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World citizens reject torture, global poll suggests


A majority of people around the world are opposed to torture even if its purpose is to elicit information that could save innocent lives from terrorism, according to a BBC World Service poll of more than 27,000 people in 25 different countries.

 

The poll suggests 59% of the world's citizens are unwilling to compromise on the protection of human rights; however 29% of those polled think governments should be allowed to use some degree of torture in order to combat terrorism.

 

Most Americans asked (58%) are against any use of torture.

 

But opposition to torture in the United States is less robust than in Europe and the percentage of Americans favouring the practice in certain cases (36%) is one of the highest among the 25 countries polled.

 

The survey was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland.

 

GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork from May through July 2006.

 

Steven Kull, Director of PIPA, notes: "The dominant view around the world is that terrorism does not warrant bending the rules against torture."

 

Doug Miller, GlobeScan President, adds: "The poll reveals a public opinion climate in which human rights violations by governments are likely to cause outrage, especially in Western Europe."

 

There is however somewhat less support for outlawing torture in several countries that have suffered terrorism attacks or political violence including India, where slightly more respondents (32%) favour relaxing the rules against torture than not (23%).

 

The largest percentage endorsing torture was found in Israel. Forty-three percent of those polled say some degree of torture should be allowed, though slightly more (48%) think the practice should be prohibited.

 

Italians are the most opposed to the use of torture with 81% against, followed by three-quarters of respondents in Australia and France, 74% in Canada, 72% in the UK, and 71% in Germany.

 

Countries polled were Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine and the US.

 

Respondents were asked the following question:

 

Most countries have agreed to rules that prohibit torturing prisoners. Which position is closer to yours?

 

Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives.

 

Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights standards against torture.

 

Notes to Editors

 

All of the countries surveyed are parties to the Geneva Conventions that contain Article 3 forbidding torture as well as other forms of abuse.

 

All countries surveyed are also parties to the more recent Convention Against Torture that goes further in how explicitly it prohibits torture, except India, which has signed but not yet ratified it.

 

Italians (81%) are the most opposed to the use of torture in all circumstances in the poll and the British are among the highest with 72% opposed and 24% in favour.

 

Other countries with high numbers favouring a total ban are in Australia and France (75%) as well as Canada (74%) and Germany (71%).

 

Only in India do more respondents favour allowing "some degree of torture". Thirty-two percent say using physical coercion is sometimes permissible - a bit more than the 23% who say existing rules should be maintained. Nearly half of Indian respondents (45%) favour neither position or did not answer.

 

India has a long history with terrorism and political violence, including a 2001 attack on its Parliament. This survey was completed before 11 July 2006 when terrorists bombed seven crowded commuter trains in Mumbai.

 

Interestingly, there is no difference in the views of Hindus and Muslims in India on this question.

 

The largest percentage endorsing torture is found in Israel where 43% say that some degree of torture should be allowed, though slightly more (48%) say the practice should be prohibited.

 

Israeli responses vary significantly by religion. A majority of Jewish respondents (53%) favour allowing governments to use torture to obtain information while 39% want clear rules against it.

 

In contrast, Muslims in Israel (who represented 16% of total responses in that country) are overwhelmingly (87%) against any use of torture.

 

No other country polled has a majority of any major religious subgroup that favours allowing torture.

 

In addition to India and Israel, there were four other countries where those rejecting torture fell short of a majority: Russia (43% reject torture, 37% accept), Nigeria (49% reject, 39% accept), China (49% reject, 37% accept), and Mexico (50% reject, 24% accept).

 

In the United States, most Americans (58%) oppose any use of torture. But opposition to torture in the United States is less robust than in Europe and the percentage of Americans favouring the practice in certain cases (36%) is one of the highest among the 25 countries polled.

 

There is little variation in the worldwide averages by income or education.

 

But support for a ban on torture increases slightly with age: 57% of those younger than 35 were against torture compared to 61% of those 35 and older.

 

Men are five points more likely to accept some use of torture than are women.

 

As for religion, Israel is the only country where statistically significant differences exist between major religious groups on this question.

 

In total 27,407 citizens in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States were interviewed between 26 May and 6 July 2006.

 

Polling was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partners in each country.

 

In seven of the 25 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas.

 

The margin of error per country ranges from +/-2.5 to 4 per cent.

 

For more details, visit www.globescan.com or www.pipa.org.

 

GlobeScan Incorporated is a global public opinion and stakeholder research firm with offices in Toronto, London and Washington. GlobeScan conducts custom research and annual tracking studies on global issues. With a research network spanning 50+ countries, GlobeScan works with global companies, multilateral agencies, national governments, and non-government organisations to deliver research-based insights for successful strategies.

 

The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) is a joint programme of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. PIPA undertakes research on attitudes in publics around the world on a variety of international issues and publishes the website/webzine WorldPublicOpinion.org.

 

BBC World Service Press Office

 

 

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Category: World Service
Date: 19.10.2006
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