The real costs of torture

Friday, March 24, 2017

Quite rightly most work to prevent and prohibit torture is based on protecting vulnerable persons and rehabilitating the dignity of victims and their relatives. To better protect the rights of these persons more needs to be said about the devastating cost of torture for their societies, judicial systems, health and education services, law enforcement agencies, national economies as well as for governments and their reputations to govern competently and justly.

It is now well documented how permanently harmful torture is for victims who survive the sheer savagery of torture. What happens to them and their families afterwards? Those lucky enough to get medical assistance may be partially alleviated from some of the physical and psychological pain and trauma but do they get compensation, do they see their torturers punished for their crimes? Although progress has been made over the last few decades we still have our work cut out to ensure that all countries have laws, which are applied, to criminalise acts of torture and thus bring perpetrators to justice. Yet the price to pay for these gross acts of injustice is much higher and with widespread social and economic effects.

Law enforcement agencies that use torture as part of their interrogation techniques choose to operate by fear rather than cooperation with fellow citizens whose rights they are in theory meant to protect. Any relationship of trust and confidence with communities, especially those subject to some social or political discrimination, will always be seriously damaged if law enforcement agencies revert to such abusive methods. Subsequently, maintaining law and order will always be a major and expensive challenge with citizens who don’t trust policing bodies to act in an unprejudiced and law-abiding manner.  Such a crisis in policing usually fosters further conflict and instability.

Judicial systems should normally protect us from the horrors of torture and other abuses of power. However, if proper legislation is not in place and judges, public prosecutors and lawyers don’t exercise their functions freely and effectively we are denied this protection. The result is terrible for victims of abuse and crime. Furthermore it undermines the credibility of the judiciary. How do any of us survive in dysfunctional justice systems? Through bribery and corruption, privileged contacts or taking the law into our own hands? Where does that lead us?

Most of us expect health services to look after us but they are also seriously challenged to deal adequately with the victims of ill-treatment and often have poor practices in dealing with persons with psycho-social disorders. Worst still some physicians are persuaded to authorise, condone and even participate in coercive interrogation techniques that amount to torture. Where does that leave those services and our faith in the medical profession?

More needs to be known about the impact of torture and ill-treatment practices on economic development. Unless you’re in the arms trade or selling torture equipment most international business will be reluctant to invest in economies where there is social conflict, political unrest and instability, brutal repression and an absence of the rule of law.  Dysfunctional justice and penal systems also undermine the confidence in national economies with negative consequences on national savings, consumption and investment.

Countries in conflict usually struggle to survive economically and the exodus of refugees from conflict zones only heightens their economic woes, let alone the extra and imposed financial burdens that recipient countries must somehow afford. Refugees and victims of torture encounter serious difficulties of reintegrating themselves into societies and the labour market. Well qualified persons are left unemployed, underemployed and uprooted.
One advantage of the current increased transparency of the operations of the global economy is the corresponding increase of scrutiny of investment practices. This can have enormous effects on company reputations, share prices and profits. Good governance and sound management practice now usually attracts responsible investment and sustainable growth.

Since last year all UN Member States countries have quite rightly committed themselves to Sustainable Development Goals. My advice to them if they want to achieve “Peaceful, just and inclusive societies” is don’t torture. The widespread costs are diametrically opposed and counter-productive to such laudable goals. A thorough multi-disciplinary academic research on the real costs of torture could easily show that. All societies ought to know the truth and get the full picture. Torture is illegal, unethical and toxic for all societies.