The Abolition of Torture
Torture is a crime and the biblical mandate is clear that evil must cease and evil deeds must stop. "Cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." (Isaiah 1:17 NRSV) The Social Principles remind United Methodists that the "use of detention and imprisonment for the harassment and elimination of political opponents or other dissidents violates fundamental human rights. Furthermore, the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever it occurs." (Social Principles ¶ 164A)
The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force June 26, 1987. The Convention is a key tool to fight torture and other forms of ill-treatment and protect the rights of the survivors, the women, children, and men in every country. By 2007, 144 governments had ratified the Convention but in102 of these countries there were cases of torture and ill-treatment by security forces, police, and other state authorities, according to Amnesty International.1 Torture is defined 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 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."2 (Part I, article 1 of the Convention against Torture . . . )
The biblical mandate is clear. It is not enough to cease evil. It is imperative to "learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan[, and] plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17 NRSV). The International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) proclaimed, on their 20th anniversary in 2007, ". . . we are bearers of the values of the Gospel, those which Christ- who experienced torture-taught us, among which figure the absolute condemnation of torture, but also the proclamation of truth, of justice of love and of life . . . "3 Justice "is a key element in the abolition of torture. Torturers must be tried and condemned if guilty. Victims must be rehabilitated and compensated."4
In the United States the religious community's struggle against torture is inter-religious. The National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT) has a membership of over 115 religious organizations including Christians (Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Orthodox), Unitarians, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities. Their demands for swift passage of legislation in the United States Congress: 1) to prohibit " . . . without exception, all US-sponsored torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees" 2) to prohibit the practice by the United States of apprehending suspects and transporting them to countries that use torture as an interrogation technique, and 3) to prohibit the use by the United States of secret prisons for their detainees anywhere in the world.5
On June 26, 2007, the United Nations International Day to Remember the Victims of Torture, several religious leaders, representing member organizations of NRCAT, spoke. Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America, noted, "Torture is a major transgression of God's limits. The impact of such a transgression is not just on the victim, but on the souls of those engaged in and complicit in the evil act." Rabbi Gerry Serrota, Chair of the Board of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, joined her, ". . . torture shatters and defiles God's image . . . meaning that torture violates the tortured human being, who was created in the likeness of God, as well as the torturer's human soul, which is inevitably defiled and compromised in dishonoring the image of God in his victim." And, Dr. Charles Gutenson, an evangelical leader and Professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, adds, "Jesus not only commanded, but also modeled a way of life that refused to repay evil with evil. When his enemies came for him, he embodied that call to love our enemies. How then can we who seek to imitate this Jesus ever see torture as a legitimate tool wielded to serve our own purposes"6
In 2001 the World Council of Churches sent a message to FIACAT. In this message Dr. Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (1993-003), reminded that, "The practice of torture became more widespread during the peak of military dictatorships and authoritarian rule in the 70s and the 80s. With the end of the Cold War and the popular demand for democratization and political reforms in many regions, it was hoped that this practice would disappear. This, however, did not happen and torture is still prevalent in many parts of the world. It is now not only practiced by the security forces of the state, but also by private armed groups that are at war not only with the state but also amongst themselves."7
In December 2004, Dr. Samuel Kobia, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (2004-) also writes to FIACAT, "Despite the progress on human rights concerns in recent years, the practice of torture continues unabated. In fact, since the September 11th attacks in New York that gave rise to an increase in emergency legislation against terrorism, the practice of torture has increased. In some societies, it has been given a legal cover thus allowing impunity to the perpetrators."8
In a June 26, 2007 statement, signed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the President and Secretary General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and read around the world: " In the wake of a series of horrific attacks against civilian targets in a number of countries across the world in recent years, we have seen the absolute prohibition against torture come under enormous pressure in the context of the ill-labeled "War on Terror": outright torture, directly or by proxy; detainees being transferred to secret prisons by clandestine flights; multiyear detention without trial; and full fledged disappearances. Phenomena associated with history's most repugnant and brutal regimes, but recently employed, directly or with complicity, by otherwise democratic countries." In their statement, the signatories honored the "dignity of torture survivors worldwide and acknowledged the extraordinary courage it takes to attempt to rebuild a life that has been shattered by this heinous crime. We also remind the world that the rehabilitation of torture survivors is not an act of charity, but an inalienable right. And not least, we stress that rebuilding individual lives and families goes hand in hand with restoring broken societies."9
- The United Methodist Church must continue to publicly condemn and oppose torture wherever it occurs through legislative and other means. The Council of Bishops and all agencies of the church must work together to develop resources and find ways to keep the information about torture, its perpetrators, the victims, their families, and their communities continuously in the consciousness of United Methodists.
- United Methodists must take time in their churches, women's, youth and men's groups to study, reflect, and pray about how to abolish torture and live out the biblical mandate to "love our neighbors" even in the midst of a "war on terror."10
- United Methodists must seek to ensure the ratification by and compliance of their governments with the provisions of the Convention against Torture and all internationally accepted norms and standards on the prevention of torture; fully support the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and honor their international obligations to prosecute alleged perpetrators of torture.
- United Methodists should encourage initiatives to establish international strategies to abolish all forms of torture.
- United Methodists must express their solidarity with churches and peoples everywhere in the common struggle to have the provisions of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture strictly applied in all countries. And, United Methodists should organize or join events such as the 26th of June, the United Nations International Day to Remember the Victims of Torture.
- United Methodists should seek access to places of detention and interrogation centers in order to ensure that persons held are not mistreated. Treatment of prisoners should not be contrary to the Geneva Convention Relative to Treatment of Prisoners of War (1949) particularly Articles 13, 14, 15, 17, 18.11
- United Methodists should find ways to ensure the inalienable right of survivors of torture to rehabilitation, access to adequate reparations, including medical and psychological rehabilitation, restitution, compensation, satisfaction, and the guarantee of nonrepetition. It is recommended that The United Methodist Church work in partnership with international organizations, such as the Center for Victims of Torture, which have for many years developed the skills to care for victims of torture. Most organizations have Centers around the world sensitive to the language and culture of the victims and their families.
- United Methodists should urge governments to fully fund the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture which was established in1981 for humanitarian, legal and financial aid to persons who have been tortured and to members of their families.12
- Amnesty International Report 2007: FACTS and FIGURES, press release, 5/23/2007 web site:
- Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984, entry into force 26 June, 1987, in accordance with article 27 (1)-Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, web site:
- International Federation of Action by Christians for the abolition of Torture, FIACAT is twenty years old, statement from Sylvie Bukhari-de Pontual, President of FIACAT-FIACAT. NEWS NO. 67.
- FIACAT Charter, Section on Impunity, second paragraph, web site: cat.org>
- National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT) WHAT WE ARE ASKING FOR: paraphrase of the entire Section, web site: www.nrcat.org Note: Both the Board of Global Ministries and Church and Society of the United Methodist Church belong to NRCAT.
- NRCAT Press Release June 26, 2007, Religious Leaders' Message to Congress: Restore Habeas Corpus, Abolish Torture.
- Message from Dr. Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches in support of the International Campaign against the Practice of Torture sent Monday, 12 February 2001 to the International Federation of Actions by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) web site:
- Message by Dr. Sam Kobia, General Secretary of the WCC to the FIACAT, Paris, 3rd December 2004
- International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) Global Reading on 26 June 2007, a statement signed by Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Abdel Hamid Afana, President of IRCT, and Brita Sydhoff, Secretary General of IRCT, web
- Letter to the United Methodist Women on Torture, May 11, 2005, sent by Kyung Za Yim, President , Women's Division, Global Ministries, United Methodist Church, and Jan Love, Deputy General Secretary, Women's Division. Paraphrase from the letter.
- Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, adopted on 12 August 1949 by the Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of International Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War, held in Geneva from 21 April to 12 August 1949, entered into force: 21 October 1950, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Web site:
- Fact Sheet No.4, Methods of Combating Torture, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
See Social Principles, ¶ 165C and D.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.