Symposium: The Changing Face of Torture

The Convention of the United Nations against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment * defines torture as, “Any act 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.”

The roots of the phenomenon of torture are way back in history. To torture was legitimate in the Middle Ages in Europe and the application of it was an integral part of the penal code. Despite all attempts, to eradicate torture worldwide until now has not been possible.

As a terrifying fact, it is known that torture is still applied in some countries of the world. Other than this, though it is legally forbidden in various countries, torture is practiced by its classical methods and by its new forms. These new forms of torture have been developed to prevent the evidence of it or the traces of it which could bebe seen by naked eye. As a result, many people who have been exposed to torture cannot legally seek justice before the law.

According to the records of Amnesty International, currently, at least in 81 countries people have been exposed to torture and degrading treatment. In many countries, the governments are applying torture against their citizens systematically. Unfortunately, even nowadays, torture as a “profession” continues.

However, the prevention of torture should not be regarded as solely the task of the governments. According to us, this is also the duty of the civilians and the civil organizations. Torture is a flagrant violation of human rights which is ensured by certain international covenants. As torture cannot be justified ethically, despite of its political character, it must be approached to it by thematizing it above politics. For this reason, we think it is important that torture is problematized by job families, legal practitioners, doctors, journalists, pedagogues, and their professional associations.

Many international and local organizations and professionals that are concerned actively with the phenomenon of torture are faced with fearsome experiences. The devastating effects of torture are not local but also a global problem. In the light of these facts, we can claim that fight against torture should be continued at a world scale.

The people, institutions, and organizations that work on this common issue are organizing at an international level, sharing local experiences and works, learning from each other and arguing among themselves for an effective international cooperation.

Among these efforts is the signing of the Protocol of Istanbul in 1999. However, as it is a burning issue, there needs a lot of work to be done. For this reason, as Volunteers of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey we planned to organize an international symposium. Our aim is to contribute modestly to the international works on the matter and to inform the participants about the changing face of torture by the presentations of the valuable speakers who are experts in their topics.


* The Convention of the United Nations against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Article 1.