June 26 is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
On June 26, the world observes the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It marks the moment in 1987 when the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, one of the key instruments in fighting torture around the world, came into effect. Today, the Convention has been ratified by 162 countries.
According to Article 1, para. 1 of the Convention, the term ‘torture’ means:
“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 the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”.
Torture is particularly prevalent in states with repressive or tyrannical regimes, and generally takes the form of either physical or psychological torture.
Although Oman ratified the Convention Against Torture in April 2020, its long history of carrying out torture against Omani citizens, especially activists in fields such as human rights or politics, raises a number of questions.
One of these questions is how serious Oman is about implementing the provisions of the Convention and preventing any acts of torture from occurring, as well as holding to account those who committed acts of torture in the past.
Furthermore, secret prisons in Oman are still carrying out psychological torture against prisoners of conscience, among others. According to testimonies given to the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR), the following forms of psychological torture are practised:
- White torture (or “white room torture”), where the prisoner is surrounded by the colour white. Everything around them is white, from the walls and doors of the cell to their clothing, bedding and food. The prisoner is deprived of sensory stimulation through all five senses.
- Torture by means of repetitive noises or loud music. This kind of torture has been banned by the European Court but is still practised in secret prisons in Oman. Loud music is played constantly around the clock or throughout the period of detention.
- Sleep deprivation, where the prisoner is interrogated for hours on end in order to deprive him or her of sleep. In testimony to the OCHR, prisoners have described being placed in an interrogation room for hours without being allowed to sleep and without any interrogation taking place, or being taken for interrogation during the hours of sleep or even the hours before dawn.
- Torture by means of bright lighting. The prisoner is usually placed in a small room, no more than two by two metres long and wide. The ceiling lights are very bright and kept on 24 hours a day.
- Holding prisoners in very cold or very hot rooms, where the air conditioning is either set on maximum with the prisoner having nothing with which to cover himself to try to stay warm, or else switched off, allowing the temperature inside the room to soar.
Although Oman has signed the Convention Against Torture, it still denies using these methods of torture.
Nor have those involved in cases of physical or psychological torture in previous years yet been held to account; indeed some of them have been promoted by the government.
How do you think torture can be stopped in secret prisons in Oman? And how can the perpetrators be held to account?