The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.
The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

A Comparative Analysis of the Documentation of Torture and Ill-Treatment in Low-Income Countries

Research Partners:

Show map
Principal Investigator: Tobias Kelly. Lead Organistion: University of Edinburgh
Co-investigators: Morten Koch Andersen (DIGNITY Danish Institute against Torture); Henrik Ronsbo (DIGNITY Danish Institute against Torture); Jens Modvig (DIGNITY Danish Institute against Torture); Jeevan Raj Sharma (University of Edinburgh); Bandita Sijapati (Social Science Baha); Peter Kiama (Independent Medico-Legal Unit); Jacob Rasmussen (DIGNITY Danish Institute against Torture); Maria Hussain (University of Dhaka); Steffen Bo Jensen (Aalborg University)

In many Low Income Countries (LICs), violence is endemic. Among urban populations, the poor are the most vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment. They are also the least able to access forms of accountability. As such, the documentation of torture and ill-treatment can play a key role in improving access to justice and human security. However, recent research demonstrates that routine torture and ill-treatment is difficult to document. In addition, the instruments used for the documentation of torture and ill-treatment assume a level of institutional capacity that is often not available in LICs. They are relatively weak at identifying forms of torture and ill-treatment that are not already reported to NGOs or public bodies. There is therefore a need to develop techniques that can be effectively used to document torture and ill-treatment in situations with limited clinical and legal resources. This project has three key objectives. A. A comparative analysis of the challenges faced by those attempting to document torture and ill-treatment in LICs. B. The development of a survey technique for the documentation of torture and ill-treatment. C. The development of policy recommendations for the most effective methods for the documentation of torture and ill-treatment in LICs. The broader objectives of the research is to contribute to wider debates about the most effective ways to document violence and to help marginalised populations enforce accountability. Structural inequalities and poverty have a key impact on both the vulnerability of marginal populations to state violence, and their ability to seek redress. Case studies will be drawn from three countries: Kenya, Bangladesh and Nepal. All three countries have histories of state led violence and urban poverty. This research project will ask the following empirical questions: 1. How is the prevalence and form of torture and ill-treatment distributed across poor urban populations? 2. What factors determine the relative likelihood that survivors of torture and ill-treatment among the urban poor report their experience and to whom? 3. Towards which particular ends are attempts made to document torture and ill-treatment? 4. What do those who attempt to document torture and ill-treatment in LICs perceive as the benefits and limitations of the current instruments that are available? 5. What forms of torture and ill-treatment, and amongst which populations, do currently available instruments fail to adequately document? The findings from these five questions will be brought together in order to answer an overarching policy question: 6. What are the implications of the research findings for the development of techniques and instruments for the documentation of torture in LICs with relatively low clinical and legal capacity? The research will be divided into two broad areas. A mixed method victimisation survey, and a qualitative analysis of the issues faced by those who attempt to document torture and ill-treatment in specific research sites. The mixed method survey will serve two purposes. First, it will provide a comparative base line with for the analysis of the perceived limitations of current instruments for the documentation of torture and ill-treatment (Q1). Second, it will allow the development a survey based instrument for the documentation of torture and ill-treatment that works on general, rather than individual scale. Such a survey method can be used as both an advocacy tool and to enable the better targeting of policy interventions. The qualitative analysis of the use, potential and limitations of current instruments (questions 2 to 4) will allow the creation of concrete policy recommendations for the most effective ways to document torture and ill-treatment in situations of limited institutional capacity (questions 5 and 6).

The research is intended to have an impact on diverse but interrelated constituencies of groups working at different levels. The first will be academic researchers interested in the documentation and measurement of human rights abuses. The second will be policy makers at a domestic and international level who are interested in the relationship between accountability, violence and poverty. The include government officials and those working for international bodies, such as the UN human rights system. The third, and main beneficiary, will be human rights groups and NGO who are seeking effective forms of redress for poor and marginal populations. This includes domestic NGOs, as well as international anti-torture organisations. There is a dearth of knowledge in particular about the prevalence of state led violence among poor populations, which means that interventions operate on a low knowledge base, and reformers have great difficulty in producing persuasive evidence. The research will produce detailed empirical knowledge about the extent of torture and ill-treatment in three case studies. More importantly, the results of this empirical research will produce practical policy recommendations for the effective documentation of torture and ill-treatment in situations of limited institutional capacity that can be applied to the specific locales, as well as more broadly. This research will allow NGOs to lobby and campaign more effectively on behalf of the poor through the assessment and development of more effective techniques aimed at the documentation of torture and il-treatment. It will also also allow provide domestic and international policy makers with concrete evidence of the distribution of torture and ill-treatment across marginal groups, and therefore produce better designed interventions aimed at increasing vulnerability to violence. The research will therefore contribute towards evidence based policy making, and help create more effective forms of public accountability. In doing so, it will aim to enhance the quality of life for marginal populations. Impact is built into the design of the project. The project has been designed and will be carried out in close cooperation with anti-torture practitioners, such as DIGNITY and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit. The project will also consist of an international advisory board drawn from human rights workers from partner organisations in the three case studies, as well prominent international practitioners (such as Odhikar in Bangladesh, CHRISP in Kenya, Advocacy Forum in Nepal, as well as the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and the UN Human Rights Committee. The Case Studies will be carried out alongside local organisations, including NGOs and research centres (such as Social Science Baha, and the Dept of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Dhaka). The embedding of practioners within the research design and implementation will allow local and international human rights practitioners to better target their interventions aimed at reducing the vulnerability of the poorest to torture and ill-treatment. Through comparative analysis, this project will also enable practitioners from each Case Study country, as well as internationally, to learn from others facing related challenges and to reflect on their own practices.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Sch of Social and Political Science
Fund Start Date: 
May 1st, 2014
Fund End Date: 
August 31st, 2016
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: