Interpretation of Torture in the Light of the Practice and Jurisprudence of International Bodies


Many acts, conducts or events may be viewed as torture in certain circumstances, while they will not be viewed as torture in some other situations. In fact, there is no single definition existing under international law but most international dispositions and bodies tend to agree on four constitutive elements of torture, as further explained in the first part of this paper “Elements of definition”. It should be recalled that usually in legal dispositions, torture is linked with cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment or ill-treatment. Torture is not an act in itself, or specific type of acts, but it is the legal qualification of an event or behaviour, based on the comprehensive assessment of this event or behaviour. Therefore, the difference between these different qualifications, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment or ill-treatment depends on the specific circumstances of each case and is not always obvious. It is clear that, because of the specific intensity or nature of certain acts, the qualification of torture may be easily granted in certain cases. However, in some others, the vulnerability of the victim (age, gender, status, etc), as well as the environment and the cumulative effect of various factors, should be taken into account to determine whether this case amounts to torture or whether it does not reach this ultimate threshold and should be considered as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 

Publisher's Version

Last updated on 08/13/2015