Amnesty International Works to Prevent Torture Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Amnesty International’s campaign against torture, which was begun in 1972, culminated in the adoption of the Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture.

Summary of Event

Amnesty International’s campaign against torture began almost incidentally in 1965, almost four years after the organization’s founding by Peter Benenson. Two Amnesty International publications on prison conditions, one on South Africa and the other on Portugal and Romania, noted evidence that physical and mental pain were being applied against prisoners. The South African report indicated no official guidance on prisoners’ torture; wardens were allowed to devise their own means of interrogation, which included burying prisoners up to their necks and then urinating into their mouths. By contrast, the report on Portugal showed a well-organized system of torture. For example, when thirty-one students were arrested in 1965, they were subjected to the “statue” treatment, which involved having the prisoner stand and preventing him or her from sleeping more than ten minutes at a time. The Romania report was primarily of historical value, as Romania’s prisons were empty of political detainees at the time the information was released. Torture;prevention Amnesty International;Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture[Twelve Point Program] Human rights activism [kw]Amnesty International Works to Prevent Torture (Oct., 1983) [kw]Torture, Amnesty International Works to Prevent (Oct., 1983) Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture[Twelve Point Program] Torture;prevention Amnesty International;Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture[Twelve Point Program] Human rights activism [g]Europe;Oct., 1983: Amnesty International Works to Prevent Torture[05250] [g]United Kingdom;Oct., 1983: Amnesty International Works to Prevent Torture[05250] [g]England;Oct., 1983: Amnesty International Works to Prevent Torture[05250] [c]Human rights;Oct., 1983: Amnesty International Works to Prevent Torture[05250] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;Oct., 1983: Amnesty International Works to Prevent Torture[05250] Benenson, Peter Ennals, Martin

In 1968, Amnesty International’s membership rose to include twenty national sections, and its funds increased substantially. Because it now had the resources to take on a new mission, the organization began to address the problem of worldwide torture itself. Amnesty’s secretary-general, Martin Ennals, presented a new statute that would streamline the administration of the organization to enable it to cope with what he called its “mammoth objective”: the abolition of torture. This action was taken primarily in response to the Greek coup of 1967, which brought a right-wing military junta to power. As soon as this dictatorship took over the country, six thousand people were arrested. Reports to Amnesty International told of ill-treatment of these prisoners. The standard initial torture was the falanga, which involved beating the soles of a prisoner’s feet with a stick or pipe and then forcing him or her to run through a gauntlet of heavy blows. Greece;human rights abuses

A special report on these atrocities, prepared by two lawyers who visited Greece, Anthony Marreco Marreco, Anthony and James Becker, Becker, James was published in 1968. That same year, Amnesty International published a one-hundred-page booklet titled Torture in Greece that not only verified the data included in the Marreco-Becker report but also showed that the earlier document had underrated the extent of torture in that country. For example, prisoners were forced to stand on one foot at attention for several hours, with intermittent beatings. Because of these publications, the military junta was ousted from the Council of Europe. In 1975, one year after the junta had been ousted, twenty-four soldiers were tried and convicted on charges of torture. This trial was important to Amnesty because it provided a rare look into the torture methods and the training of torturers.

In December, 1972, Amnesty began its worldwide Campaign for the Abolition of Torture. Campaign for the Abolition of Torture, Amnesty International In 1973, the United Nations General Assembly followed suit by passing a resolution formally denouncing torture. This resolution asked all nations to “adhere to existing international instruments forbidding the practice of torture.” The United Nations also issued its Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1975. Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, U.N. (1975)

The 1972 Amnesty statute was followed a year later by Amnesty’s publication of the first edition of an international survey on torture. This country-by-country report concluded that torture was deliberately used by many nations, often employing the services, either directly or indirectly, of police, soldiers, doctors, civil servants, judges, and scientists. The survey devoted little space to torture methods in communist countries, where torture was unnecessary because the huge secret police forces made opposition almost impossible. Instead, the survey concentrated on Africa, Central and South America, the Middle East, and Asia. The worst offenders, the survey charged, were Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, and Turkey.

The latest reports came from Chile, where President Salvador Allende Allende, Salvador had been overthrown in September, 1973. Human rights abuses;Chile Some of the allegations of torture and maltreatment included cases of burning with acid or cigarettes, of electrocution, and of psychological threats, including simulated executions and threats to families of the prisoners. An unknown number of women were raped or subjected to having insects forced up their vaginas. Pregnant women were often beaten until they aborted. An Amnesty International delegation concluded that torture in that country had reached “animalistic levels.”

Shortly after Brazil was taken over by a military coup in 1964, Amnesty International was flooded with reports of torture of political prisoners. In 1972, Amnesty published a ninety-page document that gave the names of 1,081 people who had been tortured as well as the names of 81 torturers. Human rights abuses;Brazil The report also revealed the existence of an advanced school of torture run by the army. The most original method of torture to emerge from this school was the pau de arara (parrot’s perch). After his or her arms and legs had been tied together, the prisoner was suspended from an iron bar under the knees and beaten, whipped, or shocked with electrodes.

Brazil’s neighbor, Paraguay, was another South American country where atrocities were committed by a military regime. Human rights abuses;Paraguay President Alfredo Stroessner, Stroessner, Alfredo the general who had come to power in 1954, frequently employed torture during the 1960’s as a means of interrogating suspected communists. Professor Luis Resck, Resck, Luis who was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, was arrested, beaten, and otherwise ill-treated a total of thirty-six times.

