(back to preceding text)
(5) Court decisions in many countries have given effect directly or indirectly to article 15 of the Torture Convention.
(6) The rationale of the exclusionary rule in article 15 is found not only in the general unreliability of evidence procured by torture but also in its offensiveness to civilised values and its degrading effect on the administration of justice.
(7) Measures directed to counter the grave dangers of international terrorism may not be permitted to undermine the international prohibition of torture.
It is necessary to examine these propositions in a little detail.
(1) Interpretation of the Convention in a wider international context.
29. Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, reflecting principles of customary international law, provides in article 31(3)(c) that in interpreting a treaty there shall be taken into account, together with the context, any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties. The European Court has recognised this principle (Golder v United Kingdom (1975) 1 EHRR 524, para 29, HN v Poland (Application No 77710/01, 13 September 2005, unreported, para 75)), and in Al-Adsani v United Kingdom (2001) 34 EHRR 273, para 55, it said (footnotes omitted):
"55. The Court must next assess whether the restriction was proportionate to the aim pursued. It recalls that the Convention has to be interpreted in the light of the rules set out in the Vienna Convention of 23 May 1969 on the Law of Treaties, and that Article 31(3)(c) of that treaty indicates that account is to be taken of 'any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties'. The Convention, in including Article 6, cannot be interpreted in a vacuum. The Court must be mindful of the Convention's special character as a human rights treaty, and it must also take the relevant rules of international law into account. The Convention should so far as possible be interpreted in harmony with other rules of international law of which it forms part, including those relating to the grant of State immunity."
The Court has in its decisions invoked a wide range of international instruments, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and the Beijing Rules (V v United Kingdom (1999) 30 EHRR 121, paras 76-77), the Council of Europe Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (S v Switzerland (1991) 14 EHRR 670, para 48) and the 1975 Declaration referred to in para 31 below (Ireland v United Kingdom (1978) 2 EHRR 25, para 167). More pertinently to these appeals, the Court has repeatedly invoked the provisions of the Torture Convention: see, for example, Aydin v Turkey (1997) 25 EHRR 251, para 103; Selmouni v France (1999) 29 EHRR 403, para 97. In Soering v United Kingdom (1989) 11 EHRR 439, para 88, the Court said (footnotes omitted):
"Article 3 makes no provision for exceptions and no derogation from it is permissible under Article 15 in time of war or other national emergency. This absolute prohibition on torture and on inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the terms of the Convention shows that Article 3 enshrines one of the fundamental values of the democratic societies making up the Council of Europe. It is also to be found in similar terms in other international instruments such as the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights and is generally recognised as an internationally accepted standard.
The question remains whether the extradition of a fugitive to another State where he would be subjected or be likely to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment would itself engage the responsibility of a Contracting State under Article 3. That the abhorrence of torture has such implications is recognised in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which provides that 'no State Party shall . . . extradite a person where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.' The fact that a specialised treaty should spell out in detail a specific obligation attaching to the prohibition of torture does not mean that an essentially similar obligation is not already inherent in the general terms of Article 3 of the European Convention. It would hardly be compatible with the underlying values of the Convention, that 'common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law' to which the Preamble refers, were a Contracting State knowingly to surrender a fugitive to another State where there were substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture, however heinous the crime allegedly committed. Extradition in such circumstances, while not explicitly referred to in the brief and general wording of Article 3, would plainly be contrary to the spirit and intendment of the Article, and in the Court's view this inherent obligation not to extradite also extends to cases in which the fugitive would be faced in the receiving State by a real risk of exposure to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment proscribed by that Article."
(2) The international prohibition of torture.
30. The preamble to the United Nations Charter (1945) recorded the determination of member states to reaffirm their faith in fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of the human person and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained. The Charter was succeeded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the European Convention 1950 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, all of which (in articles 5, 3 and 7 respectively, in very similar language) provided that no one should be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.
