Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Quaker Action Against Torture

In 1973, Amnesty International’s first Report on Torture concluded:
Torture, now used not only for extracting information, but also as a method of political control, is a world-wide phenomenon which is on the increase.

In response, British Quaker and Amnesty Founder, Eric Baker, organised a Conference for the Abolition of Torture in Paris. 

In an article in The Friend, published later that year, ‘A Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture,’ he stated that:

The Society of Friends should declare itself publicly to be utterly opposed to the use of torture and determine to do its utmost to bring it to an end.

The following year, Baker gave a speech at Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) Gathering at York on the Contagion of Torture, asking:

Can torture ever be justified? ….Once chattel slavery was considered an economic and social necessity; nevertheless it has now been abolished in most regions of the world. This has happened at least in part because of the revulsion that this offence to human dignity aroused. Should not torture arouse the same revulsion?

Following that Gathering, BYM wrote to other Yearly Meetings around the world to raise awareness of the issue.

Baker died in 1976, shortly before the Friends World Committee for Consultation was due to hold its Triennial Meeting in Hamilton, Canada. Taking up his concern, they produced a minute which became known as the Hamilton Declaration, saying:

Both tortured and torturer are victims of the evil from which no human being is immune. Friends, however, believe that the life and power of God are greater than evil, and in that life and power declare their opposition to all torture.

The declaration called on all Quakers to:

Create a force of public opinion which will oblige those responsible to dismantle everywhere the administrative apparatus that permits or encourages torture

In 1979, UK Friends formed the Quaker Abolition of Torture Group (QATG) and in 1984 they also helped to set up Action by Christians against Torture (ACAT). QATG reached out to individual area meetings raising awareness of the use of torture worldwide.  They campaigned against firms such as the Birmingham-based Hyatt, which was producing leg-irons for prisoners. Friends also visited prisoners in different parts of the world.

QATG was laid down in 1994, but individual Friends continued to campaign on the issue.  In 1999, British Friends issued ‘a Quaker Statement on the Abolition of Torture,’ calling it:

A profound evil, causing unimaginable human suffering and corrupting the spiritual and political life of the human family. 

In 2004, three Monthly Meetings (Bristol & Frenchay, North Wales, and Wirral & Chester) were given responsibility for the concern on behalf of Britain Yearly Meeting and Q-CAT (Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture) was established. Q-CAT’s vision is to end torture and complicity in torture, upholding the Quaker testimony to peace and equality and working towards healing through reconciliation.

Since then, they have organised conferences and seminars, instigated round-table consultations with other faith groups and published briefings and newsletters. One recent major project has been to create a “World without Torture” Garden, which was awarded a gold medal at the Royal Horticultural Society's Show at Tatton Park. The garden is a cell reminiscent of Guantanamo Bay, with quiet speakers telling stories of political prisoners, contrasting with a ‘release garden’ symbolising the peace and purity of a world without torture.

In parallel with Q-CAT, the Welcome Project at Glenthorne guesthouse in Cumbria (NW England) offers short respite holidays to groups of asylum seekers and refugees, many of whom are survivors of torture.

In 2005, John Calvi, an American Friend who had worked as a healer and therapist with trauma survivors including victims of torture, called for A Conference on the Treatment and Prevention of Torture, describing torture as:

The ugliest act of our species, and a furtive American crisis at home and abroad

The conference led to the establishment of a Quaker Initiative to End Torture (QUIT), for which Calvi was the founding convenor. Like Q-CAT, QUIT’s mission is rooted in the Hamilton Declaration.  They have been unflinching in holding the US government to account for the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and their website includes a page of FAQs about US sponsored torture.

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