Looking at torture closer to home

by Elena Jurado, human rights and research

Published: 11 Jun 2018

What is torture?

When we talk about torture images spring to mind of people being mistreated in far-away places.

But the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is not just about prisons, police custody and allegations of war crimes.

The Convention is relevant to what happens in our care homes and hospitals, and to the way society’s most vulnerable groups – such as children, disabled people and asylum-seekers – are treated. It is also about human trafficking, violence against women and hate crimes. 

Our new guide explains how civil society organisations can help hold the government to account on human rights issues using the Convention Against Torture. 

The UK will be examined on its record 

Next year the UK will undergo its sixth examination under the Convention. Representatives from the UK and devolved governments will be questioned on their human rights record in this area.

The examination will cover a range of issues including:

  • conditions in prisons
  • ill-treatment of patients receiving healthcare services
  • whether enough is being done to prevent hate crimes, tackle human trafficking and eliminate all forms of violence against women

At the end of the examination, the Committee against Torture will make recommendations to the UK and devolved governments, setting out what they need to do to improve things.

Civil society organisations need to get involved 

For the process to be successful the committee needs to receive robust and up-to-date evidence on how the UK is failing to meet its obligations and on how things can be improved.

Here lies the challenge – until now only a small number of civil society organisations have submitted evidence to the committee, covering a relatively narrow set of issues such as:

  • the treatment of prisoners overseas
  • allegations of human rights infringements by UK intelligence services
  • the use of immigration detention and ill-treatment in detention

By raising the international community’s awareness of these issues, the evidence submitted by these organisations to the committee has played a crucial role in securing improvements in these areas.

However, there are many more issues relevant to the Convention that need to be addressed. 

More work to be done

We recently organised a workshop on the Convention with over 30 civil society organisations attending. The full breadth of issues relevant to the Convention were discussed, including:

  • migrants being deterred from using health services by the threat of deportation
  • disabled people being inappropriately placed in care homes, instead of receiving the support they need to live independently
  • disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority children subjected to the use of Taser by the police
  • the rising number of Islamophobic, disability and transgender hate crimes in England and Wales
  • police failing to properly investigate allegations of violence against women, including rape, domestic violence, stalking and trafficking
  • the harrowing conditions of thousands of domestic workers who are enslaved and exploited by their employers

We are committed to supporting and building the capacity of civil society to provide the committee with the evidence it needs in advance of the UK’s examination.

How can you get involved? 

We hope our new guide on the Convention against Torture, which provides practical information on how civil society organisations can contribute, will encourage organisations who might not have previously considered using the Convention to do so.

Only this will ensure that the UK government will be examined against the full list of issues that fall under the Convention.

The efforts which civil society organisations make in the run-up to the examination will pay off. They will help to secure recommendations from the Committee against Torture that are targeted and evidence-based.

Civil society organisations can then use these recommendations to advocate for particular changes in policy and legislation.

Contact Elena Jurado for more information on the Convention. Elena works in our human rights and research team. She reports on how well the UK is performing on its human rights obligations, using the Convention Against Torture to hold the government to account.