Torture and corruption in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Congo and South Africa

For a long time, human rights work has focused on torture associated with the suppression of civil and political rights. But by far, most of the world's torture is conducted against poor and marginalized people and it is used to demand bribes and protection money. In this research project, we work to better understand and describe these mechanisms in poor urban areas in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Bangladesh, DRC, South Africa, the Philippines and Liberia

Project introduction

When torture is exercised, it is always with a purpose. The purpose may be to punish, get information, or to humiliate the victim, but in the majority of cases, torture and threats of torture are used to get citizens to pay for protection, to release their loved ones, or to be allowed to pass a checkpoint. If they don’t pay, physical punishment is rarely far away. Unfortunately, we do not know much about the extent and type of these transactions. The study of the correlation between torture and corruption is one of the most neglected in human rights work and this project aims to raise awareness of these mechanisms which local human rights organizations can then also include in the work on torture prevention.

Project description

Through four case studies, this project will create new knowledge about how the connection between torture and corruption plays out in different social, economic and ethnic contexts. In Nairobi Kenya, focus is on how street vendors handle police and other municipal authorities and how money, goods and violence are exchanged between the two groups. In Goma, eastern Congo, the focus of the study is on how traders and security authorities collaborate on the creation of security and on whose security the work is aimed at. In Sri Lanka, focus is on how different ethno-religious groups are handled differently by police forces and military, and in South Africa, the focus is on the work on how violent relationships with police and other authorities also affect how families live together in Cape Town's poor townships.

Project background

The project aims to fill a gap in the knowledge of why torture is committed, by who and against who.


Ethno-graphic data and analysis.

Research team

The project is being carried out by a team led by Professor and senior researcher Steffen Jensen along with postdocs Morten Koch Andersen and Anna Hedlund, PhD-student Brigitte Dragsted and scientific assistent Kari Øygaard Larsen. DIGNITY's partners in Kenya, Bangladesh, the Philippines South Africa and Liberia have contributed to data collection, analysis and publication. DIGNITY's legal department has contributed with legal analysis and advocacy drives.

Related publications

Jensen, S., Hapal, K. (2022) 'Communal Intimacy and the violence of politics: Understanding the war on drugs in Bagong Silang, Philippines'

Jensen, S. (2022) 'Chronotopes of Displacement and Coloniality in a Cape Town Squattercamp'

Jensen, S., Schneidermann, N. (2022) 'Survival in Cape Town: Living in and alongside crisis'

Schneidermann, N., Thanjan, S., Naidoo, D., Jensen, S., Anderson, Y., Mentoor, K., Noredien, S., Noredien, H., Piri, G. (2020) 'Survival and crisis in a diverse informal settlement: An action research project in overcome heights, South Africa'

Bræmer Warburg, A., Jensen, S., (2020) 'Policing the war on drugs and the transformation of urban space in Manila'

Bræmer Warburg, A., Jensen, S., (2020) 'Ambiguous fear in the war on drugs: A reconfiguration of social and moral orders in the Philippines'

Kelly, T., Jensen, S., Andersen, M.K. (2020) 'Fragility, States and Torture'

Dragsted, B. (2019) 'Crackdown economics: Policing of hawkers in Nairobi as violent inclusion.'

Hedlund, A. (2019) 'Hutu Rebels. Exile Warriors in the Eastern Congo.'

Larsen, K.Ø., Prud’Homme, J., Jensen, S., Swaray, S., Russell, A., (2018) 'Police practices in liberia a study of the legal frameworks and practices of fair trial, corruption and civilian oversight'

Andersen, M. K. (2018). ‘Why Corruption Matters in Human Rights’. Journal of Human Rights Practice.

Andersen, M. K. (2018) ‘Thresholds of Mobilization: Coercion and Opportunity’. In Sporadically Radical ed. Henrik Vigh and Steffen Jensen. (book chapter).

Jensen, S., & Hapal, K. (2018). Police Violence and Corruption in the Philippines: Violent Exchange and the War on Drugs. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 37(2), 39–62.

Arefin Choudhury, Z., Jensen, S., & Kelly, T. (2018). Counting Torture: Towards the Translation of Robust, Useful, and Inclusive Human Rights Indicators . Nordic Journal of Human Rights, 36(2), 132-150

Dragsted-Mutengwa, B. « Street Traders and “Good Officers”: Crackdowns as a Relational Form of Urban Governance in Nairobi », Articulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 17-18 | 2018, Online since 06 March 2018, connection on 25 March 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/articulo.3391

Corruption and Torture, Aalborg Universitetsforlag, Steffen Jensen og Morten Koch Andersen 2018 | Download E-bog

Why Corruption Matters in Human Rights, Journal of Human Rights Practice, Oxford Uni. Press, Morten Koch Andersen 2018 | Download article

Jensen, S., M.K. Andersen, K. Larsen and Liv Vestergaardm (2017). Corruption and Torture: Violent Exchanges and Everyday Life for the Urban Poor.

Andersen, M. K. (2017). ‘Accidental and Intimate: Violent Exchange in Bangladesh’. In Andersen, M. K. and Jensen, S. ed. 2017. Corruption and Torture: Violent Exchanges and Everyday Life for the Urban Poor. (book chapter).

Sharma, J. and M. K. Andersen (2017). Torture Redress Mechanisms in Nepal and Bangladesh: A Comparative Perspective. Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. LII. No. 17.

Hedlund, A. (2017) ”Simple Soldiers?” Blurring the Distinction between Compulsion and Commitment among Rwandan Rebels in the Eastern Congo. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute: 87 (4). Pp. 720-738

Hedlund, A. ‘We are Not Part of Their War.’ Hutu Women’s Experience of Rebel Life in the Eastern DRC Conflict’. In Connellan, Mary & Fröhlich, Christiane (eds.) A Gendered Lens for Genocide Prevention (2017). London: Palgrave Macmillian, pp.111-130

Gudmundsen, L. Westergaard, L. Jensen, S. (2017). 'Gendered Violence in Informal Settlements in Kenya'

Jensen, S. Andersen, M.K. Larsen, K. and Vestergaard, L. (2017) 'Introduction: Towards Violent Exchange'

Langa, M. Hugo van der Merwe, Masuko, T. and Jensen, S. (2017) 'Torture and Corruption: Violent Exchanges in Marginalized South African

Andersen, M.K. (2017) 'Accidental Victimhood and Citizenship: Violent Exchanges in Dhaka'


Sri Lanka, Kenya, Congo, South Africa


Livestream - Torture and Corruption

On the occasion of the launch of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s 2019 thematic report to the Human Rights Council on torture and corruption, this panel brings together key international actors, notably the UN Special Rapporteur and the Chair of the UN Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture, as well as human rights researchers and practitioners, in order to examine the relationship between corruption and torture.

Related projects

Intersectoral urban violence prevention

This programme has a public health approach to torture and organized violence, and aims to provide security through cooperation between state and citizens. Urban areas with high rates of violence have many conflicts between the citizens and the state and much torture, but building trust between authorities and civil society enables us to prevent violence and thereby put torture and organized violence on the political map.