Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’
This right has also been recognised by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in which Article 7 establishes that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.’
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as:
‘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.’
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has explained the difference between torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. According to him:
‘the distinguishing factor is not the intensity of the suffering inflicted, but rather the purpose of the conduct, the intention of the perpetrator and the powerlessness of the victim. Torture constitutes such a horrible assault on the dignity of a human being because the torturer deliberately inflicts severe pain or suffering on a powerless victim for a specific purpose, such as extracting a confession or information from the victim.’
At a regional level, American Convention on Human Right (Pact of San Jose) recognizes in its Article 5 the right to humane treatment, and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in its Article 3 establishes the prohibition of torture, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples´Rights in Article 5 states the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This right is also recognized in the Arab Charter on Human Rights, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and the Commonwealth of Independent States Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and the right to a healthy environment
The prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and the right to healthy environment become linked in such circumstances as when excessive use of force is applied against protesters, including environmental defenders, or when State agents commit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment against those seeking to prevent environmental degradation or destruction.
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has explained this further, by affirming that ‘any use of force by State agents exceeding what is necessary and proportionate in the circumstances to achieve a lawful purpose is regarded as an attack on human dignity amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, irrespective of whether that excess occurred intentionally or inadvertently.’ These same principles are also applicable to private security personnel.
Moreover, the Framework Principles On Human Rights And The Environment affirm that States should respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in relation to environmental matters, and in that sense, they ‘may never respond to the exercise of these rights with excessive or indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary arrest or detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearance, the misuse of criminal laws, stigmatization or the threats of such acts.’