COVID-19 and torture


  • Pau Pérez-Sales



Covid-19 and torture


Over the past few weeks, and with the Editorial already at completion, the COVID-19 pandemic has invaded our lives. Its systemic impact has affected, and continues to affect in equal measure the provision of rehabilitation to victims of torture.

Amongst the many areas in which COVID-19 has impacted the field of prevention and rehabilitation of torture survivors, at least 8 areas of concern can be highlighted.

1. Attacks on basic fundamental rights and unnecessary increase in social control measures (Human Rights Watch, 2020a)

2. Increases in cases of ill-treatment or torture linked to the pandemic itself. For instance, various media sources have reported cases related to the dissemination of information in countries where this was considered to be against the interest of the State (Wang, 2020; Human Rights Watch, 2020b; Amnesty International, 2020a)

3. Respect for the rights of detainees and COVID preventive measures in detention settings that are compliant with human rights (Council of Europe, 2020; OHCHR, 2020; Council of Europe, 2010) and especially amnesty processes for political prisoners or the use non-custodial measures (Comninos, 2020; Amnesty International, 2020b).

4. Increases in cases of gender-based violence (Ford, 2020; UNFPA, 2020; UN Women, 2020) and assaults on homeless populations (Phasuk, 2020; Hartley, 2019), both related to fear and isolation.

5. Relapse of symptoms, especially night mares, flashbacks and somatic symptoms, in survivors that were ill-treated or tortured while in custody, due to COVID- related self-confinement or measures of medical isolation.

6. The reshaping of society: Will there be a change in values towards more egalitarian, empathetic and supportive societies? Or an evolution towards a more fearful society with an increasing lack of solidarity as fear instils?

7. The use of warlike metaphors (the “war” on the Coronavirus) as a prelude to restrictions in freedoms, censorship or authoritarianism in the name of the collective good (Human Rights Watch, 2020a).

8. Cutting budget allocations for the most disadvantaged, vulnerable groups in general and survivors of torture specifically, in favour of security policies or market-based post-COVID decisions (UNDP, 2020; European Council, 2020).

These are some of the many areas of reflection on COVID-19 as a global crisis in the field of human rights and the prevention of torture and rehabilitation of torture victims.

Torture Journal invites our readers to share your experiences, reflections, research and data in the form of a Letter to the Editor, News or Research Report for inclusion in future issues of the Journal. This is a global crisis which may, in turn, foster a shared learning opportunity for all.


China: Free Covid-19 Activists, ‘Citizen Journalists’. (2020b, April 27). Human Rights Watch. 19-activists-citizen-journalists

Coalition Against Torture: Government officials should be accountable for excessive use of force, ill-treatment during COVID-19 lockdown. (2020a, April 23). Amnesty International.

Comninos, A. (2020, March 12). COVID-19 in prison. APT.

Council of Europe. (2020, March 20). COVID-19: Council of Europe anti-torture Committee issues “Statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty”. deprived-of-their-liberty-

Covid-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. (2020). UN Women. pdf?la=en&vs=5006

COVID-19: Measures needed to protect people deprived of liberty, UN torture prevention body says. (2020, March 30). OCHR.

Ford, L. (2020, April 28). ‘Calamitous’: domestic violence set to soar by 20% during global lockdown. The Guardian. global-lockdown-coronavirus

Hartley, L. (2019, January 31). Anger at ‘torture’ of city homeless man set on fire. Coventry Telegraph.

Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response. (2020a, March 19). Human Rights Watch.

Millions more cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, unintended pregnancy expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (2020, April 28). United Nations Population Fund.

Phasuk, S. (2020, April 24). Covid-19 Curfew Arrests of Thailand’s Homeless. Human Rights Watch.

Position Note on the Social and Economic Impacts of Covid-19 in Asia-Pacific. (2020). UNDP.

Report on the comprehensive economic policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (2020, April 9). European Union.

Syria:Vulnerable prisoners should be released to prevent spread of COVID-19. (2020b, March 31). Amnesty International.

The prohibition of torture is absolute and no exceptions allowed, ever. (2010, October 30). Council of Europe.

Wang, M. (2020, April 1). China: Fighting COVID-19 With Automated Tyranny. Human Rights Watch.




How to Cite

Pérez-Sales, P. (2020). COVID-19 and torture. Torture Journal, 30(1), 3–4.