Torture spreading as glorified by TV: Amnesty

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, poses for the photographers with a copy of a global report on the use of torture, following its launch in London, Monday, May 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

LONDON: Torture is rampant across the world and has become almost normalized by the “war on terror” and its glamorous portrayal in shows such as “24” and “Homeland,” Amnesty said Tuesday.

The London-based human rights group is launching a new campaign aimed at ending torture, which it says remains widespread even 30 years after a blanket prohibition was agreed by the United Nations.

In the past five years, Amnesty says it has recorded incidents in 141 countries, including 79 of the 155 signatories to the 1984 U.N. Convention against Torture.

The survey of 21,000 people in 21 countries also revealed a widespread dread of the practice, with 44 percent saying they feared being abused if they were taken into custody.

Yet over a third percent of the respondents said they believed torture was sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public.

“It’s almost become normalized, it’s become routine,” Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty said at the launch of the “Stop Torture” campaign in London. “Since the so-called war against terrorism, the use of torture, particularly in the United States and their sphere of influence ... has got so much more normalized as part of national security expectations.”

Support for torture ranged widely across nations, from 74 percent in China and India, to just 12 percent in Greece and 15 percent in Argentina, the GlobeScan survey found.

In Britain, which had the lowest fear of torture among all the countries, 29 percent backed its use – a fact Amnesty country director Kate Allen attributed to the popularity of violent, spy-based TV shows.

“Programs like ‘24’ and ‘Homeland’ have glorified torture to a generation, but there’s a massive difference between a dramatic depiction by screenwriters and its real-life use by government agents in torture chambers,” she said.

The group notes how the U.N. Convention made torturers “international outlaws” and prompted governments worldwide to denounce the practice. But it warns that in reality many are endorsing or at least failing to tackle the issue head-on.

It described police brutality in Asia, where torture is a “fact of life,” and pointed out that more than 30 countries in Africa have yet to make such abuse punishable by law.

Shetty spoke of “the cruelty of inmates in the U.S. being held in solitary confinement with no light,” of stoning and flogging in the Mideast and of the “stubborn failure” of EU nations to investigate allegations of complicity in torture.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 14, 2014, on page 10.




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