United Nations Convention Against Torture

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT)) is an international human rights treaty under the review of the United Nations that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.

United Nations Convention Against Torture
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  states parties
  states that have signed, but not ratified
  states that have not signed
TypeHuman rights convention
Drafted10 December 1984[1]
Signed4 February 1985[2]
LocationNew York
Effective26 June 1987[1]
Condition20 ratifications[3]
DepositaryUN Secretary-General[4]
LanguagesArabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish[5]
Full text
Convention against Torture at Wikisource

The Convention requires member states to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction, and forbids member states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.

The text of the convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1984[1] and, following ratification by the 20th state party,[3] it came into force on 26 June 1987.[1] 26 June is now recognized as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, in honor of the convention. Since the convention's entry into force, the absolute prohibition against torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment has become accepted as a principle of customary international law.[6] As of April 2022, the convention has 173 state parties.[1]


The Convention follows the structure of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), with a preamble and 33 articles, divided into three parts:

Part I (Articles 1–16) contains a definition of torture (Article 1), and commits parties to taking effective measures to prevent any act of torture in any territory under their jurisdiction (Article 2). These include ensuring that torture is a criminal offense under a party's municipal law (Article 4), establishing jurisdiction over acts of torture committed by or against a party's nationals (Article 5), ensuring that torture is an extraditable offense (Article 8), and establishing universal jurisdiction to try cases of torture where an alleged torturer cannot be extradited (Article 5). Parties must promptly investigate any allegation of torture (Articles 12 and 13), and victims of torture, or their dependents in case victims died as a result of torture, must have an enforceable right to compensation (Article 14). Parties must also ban the use of evidence produced by torture in their courts (Article 15), and are barred from deporting, extraditing, or refouling people where there are substantial grounds for believing they will be tortured (Article 3). Parties are required to train and educate their public servants and private citizens involved in the custody, interrogation, or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention, or imprisonment, regarding the prohibition against torture (Article 10). Parties also must keep interrogation rules, instructions, methods, and practices under systematic review regarding individuals who are under custody or physical control in any territory under their jurisdiction, in order to prevent all acts of torture (Article 11). Parties are also obliged to prevent all acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment in any territory under their jurisdiction, and to investigate any allegation of such treatment. (Article 16).

Part II (Articles 17–24) governs reporting and monitoring of the convention and the steps taken by the parties to implement it. It establishes the Committee Against Torture (Article 17), and empowers it to investigate allegations of systematic torture (Article 20). It also establishes an optional dispute-resolution mechanism between parties (Article 21) and allows parties to recognize the competence of the committee to hear complaints from individuals about violations of the convention by a party (Article 22).

Part III (Articles 25–33) governs ratification, entry into force, and amendment of the convention. It also includes an optional arbitration mechanism for disputes between parties (Article 30).

Main provisions

Definition of torture

Article 1.1 of the Convention defines torture as:

For the purpose 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.

The words "inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions" remain vague and very broad. It is extremely difficult to determine what sanctions are "inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions" in a particular legal system and what are not. The drafters of the Convention neither provided any criteria for making such determination nor did it define the terms. The nature of the findings would so differ from one legal system to another that they would give rise to serious disputes among the parties to the convention. It was suggested that the reference to such rules would make the issue more complicated, for it would endow the rules with a semblance of legal binding force. This allows state parties to pass domestic laws that permit acts of torture that they believe are within the lawful sanctions clause. However, the most widely adopted interpretation of the lawful sanctions clause is that it refers to sanctions authorized by international law. Pursuant to this interpretation, only sanctions that are authorized by international law will fall within this exclusion. The interpretation of the lawful sanctions clause leaves no scope of application and is widely debated by authors, historians, and scholars alike.[7]

Ban on torture

Article 2 prohibits torture, and requires parties to take effective measures to prevent it in any territory under their jurisdiction. This prohibition is absolute and non-derogable. "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever"[8] may be invoked to justify torture, including war, threat of war, internal political instability, public emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, or any form of armed conflict.[6] In other words, torture cannot be justified as a means to protect public safety or prevent emergencies.[8] Subordinates who commit acts of torture cannot abstain themselves from legal responsibility on the grounds that they were just following orders from their superiors.[6]

The prohibition on torture applies to anywhere under a party's effective jurisdiction inside or outside of its borders, whether on board its ships or aircraft or in its military occupations, military bases, peacekeeping operations, health care industries, schools, day care centers, detention centers, embassies, or any other of its areas, and protects all people under its effective control, regardless of nationality or how that control is exercised.[6]

