Tag Archives: Human Rights and Liberties

Week 4: Torture & Human Rights

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“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.

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

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