What is NST?

A Human Rights Perspective


The right not to be subjected to torture is codified in international human rights treaties signed by many countries. For example, Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

No one shall be subjected to torture, to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

NST Wheel

Nonstate torture drugging infographic

Torture is Violence Beyond Abuse

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 or 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. 

NST is Torture committed in the Private Sphere

Globally, human rights language identifies torture as:

  • State actor torture or
  • Non-State actor torture

Non-State actor torture refers to torture committed by parents, spouses, other kin, guardians, neighbors, trusted adults, strangers, human traffickers, johns, pimps or pornographers, for example. It is generally referred to as torture that happens in the private or domestic sphere.

Categories of Non-State Torture


Category 1: "Classic" Torture

The word ‘classic’ is a term borrowed from the literature that refers to the acts of torture perpetrated by State actors (police, military or other government employees). The torture tactics of non-State torturers frequently mimic/adapt the torture tactics of State torturers. For example, water torture is adapted in the home by using a bath tub or a barrel filled with water which is then used to submerge the victimized person until they are unconscious.

Category 2: Commercial based NST

For information on NST within the sexualized exploitation of women and girls prostituted and pornography, see Human Trafficking.

Category 3: Socio-Cultural based NST

Socio-cultural based non-State torture occurs within a variety of traditional, cultural, and religious belief based practices. For example female genital mutilation (FGM), widow burning and acid burning.

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

Non-State Torture is identified as a distinct and specific crime and human rights offence which must not be misnamed as being another form of crime such as an assault causing bodily harm or abuse.