The other articles of part I lay out specific obligations intended to implement this absolute prohibition by preventing, investigating, and punishing acts of torture.[6]

Ban on refoulement

Article 3 prohibits parties from returning, extraditing, or refouling any person to a state "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."[9] The Committee Against Torture has held that this danger must be assessed not just for the initial receiving state, but also to states to which the person may be subsequently expelled, returned or extradited.[10]

Obligation to prosecute or extradite

Article 7 obligates the government of the state in which the alleged offense occurred to either prosecute the accused party, or extradite them to a state that will, under the principle of aut dedere aut judicare.[11]

Ban on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment

Article 16 requires parties to prevent "other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1" in any territory under their jurisdiction. Because it is often difficult to distinguish between cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and torture, the Committee regards Article 16's prohibition of such act as similarly absolute and non-derogable.[6]

Signatories and ratifications

Participant Signature Ratification, accession (a), succession (d)
 Afghanistan 4 February 1985 1 April 1987
Albania 11 May 1994 a
Algeria 26 November 1985 12 September 1989
Angola 24 September 2013 2 October 2019
Andorra 5 August 2002 22 September 2006
Antigua and Barbuda 19 July 1993 a
Argentina 4 February 1985 24 September 1986
Armenia 13 September 1993 a
Australia 10 December 1985 8 August 1989
Austria 14 March 1985 29 July 1987
Azerbaijan 16 August 1996 a
Bahamas 16 December 2008 31 May 2018
Bahrain 6 March 1998 a
Bangladesh 5 October 1998 a
Belarus 19 December 1985 13 March 1987 (as the  Byelorussian SSR)
Belgium 4 February 1985 25 June 1999
Belize 17 March 1986 a
Benin 12 March 1992 a
Bolivia (Plurinational State of) 4 February 1985 12 April 1999
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1 September 1993 d
Botswana 8 September 2000 8 September 2000
Brazil 23 September 1985 28 September 1989
Brunei Darussalam 22 September 2015
Bulgaria 10 June 1986 16 December 1986
Burkina Faso 4 January 1999 a
Burundi 18 February 1993 a
Cabo Verde 4 June 1992 a
Cambodia 15 October 1992 a
Cameroon 19 December 1986 a
Canada 23 August 1985 24 June 1987
Central African Republic 11 October 2016 a
Chad 9 June 1995 a
Chile 23 September 1987 30 September 1988
China 12 December 1986 4 October 1988
Colombia 10 April 1985 8 December 1987
Comoros 22 September 2000
Congo 30 July 2003 a
Costa Rica 4 February 1985 11 November 1993
Côte d'Ivoire 18 December 1995 a
Croatia 12 October 1992 d
Cuba 27 January 1986 17 May 1995
Cyprus 9 October 1985 18 July 1991
Czech Republic 22 February 1993 d (previously ratified by  Czechoslovakia on 7 July 1988)
Democratic Republic of the Congo 18 March 1996 a (as  Zaire)
Denmark 4 February 1985 27 May 1987
Djibouti 5 November 2002 a
Dominican Republic 4 February 1985 24 January 2012
Ecuador 4 February 1985 30 March 1988
Egypt 25 June 1986 a
El Salvador 17 June 1996 a
Equatorial Guinea 8 October 2002 a
Eritrea 25 September 2014 a
Estonia 21 October 1991 a
Ethiopia 14 March 1994 a
Fiji 1 March 2016 16 March 2016
Finland 4 February 1985 30 August 1989
France 4 February 1985 18 February 1986
Gabon 21 January 1986 8 September 2000
Gambia 23 October 1985 28 September 2018
Georgia 26 October 1994 a
Germany 13 October 1986 1 October 1990 (Signed as the  Federal Republic of Germany. The  German Democratic Republic also ratified on 9 September 1987)
Ghana 7 September 2000 7 September 2000
Greece 4 February 1985 6 October 1988
Grenada 26 September 2019 a
Guatemala 5 January 1990 a
Guinea 30 May 1986 10 October 1989
Guinea-Bissau 12 September 2000 24 September 2013
Guyana 25 January 1988 19 May 1988
Holy See 26 June 2002 a
Honduras 5 December 1996 a
Hungary 28 November 1986 15 April 1987
Iceland 4 February 1985 23 October 1996
India 14 October 1997
Indonesia 23 October 1985 28 October 1998
Iraq 7 July 2011 a
Ireland 28 September 1992 11 April 2002
Israel 22 October 1986 3 October 1991
Italy 4 February 1985 12 January 1989, 5 July 2017 a[12]
Japan 29 June 1999 a
Jordan 13 November 1991 a
Kazakhstan 26 August 1998 a
Kenya 21 February 1997 a
Kiribati 22 July 2019 a
Kuwait 8 March 1996 a
Kyrgyzstan 5 September 1997 a
Lao People's Democratic Republic 21 September 2010 26 September 2012
Latvia 14 April 1992 a
Lebanon 5 October 2000 a
Lesotho 12 November 2001 a
Liberia 22 September 2004 a
Libya 16 May 1989 a (then Libyan Arab Jamahiriya)
Liechtenstein 27 June 1985 2 November 1990
Lithuania 1 February 1996 a
Luxembourg 22 February 1985 29 September 1987
Madagascar 1 October 2001 13 December 2005
Malawi 11 June 1996 a
Maldives 20 April 2004 a
Mali 26 February 1999 a
Malta 13 September 1990 a
Marshall Islands 12 March 2018 a
Mauritania 17 November 2004 a
Mauritius 9 December 1992 a
Mexico 18 March 1985 23 January 1986
Monaco 6 December 1991 a
Mongolia 24 January 2002 a
Montenegro 23 October 2006 d
Morocco 8 January 1986 21 June 1993
Mozambique 14 September 1999 a
Namibia 28 November 1994 a
Nauru 12 November 2001 26 September 2012
Nepal 14 May 1991 a
Netherlands 4 February 1985 21 December 1988
New Zealand 14 January 1986 10 December 1989
Nicaragua 15 April 1985 5 July 2005
Niger 5 October 1998 a
Nigeria 28 July 1988 28 June 2001
Norway 4 February 1985 9 July 1986
Pakistan 17 April 2008 3 June 2010
Palau 20 September 2011
State of Palestine 2 April 2014 a
Oman 9 June 2020 a
Panama 22 February 1985 24 August 1987
Paraguay 23 October 1989 12 March 1990
Peru 29 May 1985 7 July 1988
Philippines 18 June 1986 a
Poland 13 January 1986 26 July 1989
Portugal 4 February 1985 9 February 1989
Qatar 11 January 2000 a
Republic of Korea [South] 9 January 1995 a
Republic of Moldova 28 November 1995 a
Romania 18 December 1990 a
Russian Federation 10 December 1985 3 March 1987 (ratified as the  Soviet Union)
Rwanda 15 December 2008 a
Saint Kitts and Nevis 21 September 2020 a
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1 August 2001 a
Samoa 28 March 2019 a
San Marino 18 September 2002 27 November 2006
São Tomé and Príncipe 6 September 2000 10 January 2017
Saudi Arabia 23 September 1997 a
Senegal 4 February 1985 21 August 1986
Serbia 12 March 2001 d (ratified as the  Federal Republic of Yugoslavia;  SFR Yugoslavia had previously ratified on 10 September 1991)
Seychelles 5 May 1992 a
Sierra Leone 18 March 1985 25 April 2001
Slovakia 28 May 1993 d (previously ratified by  Czechoslovakia on 7 July 1988)
Slovenia 16 July 1993 a
Somalia 24 January 1990 a
South Africa 29 January 1993 10 December 1998
South Sudan 30 April 2015 a
Spain 4 February 1985 21 October 1987
Sri Lanka 3 January 1994 a
Sudan 4 June 1986 10 August 2021
Suriname 16 November 2021 a
Swaziland 26 March 2004 a
Sweden 4 February 1985 8 January 1986
Switzerland 4 February 1985 2 December 1986
Syrian Arab Republic 19 August 2004 a
Tajikistan 11 January 1995 a
Thailand 2 October 2007 a
North Macedonia 12 December 1994 d
Timor-Leste 16 April 2003 a
Togo 25 March 1987 18 November 1987
Tunisia 26 August 1987 23 September 1988
Turkey 25 January 1988 2 August 1988
Turkmenistan 25 June 1999 a
Uganda 3 November 1986 a
Ukraine 27 February 1986 24 February 1987 (ratified as the  Ukrainian SSR)
United Arab Emirates 19 July 2012 a
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 15 March 1985 8 December 1988 (British Indian Ocean Territory not included[13])
United States of America 18 April 1988 21 October 1994[1][14] (With specific reservations detailed here.)
Uruguay 4 February 1985 24 October 1986
Uzbekistan 28 September 1995 a
Vanuatu 12 July 2011 a
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 15 February 1985 29 July 1991
Viet Nam 7 November 2013 5 February 2015
Yemen 5 November 1991 a
Zambia 7 October 1998 a

As of 17 November 2021, there are 173 States parties. 22 UN Member States are not yet party to the convention.

