Can human rights safeguard communities and individuals against torture and state violence, asks the Journal of the British Academy

10 May 2022

Today the British Academy publishes a special issue of the open-access Journal of the British Academy featuring new research into human rights violations, survivors of torture and possible legal measures that could safeguard against the use of torture and state violence.

The articles in this issue, Human Rights Protection and Torture, draw on research and first-hand testimony of torture victims in Kenya, Brazil, Tunisia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka to examine the widespread use of state violence and torture as well as grassroots strategies and practices to counter abuse.

Articles include:

  • “Introduction: Rethinking human rights protection – Lessons from survivors of torture and beyond?” by Steffen Jensen and Tobias Kelly
  • “Survivors’ perspectives: How to stay safe and struggle for justice” interviews with human rights activists Sarah Wangari and Amitha Priyanthi
  • “Protecting land activists from state violence: the case NFSW and KMP in Negros, the Philippines” by Karl Hapal, Hannah Gante, Yanna Ibarra and Patricia Rombaon
  • “To retreat or to confront? Grassroots activists navigating everyday torture in Kenya” by Wangui Kimari
  • “Exposed and alone: Torture survivors in Sri Lanka bear the burden of their own protection” by Ermiza Tegal and Thiagi Piyadasa
  • “Mothers, protection and care amongst communities affected by torture and state violence in Brazil”  by Maria Gorete Marques de Jesus, Giane Silvestre, Thais Lemos Duarte and Henrik Ronsbo
  • “The protection of sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia: community responses and institutional questioning” by Adnen El Ghali
  • “How can we strengthen the obligation to protect from reprisals under Article 13 of the Convention against Torture?” by  Rachel Towers.

This edition of the Journal of the British Academy was co-edited by Steffen Jensen, Professor of Global Refugee Studies at Aalborg University and Senior Researcher at DIGNITY: Danish Institute Against Torture, and Tobias Kelly, Professor of Political and Legal Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Jensen said: 

“Human rights protection is often considered in a way that is both too narrow and too broad to provide effective responses to the needs of survivors of torture – too narrow in that it refers to the protection of very particular rights enshrined in law, rather than the protection of the people who might hold those rights, and too broad in that it refers to the underlying principle of human dignity, which while still important, can be too abstract.”

Professor Kelly said:

“This Special Issue of the Journal of the British Academy constitutes an attempt to rethink human rights protection by focusing on the specific issue of torture. Our approach is to look at protection from the perspective of survivors of torture, rather than formal norms and mechanisms. The arguments presented here build on British Academy-funded research conducted originally in Kenya and Sri Lanka. The research was then expanded to include Brazil, Tunisia and the Philippines. The case studies in the articles were chosen because they represent situations with long histories of human rights abuses, particularly those including torture, and they all feature different responses to violence that are both instructive and inspiring.”

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For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

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