There can be no justification for using torture in the fight against terrorism
Piya Muqit says our need to feel safe may lead some to overlook the costs of such a crime against humanity, but the practice of torture is ultimately ineffective and brings only a false sense of security
On June 26 all over the world, survivors of torture are being honoured by the United Nations, nation states, civil society, the public, and their families and loved ones. Some remain incarcerated, others are on the move seeking sanctuary, and the fortunate ones are making the transition to health.
The practice of torture is not a relic of our past. Like genocide, it is abhorred but still happening today, part and parcel of some people’s lives across every continent in the world. There is not one nation state that can sincerely claim to be “torture free”.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, many countries reintroduced torture within a raft of measures in the fight against terrorism. The public’s need to feel safe means some are willing to stomach the unpalatable, and allows some state and some non-state actors to torture civilians with impunity. America’s use of waterboarding was a clear marker of the regression of the developed world and the lack of respect to human rights standards in place since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
In Hong Kong, we enjoy the protections enshrined in the Convention against Torture while in mainland China, lawyers have been detained and tortured for trying to take the government to task on human rights abuses. As a lawyer myself, I feel grateful for the privilege of challenging my own government in the UK when representing survivors of human rights abuses without the fear of reprisals from the state.
In serving the migrant population in Hong Kong and ensuring they have meaningful access to justice, I continue to be thankful for the rule of law and the institutions that enforce it here.
My fraternity across the border cannot seek torture rehabilitation services for those who desperately need them to start the long road to recovery for the trauma they have undergone. Even when the visible physical wounds have healed, the mental scarring will be with them throughout their lives. Having worked with thousands of victims throughout my career, I’ve come to realise the common thread that links them is resilience.
The survivors of torture deserve to be celebrated.
There can be no justification for torture. They are vile acts amounting to crimes against humanity. Is the sacrifice in our freedoms worth the false sense of security it brings?
In Hong Kong, acts of torture are the exception but shifts in the political landscape mean there are no guarantees the Convention against Torture will continue to be respected by all.
Piya Muqit is the executive director of Justice Centre Hong Kong, which is a beneficiary of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture