Week 4: Torture & Human Rights


“The argument cannot be that we should not torture because it does not work.
The argument must be that we should not torture because it is wrong.”
Jason Michelich 

human rights

Next month will mark the 36th anniversary of the death and case resolution of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who in 1977 died of head injuries sustained during interrogation/torture while in South African Security Police custody, with identified gross inadequacies in the medical management.  In addition, since 2008, Xenophobia hit South Africa like a disease, and it’s still relevant.  Many black South Africans living in the townships felt that the massive, uncontrolled influx of “illegal immigrants” or “asylum seekers” were taking the job opportunities from the “native black South Africans”, which has led to acts of Xenophobia (including discrimination, violence and torture) in a community already suffering from social crises and poverty.  The concern needs to be on the protection of the human rights of all human beings, including foreign nationals.  Another relevant issue of  torture and human rights violation occurred in the South African “Marikana” massacre in 2012, with 44 deaths and 76 injured South Africans.  Police brutality (lethal use of force) reared its ugly head again, but this time it was not the white Apartheid Police Force firing upon black South Africans, it was the “new South African” Police Force, firing on their own people, supposedly in self-defense and crowd control.  The South African president commissioned an inquiry to investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the tragic incidents at the Lonmin Mine in Marikana.  Should the police have acted so brutally and opened fire on all the strikers or just those that were attacking them, those that “initiated” the attack?  What about those human beings, the “strikers”, who were shot in the back as they were running away and those that were “gunned down” and even tortured before death?

These events have led to Amnesty International publishing a document in 2012 on the current status of and recommendations to the South African Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Bill, urging that its scope be expanded to reflect the full extent of South Africa’s obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and to uphold and protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.  As we have discussed in week 3 on the topic of equality, violating, suppressing basic human rights of any human being, is legally, morally and ethically wrong.

There has also been much talk and controversy surrounding the 2013 released blockbuster “Zero Dark Thirty” as it depicts the use of military and intelligence interrogation and torture-practices in the “fight against terror”.  Torture, carried out or sanctioned by individuals, groups and states throughout history from ancient times to modern day, is the act of deliberately inflicting intense physical pain, combined with emotional/psychological stress and deprivation of basic care and needs, to a person who is unable to protect himself.  The reasons for torture include interrogation, punishment, revenge, political or the sadistic gratification.  Many support the anti-torture argument on the fact that torture is hugely unreliable means of obtaining information, that often turns out to be redundant or misleading.  Others argue that the “well-being and protection of defenseless human beings and for the greater good of the country” it is more important than the issue of violating Human Rights of  a terrorist or criminal/prisoner of war.  Pro-torture individuals or groups often state that “brutalization brings breakthroughs”, and that torture is at times necessary or required to gain valuable intelligence/insight/information to stop future attacks/violence and to bring criminals/terrorists to justice.  For me, more importantly, and from a Human Rights point of view, torture is morally and ethically wrong.

We all know that terrorist activity violates various Human Rights, including the right to life; rights to non-discrimination, including equal rights for women and girls; right to a fair trial; freedom of religion and belief; freedom of expression and information; the right to vote and participate in public affairs etc.  Therefore, measures against terrorism can have an important role in protecting human rights but counter-terrorism laws can also have a profound impact in limiting fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the right to a fair trial; the right not to be subjected to arbitrary detention; freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to freedom of expression; the right to freedom of movement; the right to privacy; the right to non-discrimination and the right to an effective remedy for a breach of human rights.

So the question is, should a terrorist “loose” his rights as a human being?  What about a criminal who took the life of an innocent human being or child?  Should he/she still have rights?  I believe we should respect the rule of law and the principle of upholding fundamental rights and freedoms, for all, even when we personally feel that a person (terrorist or criminal) is not deserving of any rights as a human being.


For PHT402 Professional Ethics Course:  Week 4 – Torture & Human Rights

18 responses »

  1. Hi Chantelle
    Interesting post…it got me thinking.

    When i was pondering on this weeks topic of torture and when it is OK?, i instantly thought of the example where people are being tortured mentally and physically by the CIA or FBI for valuable information which could potentially save lives. I failed to notice, the social injustices and acts of violence which take place on our home soil..

    It baffles me that we have became a society so comfortable with acts of violence.

    I love the link you’ve made with the violation of human rights, violence, torture and discrimination.

    • Hi Janine, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I agree, this culture of violence and social injustice has plagued our country. There seems to be a lack of respect for human life and compassion with no tolerance for diversity. Hopefully the change can happen individually, through opportunities like this PHT402 course, and in our communities by people that set the unpopular example of caring.

  2. Hi Chantelle. Such a great post. I agree with what Janine said about bringing the topic back to the South African context. We are a culture that is so accustomed to violence and human degradation, yet we have one of the most progressive legal frameworks in the world.

    How do we align the reality of brutality and suffering in our country with the fable we read about in the Constitution? How do we ensure that the generations that come after us will be less accomodating to the violence than the generations who went before them? How can we ensure that violence towards women, children and other minority groups is no longer seen as an evil we’ve learned to live with?

  3. There are a few questions posed in the blog and resultant comments. I propose that an “interrogation” of the nature of humanity would be a good first step.

    • I agree “human nature” isn’t as simple anymore. But I still believe in the inherent good nature of people, despite all the violence, immoral behaviour and negativity.
      In Nelson Mandela’s words:
      “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

      • It seems Mr Mandela missed Romans 3 while at Clarkebury Mission School and again at Healdtown Methodist College. Biblical speaking, we really are a rotten lot.

  4. Hi Chantelle,
    I totally agree with you that every human being, despite their actions, should keep their fundamental rights. Making exceptions is a slippery slope and might lead to the justification of horrible actions “for the greater good”…

  5. Pingback: The healthy man does not torture others – generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers – Carl Jung | Liina's learning portfolio

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  7. I do look forward to your post they tend to put things into contextual prospective as I do believe that although we have some torture levels in NZ it’s mostly domestic and I don’t think I can really understand what happens in the big scary wide world some times so my insular background can make me very naive even though we see it on TV and we did look at it in highschool it is still very hard to conceptualize so thank you for an illuminating post

  8. Pingback: Week 4: Reflection | Chantelle van den Berg

  9. Hi Chantelle
    I had a lot of difficultly righting about this topic as i could’t decide whether i was pro or anti torture. i definitely agree with you that we should all uphold everyone’s rights and i think that this topic also relates to equality and our morality. how do we decide who does and doesn’t get to be tortured and when is it a fair punishment. Your blog definitely helped me develop my opinion. thank you 🙂

  10. Pingback: Week 6: Overview & Reflection | Chantelle van den Berg

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