1988 April 18

U.S. Signs UN Convention Against Torture (But Takes Six Years to Ratify It)


The U.S. signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture on this day, but the Senate did not ratify it until October 21, 1994. (Signing and ratifying are separate parts of the process for UN conventions.) The full title is the “Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” The United Nations had adopted the Convention on December 10, 1984.

The Convention became particularly relevant during President George W. Bush’s War on Terror, because most human rights experts argued that its “harsh interrogation” techniques were torture, in violation of the Convention. By ratifying the convention, the U.S. made is part of American law. See the infamous Bush administration “torture memo” that argued that international agreements barring torture did not apply to the war on terrorism (August 1, 2002).

Article 1:
“1. For the purposes of this 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. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

Read the entire Convention Against Torture: http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/39/a39r046.htm

Learn more about torture: Sanford Levison, Torture: A Collection (2004)

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