31. On 9 December 1975 the General Assembly of the United Nations, without a vote, adopted Resolution 3452 (XXX), a Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This included (in article 1) a definition of torture as follows:
1. For the purpose of this Declaration, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions to the extent consistent with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
2. Torture constitutes an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Articles 2-4 provided as follows:
Any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is an offence to human dignity and shall be condemned as a denial of the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations and as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
No State may permit or tolerate torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Each State shall, in accordance with the provisions of this Declaration, take effective measures to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment from being practised within its jurisdiction."
Action was then taken to prepare a convention. This action culminated in the Torture Convention, which came into force on 26 June 1987. All member states of the Council of Europe are members with the exception of Moldova, Andorra and San Marino, the last two of which have been signed but not yet ratified.
32. The Torture Convention contained, in article 1, a definition of torture:
1. For the purposes of this Convention, '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.
2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application."
It is noteworthy that the torture must be inflicted by or with the complicity of an official, must be intentional, and covers treatment inflicted for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession. Articles 2, 3 and 4 provide:
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
1. No State Party shall expel, return ('refouler') or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.
1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature."
33. It is common ground in these proceedings that the international prohibition of the use of torture enjoys the enhanced status of a jus cogens or peremptory norm of general international law. For purposes of the Vienna Convention, a peremptory norm of general international law is defined in article 53 to mean "a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character". In R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex p Pinochet Ugarte (No 3)  1 AC 147, 197-199, the jus cogens nature of the international crime of torture, the subject of universal jurisdiction, was recognised. The implications of this finding were fully and authoritatively explained by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in Prosecutor v Furundzija  ICTY 3, 10 December 1998 in a passage which, despite its length, calls for citation (footnotes omitted):
"3. Main Features of the Prohibition Against Torture in International Law.
147. There exists today universal revulsion against torture: as a USA Court put it in Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, 'the torturer has become, like the pirate and the slave trader before him, hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind'. This revulsion, as well as the importance States attach to the eradication of torture, has led to the cluster of treaty and customary rules on torture acquiring a particularly high status in the international normative system, a status similar to that of principles such as those prohibiting genocide, slavery, racial discrimination, aggression, the acquisition of territory by force and the forcible suppression of the right of peoples to self-determination. The prohibition against torture exhibits three important features, which are probably held in common with the other general principles protecting fundamental human rights.
(a) The Prohibition Even Covers Potential Breaches.
148. Firstly, given the importance that the international community attaches to the protection of individuals from torture, the prohibition against torture is particularly stringent and sweeping. States are obliged not only to prohibit and punish torture, but also to forestall its occurrence: it is insufficient merely to intervene after the infliction of torture, when the physical or moral integrity of human beings has already been irremediably harmed. Consequently, States are bound to put in place all those measures that may pre-empt the perpetration of torture. As was authoritatively held by the European Court of Human Rights in Soering, international law intends to bar not only actual breaches but also potential breaches of the prohibition against torture (as well as any inhuman and degrading treatment). It follows that international rules prohibit not only torture but also (i) the failure to adopt the national measures necessary for implementing the prohibition and (ii) the maintenance in force or passage of laws which are contrary to the prohibition.
149. Let us consider these two aspects separately. Normally States, when they undertake international obligations through treaties or customary rules, adopt all the legislative and administrative measures necessary for implementing such obligations. However, subject to obvious exceptions, failure to pass the required implementing legislation has only a potential effect: the wrongful fact occurs only when administrative or judicial measures are taken which, being contrary to international rules due to the lack of implementing legislation, generate State responsibility. By contrast, in the case of torture, the requirement that States expeditiously institute national implementing measures is an integral part of the international obligation to prohibit this practice. Consequently, States must immediately set in motion all those procedures and measures that may make it possible, within their municipal legal system, to forestall any act of torture or expeditiously put an end to any torture that is occurring.
