The nature, methods and aims of torture depend both on the geographical region and on the historical period, traditional cultures and political circumstances under which it is applied. Today it is difficult to find a more generally acceptable definition of torture than the one set forth in the UN Convention Against Torture since this document has been signed by over 180 member countries. That is why, in the work carried out by ACET, we refer to the definition of this Convention.
According to Article 1 of the Convention:
the term "torture" means any action by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."
This definition is accepted as applicable by all states-parties to it and it defines the act of torture as:
- Inflicting severe physical or mental pain;
- Inflicted for a definite purpose;
- Inflicted by or with the consent and acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in official capacity.
It is clear from the definition that the perpetrators of torture are the law enforcement officials of government institutions. Torture is applied as an instrument of force.
Today the use of torture could be considered in the following three aspects:
- Under the authoritarian regimes torture is instrumental in creating an atmosphere of fear and crushing the opposition and the democratically minded groups.
- In time of war the enemy uses torture as a strategy to gain force and territories through suppression of the opposition and the ethnic and religious minorities.
- In the new democracies the use of torture is a remnant from the authoritarian regimes ensuing from individual abuses on the part of the law enforcement and military staff.
Torture is one of the most appalling violations of human rights. The World Conference on Human Rights in 1994 stressed that the use of torture is one of the most atrocious violations against human dignity, the result of which destroys the dignity and impairs the capability of victims to continue their lives and their activities.
In the times of antiquity torture was used as a method of intentionally inflicting physical and mental pain to the individuals. While in the past torture was perceived by society and the state as a normal activity and some of its acts were even performed in public, today these features are exactly the opposite: the state and society reject torture and in most cases its acts are perpetrated in secret. Today torture is forbidden. No government would probably admit any information about its being applied in its own country and when confronted with it, the response would be that it was an accidental case.
The study of torture and the treatment of its victims are considered new areas of medicine and psychology. In 1973, doctors from western European countries developed a programme for treatment of torture victims. In 1984, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) was set up with joint efforts in Copenhagen. The primary goal of that institution was to establish rehabilitation centres for torture victims throughout the world and to support the training of staff providing medical, social and legal services. Currently, the network of the International Rehabilitation Council includes about 130 such centres and programmes in more than 54 countries of the world. One of them is ACET – the Assistance Centre for Torture Survivors.