State Actors (those who act on behalf of the state)
As is emphasized above, the legal definition of torture implies that the behavior in question be carried out by, or with the apprival of, a representative of the authority in power. Considering the common purposes of torture, which may be to obtain information during an interrogation, or sometimes, to intimidate the population as a whole in the face of insurrection or disturbance, it is unsurprising that the principal perpetrators are those officials involved in the criminal investigation provess, and those responsible for the security of the state.
This means that those most likely to be involved in torture and other forms of ill-treatment include:
- The police
- The gendarmerie (in countries where this institution exists)
- The military
- State intelligence agents
- Paramilitary forces or other armed groups acting in connection with official forces
- State-controlled conter-insurgency forces
- Prison officers
- Private contractors carrying out any of the above activities
- Co-detainees or other members of the general population acting with the acquiescence of or on the orders of public officials.
Health professionals even those not directly employed by t he state may also be involved in actts of torture and other ill-treatment. Doctors, psychiatrists or nurses might participate in torture either by direct involvement (be it through medical monitoring of the torture, certifying someone fit for interrogation, or even using medical knowledge to design or refine methods of torture or other ill-treatment), by assisting in a cover-up (for example, by issuing misleading medical reports), or by omission (such as failing to give necessary treatment). As noted earlier, torture is a crime, and any involvement in torture can lead to criminal charges being brought against those involved, including health professionals.
In addition, torture often occurs in the context of armed conflicts, particularly internal conflicts involving forces in opposition to the recognized authorities, and which exercise effective power. In such circumstances, torture and other forms of ill-treatment may also be inflicted, for example by opposition forces, who are also bound by customary international law and Geneva Convention standards to refrain from torture.
Furthermore, if an organized group, whether or not it is a party to an armed conflict, engages in acts of torture or other ill-treatment against a civilian population, on a systematic widespread scale, it can be guilty international law of violating the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
Protection from Third Parties
The main focus of this Curriculum is on torture and other ill-treatment by state agents, particularly law enforcement officials. However, there is also a growing acceptance of the importance of safeguarding people from similar treatment carried out by private groups or individuals. States are responsible for safeguarding the rights of everyone within their jurisdiction and may under some circumstances be held accountable for acts carried out by private individuals if it supports or tolerates them, or fails in other ways to provide effective protection in law andin practice against them.