United Nations Convention against Torture
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT)) is an international human rights treaty, under the review of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.
states that have signed, but not ratified
states that have not signed
|Type||Human rights convention|
|Drafted||10 December 1984|
|Signed||4 February 1985|
|Effective||26 June 1987|
|Languages||Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish|
The Convention requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction, and forbids states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.
The text of the Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1984 and, following ratification by the 20th state party, it came into force on 26 June 1987. 26 June is now recognized as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, in honor of the Convention. Since the convention's entry into force, the absolute prohibition against torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment has become accepted as a principle of customary international law. As of October 2019, the Convention has 169 state parties.
The Covenant follows the structure of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), with a preamble and 33 articles, divided into three parts:
Part I (Articles 1–16) contains a definition of torture (Article 1), and commits parties to taking effective measures to prevent any act of torture in any territory under their jurisdiction (Article 2). These include ensuring that torture is a criminal offense under a party's municipal law (Article 4), establishing jurisdiction over acts of torture committed by or against a party's nationals (Article 5), ensuring that torture is an extraditable offense (Article 8), and establishing universal jurisdiction to try cases of torture where an alleged torturer cannot be extradited (Article 5). Parties must promptly investigate any allegation of torture (Articles 12 and 13), and victims of torture, or their dependents in case victims died as a result of torture, must have an enforceable right to compensation (Article 14). Parties must also ban the use of evidence produced by torture in their courts (Article 15), and are barred from deporting, extraditing, or refouling people where there are substantial grounds for believing they will be tortured (Article 3).
Parties are required to train and educate their law enforcement personnel, civilian or military personnel, medical personnel, public officials, and other persons involved in the custody, interrogation, or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention, or imprisonment, regarding the prohibition against torture (Article 10). Parties also must keep interrogation rules, instructions, methods, and practices under systematic review regarding individuals who are under custody or physical control in any territory under their jurisdiction, in order to prevent all acts of torture (Article 11).
Parties are also obliged to prevent all acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in any territory under their jurisdiction, and to investigate any allegation of such treatment. (Article 16).
Part II (Articles 17–24) governs reporting and monitoring of the Convention and the steps taken by the parties to implement it. It establishes the Committee against Torture (Article 17), and empowers it to investigate allegations of systematic torture (Article 20). It also establishes an optional dispute-resolution mechanism between parties (Article 21) and allows parties to recognize the competence of the Committee to hear complaints from individuals about violations of the Convention by a party (Article 22).
Part III (Articles 25–33) governs ratification, entry into force, and amendment of the Convention. It also includes an optional arbitration mechanism for disputes between parties (Article 30).
Definition of torture
Article 1.1 of the Convention defines torture as:
For the purpose of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.
The words "inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions" remain vague and very broad. It is extremely difficult to determine what sanctions are 'inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions' in a particular legal system and what are not. The drafters of the Convention neither provided any criteria for making such determination nor did it define the terms. The nature of the findings would so differ from one legal system to another that they would give rise to serious disputes among the Parties to the Convention. It was suggested that the reference to such rules would make the issue more complicated, for it would endow the rules with a semblance of legal binding force. This allows state parties to pass domestic laws that permit acts of torture that they believe are within the lawful sanctions clause. However, the most widely adopted interpretation of the lawful sanctions clause is that it refers to sanctions authorized by international law. Pursuant to this interpretation, only sanctions that are authorized by international law will fall within this exclusion. The interpretation of the lawful sanctions clause leaves no scope of application and is widely debated by authors, historians, and scholars alike.
Ban on torture
Article 2 prohibits torture, and requires parties to take effective measures to prevent it in any territory under their jurisdiction. This prohibition is absolute and non-derogable. "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever" may be invoked to justify torture, including war, threat of war, internal political instability, public emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, or any form of armed conflict. In other words, torture cannot be justified as a means to protect public safety or prevent emergencies. Subordinates who commit acts of torture cannot abstain themselves from legal responsibility on the grounds that they were just following orders from their superiors.
The prohibition on torture applies to anywhere under a party's effective jurisdiction inside or outside of its borders, whether on board its ships or aircraft or in its military occupations, military bases, peacekeeping operations, health care industries, schools, day care centers, detention centers, embassies, or any other of its areas, and protects all people under its effective control, regardless of nationality or how that control is exercised.
Ban on refoulement
Article 3 prohibits parties from returning, extraditing, or refouling any person to a state "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." The Committee against Torture has held that this danger must be assessed not just for the initial receiving state, but also to states to which the person may be subsequently expelled, returned or extradited.
Ban on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
Article 16 requires parties to prevent "other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1" in any territory under their jurisdiction. Because it is often difficult to distinguish between cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and torture, the Committee regards Article 16's prohibition of such act as similarly absolute and non-derogable.
