The current geopolitical situation has brought an unprecedented number of challenges that have the potential to undermine global stability and security. Moreover, the increased number of these global issues also had a negative effect on the effective implementation of certain international agreements and treaties. In the past 1 year, the focus of the international community remained primarily occupied with the current pandemic while many other geopolitical issues that could have a negative impact on the prospect of world peace and stability, got sidelined. One of that international framework that is somewhat neglected is the UN Convention Against Torture which aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment around the world. The reasoning is that certain countries are not even bothered to sign this treaty. While others are not doing a good job in implementing this UN-backed treaty. Let’s explore this issue through a more detailed analysis.

UN Convention Against Torture – The Basics

To obtain a better understating of this complex issue, it is imperative to take a closer look at the actual United Nations Convention against torture. The so-called CAT requires countries that signed this agreement to take appropriate measures in order to end torture within their territorial jurisdiction and to criminalize all acts of torture. Moreover, the official definition of the CAT regarding torture is also based on the concept that there are no circumstances or emergencies where torture could be permitted. In simple words, CAT has the role to ban torture in any shape or form across the world.

CAT members

Member Nations UNCAT

Legend - Member Countries UNCAT

How Effective is the UN Convention Against Torture

Nevertheless, the key question here how effective is this legislation against torture? In order to provide a precise answer, it is imperative to analyze certain aspects.
First and foremost, it is imperative to research this issue through the prism of what the governments do.On that note, it is important to emphasize that the UNCAT requires governments to take effective and meaningful measures to prevent torture in each state’s jurisdiction. To be more specific, countries are required to implement a law framework that will criminalize torture in domestic law. At the same time, states need to establish jurisdiction over acts of torture that occur within the state.

Combined with that, states are required to conduct credible investigations for any allegations of torture within the state. Furthermore, governments need to provide an effective and enforceable remedy to torture victims. However, the reality is that not every country that signed is implementing the treaty. For instance, it is important to analyze the approach of the United States itself when it comes to the UNCAT.

To be more specific, the US had signed this international treaty on April 18th, 1988 and ratified the same on October 21, 1994. However, they have a different set of rules that apply to their legislation when it comes to torture. Indeed, the fact that the American side made certain reservations to Article 16 and Article 30 (1) of the treaty has somewhat undermined the UNCAT. This is based on the fact that the US interpretation of Article 16 was understood in the context of the 5th, 8th and 14th amendments of the US Constitution. Additionally, the United States has a certain reservation of Article 30 (1)’s arbitration clause. In simple words, these elements have the role that limits the potential jurisdiction of the UNCAT on the United States. Yet, regardless of these measures, the core of this treaty is still binding on the United States. Therefore, the U.S Government still has a responsibility to prohibit and prevent the use of torture in any shape or form. But this kind of approach from certain states makes the treaty less effective.

Do Nations Bother Not Being a Signatory to UNCAT? Pros & Cos

Lastly, the ultimate question of this analysis is closely related to the pros and cons.

The reality is that this treaty is a step in the right direction. This is based on the concept that it shows a blueprint through which countries and governments can define and create their domestic policies regarding torture. At the same time, it sets the bar when it comes to torture prevention on a global level.

Nevertheless, the UN Convention Against Torture falls short on the prospect of implementation. The reasoning behind it is that certain countries and governments are not interested in the actual implementation. Others have neglected it. And some have taken steps to undermine and limit the jurisdiction of their domestic policies. According to Human Rights Watch, some countries have signed the treaty but are still facing documented allegations that officials at detention facilities sometimes subject detainees to torture and other ill-treatment. At the same time, some countries are still doing executions in an inhumane way. In it’s 57th session, the UN Committee Against Torture took up the Review of Saudi Arabia. The group ‘Human Rights Watch’ (HRW) released a Report to the Committee about the the Saudi government’s compliance with the International Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It elaborated information on how Saudi Arabia’s behavior was inconsistent with the Convention, and expressed specific concerns and expected the UN Committee members should raise with the government of Saudi Arabia.

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Therefore, it is safe to say that the UNCAT falls short on the prospect of implementation, monitoring and taking prompt actions when it came to signature states that were acting contrary to what they had pledged to prevent.

Another notable challenge can be observed through the fact that those countries that have not signed this treaty, do not even bother to prevent torture in any form.

Bangladesh is the prime example for a country that has not signed the UNCAT and where Amnesty International has reported numerous human rights violations including disappearances, torture, restricting the right to freedom of expression, extrajudicial, executions, violence against minorities, violence against women, and the death penalty.

As the world outraged over the death of George Floyd due to police brutality, the death of a father-son duo allegedly in police custody in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district caused a furore in the state. Per media reports, the duo was brutally sexually assaulted and tortured in police custody.It may be recalled that India, while being a signatory has not ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, as yet.

To put it simply, these undermining actions amply expose the negative side of the UNCAT.

The Bottom Line

On a final note, we can conclude that the UN Convention against Torture, despite all the shortcomings, is still the pillar of the modern world and can have a significant impact on preventing torture in any kind, shape or form. However, like any other international treaty, this global convention is facing significant challenges and barriers, pros and cons. That is why many scholars and experts are questioning the very existence of this legislative without teeth. Yet, the issues and barriers, if highlighted and pursued, can certainly spur the international community and governments not just to sign it, but to increase their efforts to implement the core of this crucial UN-backed framework.

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