Human Rights

Torture Worldwide

Torture should be as unthinkable as slavery. In principle it is: since World War II, governments the world over have agreed to ban torture without exception, even when at war or facing acts of terrorism. International treaties banning torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices are among the most widely ratified treaties in existence.

The reality is different. While the ban on torture has reduced the incidence of torture and related abuse, it is still practiced in many places. Torture is hard to root out in part because governments typically carry it out in secret, behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny.

The scandal over U.S. treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib has rightly focused global attention on the practices of U.S. authorities in the global "war on terror." But the problem exists in dozens of countries, as recent Human Rights Watch findings indicate.

Common targets include not only terror suspects, armed insurgents, suspected rebels, and their presumed supporters, but also demonized political opponents or government critics, members of religious minorities, gays, and ordinary criminal suspects, including suspected juvenile offenders. Members of unpopular or politically weak groups are particularly likely to be subjected to torture.

As United Nations expert on torture Theo van Boven has phrased it, the global significance of Abu Ghraib is not so much that no one else engages in such practices; they do. The signficance of Abu Ghraib is that governments with questionable records now feel they have a "green light" to torture because the photos show that the U.S. engages in forbidden practices too.

This is a critical time to insist on revelation of the full extent of torture and related abuses by U.S. authorities and to press for prosecution of those responsible. It is also a critical time to press other governments, many of which have been quick to condemn the U.S. for its actions at Abu Ghraib, to investigate and prosecute torture and mistreatment in their own holding cells, detention facilities, and prisons.

Further Reading
  More HRW Work on Torture
Latest press releases, letters to government officials, background briefings, and op-eds.

U.S. Torture and Abuse of Detainees
Help Human Rights Watch end the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and Iraq.

“Outsourcing” Torture
Governments are returning alleged terrorist or national security suspects to countries where they are at risk of torture or ill-treatment.


HRW Reports on Torture
  "Making Their Own Rules": Police Beatings, Rape, and Torture of Children in Papua New Guinea

Getting Away with Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees

Still at Risk: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard Against Torture

Egypt: Mass Arrests and Torture in Sinai

The New Iraq? Torture and Ill-Treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody

Morocco: Human Rights at a Crossroads

The United States' "Disappeared:" The CIA's Long-Term "Ghost Detainees"

Aceh at War: Torture, Ill-Treatment, and Unfair Trials

Eradicating Torture in Turkey's Police Stations: Analysis and Recommendations

The Road to Abu Ghraib

Torture, Detention, and the Crushing of Dissent in Iran

Counterterrorism and Human Rights Abuses Under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act

Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard against Torture

Religious Persecution in Uzbekistan

Torture in Uganda

Egypt’s Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct

Egyptian Security Forces Abuse of Anti-War Demonstrators

Abuses Against Detained Children in Northern Brazil

The Legitimization of Murder and Torture in Nigeria

Torture, Forced Disappearances, and Extrajudicial Killings in Chechnya

Torture in Uzbekistan