Chapter 23 » 23.30

Social justice


In 1961 Amnesty International was established on the initiative of a small group, which included a Quaker, Eric Baker, to take up the cause of prisoners of conscience: men and women imprisoned for their religious, political or other beliefs or opinions, who had not used or advocated the use of violence. It became increasingly evident that many such prisoners were being subjected to torture. In 1974, in Documents in advance and at Yearly Meeting, Eric Baker introduced a session on the subject, which was subsequently selected for special study at the Friends World Committee for Consultation Triennial meeting in 1976.

Can torture ever be justified? Once chattel slavery was considered an economic and social necessity; nevertheless it has now been abolished in most regions of the world. This has happened at least in part because of the revulsion which this offence to human dignity aroused. Should not torture arouse the same revulsion?

Torture is not just a sporadic occurrence in this country or that, but a moral contagion which has spread throughout the world, even to governments which have been proud of their record of civilised behaviour. Torture is not only systematic physical ill-treatment but may also involve the misuse of psychology and other sciences and technologies.

Is this evil one that will arouse us to action as our Society was once aroused by the evil of slavery?

London Yearly Meeting, 1974

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