Torture is a destructive phenomenon that can hold back the democratic development of entire societies.
The Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), sets out the most accepted international definition of torture:
“... 'torture' means 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.”
In other words, according to this definition torture is the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of the state authorities for a specific purpose.
Torture is often used to punish, to obtain information or a confession, to take revenge on one person or multiple persons or to terrorize and frighten a population.
Some of the most common methods of physical torture include beatings on certain parts of the body, electric shocks, burning or exposure to extreme temperatures, forced stretching or forced positions, submersion, suffocation and rape and sexual assault.
Psychological forms of torture and ill-treatment, which very often have the longest lasting consequences for victims, commonly include amongst others: pressure, humiliation, isolation, mock executions, mock amputations, threats and witnessing the torture of others.
Ratification of the UN CAT obligates governments to assert responsibility for the rehabilitation of survivors, prevention of torture and redress for victims of torture. While the global fight against torture requires the active support of all people, the government of a given territory is ultimately responsible for any torture that occurs within its borders. Individual governments, therefore, must take it upon themselves to take part in the struggle against torture. Ratification of the Convention is often a necessary first step in this process.
The Republic of Moldova ratified the UN CAT on 28 November 1995 and the Optional protocol to the UN CAT on 24 July 2006. Subsequently, at the national level we need to cooperate in order to promote the cause of universal ratification of the Convention. We need to support victims and to contribute to the cause of the UN CAT through a holistic approach to victims’ needs, through rehabilitation, education and awareness raising activities.
Who are the victims?
Anyone can be a victim of torture - children as well as adults, young as well as old, religious as well as atheists, intellectuals and the uneducated alike.
Nobody should be considered immune, although being a member of a particular political, religious or ethnic group or minority can very often set individuals aside as targets for government endorsed violence. Frequent victims include politicians, union leaders, journalists, health professionals, human rights defenders, people in detention or prison, members of ethnic minorities, and student leaders.
Victims of torture do not suffer alone. Victims' families and friends are also greatly affected. Local society is damaged both through the trauma inflicted on its members but also through an instilled awareness that basic human rights are neither guaranteed nor respected. Freedom is not respected. People are not respected. The use of torture sends a strong warning to those within a political, social, or religious opposition, but also to normal citizens who cannot rightly claim to live in a free or safe society.
Who are the perpetrators?
By definition, torture 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. Those most likely to be involved in torture include persons such as:
prison officers/detention staff
state-controlled contra-guerilla forces
But perpetrators may also include:
co-detainees acting with the approval or on the orders of public officials
In the context of armed conflicts, torture and other forms of ill-treatment could also be inflicted by:
the general population (in a civil war situation)
After-effects of torture
The consequences of torture reach far beyond immediate pain. Many victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which includes symptoms such as flashbacks (or intrusive thoughts), severe anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, depression and memory lapses.
Torture victims often feel guilt and shame, triggered by the humiliation they have endured. Many feel that they have betrayed themselves or their friends and family. All such symptoms are normal human responses to abnormal and inhuman treatment.
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