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A Hypothetical on Deprivation of Liberty and Torture

Published on May 31, 2019        Author: 
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In light of today’s rather extraordinary statement by Prof. Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, that Julian Assange has been subjected not only to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but also to a sustained campaign of collective persecution, the results of which were tantamount to psychological torture, here’s a brief hypothetical that can hopefully shed some light on Assange’s legal situation:

Variant 1: A is a human rights defender living and working in Dystopia, a highly authoritarian police state. He has helped countless people in his work, to much international acclaim. One day he receives reliable information that a Dystopian court has ordered his arrest, on charges of sedition, and that if convicted (which seems very likely) he could spend many years in prison. A decides to evade the police seeking to arrest him.  With the help of friends, A finds refuge in a cave in a remote location. He spends 7 years in that cave, with very little human contact, fearful that if he ever left the cave the police would find him and arrest him. The years take their toll. A starts suffering from a number of physical ailments. Even worse, the virtually total separation from his family, friends and the outside world eventually leads to serious impairment to his mental health, including severe anxiety and depression. After 7 years, the Dystopian police discover A’s hiding place and arrest him.

Questions: (1) While A was in the cave, was he subjected to a deprivation of liberty by the state of Dystopia? (2) If so, was that deprivation of liberty arbitrary? (3) In any event, do the accumulated consequences to A’s mental and physical health, due to the extended period of time he spent in the cave hiding from Dystopian authorities, qualify as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of A on the part of the state of Dystopia?

Variant 2: R is the highest-ranking general of the army of a separatist regime in Anarchia, a country ravaged by a sectarian civil war. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for R’s arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale; he is suspected of leading a campaign of ethnic cleansing which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. After the Anarchian civil war ends in the victory of his opponents, R decides to go into hiding. With the help of friends, R finds refuge in a cave in a remote location. He spends 7 years in that cave, with very little human contact, fearful that the Anarchian government authorities will arrest him and send him to The Hague for trial. The years take their toll. R starts suffering from a number of physical ailments. Even worse, the virtually total separation from his family, friends and the outside world eventually leads to serious impairment to his mental health, including severe anxiety and depression. After 7 years, the Anarchian police discover R’s hiding place and arrest him.

Questions: (1) While R was in the cave, was he subjected to a deprivation of liberty by the state of Anarchia? (2) If so, was that deprivation of liberty arbitrary? (3) In any event, do the accumulated consequences to R’s mental and physical health, due to the extended period of time he spent in the cave hiding from Anarchian authorities, qualify as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of R on the part of the state of Anarchia? (4) If you have answered any of the preceding questions differently than their counterparts in Variant 1, please explain why you have done so.

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