Torture is the most serious of the prohibited acts of ill-treatment: it involves severe pain or suffering, physical or mental, that is intentionally inflicted on an individual. The ill-treatment amounts to torture when it is used for a particular purpose, such as to extract a confession or information, punishment for an act or omission, for intimidation or coercion, and for any reason based on discrimination of any kind (such as ethnic, religious or gender). Acts of torture by non-State actors (such as members of law enforcement agencies, paramilitary groups, civil defence forces or other forces operating with or tolerated by the government) fall within this definition.
Torture denies the inherent dignity of the human being and is a crime under international law. It is prohibited in absolute terms and cannot be justified under any circumstances. The systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity.
Businesses that produce equipment commonly used in torture must consider the intended use of the product in their downstream supply chain. Such equipment includes:
Much of this equipment can have legitimate use in law enforcement if used correctly and in line with international standards for law enforcement – most importantly the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. However, in the wrong hands, this equipment can be – and indeed is – used for the purpose of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Any business involved in producing items capable of use in torture (such as military and security equipment) or providing training in torture methods to end users known to commit torture, risk breaching international law. Moreover, businesses could potentially also face allegations of complicity in violations perpetrated by third parties if their products are misused to commit acts of torture. Businesses may attract allegations of complicity in breaches of the right to freedom from torture through the actions of oppressive regimes with which they have a business relationship.