What is NST?



Isn't Torture Illegal?

The right not to be subjected to torture is codified in international human rights treaties signed by hundreds of countries. Signatory countries agree to include torture in their criminal codes. Laws vary by country.

However, most legal frameworks on torture define it as an act carried out by agents of the State, such as the police or military. Relatively few states have enacted legislation specifically addressing torture committed by private citizens and groups.

The United Nations has enacted resolutions asking for the UN Committee Against Torture to apply the UN Convention Against Torture in a gender sensitive manner. Countries have been resistive to enacting non-State torture law.

The Law in Canada

Although State-actor torture is a specific crime under section 269.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code, non-State actor torture is not named or listed as a specific crime in the Criminal Code.

Which countries or regions within countries have outlawed NST?

At this time we know that non-State torture is criminalized in the state of Queensland, Australia, and in Michigan, California and Alabama in the US. And there are laws in countries such as Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Malta, Romania, Rwanda and Slovenia. The laws and application vary in each country. The major resistance to the adoption and/or enforcement of applicable NST law is global human rights gender inequality based on cultural, traditional and religious beliefs and practices, and economic or structural instability.

What is the difference between abuse/assault and torture?

Non-StateTorture is Violence Beyond Abuse/Assault

The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) defines torture as:

  • Any act whereby severe pain and suffering, physical and mental is inflicted.
  • The acts are intentional.
  • The acts are committed for purposes such as inflicting punishment, or to intimidate or coerce, or based on discrimination of any kind.
  • The State is aware or consents or acquiesces to such acts that are impermissible under the CAT.

How common is Non-State Torture?

Until there is legislation requiring data collection, it is impossible to supply accurate statistics. However, some cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are considered NST, and NST occurs frequently within the context of human trafficking. These examples alone include millions of women and girls.

Through our own work, we’ve heard from nearly 4,000 survivors. Individuals, mainly women, have reported to us enduring ordeals of NST in more than 20 countries, including: Canada, USA, Barbados, New Zealand, Australia, Antarctica, Madagascar, South Africa, Chad, Uganda, Israel, England, Scotland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Philippines, Russia, Hawaii, Hungary, Sumatra, Germany, Costa Rica, and Russia.

What are some types of NST?

Non-State torture can occur within families and groups, and also within certain cultural, religious, or economic contexts. An example from a cultural context is the practice of widow burning. An example from an economic context is rape and torture within the practice of "breaking in" a prostituted person.

For a more comprehensive list, see What is NST? A Human Rights Perspective

Why do people commit NST?

  • Pleasure of destruction of another person
  • Power and control, domination
  • Profit and or other material gain
  • Prestige with NST peers

A Video Introduction

In this Section: Non-State Torture in Depth

A Human Rights perspective of Non-State Torture (NST)

Non-State torture is identified as a distinct and specific crime and human rights violation which must not be misnamed as being another form of crime such as an assault.