In 1972, an Amnesty investigation of the atrocities committed in Turkey produced another prisoner of conscience, a woman. Human rights abuses;Turkey The Turkish government declared that no prisoners had been ill-treated and even permitted the mission to interview one of them, a twenty-three-year-old woman named Ayse Semra Eker, who had been seized in the street. Eker’s statement revealed a strain of sexual sadism in the torturers. After beating her arms and legs with an ax handle, a police officer inserted a truncheon with an electric wire attached to it into her vagina and passed current. Eventually, she was released, but she could not menstruate for four months. Amnesty International’s 1973 Report on Torture asked if Ayse Eker’s torture could be justified; it concluded that there are countries that think that it can.

The annual reports that Amnesty published throughout the remainder of the decade found that many governments subscribed to U.N. human rights declarations and resolutions on paper only. Physical methods of torture were still openly used in the 1970’s in dictatorships in Spain, Iran, and Iraq. The Amnesty reports also discovered clandestine torture being used in Third World nations such as Uganda and Ghana. A particularly disturbing trend that emerged at this time was the development of psychiatric and medical techniques designed to control a prisoner’s behavior.

By 1983, it became clear that more formal measures were needed to deal with the worldwide problem of torture. The continued use of old methods of torture as well as the invention of new ones in countries such as Guatemala, Syria, and Rwanda led, in October, to Amnesty International’s adoption of its Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture. The twelve points are as follows. (1) Law-enforcement personnel must never employ torture; (2) incommunicado detention should not become an opportunity for torture; (3) prisoners must be held in a publicly recognized place; (4) all prisoners must be told of their right to lodge complaints about their treatment; (5) all reports of torture must be independently investigated; (6) evidence obtained through torture should not be invoked in court proceedings; (7) acts of torture must be categorized as punishable offenses under criminal law; (8) torturers should be prosecuted, and there should be no “safe haven”; (9) training procedures of all prison officials must make it clear that torture is a criminal act; (10) victims of torture and their dependents should be entitled to compensation; (11) all nations should intercede with governments accused of torture; and (12) all governments should ratify international instruments containing safeguards and remedies against torture.


Since its birth in 1961, Amnesty International has repeatedly demonstrated to its critics that ordinary people can save from torture men and women they have never met. The publication of Amnesty’s Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture in its 1984 book-length report Torture in the Eighties helped to mobilize worldwide reaction against torture. Although Amnesty has no scientific way to measure its effectiveness, its stand on torture has clearly struck a nerve in people everywhere. In a number of countries Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico human rights organizations have been formed to combat the use of torture. In the United States alone, more than five hundred groups have formed to help Amnesty International stop torture. In 1984, largely as a response to Amnesty’s annual reports on worldwide torture, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law an American commitment against torture that requires diplomats to report regularly on human rights abuses overseas and to take specific steps to end them. Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture[Twelve Point Program]

Following the publication of Torture in the Eighties, thousands of young people all over the world adopted Amnesty’s cause as their own. In September, 1988, a group of performers including Bruce Springsteen, Springsteen, Bruce Sting, Sting (musician) Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, and the band U2 U2 (musical group)[U two (musical group)] generated millions of dollars for Amnesty International through a benefit tour titled “A Conspiracy of Hope: Concerts for Amnesty International.” Accompanying the tour were victims of repressive governments, including a Chilean torture victim and a survivor of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime.

Probably the most important measure of the effectiveness of Amnesty’s war against torture is the number of governments that have gone to great lengths to improve their image. As a direct result of Amnesty’s publications, a number of nations abolished torture, Portugal, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Kampuchea (now Cambodia), and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) among them. Other nations, such as Guatemala and Peru, tried to discredit Amnesty by accusing the organization of being part of a communist conspiracy. Some nations, such as Turkey, went so far as to hire public relations firms in the United States to change the way that the world views them as a result of Amnesty’s accusations of torture. These measures on the part of the accused nations demonstrate that one powerful weapon for preventing the use of torture is the mobilization of international opinion and pressure. This has always been, and will continue to be, the primary goal of Amnesty International. Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture[Twelve Point Program] Torture;prevention Amnesty International;Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture[Twelve Point Program] Human rights activism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amnesty International. Torture in the Eighties. London: Author, 1984. Despite the broad title, this book actually covers only the first three years of the decade. Still, it provides an in-depth look into the ill-treatment of prisoners in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barber, James David. “The Fight to Stop Torture.” USA Today 116 (November, 1987): 29-31. Picks up where the Amnesty International book cited above leaves off, with a close look at the ways in which some nations defend and justify their use of torture. Ends with a paraphrase of Amnesty’s Twelve-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clark, Ann Marie. Diplomacy of Conscience: Amnesty International and Changing Human Rights Norms. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. Detailed, scholarly history of the organization and its impact on international law. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Larsen, Egon. A Flame in Barbed Wire: The Story of Amnesty International. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. Standard history of Amnesty International is filled with case histories and photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Power, Jonathan. Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International. New York: Allen Lane, 2001. Thorough account of the forty-year history of the organization. Examines human rights violations in places such as Guatemala, Nigeria, Argentina, Germany, and China.

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Categories: History