Human Rights Expert to Discuss Torture in the 21st Century

Mar 24, 2015 | Kristi Lynch

Dr. Michelle Farrell from the University of Liverpool will discuss “Torture in the 21st Century Liberal Democracy” in a lecture on Wednesday, April 8, at 5:00 p.m. in Blades Chapel on the University of Dubuque campus. Farrell’s lecture is sponsored by the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights and the University of Dubuque’s Honors Program.

Since the turn of the century, torture has revealed itself as a more vexing issue than the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would ever have imagined in 1946. Then, the inclusion of an absolute, unqualified ban on torture was uncontroversial.  The prohibition on torture is universal. States deny its practice. It is generally met with condemnation. Yet, over the past 14 years, in the United States and in Europe, the justifiability of the use of torture in certain limited circumstances has become a legitimate topic of debate. How did this happen? What are the implications?  This presentation examines the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA torture. It uses these findings to ask some difficult questions about the practice of torture and the practitioners of torture. What is torture? What are the links between the purposes of torture and its practice? How do liberal democratic states facilitate an essentially illiberal and illegal practice? This presentation concludes that the practice of torture is revealing, not of information but of the very nature of contemporary state power.

Michelle Farrell is a lecturer in law at the School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool. Her research interests are in moral, political, and critical theory on human rights, and in individual rights and the constitutional order in the face of conflict, political violence, and states of emergency. At Liverpool, Farrell teaches Security, Conflict and the Law, amongst other subjects. She is Co-Director of the Human Rights and International Law Unit. In August 2013, she published her first monograph The Prohibition of Torture in Exceptional Circumstances with Cambridge University Press. The book contemplates how and why the use of torture in exceptional circumstances became such a central topic of debate following the events of 11 September.