In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Torture

  • Introduction
  • Definition of Torture
  • Torture by Non-State Actors
  • Vulnerable Groups
  • A War Crime or Crime against Humanity
  • Victims

International Law Torture
Jamil Mujuzi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0083


The use of torture especially to seek the truth has been known to humankind for centuries. Like the use of torture, the campaign to stop the use of torture has also been ongoing for many decades. Each generation has seen new methods of torture being introduced. Torture methods are becoming more sophisticated over time. Although torture is practiced in many countries, torturers deny the use of torture. The issue of torture has been studied by scholars of different backgrounds. These have included historians, philosophers, physicians, penal reformers, human rights activists, and others. It is beyond the scope of this entry to extensively or even briefly discuss the issue of torture from many different perspectives. This being an entry under international law, the discussion will be limited to the issue of torture in international law. The prohibition against torture is part of customary international law. In fact the prohibition against torture is a jus cogens—a peremptory norm in international law (see General Comment No. 2, cited under Definition of Torture). Torture is prohibited in various international human rights instruments, humanitarian law instruments, regional human rights instruments, and national constitutions. International human rights bodies such as the Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee and international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have jurisdiction over people who commit torture either as a war crime or a crime against humanity. Torture is also punishable in different national jurisdictions and the Convention against Torture obliges states parties to prosecute or extradite for prosecution people alleged to have committed torture. Although the prohibition against torture is not in dispute, scholars have debated and continue to debate the meaning of torture: who can and should be prosecuted for torture; whether there are circumstances in which the use of torture could be justified; the issue of torture in extradition and in the context of punishment; the use of torture in the fight against terrorism and in particular the issue of rendition; the differences between torture and other forms of ill-treatment; and the failure to hold some individuals criminally and in civil courts for torture, among other issues.

General Overviews

Two broad subsections will be dealt with here. The first subsection will briefly deal with the history of torture generally, that is, in a classical sense, and the second subsection will deal with the issue of torture in international human rights law.

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