Training Law Enforcement for Prevention of Ill-Treatment and Torture

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Who are the torturers?

Jeanne Sarson, Canada


Vernon, I would be interested to have the source for this example you give as I try to keep such information on file if you can share it.

As to the knowledge of the spillover effect that might/can occur as a consequence of a person’s engagement in the act of torturing there seems limited knowledge. However, in the book, Doctors and Torture Collaboration or Resistance by Amnesty International Medical Commission and Valérie Marange, 1989, pp. xii-xiii, there is a recount about a police inspector whose ‘work’ in Algeria was to torture up to ten hours at a time. His torturing work spilled over into the torturing of his wife and children.

My colleague and I have just submitted an article to a journal on this reality of spillover torture that suggestively can/might occur as a result of warring/combat ordeals. In the listening to women who speak of their ordeals of experiencing torture inflicted in the domestic sphere, some are of the opinion that dehumanizing warring ordeals experienced by the person turned torturer contributed to their torture victimization. Other  suggestions are that some of the torture suffered may have been learned from military training and translated into the infliction of torture to derive sadistic pleasure, express power and control and domination.

There is also a book by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman entitled, On Killing, 1995, about the psychological impact that learning to kill can/might have and in this book there is a small section that speaks to the potential for spillover sexualized violence because the soldier connected the high of killing to a sexual climax. As a species we are capable of unconscionable atrocities such as torture that are almost beyond emotional release, carrying such exposures is known as the post traumatic responses of soldiers. How an individual replays their release can be expressed in violence, such as femicides, suicides, and in some cases according to our listening as torturing. We have much to learn about ourselves.

Respectfully submitted,  

Jeanne Sarson

The term torture

Jeanne Sarson, Canada

Thanks for your comments. It is always helpful to reconsider how I have explained myself. I agree that the reality of ‘torture’ is not to be applied loosely but it must be applied justly and equally, meaning that women and men have equal worth and dignity not to be subjected to torture in both the so called public/ private spheres. A consideration that torture has occurred in the public sphere requires testing, so should similar violent acts that are inflicted in the private sphere is my point of view, otherwise the question of gender/sex based human rights inequalities and discrimination occurs.

Women worked hard to have women’s equality inserted into the United Nations Charter and into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And still in 1993, at the Vienna Tribunal on human rights and accountability the Tribunal’s discourse noted that gender/sex-based discrimination and violence in all its forms including torture are a reality that women endure in both public/private/domestic spheres. Such social pushing has been/has to be exerted in order to dismantle gender-sex based discrimination against women if their human rights equality is to be achieved. Therefore, all human rights instruments and organizations aimed at upholding human rights must and are evolving.  The meaning of “women’s rights are human rights” is significant as it moves women from being objects into the position of women as human person subjects with inherent human dignity and equality. To reconceptualise this shift, for example, sexualized violence of women in times of armed conflict once considered male ‘entitlement’ and women as objects for raping is now codified as torture into the International Criminal Court process for example. It has taken much effort to shift the misopedic and misogynistic perspective that objectified and sexualized women and invisibilized and minimizing the severe suffering such sexualized violence causes.

Reconceptualizing the elements that define torture, where torture happens, who is guilty of perpetrating torture, how perpetrators of torture will be held accountable is equally necessary otherwise there will continue to be a devaluation of women and the violence that is exerted against them. Torture attempts to dehumanize another human being,  The dehumanization of another human being is always a violation of their human rights including if it is inflicted against a woman in public/private sphere otherwise how can there be equality rights not be subjected to torture?

Reconceptualizing torture requires removing the patriarchal divide and taking a gender/sex-sensitive interpretation of torture victimization, whereby women are protected from torture.  In the 2008 Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak writes about this very issue. Universally, the Convention against Torture (CAT) is the only legally binding instrument directed at the elimination of torture. In his report Mr. Nowak discusses the elements that guide defining acts of torture to include:

1.  Severe pain and suffering, mental and physical. The life-threatening pain and suffering of, for example, electric shocking is no less whether inflicted by a State representative or by a kin.

