LONDON - Torture is rampant across the world and has become almost normalised by the "war on terror" and its glamorous portrayal in shows such as "24" and "Homeland", Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
The London-based human rights group is launching a new campaign aimed at ending torture, which it says remains widespread even 30 years after a blanket prohibition was agreed by the United Nations.
In the past five years, Amnesty says it has recorded incidents in 141 countries, including 79 of the 155 signatories to the 1984 UN Convention against Torture.
The global survey of 21,000 people in 21 countries also revealed a widespread dread of the practise, with 44 per cent saying they feared being abused if they were taken into custody.
Yet over a third per cent of the respondents said they believed torture was sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public.
"It's almost become normalised, it's become routine," Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty told reporters at the launch of the "Stop Torture" campaign in London.
"Since the so-called war against terrorism, the use of torture, particularly in the United States and their sphere of influence... has got so much more normalised as part of national security expectations."
Support for torture ranged widely across nations, from 74 per cent in China and India, to just 12 per cent in Greece and 15 per cent in Argentina, the GlobeScan survey found.
In Britain, which had the lowest fear of torture among all the countries, 29 per cent backed its use - a fact Amnesty country director Kate Allen attributed to the popularity of violent, spy-based TV shows.
"Programmes like '24' and 'Homeland' have glorified torture to a generation, but there's a massive difference between a dramatic depiction by screenwriters and its real-life use by government agents in torture chambers," she said.
'They get away with it'
Amnesty won the Nobel Peace prize in 1977 largely because of its work fighting against torture, and the new two-year campaign is an attempt to revisit one of its core issues.
The group notes how the UN Convention made torturers "international outlaws" and prompted governments worldwide to denounce the practice. But it warns that in reality many are endorsing or at least failing to tackle the issue head-on.
It described police brutality in Asia, where torture is a "fact of life", and pointed out that more than 30 countries in Africa have yet to make such abuse punishable by law.
Shetty spoke of "the cruelty of inmates in the United States being held in solitary confinement with no light", of stoning and flogging in the Middle East and of the "stubborn failure" of European nations to investigate allegations of complicity in torture.
The new campaign focuses on five countries where torture is a particular problem and where the NGO believes it can have the most impact: Mexico, the Philippines, Morocco and Western Sahara, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.
Loretta Ann P. Rosales, who was tortured under the Marcos regime in the Philippines in 1976 and now leads that country's human rights commission, said there were several reasons why torture continued.
It was seen as a shortcut to get confessions from detainees, a tool of corruption or an instrument of repression, and came from a prioritisation of "the need for state security over human security", she told reporters.
Shetty said in many instances it was simple: "People get away with it."
Amnesty is calling on governments to prevent torture by providing medical and legal access for prisoners and better inspection of detention centres.
But it also wants an end to the impunity that exists in many places, urging independent investigations of allegations of torture.
"Governments have broken their promises, and because of these broken promises millions of people have suffered terribly," Shetty said.