Equal Rights Trust Urges Coordinated Action to Combat Discriminatory Torture and Ill-treatment

London, 26 June 2015

The Equal Rights Trust marks today, the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, by calling for increased international attention on the prevalence of discriminatory torture and ill-treatment. The Trust works to document and raise awareness of the link between discrimination and torture as this intersection remains underexplored and the violations not adequately addressed.

Our work with victims of discriminatory torture and ill-treatment has identified three key links between discrimination on the one hand and torture and ill-treatment on the other. Firstly, Article 1 of the Convention against Torture explicitly recognises that acts of severe pain and suffering intentionally inflicted by or with the acquiescence of a public official for “any reason based on discrimination of any kind” constitute torture. We have found much evidence of discriminatory torture in our research. For example, in Sudan, we found that some political dissidents are subjected to particularly grave torture because of their ethnicity. In India, we found that particularly vulnerable persons with mental disabilities were subjected to appallingly cruel treatment in psychiatric institutions.
Secondly, pain and suffering are relative and particular groups may experience suffering as a result of treatment which would not result in suffering for others. In Nigeria, we have supported people with disabilities to challenge prison conditions which are particularly inhuman given the lack of adjustments made to accommodate them.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, discrimination is often a key part of the story of the torture or ill-treatment suffered and to fail to acknowledge it would be to misrepresent the nature of the treatment concerned. For example, in Jordan, we are working to challenge the so-called “protective custody” of women survivors of domestic violence as a form of discriminatory degrading treatment.
It is becoming increasingly clear that in many countries, membership of a group commonly exposed to discrimination can render people more vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment. Yet there remains a lack of systematic research on discriminatory torture and ill-treatment, and states and international actors have failed to create effective legal and policy frameworks to address the problem.
Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Trust said:
“While the Convention against Torture recognises the link between torture and discrimination, and various experts have highlighted the connection between discrimination and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, many patterns of discriminatory torture and ill-treatment remain hidden from view."
“Our work in recent years has illustrated just how varied are the forms of discriminatory torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Yet we believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Today, on UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we are calling for increased attention to the problem of discriminatory torture and ill-treatment, and a commitment by states and international actors to ensure that where a discrimination aspect is suspected in torture and ill-treatment cases, there are effective mechanisms for prevention, investigation and prosecution taking into account the aggravating force of discrimination.”