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, Congo and South Africa.

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.


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

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


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.