Optional Protocol

  states parties
  states that signed, but have not ratified
  states that have not signed

The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 2002 and in force since 22 June 2006, provides for the establishment of "a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,"[15] to be overseen by a Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

As of April 2022, the Protocol has 76 signatories and 91 parties.[16]

Committee Against Torture

The Committee Against Torture (CAT) is a body of human rights experts that monitors implementation of the convention by State parties. The committee is one of eight UN-linked human rights treaty bodies. All state parties are obliged under the convention to submit regular reports to the CAT on how rights are being implemented. Upon ratifying the convention, states must submit a report within one year, after which they are obliged to report every four years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of "concluding observations". Under certain circumstances, the CAT may consider complaints or communications from individuals claiming that their rights under the Convention have been violated.

The CAT usually meets in April/May and November each year in Geneva. Members are elected to four-year terms by State parties and can be re-elected if nominated. The current membership of the CAT, as of September 2017:[17]

NameStateTerm Expires
Ms. Essadia BELMIR (Vice-chairperson) Morocco31 December 2021
Mr. Diego RODRÍGUEZ-PINZÓN Colombia31 December 2021
Felice Gaer (vice-chair) United States31 December 2019
Abdelwahab Hani Tunisia31 December 2019
Claude Heller Rouassant (vice-chair) Mexico31 December 2019
Jens Modvig (chair) Denmark31 December 2021
Mr. Bakhtiyar TUZMUKHAMEDOV Russia31 December 2021
Ana Racu Moldova31 December 2019
Sébastien Touze (Rapporteur) France31 December 2019
Ms. Honghong ZHANG China31 December 2021


A 2021 study in the American Journal of Political Science found that countries that adopt national laws that prohibit torture (defining it in line with the standards codified in the UN Convention against Torture) subsequently experience reductions in police torture.[18]

See also


  1. United Nations Treaty Collection: Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Retrieved on 26 June 2018.
  2. General Assembly resolution 40/128 (13 December 1985), Status of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, A/RES/40/128, under 2.
  3. Convention Against Torture Archived 9 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Article 27. Retrieved on 30 December 2008.
  4. Convention Against Torture Archived 9 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Article 25. Retrieved on 30 December 2008.
  5. Convention Against Torture Archived 9 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Article 33. Retrieved on 30 December 2008.
  6. "CAT General Comment No. 2: Implementation of Article 2 by States Parties" (PDF). Committee Against Torture. 23 November 2007. p. 2. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
  7. Ronli Sifris (4 December 2013). Reproductive Freedom, Torture and International Human Rights: Challenging the Masculinisation of Torture. Routledge. p. 145.
  8. "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment". OHCHR. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  9. Convention Against Torture Archived 9 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Article 3.1. Retrieved on 30 December 2008.
  10. "CAT General Comment No. 01: Implementation of article 3 of the Convention in the context of article 22". UN OHCHR. 21 November 1997. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  11. Nowak, Manfred; Birk, Moritz; Monina, Giuliana (14 November 2019). United Nations Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol: A Commentary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-884617-8.
  12. "Italy passes law making torture a crime, critics say full of holes". Reuters. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 6 July 2017.
  13. Bashfield, Samuel (1 June 2022). "The BIOT: A judicial vacuum now consuming Tamil refugees". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
  14. "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – Addendum to Initial reports of States parties due in 1995" (PDF). U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  15. OPCAT, Article 1.
  16. "9.b Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment". United Nations Treaty Collection. United Nations. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  17. "Committee Against Torture – Membership". United Nations OHCHR. 2009. Archived from the original on 14 February 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  18. Berlin, Mark S. (2021). "Does Criminalizing Torture Deter Police Torture?". American Journal of Political Science: ajps.12684. doi:10.1111/ajps.12684. ISSN 1540-5907. S2CID 244550445.

Decisions of the Committee Against Torture

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