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The Ethics of Torture

Rebecca Evans

Subject International Studies » International Ethics, International Law

Key-Topics human rights, torture

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444336597.2010.x


Once accepted as a legitimate judicial practice, torture has come to be widely condemned as unacceptable. The atrocities of World War II led the framers of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include a prohibition against torture, stipulating in unqualified terms that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5). Similarly, the Geneva Conventions, which were expanded and revised in 1949, not only provided protection for prisoners of war and civilians but also banned the use of torture and cruelty against “unlawful” combatants as “outrages against personal dignity” (Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 3). Since that time, various international conventions have made the ban on torture an absolute moral imperative, assigning it the status of a peremptory norm ( jus cogens ) that is binding on all states, whether they have ratified a particular treaty or not. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibited torture even “during public emergencies that threaten the life of the nation” (Articles 4 and 7). Similarly, the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment insisted that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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