Signatories and ratifications
|Participant||Signature||Ratification, accession (a), succession (d)|
|4 February 1985||1 April 1987|
|11 May 1994 a|
|26 November 1985||12 September 1989|
|24 September 2013||2 October 2019|
|5 August 2002||22 September 2006|
|19 July 1993 a|
|4 February 1985||24 September 1986|
|13 September 1993 a|
|10 December 1985||8 August 1989|
|14 March 1985||29 July 1987|
|16 August 1996 a|
|16 December 2008||31 May 2018|
|6 March 1998 a|
|5 October 1998 a|
|19 December 1985||13 March 1987 (as the |
|4 February 1985||25 June 1999|
|17 March 1986 a|
|12 March 1992 a|
|4 February 1985||12 April 1999|
|1 September 1993 d|
|8 September 2000||8 September 2000|
|23 September 1985||28 September 1989|
|22 September 2015|
|10 June 1986||16 December 1986|
|4 January 1999 a|
|18 February 1993 a|
|4 June 1992 a|
|15 October 1992 a|
|19 December 1986 a|
|23 August 1985||24 June 1987|
|11 October 2016 a|
|9 June 1995 a|
|23 September 1987||30 September 1988|
|12 December 1986||4 October 1988|
|10 April 1985||8 December 1987|
|22 September 2000|
|30 July 2003 a|
|4 February 1985||11 November 1993|
|18 December 1995 a|
|12 October 1992 d|
|27 January 1986||17 May 1995|
|9 October 1985||18 July 1991|
|22 February 1993 d (previously ratified by |
|18 March 1996 a (as |
|4 February 1985||27 May 1987|
|5 November 2002 a|
|4 February 1985||24 January 2012|
|4 February 1985||30 March 1988|
|25 June 1986 a|
|17 June 1996 a|
|8 October 2002 a|
|25 September 2014 a|
|21 October 1991 a|
|14 March 1994 a|
|1 March 2016||16 March 2016|
|4 February 1985||30 August 1989|
|4 February 1985||18 February 1986|
|21 January 1986||8 September 2000|
|23 October 1985||28 September 2018|
|26 October 1994 a|
|13 October 1986||1 October 1990 (Signed as the |
|7 September 2000||7 September 2000|
|4 February 1985||6 October 1988|
|26 September 2019 a|
|5 January 1990 a|
|30 May 1986||10 October 1989|
|12 September 2000||24 September 2013|
|25 January 1988||19 May 1988|
|26 June 2002 a|
|5 December 1996 a|
|28 November 1986||15 April 1987|
|4 February 1985||23 October 1996|
|14 October 1997|
|23 October 1985||28 October 1998|
|7 July 2011 a|
|28 September 1992||11 April 2002|
|22 October 1986||3 October 1991|
|4 February 1985||12 January 1989, 5 July 2017 a|
|29 June 1999 a|
|13 November 1991 a|
|26 August 1998 a|
|21 February 1997 a|
|22 July 2019 a|
|8 March 1996 a|
|5 September 1997 a|
|21 September 2010||26 September 2012|
|14 April 1992 a|
|5 October 2000 a|
|12 November 2001 a|
|22 September 2004 a|
|16 May 1989 a (then |
|27 June 1985||2 November 1990|
|1 February 1996 a|
|22 February 1985||29 September 1987|
|1 October 2001||13 December 2005|
|11 June 1996 a|
|20 April 2004 a|
|26 February 1999 a|
|13 September 1990 a|
|12 March 2018 a|
|17 November 2004 a|
|9 December 1992 a|
|18 March 1985||23 January 1986|
|6 December 1991 a|
|24 January 2002 a|
|23 October 2006 d|
|8 January 1986||21 June 1993|
|14 September 1999 a|
|28 November 1994 a|
|12 November 2001||26 September 2012|
|14 May 1991 a|
|4 February 1985||21 December 1988|
|14 January 1986||10 December 1989|
|15 April 1985||5 July 2005|
|5 October 1998 a|
|28 July 1988||28 June 2001|
|4 February 1985||9 July 1986|
|17 April 2008||3 June 2010|
|20 September 2011|
|2 April 2014 a|
|22 February 1985||24 August 1987|
|23 October 1989||12 March 1990|
|29 May 1985||7 July 1988|
|18 June 1986 a|
|13 January 1986||26 July 1989|
|4 February 1985||9 February 1989|
|11 January 2000 a|
|9 January 1995 a|
|28 November 1995 a|
|18 December 1990 a|
|10 December 1985||3 March 1987 (ratified as the |
|15 December 2008 a|
|1 August 2001 a|
|28 March 2019 a|
|18 September 2002||27 November 2006|
|6 September 2000||10 January 2017|
|23 September 1997 a|
|4 February 1985||21 August 1986|
|12 March 2001 d (ratified as the |
|5 May 1992 a|
|18 March 1985||25 April 2001|
|28 May 1993 d (previously ratified by |
|16 July 1993 a|
|24 January 1990 a|
|29 January 1993||10 December 1998|
|30 April 2015 a|
|4 February 1985||21 October 1987|
|3 January 1994 a|
|4 June 1986|
|26 March 2004 a|
|4 February 1985||8 January 1986|
|4 February 1985||2 December 1986|
|19 August 2004 a|
|11 January 1995 a|
|2 October 2007 a|
|12 December 1994 d|
|16 April 2003 a|
|25 March 1987||18 November 1987|
|26 August 1987||23 September 1988|
|25 January 1988||2 August 1988|
|25 June 1999 a|
|3 November 1986 a|
|27 February 1986||24 February 1987 (ratified as the |
|19 July 2012 a|
|15 March 1985||8 December 1988|
|18 April 1988||21 October 1994 (With specific reservations detailed here.) As of 10 December 2018, the United States of America is not party to the 2002 Optional Protocol.|
|4 February 1985||24 October 1986|
|28 September 1995 a|
