Torture is the most serious of prohibited acts of ill-treatment, involving severe mental or physical pain or suffering that is intentionally inflicted for a particular purpose. Ill-treatment is considered torture when it is used for a particular purpose such as to extract a confession or information, as 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. Torture victims face a range of devastating long-term consequences and may never fully recover. The physical and psychological pain inflicted on them can lead to chronic pain and disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Businesses who produce equipment commonly used in torture must consider the intended use of the product in their downstream supply chain and must ensure steps are taken to prevent their goods being misused as tools of torture and ill-treatment. Such equipment includes:
These types of equipment can be considered ‘dual purpose’ as they have legitimate applications 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. Such equipment, however, can also be used for the purpose of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Any business directly or indirectly involved in producing and exporting military or security equipment and other items capable of use in torture, or providing training in torture methods to end users known to commit torture, risks violating 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.
Businesses should ensure that they take steps to verify the intended end user in their supply chains and conduct reviews to ensure their products are not being misused.