Home Institution

University of Michigan

Publication Date

Spring 2022

Program Name

Switzerland: International Studies and Multilateral Diplomacy


Since its inception, the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) conceived torture as a state crime. The Convention established a so-called “state-nexus” that effectively excludes torture committed by non-state actors. The Committee Against Torture as well as the world’s major anti-torture NGOs have almost exclusively focused on ill-treatment perpetrated by state entities. Yet, there have been efforts to extend the definition to private actors, including the “de facto authority” approach, and the due diligence doctrine. This article explores the effectiveness of these efforts to expand the scope of the UNCAT when applied to organized criminal organization such as gangs and cartels. By incorporating legal theory, human rights scholarship, and interviews with human rights practitioners, this work aims to highlight the limitations and opportunities of applying the UNCAT to acts of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by organized criminal groups. The essay concludes that holding criminal groups accountable for committing torture requires both a broader understanding of what torture entails under the Convention that focuses on the victim, as well as addressing systemic issues in fragile states to prevent the types of environments that propitiate torture.


Criminology and Criminal Justice | Human Rights Law | International Relations | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance


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