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The Prevention of Torture
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There is an urgent need to analyze and assess how we prevent torture, against the background of a rigorous analysis of the factors that condition and sustain it. Drawing on rich empirical material from Sri Lanka and Nepal, The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach interrogates the worlds that produce torture in order to propose how to bring about systemic institutional and cultural change. Critics have decried human rights approaches' failure to attend to structural factors, but this book seeks to go beyond a 'stance of criticism' to take up the positive project of reimagining human rights theory and practice. It discusses key debates in human rights and political theory, as well as the challenges that advocates face in translating situational analyses into real world interventions. Danielle Celermajer develops a new, ecological framework for mapping the worlds that produce torture, and thereby develops prevention strategies.


'Torture has been used in most countries, for the powerful to extract information from victims, and to punish dissidents for alleged wrong doings. To begin to understand this form of institutional violence we must realize it is less about aberrant individuals than it is about pathological social situations. In her powerful book, The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach, author Professor Danielle Celermajer has taken this situational hypothesis, and combined it with rich empirical research on the actual situations where systematic torture occurs. Most uniquely, she has devised a new analysis that can form the foundation of effective prevention strategies. This book is theoretically sophisticated, practically oriented and ethically penetrating. It is must reading as a major step forward in how we think about torture globally, and then actually go about preventing torture.'

Philip G. Zimbardo - Stanford University, California

'Celermajer’s book brings together deftly practical policy work and social theory. Institutions aren’t cruel; people are. And we do not get any closer to adequate explanations, much less prevention, if we cannot link institutional outcomes to the ordinary motivations people have for doing what they do. Otherwise, we commit the scholastic fallacy, filling the minds of violators with thoughts they could not possibly have had but which seem plausible to a society of scholars. Celermajer’s situationalist approach takes in painful fieldwork in South Asia, while illuminating the philosophical complexity of causation when people torture others.'

Darius Rejali - Reed College, Oregon

'Torture is one of the most brutal violations of human rights and a direct attack on the core of human dignity. In her fascinating book The Prevention of Torture, Danielle Celermajer studies the factors that condition and sustain torture, in order to propose how to bring about systemic institutional and cultural change. As the founder and first director of the Asia-Pacific Master in Human Rights and Democratisation, she is able to draw on rich empirical material from Sri Lanka and Nepal. Her systemic approach to human rights also offers a refreshing response to Samuel Moyn and similar theoretical voices criticizing the very concept of human rights as overly individualistic or as even being complicit with neo-liberal economic policies.'

Manfred Nowak - Vienna University and Secretary General of the Global Campus of Human Rights in Venice, previously UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

'Celermajer’s examination of the complexity of causality is invaluable to the field. Her call to address the entire ecology of torture, while not discarding the individual culpability, is one that we should heed. A remarkable achievement, The Prevention of Torture, in its careful analysis of theory and praxis, will inform the work of those who seek to stop torture for many years to come.'

Dinah Pokempner - General Counsel, Human Rights Watch

'The Prevention of Torture: An Ecological Approach is a bold, original and powerful reflection on society’s approaches to ‘wicked problems’, not just torture prevention. The author has demonstrated convincingly why doing more of the same (law reform, human rights training, punishment and deterrence) is not enough. She has the foresight and wisdom to design a rigorous research project, the tenacity and strength to endure the obstacles that were thrown her way, and the humility and generosity to create this important book that will change forever how we conceive of and tackle problems such as torture prevention.'

Janet Chan - University of New South Wales

'With this book, Danielle Celermajer has made both a significant contribution to the conceptualization and practice of human rights advocacy as well as to a public health approach to understanding and preventing traumatic violence and abuse in security settings. She brings an ecological or systems approach to understanding the multiple conditions that lead to the unlawful use of force, particularly torture. This important addition to the torture prevention toolkit brings a collaborative approach to complement the more adversarial legal and prosecutorial approaches that have dominated human rights practices. The lessons learned in this book can be applied not only to police and military settings worldwide, but to any setting where violence prevention is being addressed.'

Jack Saul - Director of the International Trauma Studies Program

‘Torture prevention is especially difficult to study because torture almost always happens in the shadows … Danielle Celermajer, by contrast, is determined not only to build an academically rigorous theory of change about how to prevent torture … but also to test it in the field by taking a project team into the heart of torturing institutions in Nepal and Sri Lanka … an important contribution in and of itself …'

Sonya Sceats Source: International Affairs

‘… Celermajer’s work undoubtedly merits wide inclusion on the reading lists of postgraduate programmes in applied human rights. Celermajer ensures that the demands and difficulties of the world of human rights practice are always kept in view throughout the book.'

Brian Phillips Source: Journal of Human Rights Practice

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