Should Governmental Bodies Accept Goods From Countries That Torture?

Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, has recently called upon governmental bodies to refuse goods and information obtained by torture in other countries. Mr. Mendez believes it is a form of hypocrisy when governments outwardly condemn torture committed by other countries while at the same time continue to accept products and information from them. He advocates for a complete prohibition of goods made in countries that engage in torture. By doing so, signatory countries will better implement the goals of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention”).

Under the Article 1 of the Convention, torture is defined as:

“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

According to Mr. Mendez, imposing trade restrictions upon countries that torture will provide an economic incentive for such countries to clean up their act. When countries accept goods or information that is tainted through means of torture, they in effect silently condone such acts. Oppressive governments have little to no internal ramifications for torturing, so imposing external deterrents may be the best way to extinguish such activity.

Do you think Juan Mendez’s plan would succeed if implemented? What other ways are there to force countries to stop the use of torture?


UN Special Rapporteur

UN Convention Against Torture [Text]



  1. While I applaud Juan Mendez in his efforts to get countries to abolish slavery, I do not think a plan like this would ever last or have any actual effect on accomplishing the goal it is supposed to. Business rules all and as a result if a country needs a certain product from a certain country, then odds are they will continue to do business with this country regardless of their participation in certain torture methods. If a country engages in torture to obtain crucial information to get to the bottom of certain crimes or to prevent future ones from occurring then there doesn’t seem to be a justification to refuse to do business with that country. Those are two matters that should be kept separate. If this plan is implemented, I foresee a very small number of states willing to become signatories.

  2. It is certainly commendable of Mr. Mendez to seek such a powerful mechanism such as a refusal to do business as a means of putting an end to torture. However, as Ahmad said, money trumps most idealistic behavior. It is very difficult for a country who may rely on foreign goods to turn their back on possibly the good of their own people, who may need such goods, in the effort of combatting foreign torture. I agree that accepting goods from torturing countries is a way of silently condoning it, but when it comes to affecting the well-being of your own country’s people, it is hard to put a stamp on that. Another road block is how subjective torture is, and how quick a country is to defend their tactics. It would have to be an objectively atrocious pattern of torturous acts to justify a block of goods. Additionally, I think that the goods would have to be non-essential to the well-being of the blocking country’s people.

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