Time and again, human rights come into conflict with security interests. Particularly in the fight against terrorism, it often seems necessary to restrict or even suspend individual rights. But such restrictions are legitimate only if they meet certain criteria. Heiner Bielefeldt also points out that some legal norms do not permit any exceptions. Among these are the prohibition of slavery and the prohibition of torture.
Bielefeldt defines torture as the use of coercive means with the aim of overriding a person’s free will. The torture victim is forced to experience his humiliation while fully conscious. No longer treated as a person, but as an object, his dignity and rights are totally denied.
Respect for human dignity, however, is the foundation of civilization – and hence of any political order. One of the defining characteristics of a state governed by the rule of law is that it upholds and defends the basic rights of its citizens – even when defending itself against terrorist threats. As soon as a state permits exceptions to the prohibition of torture, it undermines its own foundations.