Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment


The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on December 10, 1984. The Convention entered into force on June 26, 1987. It has five signatories – India as well as Brunei, Haiti, Palau and Sudan – and 170 countries have ratified or acceded to it. (Signatories are qualified to ratify, accept or approve a treaty. Ratification is the 'international act' where a State indicates its consent to be bound to a treaty.)

The Convention refers to Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which state that no one shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or torture.

The roughly 4,500-word Convention is arranged in three parts and contains 33 Articles. Part I (Articles 1-16) covers recommendations to State Parties on the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Part II (Articles 17-24) proposes establishing a Committee against Torture composed of nationals of the State Parties to the Convention, and prescribes the manner in which State Parties shall report the measures they have adopted to observe the rights recognised by the Convention. Part III (Articles 25-33) discusses the process by which the Convention is to be ratified and amended. (In UN documents, a ‘State Party’ to a treaty is a country that has ratified or acceded to that particular treaty, and is therefore legally bound by the provisions in the instrument).

The following are excerpts from 10 of Part I’s 16 articles, which remain especially relevant to the present times:

Article 1: ‘Torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering – physical or mental – is intentionally inflicted on a person by, at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official or other person acting in an official capacity, for obtaining information or a confession from them; punishing them for an act they or other persons have committed or are suspected of having committed; intimidating or coercing them or a ‘third person’; or for reasons based on any kind of discrimination. It does not include pain or suffering arising from ‘lawful sanctions’.

Article 2: State Parties shall take legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in territories under their jurisdiction. No exceptional circumstances – a war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency – may be invoked as a justification of torture. An order from a superior officer or public authority may not be used as a justification of torture.

Article 4: Each State Party shall ensure that acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to attempts to torture, and acts which involve complicity or participation in torture. State Parties shall make such offences punishable by appropriate penalties.

Article 6: After examining the information available to it, and being satisfied that the circumstances so warrant, the State Party shall take into custody any person alleged to have committed acts of torture “or take other legal measures to ensure their presence.” The State Party shall immediately make a preliminary inquiry into the facts of the allegation. The person taken into custody shall be assisted in communicating with “the nearest appropriate representative of the State” of which they are a national; if the person taken into custody is ‘stateless’, they shall be assisted in communicating with a representative of the State where they usually reside. When a State Party has taken a person into custody, they shall immediately notify the States referred to in Article 5. The State Party making the preliminary inquiry shall promptly report its findings to the said States and shall indicate whether it intends to exercise jurisdiction over the offence.

Article 10: State Parties shall ensure that education and information on the prohibition of torture are fully included in the training of civil or military law enforcement personnel, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of a person subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment. State Parties shall include this information in the rules or instructions regarding the duties and functions of such personnel and officials.

Article 11: With the aim of preventing cases of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction, each State Party shall “keep under systematic review” its interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices, and arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons under arrest, detention or imprisonment.

Article 12: Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities conduct a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.

Article 13: State Parties shall ensure that any individual alleging that they have been subjected to torture in any territory under the its jurisdiction, has the right to complain to, and have their case promptly and impartially examined by, competent authorities in the State. Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against any ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of their complaint.

Article 14: Through its legal system, each State Party shall ensure that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has a right to fair and adequate compensation, including “the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.” In the event of the death of the victim as a result of torture, the victim’s dependants shall be entitled to compensation.

Article 15: State Parties shall ensure that no statement established to have been made as a result of torture shall be used as evidence in any proceeding, unless the statement is invoked “…against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.” 

Focus by Shrushti Bhosale.


United Nations


United Nations


10 Dec, 1984