Preventing Torture: A Study of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Preventing Torture: A Study of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Preventing Torture: A Study of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Preventing Torture: A Study of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Synopsis

In the 19th century the prohibition of judicial torture was celebrated as a triumph of civilisation. But in the aftermath of the 2nd World War it was necessary for the International community to re-emphasise, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its abhorrence of torture: the proscription of torture became part of international customary law. But torture by agents of contemporary states persists, not least in the heart of Europe where reliance on the use of custody is growing once again. This pathbreaking documentary and empirical study - of a kind rarely undertaken in the field of international human rights law - considers in detail the work of the latest actor on the international stage attempting to prevent torture. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the CPT), established in 1989, represents a new phase in international human rights intervention. The Council of Europe member states have given a Strasbourg-based Committee of experts an almost unfettered hand to examine their places of custody and report on what they find. The authors, an international lawyer and a criminologist, bring their different analytical perspectives to bear on this innovative human rights mechanism. The authors consider the nature of torture in the late 20th century and, given the pervasive culture of denial, the difficulties in combating it. They argue that utilitarian justifications for torture lurk just beneath the surface of modern liberal democratic state practice. They describe the background to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, examine the text and the modus operandi of the Committee, set the CPT's standards against those of other international bodies and discuss how the work of the Committee should best be carried forward in an enlarged and increasingly diverse European community of nations.

Excerpt

In the period after 1945 the opening of the Cold War belied the hopes which attended the end of the Second World War. Grand political theory shored up by monolithic state apparatuses that showed little sign of withering persisted in the Soviet Union, in China, and in South East Asia. Not until Khrushchev's landmark speeches of 1961 were there tangible signs of a critical breakthrough in the Soviet Union, and it was to be another twenty-five years before the Soviet Empire, and its justifying ideology, began to be dismantled. in China grand theory and the strong state continue to be proclaimed. Elsewhere -- in Cambodia during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-9, and in Albania until 1991, for example -- monolithic ideological regimes held terrifying sway and went their own isolationist ways. in Africa and elsewhere the post-colonialist period brought with it the political instability, economic insecurity, and debt dependency which generally plagues the third world. in South America -- in Argentina (1976-1983), Chile (1974-1990), and Uruguay (1972-1985), for example -- authoritarian military dictatorships wrested power from civilian governments ostensibly to save collapsing states from anarchy. in Europe, the old corporate dictatorships in Portugal and Spain survived until 1974 and 1975 respectively and there were coups leading to periods of military rule in Greece in 1967 and Turkey in 1960 and 1980. in all four countries democracy was restored, but the periods of authoritarian rule bequeathed conflicts and an impoverishment of civil society which made adaptation to democracy in many ways almost as difficult as that confronting the former Communist satellite states of Eastern Europe after the the dismantling of the Berlin wall in 1989. in Africa, despite initial postindependence multi-party aspirations, colonial rule gave way to oneparty-rule, or undisguised dictatorship, ostensibly to bring stability in the face of severe class, regional, or tribal conflict. But in several countries -- Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Gambia, Zaire, and so on -- the state has literally collapsed and an anarchy of competing fiefdoms controlled by warlords or ideological factions compete for territory, support, and power, deploying all the force at their command. in many of these countries characterized by unstable or fragile government, torture and other human rights abuses were and are the order of the day.

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