Torture and Othering

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


We understand torture to be a unique moral and legal wrong. Its absolute prohibition at international law has endured the War on Terror, and it is widely defended by legal scholars and philosophers worldwide. At the same time, violations of the prohibition of torture continue to be documented across the world, and the non-negotiability of the prohibition has been challenged on a number of fronts. In this chapter, I reaffirm the absolute character of the prohibition on torture; at the same time, moving beyond the framing of torture as an exceptional or unique wrong, I consider connections and continuities between the wrong of torture and a prevailing theme in the intersection between security and human rights: othering.

I take othering to be not the denial of sameness, but rather the denial of equivalent moral status. I argue that the wrong of torture is a form of radical othering. I propose that it is thus indelibly connected to what Jeremy Waldron subtly calls ‘difficulties with distribution’ in the ‘image of balance’ between security and liberty; to the way that the War on Terror amplifies ‘us’ and ‘them’ narratives; and to contemporary mainstream gaps in human rights ‘buy-in’. In light of this, I argue that exploring how the prohibition of torture is theorised, debated, and indeed flouted, illuminates some of the foundational challenges faced by human rights, and demands that we respond to them with integrity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSecurity and Human Rights
PublisherHart Publishing
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2019


  • Human Rights
  • Torture
  • Security
  • othering


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