Hunger and torture.

Assessing the adequacy of prison food under international law


  • Ergun Cakal



denial, deprivation, manipulation, food, nutrition, hunger


Background: Deprivation of prisoner food, in terms of its quality and quantity, has generally been accepted as violating the prohibition as torture and ill-treatment, particularly when combined with other factors (ie. harmful conditions and methods). Aspects relevant to assessing when and how food provision is considered inadequate, however, remain complex and confusing. This article presents a doctrinal review which consolidates normative understandings of adequate prisoner food. Method: A systematic full-text search was made of international and regional normative standards, case-law and commentary using the keywords. These were then selected based on their relevance for regulatory and explanatory specificity and pertinence to detention contexts. Findings: International and regional bodies directly connect the adequacy of food to respect for dignity, freedom from torture and ill-treatment as well as the right to health – and particularly as depending on duration, quality, quantity and variety. What constitutes inadequate food remains complex as it is contingent on both material and non-material considerations, including its quality (content, nutritiousness, edibility, variety, wholesomeness), its quantity (calorie, substantiveness, balance), its preparation (hygiene, respect to the individual and community), its provision and consumption (when, how and where it is to be eaten, regularity, accessibility, warmth/cold), its socio-cultural suitability (to religious and cultural values) and its developmental suitability (for pregnant or breast-feeding mothers and children).

Author Biography

Ergun Cakal

PhD fellow, University of Copenhagen Correspondence to:


Amnesty International. (2016). Combating Torture and Other Ill-Treatment: A Manual for Action. London.

Association for the Prevention of Torture et al. (2021). Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering.

Başoğlu, M. (2017). Torture and Its definition in international law: an interdisciplinary approach. New York: Oxford University Press.

Berlant, L. (2007). Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency). Critical Inquiry, 33(4), 754-780.

Boulesbaa, A. (1999). The U.N. Convention on Torture and the prospects for enforcement. Brill.

CAT. (2015). Déogratias Niyonzima v. Burundi, CAT/C/53/D/514/2012.

CAT. (2005). Danilo Dimitrijevic v. Serbia and Montenegro, CAT/C/35/D/172/2000.

CAT. (2016). Abdulrahman Kabura v. Burundi, CAT/C/59/D/549/2013.

CAT. (1993). Report. A/48/44/Add.1.

Council of Europe. (2020). European Prison Rules.

CPT. (2015). Standards, CPT/Inf/E (2002) 1 - Rev. 2015.

CPT. (2015). Living space per prisoner in prison establishments: CPT standards, Strasbourg, 15 December 2015, CPT/Inf (2015) 44.

CPT. (2021). Report on North Macedonia: Visit 2020. CPT/Inf (2021) 18.

CPT. (2002). Report on Italy: Visit 2019. CPT/Inf (2020) 2.

CPT. (2020). Report on Greece: Visit 2019. CPT/Inf (2020) 15.

CPT. (2020). Report on Bulgaria: Visit 2020. CPT/Inf (2020) 39.

CPT. (2020). Report on Moldova: Visit 2020. CPT/Inf (2020) 27.

CPT. (2020). Report on Ireland: Visit 2019. CPT/Inf (2020) 37.

CPT. (2020). Report on UK (England): Visit 2019. CPT/Inf (2020) 18.

DIGNITY. (2018). Health factsheet: Deprivation of food.

Dworkin, R. (1977). Taking Rights Seriously. Duckworth.

ECCC. (2010). Co-Prosecutor v. Kaing Guek Eav alias Duch, Case No. 001/ 18-07-2007/ECCC/TC, Judgment.

ECtHR. (1978). Ireland v. the United Kingdom. 5310/71.

ECtHR. (1990). Guzzardi v. Italy. 7367/76.

ECtHR. (1997). Raninen v. Finland. 20972/92.

ECtHR. (1998). Kurt v. Turkey. 15/1997/799/1002.

ECtHR. (2006). Kadiķis v. Latvia (no. 2). 62393/00.

ECtHR. (2006). Moisejevs v. Latvia. 64846/01.

ECtHR. (2007). Istratii and Others v. Moldova. 8721/05, 8705/05, 8742/05.

ECtHR. (2007). Modârcă v. Moldova. 14437/05.

ECtHR. (2007). Todorov v Bulgarie. 50765/99.

ECtHR. (2008). Starokadomskiy v. Russia. 42239/02.

ECtHR. (2008). Stepuleac v. Moldova. 8207/06.

ECtHR. (2011). Jakóbski v. Poland. 18429/06.

ECtHR. (2011). M.S.S. v Belgium and Greece. 30696/09 [GC].

ECtHR. (2012). Ciorap v. the Republic of Moldova (No. 3). 32896/07.

ECtHR. (2013). Segheti v. the Republic of Moldova. 39584/07.

ECtHR. (2013). Strelets v. Russia. 28018/05.

ECtHR. (2013). Vartic v. Romania (No. 2). 14150/08.

ECtHR. (2016). Korneykova and Korneykov v. Ukraine. 56660/12.

