State torture of citizens 'endemic' across world: report

9th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

From the "Jesus Christ" crucifixion technique in Eritrea to the Uzbek practice of chilli pepper enemas, torture is a routine practice for authorities across the globe, a report said Thursday.

"One can reasonably estimate that more than half of the member states of the United Nations resort to torture," said the 370-page report by the Paris-based Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT).

The report titled "A World of Torture" paints a chilling picture of state abuse based on a study of 22 countries on five continents and concludes that its use is "endemic in a large number of countries."

While the torture of journalists, union activists or rights campaigner tends to get much media coverage, most victims are ordinary people "who come from the underprivileged and vulnerable categories of the population."

Totalitarian states, dictatorships and many Islamic regimes are major offenders, as are countries that face political violence and instability, said the ACAT study, the first such annual report the group has published.

Torture has become a "veritable system of investigation and of repression at the service of the security apparatus" in African states run by dictatorial governments or by governments "with dictatorial tendencies."

These included Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Sudan and Zimbabwe, the report said.

In the Horn of Africa state of Eritrea, for example, torture is "practically institutionalised," and its practitioners give their techniques names such as the "Jesus Christ" practice wherein the victim is tied to a cross and beaten.

ACAT said Latin America was a region where the heritage of decades of military dictatorship meant that "recourse to violent methods, notably torture, remains widespread among the security forces."

The report noted that the UN definition of torture describes the practice as a state representative inflicting severe mental or physical pain on a person with the aim of getting information or a confession or as punishment.

It said that anti-terror legislation passed in many countries had provided a cover "for the upsurge in the use of torture," and noted that "the case of Tunisia is emblematic in this respect."

In China and in Iran, torture is used mainly to gain confessions that could later be used in trials, said ACAT, which was founded in 1974 with the aim of increasing awareness of the use of torture and to campaign for its abolition.

The non-governmental organisation also fingered several Western democracies for criticism, singling out Spain's practice of holding people incommunicado and France's passing of "repressive laws" and its overcrowded prisons.

It also denounced the euphemisms adopted by certain states to describe torture, noting that the term "waterboarding" was used by the United States to hide the reality of a horrific act.

Waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, was what former US president George W. Bush described as an "enhanced" interrogation technique and was widely used during his mandate.

It was banned by President Barack Obama on his second day in office.

© 2010 AFP

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