Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Everyday torture: An ecological approach

Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Everyday torture: An ecological approach
Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Everyday torture: An ecological approach

Principal speaker

Professor Danielle Celermajer

In many countries throughout the world, including in South Asia, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment and punishment are not exceptional acts, but rather form part of the routine practice of security sector and law enforcement organisations. As distinct from the "spectacular torture' that attracts the gaze of the international community, this type of torture often recedes into the background. The invisibility, normalisation and routinisation of such practices is due, in part to the fact that for the most part it is inflicted against members of the most politically and economically marginalised communities; but it is also because this type of torture is broadly consistent with the larger cultural, political and legal ecology within which it sits.

In this paper, I present findings of extensive empirical work conducted on the use of torture by the police in Sri Lanka and Nepal. Our findings indicated that far from being aberrant, as it is framed in human rights discourses, torture is embedded in a larger set of organizational, political, social, cultural and legal practices and systems that normalise, authorise and legitimate it. Based on these findings, in my recent book (The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach, Cambridge University Press, 2018) I argue that mapping the production of torture within a broader ecology of interlocking factors, places those designing prevention interventions in a better position to develop strategies that may bring about more sustained changes in security sector practice. At the same time, moving away from representations of torture as aberrant presents researchers and advocates with a number of moral and strategic dilemmas, given the role that affects of horror and blame have played in human rights discourses and campaigns and the way in which moral condemnation and prevention strategies are bound together.

Danielle Celermajer is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research stands at the interface of theories exploring the multi-dimensional nature of injustice and the practice of human rights. She recently completed a European Union funded multi-country project on the prevention of torture, focusing on everyday violence in the security sector. Her publications include Sins of the Nation and the Ritual of Apology (Cambridge University Press 2009), A Cultural Theory of Law in the Modern Age (Bloomsbury, 2018), and The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2018). She is now leading a new inter-disciplinary initiative on multispecies justice.

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