Domestic violence is torture and the UN Convention must be changed

12 Nov

On Monday night, representatives from the Australian government appeared before the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) as part of a current review into Australia’s obligations under its treaty. In their submission, our government argued, “As a matter of international law, domestic violence does not fall within the scope of the Convention … as it is not conduct that is committed by or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

In other words, violence against women does not constitute ‘torture’. Clementine Ford, Daily Life

Unfortunately, the Convention against Torture reads as follows:

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means 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.

Domestic violence does not constitute torture according to the UN Convention, so the Australian government representatives are correct.

What is tragic is that the Australian government is not arguing for an amendment to the Convention that will include domestic violence in the definition of torture.

Given that the Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has shown no interest at all in the horrific abuses against women in this country, I doubt there will be any initiatives from Australia along the lines of amending the Convention.


10 Responses to “Domestic violence is torture and the UN Convention must be changed”

  1. samjandwich November 13, 2014 at 12:13 am #

    GRRRR, just wrote what I though was a well-considered response to this but it seems to have disappeared into the IT ether!! So I might try to replicate it at a later date.

    In the meantime though, you might be interested to look at the submission from the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) to the UN CAT:…/INT_CAT_NGO_AUS_18628_E.pdf , arguing that the historical and continuing treatment of children abused in the care system constitutes torture. It seems to me this has quite a strong claim to being “systematic”, and a result of the “acquiescence of public officials”.


    • Jennifer Wilson November 13, 2014 at 5:48 am #

      Oh, indeed, yes, it is.
      Convention needs to be amended to prevent Abbott etc making this argument against DV & VAW being exempt from CAT
      Three acronyms. No treats for me today.


  2. Hawkpeter November 13, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    I can see the Commonwealth’s point on this. Leaving domestic violence as a law and order and criminal issue for the states seems to make sense, and shouldn’t be seen as some sort of attempt to down-play or minimize what is no doubt a serious issue.

    I think it actually ‘would’ minimize domestic violence if the Commonwealth included it and conflated it with actions by governments, militias, military juntas, secret police and so on.

    If ASIO was found to be water-boarding suspected local terrorist suspects I wouldn’t want that to give cover to domestic violence, which can manifest at first in more subtle ways.

    I’d hate to hear a defense in court and shithouse sentencing by a Judge because someone in a domestic violence situation was ‘only’ shoved, slapped, intimidated and wasn’t water-boarded, burnt with cigarette butts or had a finger cut off by a state militia.

    Domestic violence ‘is’ a serious issue and needs its own emphasis instead of trying to piggy back it onto something that most people in the community consider a different issue.

    We need a greater awareness and condemnation of domestic abuse, before it even escalates to violence. There is already way too much, ‘well its not like he gave her a black eye’ (exchange your pronouns as you please) that isn’t being addressed. Attacking the issue at the other end and conflating domestic violence with IED explosions in a far off land I don’t think it going to have the positive effect we need.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson November 13, 2014 at 11:42 am #

      I agree with you about subtle domestic violence – and emotional violence, intimidation, that doesn’t include the physical.

      I do think, though, that DV and VAW should be included in the definition of torture in international covenants. I doubt any abuser would find themselves at The Hague, and we don’t have a Bill of Rights, nevertheless I would like to see it acknowledged in international law for what it is.


  3. doug quixote November 14, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    The Convention has one aim: to prevent or punish torture by governments or the like –

    “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 has its work cut out to do that; widening it to domestic violence would water it down so as to make it unworkable.

    Domestic violence needs its own Convention.


  4. isobelblackthorn November 19, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Funny, I just had published on ABC Open, a true story of my own experience of child abuse, which was in fact torture. Then I did a search on Abbott’s abhorrent claim and ended here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson November 19, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

      I read your piece. How brave you’ve been. To learn to be satisfied with solitude is an enormous achievement I think.



  1. The Edge Will Do Just Fine « Musing on... - November 19, 2014

    […] because it’s very revealing. While last week our leader and self-appointed Minister for Women Tony Abbott had the nerve to state before the United Nations Committee Against Torture that violence against women does not constitute […]


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