the transgression inflicts mental pain upon the witness. Therefore, there was an action directed against Juan that caused his mental pain so that action can be classified as torture under the Convention. However, has Maria been tortured? Gray areas exist in the legal framework of torture. First, are the actions committed against a third person in order to punish another considered torture? Second, does torture, as traditionally understood, ignore sexual assault against a woman as a form of torture?

The year 2000 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 2 by the United Nations General Assembly. Yet in the time since the passing of the Declaration and the Convention, torture has not been eradicated. In fact, recent figures indicate that torture is practiced, sporadically or otherwise, in at least half of the world's nations. 3

Torture has often been thought of as a barbaric tool of authoritarian government enforcement for the purpose of either eliciting a confession, intimidating dissenters, furthering state sponsored [End Page 630] discrimination, or punishing opponents. The problem of torture as it persists today is more complex. Many authoritarian regimes throughout the world have fallen or been forced to legalize opposition groups without dismantling their security apparatus. These security forces need education on the nature of adversarial democracy and the rights of individuals to due process and fair treatment. More pressing than the conversion from tyranny to democracy or socialism to capitalism is the instillation of a culture that recognizes the inherent right of individuals to be free from "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." 4

One way in which this publicly damned but privately practiced human rights violation persists is through the failure to maintain an international discourse and encourage human rights education about torture. The discourse that has occurred has been dominated by nation-states whose dialogue centered upon states' interests and sovereignty. An End to Torture, written for a global audience of educators, therapists, specialists, NGOs, scholars, and policy makers, is a welcome addition to the discourse. The authors represent a wide range of experiences in combating torture and treating its victims. Through these experiences they inform the reader of the many steps still necessary if efforts to bring an end to torture are to succeed. In discussions of the definitional and enforcement constraints, the action and inaction of states, the sharp pain and continued suffering that torture victims endure, and measures by which the political costs of torture can be made "unacceptably high," the authors provide accurate...


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