Tag Archives: torture

Is the Prohibition against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment Really ‘Absolute’ in International Human Rights Law?

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School).

By Patrick Marioné

A cardinal axiom of international human rights law is that the prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is absolute in the sense that no exception can be accepted, defended, justified, or tolerated in any circumstance whatever. Yet, for several reasons this is deeply problematic. For a start, since absoluteness is not an express, inherent, self-evident, or necessary feature of the provisions in question, this status is a matter of attribution rather than, as the orthodoxy holds, inherent legal necessity. Other non-absolute interpretations are not only possible, but expressly underpin similar prohibitions in some celebrated national human rights instruments. It does not follow either, because the term ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’ is typically included in the same clauses which prohibit torture, that each of these very different types of harmful conduct must necessarily share the same status. The much-repeated claim that the prohibition is absolute in principle but relative in application is also unconvincing. Finally, it is not merely morally or legally, but also logically impossible for each of two competing instances of any ‘absolute’ right to be equally ‘absolute’ in any meaningful sense. The prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in international human rights law can, at best therefore, only be ‘virtually’, rather than strictly, absolute. It applies, in other words, in all but the rarest circumstances but not, as the received wisdom maintains, to the exclusion of every possible justification, exoneration, excuse, or mitigation.

S Greer, ‘Is the Prohibition against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment Really ‘Absolute’ in International Human Rights Law?‘ (2015) 15 Human Rights Law Review 101–137.

A good year for torturers?

By Prof Nicholas Hardwick, Professor of Criminal Justice (Royal Holloway, University of London) and collaborator of the Human Rights Implementation Centre (University of Bristol Law School).

2017 looks set to be a good year for torturers.

Most noteworthy, they have received a glowing endorsement from President Trump. When it was put to him in a recent ABC interview that during his election campaign he had said he would “bring back waterboarding…and a hell of a lot worse” he did not demur. “Would I feel strongly about waterboarding?  As far as I am concerned we have to fight fire with fire,” he said.  “Absolutely I feel it works”, he went on.

It is true he qualified his remarks by stating that he would defer to the views of his defence secretary, James Mattis, and CIA director, Mike Pompeo, both of whom have said they would abide by the existing prohibition, and it is true there would be formidable political and legal obstacles to overturning the ban on torture. But it cannot be denied that the moral and operational case against torture has been dealt a heavy blow. Torturers worldwide can claim Trump has said torture is acceptable and it works. Continue reading