|12 July 2011 a|
|15 February 1985||29 July 1991|
|7 November 2013||5 February 2015|
|5 November 1991 a|
|7 October 1998 a|
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 2002 and in force since 22 June 2006, provides for the establishment of "a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," to be overseen by a Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Committee against Torture
The Committee against Torture (CAT) is a body of human rights experts that monitors implementation of the Convention by State parties. The Committee is one of eight UN-linked human rights treaty bodies. All state parties are obliged under the Convention to submit regular reports to the CAT on how rights are being implemented. Upon ratifying the Convention, states must submit a report within one year, after which they are obliged to report every four years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of "concluding observations." Under certain circumstances, the CAT may consider complaints or communications from individuals claiming that their rights under the Convention have been violated.
The CAT usually meets in April/May and November each year in Geneva. Members are elected to four-year terms by State parties and can be re-elected if nominated. The current membership of the CAT, as of September 2017:
|Ms. Essadia BELMIR (Vice-Chairperson)||31 December 2021|
|Mr. Diego RODRÍGUEZ-PINZÓN||31 December 2021|
|Felice Gaer (vice-chair)||31 December 2019|
|Abdelwahab Hani||31 December 2019|
|Claude Heller Rouassant (vice-chair)||31 December 2019|
|Jens Modvig (chair)||31 December 2021|
|Mr. Bakhtiyar TUZMUKHAMEDOV||31 December 2021|
|Ana Racu||31 December 2019|
|Sébastien Touze (Rapporteur)||31 December 2019|
|Ms. Honghong ZHANG||31 December 2021|
- United Nations Treaty Collection: Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Retrieved on 26 June 2018.
- General Assembly resolution 40/128 (13 December 1985), Status of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, A/RES/40/128, under 2.
- Convention Against Torture Archived 9 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Article 27. Retrieved on 30 December 2008.
- Convention Against Torture Archived 9 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Article 25. Retrieved on 30 December 2008.
- Convention Against Torture Archived 9 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Article 33. Retrieved on 30 December 2008.
- "CAT General Comment No. 2: Implementation of Article 2 by States Parties" (PDF). Committee against Torture. 23 November 2007. p. 2. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
- Ronli Sifris (4 December 2013). Reproductive Freedom, Torture and International Human Rights: Challenging the Masculinisation of Torture. Routledge. p. 145.
- Article 2.2 Retrieved on 22 January 2015.
- Convention Against Torture Archived 9 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Article 3.1. Retrieved on 30 December 2008.
- "CAT General Comment No. 01: Implementation of article 3 of the Convention in the context of article 22". UN OHCHR. 21 November 1997. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
- "Italy passes law making torture a crime, critics say full of holes". Reuters. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
- "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment - Addendum to Initial reports of States parties due in 1995" (PDF). U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
- "9.b Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment". United Nations Treaty Collection. United Nations. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
- OPCAT, Article 1.
- "Committee Against Torture – Membership". United Nations OHCHR. 2009. Archived from the original on 14 February 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Official text of the Convention
- List of parties
- Optional Protocol
- U.N. Committee against Torture
- Human Rights Watch summary of the Convention
- List of links to other related documents
- Human Rights First; Tortured Justice: Using Coerced Evidence to Prosecute Terrorist Suspects (2008)
- Human Rights First; Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality
- International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT); What is torture? Defining torture
- Introductory note by Hans Danelius, procedural history note and audiovisual material on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in the Historic Archives of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law
- UN Convention against Torture (1984-2014) - Research Guide, UNOG Library
- UN Convention against Torture (1984-2014) - Bibliography (Books/Articles), UNOG Library