The Failure of Constitutional Torture Prohibitions

57 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2014 Last revised: 2 Nov 2015

See all articles by Adam Chilton

Adam Chilton

University of Chicago - Law School

Mila Versteeg

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: June 24, 2015


The prohibition of torture is one of the most emblematic norms of the modern human rights movement, and its prevalence in national constitution has increased steeply in the past three decades. Yet little is known about whether constitutional torture prohibitions actually reduce torture. In this paper, we explore the relationship between constitutional torture prohibitions and torture by utilizing new data that corrects for biases in previous measures of torture, and a recently developed method that mitigates selection bias by incorporating information on countries’ constitutional commitments into our research design. Using this new data and method, as well as more conventional data sources and methods, we do not find any evidence that constitutional torture prohibitions have reduced rates of torture in a statistically significant or substantively meaningful way.

Suggested Citation

Chilton, Adam and Versteeg, Mila, The Failure of Constitutional Torture Prohibitions (June 24, 2015). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 44, Virginia Law and Economics Research Paper No. 2015-01, University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 712, Available at SSRN: or

Adam Chilton (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States


Mila Versteeg

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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