26 June 2017 18:00 - 19:30

Old pain, new demons: Thinking torture and dignity today

About the event

Antoine d'Agata/Magnum Photos

On 26 June 2017, on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the ICRC will convene a discussion at the Humanitarium between leading philosophers to address the role of torture in contemporary thought and practice. The panel will explore torture from the vantage points of dignity, evil and the body in pain. In doing so, the discussion will contribute to ongoing debates about the prominence of torture and how best to influence and educate about it today. The event is part of the ICRC Conference Cycle on "Generating Respect for the Law", which aims at addressing the importance of IHL and prevention efforts.



The absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture is a well-established principle of international law. Nonetheless, over the past 15 years, torture and other forms of ill-treatment have come to the fore with renewed force. In its detention work, the ICRC has witnessed an increase in the use of practices such as coercive interrogation techniques and prolonged solitary confinement. At the same time, public attitudes have become more permissive towards torture. The ICRC's 2016 landmark study 'People on War' highlights that attitudes about torture have shifted over the past two decades: Torture is increasingly seen as acceptable in the pursuit of security, and as an inevitable fact of war.

In this context, it is paramount to facilitate informed and critical public dialogue about torture. One of the most difficult and challenging questions we face today is how to develop a critique of violence adequate to our times. Such a critique demands a broad intellectual conversation between many actors who are ethically committed to countering violence in all its forms. The ICRC's expertise in working with individuals and communities affected by torture and other forms of violence allows it to draw attention to these issues and facilitate conversations that engage a broad audience.


  • Mary Werntz, Deputy Director of Operations, ICRC


  • Professor Brad Evans, Reader in Political Violence, Bristol University


  • Elaine Scarry, Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value, Harvard University
  • Simona Forti, Professor of History of Political Philosophy, University of Eastern Piedmont
  • Jay Bernstein, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, New School for Social Research

Date & Time

26 June 2017 18:00 - 19:30

Venue address

17 Avenue de la Paix, 1202 Geneva