New publication aims to address torture prevention gap in Latin America

Tuesday 31 March 2020

A new publication regarding torture prevention in Latin America brings together a collection of articles by multidisciplinary professionals who have worked in collaboration with the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) to promote the effective prevention, documentation and investigation of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the region.

The joint IBAHRI and Universidad Externado de Colombia initiative – a Spanish-language book titled Responding to Torture: Latin American perspectives on a Global Challenge – aims to address the gap between international torture prevention standards and the current norms in Latin America. Responding to Torture provides insight from professionals from a wide range of disciplines, including medicine, psychology, public policy and international relations. An Executive Summary of the publication is available in English.

In the publication’s afterword, IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC asserts: ‘The training of prosecutors, lawyers, judges and forensic experts to recognise the signs of torture and to invoke international law and other legal mechanisms to end such a gross violation of human rights is vital work. This book brings together many of the experts who have worked within Latin America to share their thoughts, hopes and concerns about the extent to which abusive power blights our societies. These experts proudly reaffirm the need for the universal ban on torture.’

Edited by Verónica Hinestroza Arenas (IBAHRI), Fabio de Sa e Silva and Par Engstrom, the book is divided into two parts:

  • part 1 examines the significant gaps that exist between the formal commitments of Latin American states to the eradication of torture and the practice of torture in the region. The authors – Gaia Pergolo, Mr Sa e Silva, Andra Nicolescu, Paulina Zamorano Valenzuela and Edgar Hassan – demonstrate that the practice of torture persists in Latin America despite many countries signing and ratifying international instruments against torture. This gap accentuates an inevitable and growing institutional distrust, especially among the most vulnerable of citizens who are the most common victims of torture; and
  • part 2 highlights potential for political and institutional innovation, such as the creation of a Universal Protocol for non-coercive interviews, in the fight against torture in the region. The authors – Juan E Méndez, Juan Morey, Miguel Sarre, Rafael Barreto Souza, Myriam Rivera-Holguín, Tesania Velázquez and Diego Otero-Oyague – posit a broader, multidisciplinary agenda that could transform the institutional framework for the prevention, adjudication and reparation of torture.

IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto states: ‘This collection of essays provides a stark and unsettling insight into the challenges Latin American countries are facing in addressing torturous practices. As the authors stress, whilst robust legal protections have an important role to play in the prevention of torture, we must now pay closer attention to the informal practices and structural conditions that enable torture and ill-treatment in Latin America. A more holistic perspective, involving state actors, medical professionals and lawyers, holds the key to halting the spread of torture and other human rights violations.’

Roberto Hinestrosa Rey, Dean of the Faculty of Finance, Government and International Relations at the Universidad Externado de Colombia, noted: ‘Academia plays a fundamental role in promoting the understanding of the ethical and legal implications of serious human rights violations, such as torture. Likewise, it should serve as a forum for discussion, reflection and generation of responses to eradicate them. For the university, it is a pleasure to add its voice to a call that must reach all actors in society.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair, The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996-2009) commented: ‘Torture is an inexcusable violation of human rights that sadly still occurs in jurisdictions across the world. Addressing this problem in Latin America, as Responding to Torture demonstrates, is an ongoing battle requiring renewed vigour and dedication from a multitude of sectors. In the legal profession, it is essential that we continue to raise awareness of cruel and inhuman practices and provide the necessary training to ensure the eradication of torture, once and for all. Public education is also critical to overcome indifference, ignorance and resignation about this serious and ongoing problem. This issue cannot be addressed by law alone.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to download the Spanish language report Responding to Torture: Latin American perspectives on a Global Challenge:
  2. Click here to download the English language Executive Summary of Responding to Torture: Latin American perspectives on a Global Challenge:
  3. As part of its ongoing work regarding human rights and the administration of justice, the IBAHRI focuses on torture prevention training and technical assistance. Through these activities, the IBAHRI facilitates a holistic understanding of the content and use of international tools and standards by legal stakeholders and National and Local Torture Preventive Mechanisms ; promotes prompt and impartial investigations into allegations of torture and ill treatment; and advocates for the independence of forensic services from law enforcement agencies.
  4. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

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