Portico in spring

Torture Prevention in Latin America

This research project engages with the question of what factors contribute to reducing the risk of torture and other ill-treatment across weakly institutionalised democratic and autocratic settings in Latin America.  The study of torture has gained prominence in recent years in the social science turn in human rights scholarship, in particular the study of the (disputed) influence of human rights agreements such as the UN Convention Against Torture (Hathaway 2002; Hafner-Burton 2013; Simmons 2009).  However, the study of torture as a philosophical, ethical and consequential object of study has a long pedigree in other academic disciplines especially law and psychology (Zimbardo 2007; Levinson 2004; Rodley 2009).

However, interdisciplinary political and socio-legal study into the causes – both contemporary and historical - of torture and the factors that may prevent it remains relatively under-explored.  Social scientific inquiry into the effects of international torture prevention instruments has generated significant insights into why and under what conditions states ratify human rights protective treaties and optional protocols.  Relatively little attention, however, has been given to questions of these international instruments actually work in practice, and when and why they matter for preventing torture violations on the ground.  

The region of Latin America is an especially instructive domain for evaluating the phenomena of torture over time and across variably stable democratic regimes.  Many countries in the region have emerged from protracted periods of authoritarian rule, armed conflict and systematic human rights violations over the past 30 years, including the widespread use of torture.  The legacy effects of gross human rights violations continue to resonate powerfully among the new democracies in Latin America.  Compared to other regions of the world, Latin America displays a robust record of ratification of relevant international instruments in the area of torture prevention.  However, the prevalence of torture in contemporary Latin America remains alarmingly high (Rejali 2007).

This research project proposes to engage in a political and socio-legal study of the evolution of torture and other ill-treatment from 1985 to the present day across country cases in Latin America, with a particular focus on what factors have contributed to that evolution and the external influence of international prohibition frameworks.  It will draw on both qualitative and available quantitative data through a mixed method research design.  The research will present a highly contextualised picture of measures and mechanisms which contribute to lessening the risk of torture and other ill-treatment.  In order to achieve this objective, a number of methodological strategies will be used. 

Tom Pegram

Political Science

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