2. Intentionality, he states is implied with gender-specific torture and if there is a specific purpose.

3. Purpose being one of the elements, purpose denotes intention thereby purpose is always fulfilled in gender-based, gender-specific discriminatory acts.

4. He suggested a powerlessness criterion be added with the degree of the powerlessness of the victim in a given situation be tested. Powerlessness issues relate to the degree of power and control exerted, coercion, age, ability, physical and mental health and socio-cultural and sometimes religious oppressions that produce discrimination and powerlessness.

5. And as to the so-called required element of State involvement, Mr. Nowak explains that Article 1 of CAT extends State obligations of protection into the private sphere, and the Committee against Torture speaks about a State’s due diligence responsibilities and a failure to act to protect victims of torture is a form of “de facto permission” given to non-state actors.

Discussion of the parallels between State inflicted torture and non-state inflicted torture was included in a 1996 report of Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. That torture happens in the private sphere and is so recognized occurred, for example, when the State of Michigan, 93rd Legislature, Regular Session of 2005, Enrolled House Bill No. 5268 enacting torture as a specific offence. This action was triggered by what the lawyers stated was the torture of a blind diabetic woman by her husband and their outrage of not being able to hold him accountable before the law because there was no criminal offence in Michigan at the time when the man was convicted.

If the reality that acts of torturing are not reconceptualised cognizant that historical and gendered oppression has/does exist that has devalued women as human persons thereby suffering from a failure of a State to fulfil, protect and promote their human rights including not to be subjected to torture in any sphere then it is my opinion we as a species become complicate in discriminatory gender-based human rights violations.

Respectfully submitted,

Jeanne Sarson


Jeanne:  I fully agree


 I fully agree with your assertion that the government has an obligation to protect its citizens and/or those in its borders within the private sphere as well. Indeed, that's precisely why I suggested that the term should apply to "state-sponsored, state-supported, or, at a minimum, state-tolerated torture." Regrettably, I suspect, people will always be inclined to inflict torture on other people. The number of people so motivated may change, their motivations may vary, and so on. If the government is doing its best to prosecute the wrongdoers, though, it seems to me the government is doing what it is supposed to do morally and legally. The BTK murderer in Kansas is, I think, a good case in point. Clearly he tortured, but I don't think it could be said fairly that the state facilitated that in any way.


Philip Lyons, (USA), Executive Director, Texas Regional Center for Policing Innovation, (TRCPI) and Faculty Professor, Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice

Police as perpetrators and education

Jeanne Sarson, Canada


Thanks for your comments. Three questions re education of the police:

1.       I was wondering whether Texas has laws re torture that are applicable to charging both State and non-State torturers?

2.       Re the education of police: What happens legally in the situation if, for example, a police person tortures a prisoner and then, when off duty inflicts torture elsewhere such as in the home?

3.       Re the education of police: And furthermore, considering that perpetrators use their positional power as a tool for controlling the victimized person, how would the case be handled  - is the police person considered to be engaging in State torture, i.e., abuse of power or non-state?


Respectfully submitted,

Jeanne Sarson


Jeanne: Thanks for your


Thanks for your question. As to the first one, Texas does have laws that prohibit the improper infliction of bodily harm in the form of assault stautes and aggravated assault statutes depending on the extent of the harm. Those statutes are applicable, irrespective of whether the perpetrator is a state actor. In addition to standard assault liability, state actors may be liable for added penalties under statutes that specifically reach state action (e.g., our "Official Oppression" statute). Also, public officials who are "acting under color of law," are also liable under federal law if they engage in conduct that constitutes a violation of civil rights.


As to your second question, the harm inflicted on a prisoner would subject the officer to: (a) federal civil rights liability, (b) state official oppression liability, and (c) state assault or aggravated assault liability [incidentally, the protection against double jeopardy only applies where the same jurisdiction is involved; thus, the officer could be liable simultaneously under federal and state law for the same conduct]. The same harm inflicted against a spouse, for example, would subject the perpetrator only to assault or aggravated assault liability because the perpetrator is not acting under color of law.

Your final question turns on a determination as to whether the person is "acting under color of law." This involves a case-by-case determination. The more the conduct relates to the performance of the officer's duties, the more it is likely to be found to be under color of law. The more the conduct seems to be private, the less likely it is to be found to be under color of law.



Philip Lyons, (USA), Executive Director, Texas Regional Center for Policing Innovation, (TRCPI) and Faculty Professor, Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice

Matthew and Moldova

Jeanne Sarson, Canada

Matthew, would it be possible for you to share the definition of torture you refer to. In my opinion definition is very important in education as it begins the process of clearly defining the boundaries and the behaviours that are not to be crossed re upholding and educating about human rights. 


Respectfully submitted,

Jeanne Sarson

meaning of torture and torment

A public officer who performs any act towards a person that is
incompatible with human dignity, and which causes that person to suffer
physically or mentally, or affects the person`s capacity to perceive or
his ability to act his own will or insults them shoul be sentenced for
comminting an act of torture.

If the offence is committed agaist;

- a child, a person who is physically or mentally incapable of defending himself or a pregnant women; or

- a public officer or an advocate on account of the performance of his duty,

- if the act is conducted in the manner of sexual harassment,


penalty should be increased/




Professor Dr. Vahit Biçak

Training of Lawenforcement Bodies

I have understood from the documents reserved at RCVTE that the Center had provided trainings for lawenforecement agencies in different regional cities of the country. And according to the documented files I have understood that the training was interesting and I found out that the content of the training was what to be given for the lawenforecement bodies. But now according to the new legislation 621/09 RCVTE will never be involved in any advocacy activities except in capacity building of different lawenforecement bodies and other concerned governmental and non governmental authoritieses including civil society organizatios. Here is a question for different organization representatives who are participating in this dialogue and had participated in capacity building training or related capacity building activities for lawenforecement and relateed bodies. Specially for nancy, could you tell us your experience about the contents of the capacity building training activites for law enforecement bodies and related bodies.

 Yohannes Beshah

Excecutive Director           












Just before the weekend Nancy sent an email to the participants, urging us to share more about our training curriculum modules, the methodologies and the resources which we use. I recall attending a very interesting two-day conference a few years ago on these very issues. The event was titled the First Conference of the Council of Europe’s Network of Police and Human Rights Coordinators and was held in Strasbourg on 14 – 15 April 2005. The network of police and human rights coordinators was organized by the Council of Europe’s Police and Human Rights – Beyond 2000 Programme and was a forum for work throughout the Council’s 47 member countries on police and human rights, aimed at boosting cooperation and sharing good practice in relation to the human rights training and education of police officers. During this particular meeting the participants discussed a number of important matters, including:

  • European good practices in policing and human rights;


  • Setting up a data collection of European police curricula with a view to possible common approaches in the area of policing and human rights;


  • Setting up a pool of European police and human rights trainers.


At the time the idea of setting up of some form of database, which would pool these resources together, struck me as a very worthy idea. However, I have no idea if anything came of the idea – does anyone know? Does anyone know of similar initiatives in other regions?


Curricula: Council of Europe database information

Michael Kellett writes;

Work started to develop the database but
funding ran out and the staff member initiating it left the organisation. I
think it exists now in a very basic form. If any one wants to find out more
about it the person responsible for it now is Martin Zeman ( )


Training Components/Resources

Dear Nancy,  This is specifically for what you have asked in you e-mail! In regards to the resources that we use, We have sccreened two resource persons who specializes in Criminal laws and Human rights and four facilitators from the Center for the eight of the trainings in the eight major regional cities of the country. These resource persons had prepared training manual and other traning support documents for the traibnees. In addition, the Center had prepared more than fifteen different types of Information Education and Communication (IEC) Materials, like brochures, posters, stickers, leaflets, factsheets, posters, pamphelets e.t.c... . The training methodology that we ussed were participatory approach and during the training almost of the trainees had participated starting form the institution up to individual level and personal experiences were also been reflected. any other ..........


Tekeste Ayalew

Senior Program Officer

Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture in Ethiopia (RCVTE)


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