1.5 Cruel Inhuman & Degrading Treatment & Punishment (CID)

The exact boundaries between “torture” and other forms of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (CID or “ill-treatment”) are often difficult to identify and may depend on the particular circumstances of the case and the characteristics of the particular victim. Both terms cover mental and physical ill-treatment that has been intentionally inflicted by, or with the consent or acquiescence of, the state authorities. The ‘essentialelements’ of what constitutes torture contained in Article 1 of the Convention against Torture include:
  • The infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering;
  • By or with the consent or acquiescence of the state authorities;
  • For a specific purpose, such as gaining information, punishment or intimidation.
Cruel treatment, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are also legal terms. These refer to ill-treatment that does not have to be inflicted for a specific purpose, but there does have to be an intent to expose individuals to the conditions which amount to or result in the ill-treatment. Exposing a person to conditions reasonably believed to constitute ill-treatment will entail responsibility for its infliction. Degrading treatment may involve pain or suffering less severe than for torture or cruel or inhuman treatment and will usually involve humiliation and debasement of the victim. The essential elements which constitute ill-treatment not amounting to torture would therefore be reduced to:
Intentional exposure to significant mental or physical pain or suffering;
By or with the consent or acquiescence of the state authorities
It is often difficult to identify the exact boundaries between the different forms of ill-treatment as this requires an assessment about degrees of suffering that may depend on the particular circumstances of the case and the characteristics of the particular victim. In some cases, certain forms of ill-treatment or certain aspects of detention which would not constitute torture on their own may do so in combination with each other. Ill-treatment is, however, prohibited under international law and even where the treatment does not have the purposive element or, as far as degrading treatment is concerned, is not considered severe enough (in legal terms) to amount to torture, it may still amount to prohibited ill-treatment.[1]
The Human Rights Committee has stated that: ‘The Covenant does not contain any definition of the concepts covered by article 7, nor does the Committee consider it necessary to draw up a list of prohibited acts or to establish sharp distinctions between the different kinds of punishment or treatment; the distinctions depend on the nature, purpose and severity of the treatment applied.[2]”
Over the years a wide variety of abusive acts has been declared by authoritative bodies as violating the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. A sample could include:
  • Severe forms of beatings, including beatings on the soles of the feet
  • Suspension by the arms while these are tied behind the back and similar forced positions
  • Infliction of wounds or injuries
  • Cigarette burns, or burns with other instruments or substances
  • Electric shocks
  • Rape or other sexual violence or molestation
  • Near asphyxiation
  • Pharmacological abuse using toxic doses of sedatives, neuroleptics, paralytics, etc
  • Mock executions and mock amputations
  • Forced breach of religious or cultural prohibitions or taboos such as dietary codes
  • Sensory manipulation methods, such as hooding (sensory deprivation) and constant noise (sensory bombardment)
  • Forced to witness torture or atrocities being inflicted on others
  • Prolonged solitary confinement, particularly if combined with incommunicado detention
  • Extremely poor conditions of detention
  • Threats of any of the above being inflicted on the victim or family
[1] Only the practice of the European Court of Human Rights explicitly uses the notion of relative severity of suffering as relevant to the borderline between ‘torture’ and ‘inhuman treatment’. The usual approach is to use the existence or otherwise of the purposive element to determine whether or not the behaviour constitutes torture.
[2] Human Rights Committee, General Comment 20, Article 7 (Forty-fourth session, 1992), Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.1. at 30 (1994), para 4.