United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)

The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) calls for the complete prohibition of torture worldwide and provides for the creation of the Committee Against Torture to monitor the implementation of the Convention by states parties (countries that are a party to the treaty). The CAT was adopted by the General Assembly in 1984 and Canada ratified the Convention in 1987.

Article 1 of the CAT defines torture as the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of state authorities for the purpose of obtaining a confession, punishing, intimidating or coercing a person, or for any reason based on any kind of discrimination.

Under the CAT, states parties commit to:

  • prohibiting and punishing all acts of torture through appropriate laws and penalties in their domestic criminal law
  • fully integrating educational information about the prohibition of torture into the training of law enforcement, military, and medical personnel, public officials and any others who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual who may be arrested, detained or imprisoned
  • make guarantees for timely and impartial investigations into allegations of torture by competent authorities
  • take measures to protect witnesses against torture or threats of torture
  • take measures to allow victims of torture to seek justice, including fair compensation and rehabilitation

In addition, the CAT requires that states parties do not expel or return an individual to another state where that individual may be tortured. Furthermore, torture must be defined as an “extraditable” offence, meaning that an alleged torturer may be expelled from a country to face consequences elsewhere.

The Committee Against Torture monitors the implementation of the CAT through periodic reports from states parties. The Committee will issue recommendations to states parties to provide suggestions about how individual states can improve their efforts to fully implement the CAT. The Committee can also consider complaints from individuals who claim to be victims of torture in violation of the treaty, but only if the country in question agrees that the Committee has the authority to receive and examine such a complaint.