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Title: Rethinking torture in international law
Author: Simonsen, Natasha
ISNI:       0000 0004 5256 8589
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis seeks to identify the moral wrong of torture, and to trace the relationship between that wrong and the definition of torture in international law. Because understanding a concept's modern manifestation requires an understanding of its history, the thesis begins by tracing the historical trajectory of legal prohibitions of different forms of ill-treatment beginning with the English Bill of Rights in 1689, subsequently articulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that 'no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'. This prohibition, almost universally accepted by States, has come to be interpreted as embodying a hierarchy with torture at the apex. The shift towards a hierarchical interpretation of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment in international law was remarkable, both for its decisiveness and for its surprisingly recent occurrence. The reasons for that shift are examined, before turning to a consideration of the competing accounts of what it is that makes torture wrong. Two predominant accounts of the moral wrong of torture are identified, described here as the 'dignitarian' and the 'defencelessness' accounts. Although most international instruments and judicial decisions on torture implicitly reflect the dignitarian account, the thesis argues that this account is open to challenge on normative grounds. Instead, it argues that the preferable account of the moral wrong of torture is a modified form of the defencelessness account, according to which torture is the deliberate infliction of severe pain or suffering in the context of a profoundly asymmetric power relation. Finally, the thesis turns to a consideration of the definitions of torture in international law. It contends that there are distinct conceptions of torture operating in the criminal paradigm, and in the human rights paradigm, respectively. While both conceptions of torture at present reflect the dignitarian account, the thesis argues that there is scope in the human rights paradigm for a more expansive 'defencelessness' conception of torture to be adopted.
Supervisor: Feldman, David ; Shue, Henry ; Lazarus, Liora Sponsor: Rhodes Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Law ; Human Rights ; International law ; Torture