150. Another facet of the same legal effect must be emphasised. Normally, the maintenance or passage of national legislation inconsistent with international rules generates State responsibility and consequently gives rise to a corresponding claim for cessation and reparation (lato sensu) only when such legislation is concretely applied. By contrast, in the case of torture, the mere fact of keeping in force or passing legislation contrary to the international prohibition of torture generates international State responsibility. The value of freedom from torture is so great that it becomes imperative to preclude any national legislative act authorising or condoning torture or at any rate capable of bringing about this effect.
(b) The Prohibition Imposes Obligations Erga Omnes.
151. Furthermore, the prohibition of torture imposes upon States obligations erga omnes, that is, obligations owed towards all the other members of the international community, each of which then has a correlative right. In addition, the violation of such an obligation simultaneously constitutes a breach of the correlative right of all members of the international community and gives rise to a claim for compliance accruing to each and every member, which then has the right to insist on fulfilment of the obligation or in any case to call for the breach to be discontinued.
152. Where there exist international bodies charged with impartially monitoring compliance with treaty provisions on torture, these bodies enjoy priority over individual States in establishing whether a certain State has taken all the necessary measures to prevent and punish torture and, if they have not, in calling upon that State to fulfil its international obligations. The existence of such international mechanisms makes it possible for compliance with international law to be ensured in a neutral and impartial manner.
(c) The Prohibition Has Acquired the Status of Jus Cogens.
153. While the erga omnes nature just mentioned appertains to the area of international enforcement (lato sensu), the other major feature of the principle proscribing torture relates to the hierarchy of rules in the international normative order. Because of the importance of the values it protects, this principle has evolved into a peremptory norm or jus cogens, that is, a norm that enjoys a higher rank in the international hierarchy than treaty law and even 'ordinary' customary rules. The most conspicuous consequence of this higher rank is that the principle at issue cannot be derogated from by States through international treaties or local or special customs or even general customary rules not endowed with the same normative force.
154. Clearly, the jus cogens nature of the prohibition against torture articulates the notion that the prohibition has now become one of the most fundamental standards of the international community. Furthermore, this prohibition is designed to produce a deterrent effect, in that it signals to all members of the international community and the individuals over whom they wield authority that the prohibition of torture is an absolute value from which nobody must deviate.
155. The fact that torture is prohibited by a peremptory norm of international law has other effects at the inter-state and individual levels. At the inter-state level, it serves to internationally de-legitimise any legislative, administrative or judicial act authorising torture. It would be senseless to argue, on the one hand, that on account of the jus cogens value of the prohibition against torture, treaties or customary rules providing for torture would be null and void ab initio, and then be unmindful of a State say, taking national measures authorising or condoning torture or absolving its perpetrators through an amnesty law. If such a situation were to arise, the national measures, violating the general principle and any relevant treaty provision, would produce the legal effects discussed above and in addition would not be accorded international legal recognition. Proceedings could be initiated by potential victims if they had locus standi before a competent international or national judicial body with a view to asking it to hold the national measure to be internationally unlawful; or the victim could bring a civil suit for damage in a foreign court, which would therefore be asked inter alia to disregard the legal value of the national authorising act. What is even more important is that perpetrators of torture acting upon or benefiting from those national measures may nevertheless be held criminally responsible for torture, whether in a foreign State, or in their own State under a subsequent regime. In short, in spite of possible national authorisation by legislative or judicial bodies to violate the principle banning torture, individuals remain bound to comply with that principle. As the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg put it: 'individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual State'.
156. Furthermore, at the individual level, that is, that of criminal liability, it would seem that one of the consequences of the jus cogens character bestowed by the international community upon the prohibition of torture is that every State is entitled to investigate, prosecute and punish or extradite individuals accused of torture, who are present in a territory under its jurisdiction. Indeed, it would be inconsistent on the one hand to prohibit torture to such an extent as to restrict the normally unfettered treaty-making power of sovereign States, and on the other hand bar States from prosecuting and punishing those torturers who have engaged in this odious practice abroad. This legal basis for States' universal jurisdiction over torture bears out and strengthens the legal foundation for such jurisdiction found by other courts in the inherently universal character of the crime. It has been held that international crimes being universally condemned wherever they occur, every State has the right to prosecute and punish the authors of such crimes. As stated in general terms by the Supreme Court of Israel in Eichmann, and echoed by a USA court in Demjanjuk, 'it is the universal character of the crimes in question ie. international crimes which vests in every State the authority to try and punish those who participated in their commission'.
