Definitions of Torture

The use of the word torture in Q-CATs work is that given in the UN Convention (below), which covers state action and other action taken by persons acting in an official capacity.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT)¹

The UN Convention, the full title being The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, was drafted in December 1984 and came into effect in June 1987.

Article 1. “…the term ‘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.”

Two further paragraphs in Article 2. of the Convention

“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war ro a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
“An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture.”

A slightly less wordy definition is from the UN Declaration against Torture:

“Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed, or intimidating him or other persons.”

A fuller discussion of the definition is available in Briefing No. 48, January 2016 ‘What is torture’