Project details

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

In many Low Income Countries (LICs), violence is endemic, and 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, in the shape of doctors and lawyers, that is often not available in LICs. Furthermore, current human rights documentation techniques can also sometimes assume that torture is relatively rare occurrence limited to political detainees. Experience suggests however, that the torture and ill-treatment is a much more ‘everyday’ occurrence for marginalized populations, linked to inequality, harassment and corruption. There is therefore a ‘documentation gap’ in many Low-Income Countries.

This project is a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and DIGNTIY: The Danish Institute Against Torture, along with local partners in Bangladesh, Nepal and Kenya. It is funded by the ESRC/DfID joint fund for poverty alleviation research.

The projecthas two key objectives.

  1. A comparative analysis of the challenges faced by those attempting to document torture and ill-treatment in LICs.
  2. 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 are 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.

Research Questions
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:

  • 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?