This project aims to provide a forum where the phenomenon of Torture, its use and effects throughout history and its contemporary use by over a hundred countries worldwide, from democracies to dictatorships, can be discussed.
Torture is a richly inter-disciplinary topic. It relates to legal and policy frameworks that are driven by both governmental and non-governmental actors. It has been the subject of theorising in theological, legal, political, sociological and anthropological contexts. It can be examined from an historical and cross-cultural perspective to understand changes in causation, purpose and social responses. It raises questions about the most productive way to teach and research issues related to torture. It can be explored from medical perspectives that address not only the psychological motivations of perpetrators but the effects of torture on the mental health of those directly and indirectly involved. Torture can be explored from economic perspectives that consider the business and administrative entities that support regimes that use torture and provide the instruments of abuse. Social workers and caregivers who work closely with victims and perpetrators, as well as first-hand accounts of victims and perpetrators themselves, provide perspectives on torture that are often overlooked in analytical studies of torture. Representations of torture in television, film, videogames, art, theatre and literature also offer a platform for grappling with the topic.
The first problematic issue is in definition. What constitutes Torture? Legal Scholars since the 3rd century have attempted to define it. Even the contemporary legal definition contained in the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment and Punishment is contested, although it has been widely used in Europe as a basis for improving practice.
Another key issue is the growth in attempts worldwide to reduce, or abolish torture, which have existed alongside growth in the use of torture in the modern era. Included here are aspects of implementation of appropriate legal frameworks across borders, information sharing, independent inspection regimes in places of detention, installing penalties in places of detention and/or instilling cultures of prevention through training and support. Also included are domestic and international attempts to prosecute torturers or to obtain civil remedies against torturers or their governments.
Causation is a problematic issue, and the extent to which this is vested in international relations, manifestations of political power within national states and ideological groups struggling to achieve statehood.
Issues of Practice are important. These include interrogation and its legitimacy, setting boundaries in state practice, exposure of the way that torturers are psychologically prepared and trained, sometimes in the military, sometimes in the police, before being co-opted into specifically formed elite units to organise and carry out torture. Exposure of the sites of torture is an important aspect of practice – prisoner of war camps, state-run detention centres, prisons, within civilian communities against persecuted minorities and areas of the world where genocide is being systematically practiced.
The effects of torture on survivors and perpetrators is another key issue. The Istanbul Protocol in 1999, the first set of international guidelines co-authored by Physicians for Human Rights, has done much to document torture and its consequences from a medical perspective. Other worldwide organisations such as The Red Cross and Amnesty International have been invaluable in documenting the human as well as the medical and psychological cost of torture, and the near impossibility of eradicating the trauma and its effects. The loss and regaining of trust, the hard task of forgiveness, and coming to terms therapeutically are key issues in the literature of those who have been tortured. Critical attention will also be directed toward understanding the impact of torture on torturers themselves and/or on societies that condone or tolerate torture.
The scope of the project extends to considerations of how professional fields outside of the policy and legal context are touched by issues related to torture, including: medical perspectives on torture, technologies that support or combat torture, the relationship between torture and religion/spirituality, the businesses and administrative structures that support or combat torture, dealing with torture in educational and research contexts and the relationship between torture and the arts.
Who Should Get Involved
The project is intended to appeal to policy and legal experts, representatives from NGOs and philanthropic organisations, activists, medical and clinical professionals, social workers and caregivers, educators, artists, business people, journalists, victims and perpetrators of torture, historians, and researchers whose work or experiences with torture can contribute to the dialogue.
The outcome will be to shine an interdisciplinary light upon a phenomenon which is so often hidden from us, and to share the rich variety of perspectives which can help scholars, practitioners and victims from all backgrounds. In addition to providing a forum for knowledge exchange, the project also has the objectives of delivering workshops, publications and programming aimed at:
• promoting greater public understanding of torture and how inter-disciplinary work can assist in in its prevention, including community-drive responses
• facilitating greater awareness of the needs of survivors and perpetrators, and developments in policy and care delivery to accommodate those needs
• providing resources for organisations working in this area
• identifying strategies for legal and policy reforms
• assisting educators and researchers working on the topic