Torture is a moral issue

Prepared by Jeanne Christensen, RSM, and editor of KC Olive Branch.

June 26th is United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It was declared so in 1998.  In his message, then- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in part:

”This is a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable. It is long overdue that a day be dedicated to remembering and supporting the many victims and survivors of torture around the world.

June 26 is not a date chosen at random. It was the day, 11 years ago, that the Convention against Torture came into force. It was also the day, 53 years ago, that the United Nations Charter was signed — the first international instrument to embody obligations for Member States to promote and encourage respect for human rights.

Today, we also pay tribute to all those who have worked selflessly to relieve the suffering and assist the recovery of torture victims around the world. These efforts by Governments, organizations and individuals, deserve the gratitude of the United Nations.”

For his full message and additional information and materials, go here.

Following the issue of this UN statement, religious and human rights organizations in the United States declared the month of June to be Torture Awareness Month as a way to provide greater visibility to this issue and provide an opportunity for coordinated actions across the country. They declared that “Torture is a Moral Issue.”

Why Are People of Faith Working to End U.S.-Sponsored Torture?

In early 2010, National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) prepared this statement concerning the continued importance of this work for congregations and other organizations.

Tens of thousands of people of diverse faith traditions, including evangelical Christians, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Quakers, Unitarians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus, as well as representatives of over 130 religious organizations, are working together to end U.S-sponsored torture. Notwithstanding points of theological difference, these groups share a basic understanding and affirmation of the inherent dignity of each individual which includes:

  • A conviction that all individuals are created in the image of God and therefore are endowed with a basic dignity;
  • Some variant of what is commonly referred to as “The Golden Rule”: That which you would not want done to yourself, do not do to another.

Each of these traditions also share ethical principles that people of faith are called to practice:

  • People of faith are called to compassion – to not only care when people are degraded or hurt but to take action: to stand for, and with, those who are abused, oppressed, and among the most vulnerable.
  • People of faith are called to pursue justice to assure that all people are treated fairly – as Martin Luther King once noted, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
  • People of faith are called to be faithful – to be constant in their defense of each individual’s dignity, humanity, and honor.
  • People of faith are called to hospitality – to welcome those who are marginalized, ostracized, and perceived as Other.
  • People of faith are called to make peace – to facilitate reconciliation and to create a culture of peace.

Religious institutions are called to embody these values and to engage in these tasks because of the authority they bring to issues of morality. Religious traditions emphasize ethical behavior as a demonstration of faith in action. They also provide leadership in secular society, playing an important role in influencing issues of morality at the national, state, and local levels. Furthermore, the infrastructure they provide supports the millions of people who covet justice and peace for all of God’s creation.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian, politicist, and observer of 19th century America, observed that “America is great because America is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” It is important for people of faith to impress upon Americans and our leaders in Washington that America’s goodness, and hence its greatness, is seriously compromised by the practice of torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments of detainees.

Sources and further reading:

This information is from the websites of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture,  and the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Fortune.

Another excellent source for current information and advocacy possibilities on torture and other human rights violations is Human Rights Watch.

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