|The Law Society's Sixth Annual Baha Mousa Lecture
Photo credits: Ben Leb @yourlawstudent
Thursday 16th October, I had the extreme pleasure of attending The Law Society's Sixth Annual Baha Mousa Lecture with chair Michael Fordham QC of Blackstone Chambers and Keynote speaker Dr Jonathan Beynon- an Independent expert in the documentation and prevention of torture, monitoring conditions of detention and health in detention. As a law graduate whose Oxford Law Press Prize winning dissertation focussed on George W. Bush and his Administration’s use of torture post 9/11 I was extremely excited for what the night would bring.
The talk begun with an analysis of the biggest problems of detention such as overcrowding, poor infrastructure, prevalence of disease and these contributing factors can and do inevitably lead to torture. The definition of torture being Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT):
“... 'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
The essential elements of the above definition being:
1. Physical/ Emotional suffering
2. Knowingly inflicted
3. For a purpose
4. Any reason of intimidation based on discrimination
As this talk was predominately a medical account of torture, rather than a legal account Dr Beynon spoke of how the Istanbul Protocol, founded in 1999, is used by medical professionals as guidelines to assess allegations of torture during investigations.
Interestingly, however, despite the implementation of this protocol, the talk touched on the fact that in some countries the role of doctors has and is being perverted in order to enable the continuation of torture. As I found out by researching for my dissertation it was often a requirement that a doctor or a medical professional be present during the implementation of torture in order to assess the stability of the detainee.
Photo credits: The Telegraph
The talk also touched on the misconception that there exists a distinction between physical torture and psychological torture- in fact such as distinction is artificial as one inevitable leads to the other. Take for example, the tragic case at the centre of this talk, Baha Mousa, in this horrifying case the sensory overload from the extreme heat and conditions of squalor, the lack of food and water and exhaustion (psychological) combined with successive and systematic assaults, beatings and stress positions (psychical) of which were so intense a post-mortem showed that Mr Mousa’s muscle tissue had entered into his blood steam (a condition known as Rhabdomyolysis) amounted to torture and contributed to his unjustified, inhumane and degrading death.
Additionally, the talk highlighted how since the War on Terror the use and discussion of ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques has been used by torturing states in a clear attempt to give torture a better name and to escape the remit of the Istanbul Protocol. For example, the use of a chair during the implementation of stress positions or the redefinition of torture terms i.e Submarino was redefined to Water Boarding which following The Bush Administration was again redefined to enhanced interrogation techniques.
Overall the talk provided a frank account of the inhuman and degrading sufferings that many humans being are being subjected to at the hands of State officials, the process of identifying torture in line with the Istanbul Protocol and the victims' want for a higher level of culpability for these State actors.
Not only that but as all good aspiring lawyers know events such as these are great in terms of networking- however on Thursday night I found myself on the other side of the legal line: ‘the networkee’ instead of ‘the networker’. I was approached by two second year students from City University and asked about the ways I gained credible, legal work experience.
With what seems like years ago now, they reminded me of my first networking event, City Law Live - a 2nd undergrad looking to gain contacts and get my foot in the legal proverbial door... So if you're reading this girls please feel free to email me or add me to your LinkedIn profiles.
I happily went on to tell both of them how much of my work experience has been gained through successive work experiences .i.e. I wrote to my local Crown and Magistrates Courts to arrange work experience via networking I was able to complete a mini-pupillage at a commercial set. From these experiences I was then able to gain paralegal experience in City Law firms, a Professional Service firm and my current position as a Legal Intern, the rest is history...
I also did a bit of networking myself, with a shiny new trainee solicitor who gave me advice on how to tailor TCs (training contract) applications and how many applications I should be making- she made ten which she thought was on the low side. We talked about the overpopulated legal graduate pool and we both agreed that with the competition between Law graduates and qualification being so high (and expensive!) Law School Providers should be more transparent in terms of their selection process- let's be honest a 2:2 just isn't going to cut it in today's market.
And with that my evening had come to an end, with a few too many complimentary glasses of Orange Juice and with the dread of the Thameslink slow train to Leagrave looming over me, I was off home feeling inspired and even more certain that a career in International Human Rights was suited for me.
Read The Report of the Baha Mousa Inquiry here