Is a slap in the face torture?
Legal Advisor, APT
Where a state agent, such as a police officer, slaps a
person in the face, typically in the context of detention or
interrogation, it is clearly a repugnant abuse of authority.
It demonstrates control over the detainee, who in a
typical situation is unable to fight back. The detainee
is powerless. The slap would therefore be a deliberate
demonstration that the detainee is entirely at the mercy
of the agent.
The international crime of torture requires a subjective
understanding of the pain inflicted on the detainee, and
at the national level, many States have argued that the
severity of pain is an important element to the offence.
Some might argue that a slap is not so serious, and does
not even hurt so much. But a slap in the face is not just
a physical injury. A slap in the face is an insult. It causes
mental anxiety and anger. A slap in the face is particularly
offensive for cultural and religious reasons that are not
related to the physical pain. It is also possible that a slap
in the face causes severe pain for a child, an old person,
a person with health problems, or indeed for anyone
when used repeatedly.
International law directs that even where acts of abuse
do not rise to the level of severity of torture, but still
cause serious mental or physical pain, they should still
be recognised as other forms of prohibited ill-treatment.
Both torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment are absolutely prohibited in
international law. There is no excuse, nor any justification,
that an agent may use to excuse such force. All abuse
must be investigated and punished.
A slap may or may not be torture. It will depend on the
circumstances of each case. But the obligation of each
State to prevent both torture and other ill-treatment
requires that any slap in the face must be prohibited and
punished as a gross abuse to the dignity of each person.
The UN Committee against Torture has observed that illtreatment
of persons deprived of their liberty frequently
facilitates torture. Therefore, even in circumstances
where a slap in the face is not torture in itself, it reflects an
attitude which undermines the dignity of the detainee,
which threatens to destroy their humanity. It must be
condemned, prohibited and punished.