157. It would seem that other consequences include the fact that torture may not be covered by a statute of limitations, and must not be excluded from extradition under any political offence exemption."
There can be few issues on which international legal opinion is more clear than on the condemnation of torture. Offenders have been recognised as the "common enemies of mankind" (Demjanjuk v Petrovsky 612 F Supp 544 (1985), 566, Lord Cooke of Thorndon has described the right not to be subjected to inhuman treatment as a "right inherent in the concept of civilisation" (Higgs v Minister of National Security  2 AC 228, 260), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has described the right to be free from torture as "fundamental and universal" (Siderman de Blake v Argentina 965 F 2d 699 (1992), 717) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (Mr Peter Koojimans) has said that "If ever a phenomenon was outlawed unreservedly and unequivocally it is torture" (Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, E/CN.4/1986/15, para 3).
(3) The duty of states in relation to torture.
34. As appears from the passage just cited, the jus cogens erga omnes nature of the prohibition of torture requires member states to do more than eschew the practice of torture. In Kuwait Airways Corporation v Iraqi Airways Co (Nos 4 and 5)  UKHL 19,  2 AC 883, paras 29, 117, the House refused recognition to conduct which represented a serious breach of international law. This was, as I respectfully think, a proper response to the requirements of international law. In General Comment 20 (1992) on article 7 of the ICCPR, the UN Human Rights Committee said, in para 8:
"The Committee notes that it is not sufficient for the implementation of article 7 to prohibit such treatment or punishment or to make it a crime. States parties should inform the Committee of the legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures they take to prevent and punish acts of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in any territory under their jurisdiction."
Article 41 of the International Law Commission's draft articles on Responsibility of States for internationally wrongful acts (November 2001) requires states to cooperate to bring to an end through lawful means any serious breach of an obligation under a peremptory norm of general international law. An advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (9 July 2004, General List No 131), para 159 explained the consequences of the breach found in that case:
"159. Given the character and the importance of the rights and obligations involved, the Court is of the view that all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem. They are also under an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. It is also for all States, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination is brought to an end. In addition, all the States parties to the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 are under an obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention."
There is reason to regard it as a duty of states, save perhaps in limited and exceptional circumstances, as where immediately necessary to protect a person from unlawful violence or property from destruction, to reject the fruits of torture inflicted in breach of international law. As McNally JA put it in S v Nkomo 1989 (3) ZLR 117, 131:
"It does not seem to me that one can condemn torture while making use of the mute confession resulting from torture, because the effect is to encourage torture."
(4) Article 15 of the Torture Convention.
35. Article 12 of the 1975 Declaration provided:
"Any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment may not be invoked as evidence against the person concerned or against any other person in any proceedings."
Article 15 of the Torture Convention repeats the substance of this provision, subject to a qualification:
"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."
The additional qualification makes plain the blanket nature of this exclusionary rule. It cannot possibly be read, as counsel for the Secretary of State submits, as intended to apply only in criminal proceedings. Nor can it be understood to differentiate between confessions and accusatory statements, or to apply only where the state in whose jurisdiction the proceedings are held has inflicted or been complicit in the torture. It would indeed be remarkable if national courts, exercising universal jurisdiction, could try a foreign torturer for acts of torture committed abroad, but could nonetheless receive evidence obtained by such torture. The matter was succinctly put in the Report by Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, in his Report on his visit to the United Kingdom in November 2004 (8 June 2005, Comm DH (2005)6):
"torture is torture whoever does it, judicial proceedings are judicial proceedings, whatever their purpose the former can never be admissible in the latter."
(5) State practice.