The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most countries are against torture — but most have also been accused of it

Syrian opposition members call for an end to human rights abuses in Syria, including torture in prisons, on Human Rights Day in Beirut. The protesters demonstrated what they said were different methods of torture used in Syrian prisons. (Cynthia Karam/Reuters)

The Senate report on CIA interrogation methods, released Tuesday, put a renewed focus on the techniques of an agency that many critics accuse of having tortured detainees.

But the United States is far from the only country accused of torture. The following video and maps, all created before the release of the report, demonstrate that despite international conventions against it, torture appears to be widely used by many countries.

Nearly all countries have faced some kind of torture allegations

In 2012, Courtenay Conrad and Will Moore released an Ill-Treatment & Torture Data Collection Project, relying on Amnesty International data from 1995 to 2005. The data consists of all Amnesty allegations of torture and ill-treatment in that period and includes details of the alleged abuses.

Based on this data, Duke University postdoctoral associate Andreas Beger produced an interesting video that shows the evolution of torture allegations from 1995 to 2005. (Red: Systematic/Widespread/Routinely; Green: No Allegation).

On his blog, Beger wrote that "it looks like pretty much all major states engaged in torture at some point between 1995 and 2005." According to the data, only eight out of 151 states faced no Amnesty International allegations (New Zealand, Singapore, Qatar, Gabon, Benin, Finland, Uruguay and Costa Rica).

But the Amnesty allegations should not lead to any broad conclusions: They do not necessarily reflect the nature and severity of the specific acts, which would make an important difference in some cases. For instance, the United States and Syria appear in the same category most of the time (allegations of systematic torture), but the techniques they allegedly used differed widely.

Other countries are described as having collaborated with the CIA or other agencies but not exercising enhanced interrogation techniques or employing torture.

These countries were alleged to have cooperated with the CIA 

According to a 2013 Open Society report, the countries marked in shades of red on this map participated in the CIA's extraordinary rendition and detention program. While some participating countries handed over detainees to the CIA, others interrogated suspects themselves or allowed CIA planes to use their airports.

Despite being accused of torture, most countries have signed and ratified a convention against it

The fact that nearly all countries have been accused of some form of torture in the past 20 years is particularly striking because the vast majority of them signed (166) and ratified (156) a U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, according to this map, which was last updated by the United Nations on Dec. 2. Fewer countries have ratified an Optional Protocol to the Convention, which would allow monitors to visit detention sites.

Why did nearly all countries ratify the treaty but allegedly violate it? Part of the explanation could be that it is easy to ratify a U.N. treaty and to disregard it afterward, because the United Nations lacks the power to enforce swift punishments, and some of the states accused of torture — such as Russia, China and the United States — are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which could enforce sanctions. And then there's the matter of definition: George W. Bush, for example, always refused to describe CIA interrogation techniques as torture when he was president.