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Torture is when someone in authority intentionally causes severe pain or suffering for a specific purpose. Such as to get information or a confession out of you, to punish, intimidate or threaten you.

It can be physical, such as beating, forcing into a painful position or sexual, such as rape. It can be psychological, such as sleep deprivation or public humiliation.

Torture is illegal: outlawed internationally since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. And 156 countries have signed the UN Convention against Torture. All forms of cruelty and humiliation are also outlawed.

Yet some governments openly continue to torture despite their commitments. Others betray their people by carrying out torture in secret.


• is barbaric and inhumane
• is banned under international law
• corrodes the rule of law and undermines the criminal justice system
… can never, ever be justified

For decades, Amnesty has exposed governments who torture. We have had many successes, including the historic moment 30 years ago when the UN voted for a Convention against Torture - a groundbreaking step towards making the global ban on torture a reality.

We also support torture survivors to get justice. People like Ángel Colón, who was released in October 2014, nearly six years after he was tortured and wrongly imprisoned in Mexico. More than 20,000 Amnesty supporters demanded his release. Ángel told us: “My message to all those who are showing me their solidarity, and are against torture and discrimination, is ‘don’t drop your guard. A new horizon is dawning’.”

Philippine policemen during a protest near the US embassy in Manila on 20 March, 2012. © NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

The Problem

Getting away with it

Torture usually takes place in the shadows. In fact, governments often put more effort into denying or covering up torture than carrying out full investigations when a complaint is made.

There are many reasons why torturers often do not fear arrest, prosecution or punishment. Including:

• A lack of political will – especially if the government is behind the torture.
• Investigations are carried out by the torturers colleagues.
• Human rights are not high on the political agenda.

Whatever the reason, people who suffer torture are failed, and torture flourishes.

But we are all protected by international law – which says victims have the right to know the truth about what happened to them and to get justice. The state is required to make this happen.

Amnesty is calling for

• There is a clear definition of torture. There are no grey areas. Waterboarding counts. Sleep deprivation counts. The debates need to stop and instead energy put into ending torture.
• Cruelty and humiliation should not be tolerated – whether or not they qualify as torture.
• Governments should set up systems to record key stages of arrest and imprisonment, so that if people in authority behave illegally or abusively at any time, they can be prosecuted.
• There must always be a proper and fair process for investigating torture and prosecuting those responsible.
• There needs to be more political will and commitment to enforcing the law.

The issue in detail

Who’s at risk?

Almost anyone taken in to custody is at risk of torture – regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or politics. But it is clear that some of us are in more danger than others.

As with all human rights abuses, if you are poor, or belong to a group suffering discrimination it is more likely you will face torture and you will have fewer ways of defending yourself. For example, women, children, member of religious or ethnic minorities, or political opposition groups.

Safe from torture

Torture is usually hidden - in police lock-up, interrogation rooms or prisons. So, one of the best ways to prevent torture and make sure torturers can’t get away with it, is to bring it into view. In other words:

• From the outset, detainees have access to a lawyer.
• Lawyers are present during interrogations.
• Doctors are on hand to examine detainees.
• Detainees can have contact with their families.
• Confessions obtained by torture can never be used as evidence.
• Anyone involved in torture is brought to justice.

Help us stop the use of torture. Join millions protecting human rights




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Key Facts

Over the last five years, Amnesty has reported torture in at least three quarters of the world - 141 countries.


Nearly half of respondents fear torture if taken into custody.


More than 80% want strong laws to protect them from torture.