ECtHR. (2016). Mozer v. Moldova and Russia. 11138/10.

ECtHR. (2018). Ebedin Abi v. Turkey. 10839/09.

ECtHR. (2020). Erlich and Kastro v. Romania. 23735/16, 23740/16.

ECommHR. (1969). Greek Case. Comm Rep, 5 Nov. 1969, 12 ECHRYb.

ECommHR. (1998). Nevaro v. Finland. 33599/96.

HRC. (1981). Sendic v. Uruguay, CCPR/C/14/D/63/1979.

HRC. (1997). Polay Campos v. Peru. CCPR/C/61/D/577/1994

HRC. (1994). Mika Miha v. Equatorial Guinea. CCPR/C/51/D/414/1990.

HRC. (1997). Hill v Spain. CCPR/C/59/526/1993.

HRC. (2014). Basnet v Nepal. CCPR/C/112/D/2051/2011.

HRC. (2007). Aber v. Algeria. CCPR/C/90/D/1439/2005.

HRC. (2014). Franck Kitenge Baruani v. Democratic Republic of Congo. CCPR/C/110/D/1890/2009.

HRC. (1987). Cariboni v. Uruguay. CCPR/C/31/D/161/1983.

HRC. (2011). Giri v. Nepal. CCPR/C/101/D/1761/2008.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (2008). Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas. No. 1/08.

IACtHR. (2004). Juvenile Reeducation Institute v. Paraguay.

IACtHR. (2006). Miguel Castro Castro Prison v. Peru.

IACtHR. (2012). Pacheco Teruel et al. v. Honduras.

ICRC. (2005). Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law.

ICRC. (2018). Towards Humane Prisons: A Principled and Participatory Approach to Prison Planning and Design.

ICRC. (2020). Commentary to Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.

ICRC. (2021). Health Care in Detention: A Practical Guide.

ICTY. (2001). Prosecutor v. Kvocka. IT-98-30/1-T.

ICTY. (2002). Prosecutor v. Krnojelac. IT-97-25-T.

ICTY. (1998). Prosecutor v. Delalić et al. IT-96-21-T.

ICTY. (2001). Prosecutor v. Kunarac. IT-96-23-T & IT-96-23/1-T.

ICTY. (2004). Prosecutor v. Brdjanin. IT-99-36-T.

ICTY. (2013). Prosecutor v. Prlić. IT-04-74-T.

ICTY. (1994). Prosecutor v. Nikolic, IT-94-2-I.

Nowak, M. (2006). What Practices Constitute Torture?: US and UN Standards. Human Rights Quarterly, 28(4), 809-841. 10.1353/hrq.2006.0050

Nowak, M, and E McArthur. (2008). United Nations Convention Against Torture: A Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/law/9780199280001.001.0001

Nowak, M, et al. (2019). The United Nations Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol. Oxford University Press.

Pérez-Sales, P. (2020). Hunger: Deprivation and manipulation of food as a torture method. State of the art in research and ways forward. Torture Journal 30 (3), 3-19.

Rodley, N, and M. Pollard (2006). Criminalisation of torture: state obligations under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. European Human Rights Law Review.

Schechter, R.B. (2003). Intentional Starvation as Torture: Exploring the Gray Area between Ill-Treatment and Torture. 18 American University International Law Review 1233.

SPT. (2011). Report on Visit to Paraguay 2010. CAT/OP/PRY/2.

SPT. (2019). Report on Visit to Portugal 2018. CAT/OP/PRT/1.

SPT. (2019). Report on Visit to Spain. CAT/OP/ESP/1.

SPT. (2020). Report on Visit to Poland 2018. CAT/OP/POL/ROSP/1.

SRT. (2012). Addendum. A/HRC/19/61/Add.3.

SRT. (2014). Addendum. A/HRC/25/60/Add.1.

SRT. (2015). Addendum. A/HRC/28/68/Add.4.

SRT. (2008). Addendum. A/HRC/7/3/Add.2.

SRT. (2010). Report. A/HRC/13/39/Add.5.

UN. (1990). United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty. GA Res 45/113 of 14 December 1990.

UN. (2010). United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). A/C.3/65/L.5.

UN. (1991). United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of Their Liberty. A/RES/45/113.

UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (1999). General Comment No. 12: The Right to Adequate Food (Art. 11).

UNODC. (2016). Handbook on the Management of High Risk Prisoners.

UNODC. (2010). Handbook on strategies to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

UNOHCHR. (2020). Report. A/HRC/44/37.

UNOHCHR. (1999/2004). Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (‘Istanbul Protocol’). HR/P/PT/8/ Rev.1.

Washington Post. (2014). The Watch: Daniel Chong is the entirely predictable result of dehumanizing drug offenders. 9 July 2014:

WHO. (2021). Prisons and Health: Nutrition. Zyl Smith, D. et al. (2011). Model Detention Act and Commentary.




How to Cite

Cakal, E. (2022). Hunger and torture.: Assessing the adequacy of prison food under international law. Torture Journal, 32(3), 16–30.