No Anti-Torture Laws 10 Years On

Feb 29, 2016 Opini

This piece was written by Ricky Gunawan and was published in The Jakarta Post on 10 October 2008.


On Sept. 28, 1998, Indonesia ratified Convention against Torture. It was expected that this ratification would be a milestone in the struggle against torture. It was meant to impede rampant and continuous torture practices committed by Indonesian police officers and military forces at the time.

Despite the ratification, however, there is no corresponding domestic law criminalizing torture.

For some, torture is the same as maltreatment. According to international human rights law, however, torture is categorized as the highest of crimes. The jus cogens nature of torture justifies states taking universal jurisdiction over torture wherever committed.

International human rights law provides that offenses jus cogens may be punished by any state because the offenders are \”common enemies of all mankind and all nations have an equal interest in their apprehension and prosecution\”. Those who commit torture are classed as acting against humanity (hostis humanis generis). Meanwhile, maltreatment is simply an ordinary crime.

Torture has an enormous impact on the lives of victims, victims\’ families, perpetrators and their families, those aware of such practices in civil society, and enforcement agencies. Torture is not just about breaking the victims, both physically and mentally.

It will haunt the victims for the rest of their lives. Torture is always deliberate and the victims are always unwary. The inflicted pain is acute and chronic. Central to the practice of torture is the intention of cruelty and destruction.

Torture is acknowledged as an ultimate denial of the inherent dignity of every individual. It focuses the power of the state apparatus against a single, defenseless individual, who is often locked in a small, murky room. Torture aims to isolate, hurt and humiliate the victim by using one of the most basic human nature, the aversion of pain or suffering, to overpower dignity. Moreover, it aims to strip the individual of the very qualities on which human rights are based.

The consequences of torture are multidimensional and interrelated. No part of the victim\’s life is untouched. Although the effects of the physical pain suffered diminish after months or years, lasting physical impairments resulting from torture, such as amputation, hearing loss, blindness, muscle impairment, inability to bear children, sexual dysfunction, scars and poorly healed fractures, are permanent mementos of the trauma endured.

In addition to the physical wounds, torture victims suffer from psychological symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, guilt, shame and powerlessness in relation to the problems of everyday life. They can also suffer from poor sleep and recurrent nightmares.

Torture stigmatizes and ostracizes the victims. The families, spouses and children of the victims also bear the brunt, left to lead secluded and demoralized lives.

The aftermath of torture does not solely affect the victims and their families. It affects the perpetrators as well. Torturers and their families also suffer from comparable psychological effects, though they enshroud them using a facade of pride and superiority.

The torturer will be living a normal life even though they have just committed a serious crime. In fact, in terms of family relationships, torturers are living a double life: They are nice fathers at home, while also cruel, ruthless and cold-blooded people.

Despite the unspeakable aftermath of the crime as well as a plethora of reports and declarations issued by the international community, torture persists in more than half of the countries in the world, including Indonesia. Torture remains a problem of great magnitude in the world.

Societies allowing the practice of torture to take place are more likely to develop a culture of violence, generating further atrocities. Deterring such actions and establishing measurable systems to effectively prevent torture may come only from respect of human dignity and social sanity, without which, torture remains an abhorrent violation of human rights and human dignity.

The question left is, will the Indonesian government put its overly repeated commitments to pass proper laws on torture into reality or not? Ten years is, of course, more than enough for the Indonesian government to thoroughly understand the gravity of torture. Recognition of the grave nature, however, devoid of a single law to criminalize it will never bring such evil practices to an end.

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