Researchers’ book on torture prevention discussed at UN in New York

Wednesday, 09 November 2016

Anti-torture mural

Last month researchers from Oxford Brookes’ Centre for Development and Emergency Practice (CENDEP) launched their influential book on torture prevention in New York.

In the past three decades, international and regional human rights bodies have developed an ever-lengthening list of measures that states are required to adopt in order to prevent torture. But do any of these mechanisms actually work?

The book Does Torture Prevention Work? is by Dr Richard Carver, Senior Lecturer in Human Rights and Governance and Dr Lisa Handley, Visiting Research Academic, both at Oxford Brookes University, and is the first systematic analysis of that question.

Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, they concluded that the most effective mechanisms were the safeguards that should be given to detainees when they are first arrested, including notification of family or friends and access to a lawyer and medical doctor.

Their findings were discussed at an expert panel meeting in New York at the end of October, hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Washington College of Law and the Association for the Prevention of Torture, who funded the research.

This was one of the first times a publication by CENDEP researchers has been discussed at the UN General Assembly. It was enormously gratifying for us to have our book and the importance and impact of our findings highlighted.

Dr Richard Carver, Oxford Brookes University

The panel included United Nations (UN) anti-torture mandate holders, Dr Jens Modvig, Chairperson of the Committee Against Torture, Sir Malcolm Evans, Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Prevention of Torture and Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

When the experts then presented their respective reports to the UN General Assembly, the book was mentioned.

Dr Richard Carver said: “This was one of the first times a publication by CENDEP researchers has been discussed at the UN General Assembly. It was enormously gratifying for us to have our book and the importance and impact of our findings highlighted.

“Discussions also focused on the need for a  new international protocol on investigative interviewing by law enforcement officials. Reasoning which corresponds precisely to one of the key conclusions of our research, that reduced reliance on confession evidence in criminal investigations is likely to lead to a decrease in the incidence of torture and other ill-treatment of suspects.

“There is solid research behind the rationale for an interviewing protocol and already a degree of interest from some police services. One of the things that we observed in our research on torture prevention was that police and other law officers respond best to training that enhances their professional skills, rather than simply offering ‘thou shalt not’ prohibitions on torture.”

Primary research for the book was conducted in 16 countries, looking at their experience of torture and prevention mechanisms over a 30-year period.

Dr Lisa Handley has taught political science at George Washington University and University of Virginia. She said: “Prevention measures do work, although some are much more effective than others. After analysing the wealth of data collected, we are able to understand better which ones work, but also, just as importantly, which ones don’t. The most important of all are the safeguards that should be applied in the first hours and days after a person is taken into custody.”

You can read more about Richard and Lisa’s US book launch in the CENDEP blog.

Does Torture Prevention Work? is published by Liverpool University Press.

CENDEP is based in the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes. For more information on the Centre’s research visit the website

Photo credit: Anti-torture mural in West Bank, Rory Carnegie