Ban on torture

No one shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The prohibition on torture today can be said to be an international human rights instrument that a State cannot waive. Sweden works actively against all forms of torture and corporal punishment.

The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted in 1984, aims to prevent torture and create a system of safeguards to ensure those who conduct or have conducted torture are punished.

A definition of what is encompassed by the term torture is found in Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture, which states that torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person. The act is performed by or on behalf of a person representing the State and for a specific purpose (such as obtaining a confession). 

Inhuman treatment
The terms inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have not been defined and the difference between torture, on the one hand, and inhuman or degrading treatment on the other, is unclear. Degrading treatment is any act that inflicts fear, anguish or a feeling of humiliation or inferiority. The treatment or punishment must be of a certain severity in order to be termed inhuman or degrading. The determination of whether an act constitutes inhuman treatment depends on the circumstances in each individual case, including such factors as the age, gender and health status of the person subjected to the treatment, as well as the methods used and the duration of the punishment.

Sexual abuse
Rape and other forms of sexual abuse are commonly occurring forms of torture, directed particularly at women.  No forms of torture or other cruel or degrading treatment are ever acceptable under any circumstances, no matter what the purpose.

Expulsion of individuals at risk of torture
The ban against torture is also important for an individual who has well-founded reason to believe that he or she would be subjected to torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment if he or she were to be extradited or expelled to a certain State. The UN Convention against Torture (Article 3) contains a special prohibition against expulsion in such cases.

Sweden has a long tradition of actively combating all forms of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment. The work against torture is conducted within the framework of the UN, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as in bilateral contacts with countries in which torture occurs. 

EU cooperation
Much of the work today is coordinated within the EU in accordance with the EU Guidelines against torture. The Guidelines were drawn up and adopted during the Swedish Presidency of the EU in spring 2001.

Review and compliance of the rights
Under Article 17 of the UN Convention against Torture, a Committee against Torture has been established with the task of reviewing how States apply the Guidelines set forth in the Convention. 

The Contracting States shall submit regular reports to the Committee on the measures that have been and are being taken to implement the Convention. Following a review of the report, the Committee meets with representatives of the government in question to make queries and request clarifications. On completion of its review, the Committee submits its ‘concluding observations and recommendations’ regarding the individual State’s application of the Convention.

Complaints from individuals
Under the UN Convention against Torture, the Committee can receive intergovernmental and individual complaints. To enable the Committee to consider such complaints, Articles 21 and 22 state that special explanations or statements are required from the States involved in a case.