Tide against torture

A clear majority in 19 major countries — representing 60 per cent of the world’s population — has voiced opposition to the state resorting to torture even against terrorists with the potential to destroy innocent lives. Overall, well over 90 per cent of the people disapprove of the practice under all circumstances, says a survey under the University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes. The findings call into serious question the legitimacy of national laws that sanction the infliction of physical or mental pain and suffering as part of the interrogation process. Whereas people in 14 countries endorse unequivocal rules against torture, those in four are for making an exception in the case of terrorists. The study reflects a strong correlation between occurrence (or non-occurrence) of terrorist attacks and opinion on torture. India leads the table of countries where the majority endorses the use of torture against terrorists, and it is followed by Nigeria and Turkey. South Korea, Egypt and the United States that have experienced terrorist violence report increased support for a selective resort to harsh methods. Conversely, a plurality of geographically and politically diverse regions including major European countries, China, Mexico, and the Ukraine favour unambiguous rules against torture.

Protecting people from inhuman and degrading treatment assumes particular significance in the context of proliferating national laws that authorise prolonged detention of suspects in the global war on terror. The landmark ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteeing the right of habeas corpus to suspects held in Guantánamo sends out a powerful message to other countries that have enacted harsh legislation. One such enactment was the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act in India. Although the draconian law has been scrapped by the United Progressive Alliance government, the country is yet to ratify the 1987 United Nations Convention against Torture. India’s place as a major power cannot be sustained without a regime of civil and political liberties that is on a par with the best practices elsewhere.

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