Ill-treatment (international law) [Gr.: εξευτελιστική μεταχείριση] (See also: torture, inhuman treatment, degrading treatment, punishment) = with some exceptions such as Article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture, there is no international treaty ascribing any definitional characteristics for ill-treatment. The ECHR has held in a series of cases that in order an act or omission to fall within the scope of Article 3 of the Convention, it must first attain a minimum level of severity (also known as the “de minimis rule”). The assessment of this minimum level is relevant and depends on all the circumstances of the case such as the duration of the treatment, sex, age, state of health and physical or mental effects. In the context of degrading treatment, the same Court has established with its case law that degrading is such a treatment that “humiliates or debases a person, before others or in his own eyes, showing a lack of respect for, or diminishing, their human dignity or arouses feelings of fear, anguish or inferiority capable of breaking an individual’s moral and physical resistance and causes sufficiently severe physical or mental suffering”. A re-classification of a degrading to an inhuman treatment is necessary in case it reaches a certain severity level. According to the Court, “the notion of inhuman treatment covers at least such treatment as deliberately causes severe suffering, mental or physical, which, in the particular case is unjustifiable”. The Convention is considered as a “living instrument” which must be interpreted in the light of the present day conditions, and therefore, due to the increasingly high standards being required in the area of the protection of human rights and fundamental liberties, the Court is free to reassess already classified violations by proceeding to a dynamic interpretation.

The prohibition of any form of ill-treatment is an absolute and non-derogable one, “even in the event of a public emergency threatening the life of a nation”. In cases of immense difficulties faced by states, linked with the victim’s conduct like terrorist activities, these inherent difficulties cannot result in limits being placed on the protection of the physical and psychological integrity of individuals.

Torture is widely accepted to constitute inhuman treatment deliberately provoking very grave and cruel suffering, according to standards of Article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture. Most international doctrinal and case law bodies proceed to the distinction between torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, using primarily the tool of progression of severity of the treatment.

Useful links

Legislation - European Union, Charter of Fundamental Rights, 7 December 2000 - UN General Assembly, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 10 December 1984, United Nations - American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San Jose), 22 November 1969 - UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 16 December 1966, United Nations - Council of Europe, Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), 3 September 1953 - UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 10 December 1948

Case Law - Lawless v Ireland, app. no. 332/57 - Ireland v The United Kingdom, app. no. 5310/71 - Soering v the United Kingdom,  app. no. 14038/88 - Cruz Varas v Sweeden, app. no. 15576/89 - Tekin v Turkey, app. no 22496/93 - Aksoy v Turkey, app. no. 100/1995/606/694 - Selmouni v France, app. no. 25803/94 - Labita v Italy, app. no 26772/95 - Keenan v United Kingdom, app. no 27229/95 - Chahal v The United Kingdom, app. no. 70/1995/576/662 - Idalov v Russia, app. no 5826/03 - Salah Sheekh v The Netherlands, app. no. 1948/04 - Gafgen v Germany, app. no. 22978/05 - Saadi v Italy, app. no. 37201/06 - F.H. v Sweden, app. no. app. no 32621/06 - Baysakov and others v Ukraine, app. no. 54131/08 - Klein v Russia, app. no. 24268/08 - M.S.S. v Belgium and Greece, app. no.30696/09 - Bouyid v Belgium, app. no. 23380/09 - Othman (Abu Qatada) v the United Kingdom, app. no. 8139/09


Bob Brecher, 2007, Torture and the ticking bomb, Wiley-Blackwell [English]

David Weissbrodt, 2006, The Absolute Prohibition of Torture and Ill Treatment, The Long Term View [English]

Georg Meggle, Andreas Kemmerling, Max Textor, 2005, Ethics of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism, Ontos Verlag [English]

Harris, O'Boyle, Warbrick, 2014, Law of the European Convention on Human Rights, 3rd edition, Oxford [English]

Jakobs, White, Ovey, 2010, The European Convention on Human Rights, Fifth edition, Oxford [English]

Linos-Alexandros Sicilianos, 2013, The European Convention on Human Rights, Nomiki Vivliothiki [Greek]

Michelle Farrell, 2013, The Prohibition of Torture in Exceptional Circumstances, Cambridge University Press [English]

William A. Schabas, 2015, The European Convention on Human Rights, A Commentary, Oxford [English]

By Heraclea Giannakou