The Torture of own Citizens in the War on Terror: Understanding Responses of Liberal Democracies

Event date: 
14 Aug 2014
1:00pm to 2:00pm
Boardroom, Level 2, UNSW Law
Cynthia Banham, ANU
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Liberal democracies, it is assumed, share common values, including a respect for international human rights law which prohibits torture. Despite this, liberal democracies have used torture as a tool of statecraft, including most recently following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. This study examines why three apparently similar liberal democracies – Australia, the UK and Canada – responded differently to the torture of their citizens detained in the “war on terror”. Why, for example, did one country react with indifference while another stood up not only for its citizens but residents too? Why did the attractiveness of victims matter in one country, but less so in others? It argues that the answer lies in understanding how different features of a country’s domestic political context enable and constrain civil society, the actions of which ultimately shape state behaviour on international human rights.


Cynthia Banham is a PhD candidate in her final year at the ANU’s Regulatory Institutions Network’s (Regnet), in the Centre for International Governance and Justice, working under the supervision of Professor Hilary Charlesworth. Her thesis examines the responses of liberal democracies to the torture of their own citizens after September 11. She is a former foreign affairs and defence correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald, and spent almost a decade working in the Canberra Press Gallery. Cynthia was a Visiting Fellow/Journalist in Residence in the ANU’s International Relations Department, and has a Masters of International Affairs from the ANU. She is also a lawyer, and has worked as a solicitor in Sydney.