The Role of Physicians in the Prevention of Torture
Torture is one of the most serious violations of a person’s fundamental rights. It destroys dignity, body and mind and has far-reaching effects on family and community. Freedom from torture is a universal and fundamental human right for all as guaranteed under international law and defined in the UN Convention against Torture. However, its practice remains widespread, particularly in places out of public view. The WMA has a long standing commitment to acting for the prevention of all forms of torture and ill treatment. The WMA unequivocally condemns any involvement of physicians in acts of torture, whether active or passive, as a severe infringement of the International Code of Ethics and Human Rights Law.
The Istanbul Protocol: A manual for the efficient investigation and documentation of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
The Istanbul Protocol (1999), which has been endorsed by the UN, provides the first set of internationally recognised guidelines for medical and legal experts on how to determine whether a person has been tortured. It specifies independent valid evidence that can be used in court cases against alleged torturers. The Istanbul Protocol has become a crucial instrument in the global effort to end impunity for perpetrators. Together with other organisations, the WMA was actively involved in its drafting process.
The role of physicians in the prevention of torture
The Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture (OPCAT) establishes “a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 1 of the Protocol).
As part of this system, State Parties are invited to set up at the domestic level a visiting body for the prevention of torture (commonly referred to as the National Preventive Mechanism, NPM). The WMA believes that the participation of physicians in these visiting mechanisms is essential to address health issues related to torture and ill-treatment, to evaluate the health system and to assess the impact of general conditions of detention on the heath of detained population. The WMA encourages therefore medical associations and other health professionals to participate in the OPCAT process in order to ensure:
The ratification of the protocol by your country and/or
The setting up of National Preventive Mechanism and/or
The involvement of health professionals in the NMP
For more information on OPCAT, please visit the following page of the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT).
WMA Current Policy & Action:
- WMA comments on the latest report of the UN Special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, May 2013.
- Joint WMA/IRCT press release: Physicians call for effective systems to document torture allegations, March 2010
- Press release: Physicians reminded of their ethical Obligations in Relation to Torture and Interrogation, 15 May 2009
- Press release: Doctors Urged to Document Cases of Torture, October 2007
- Declaration of Hamburg : Support for Medical Doctors Refusing to Participate in, or to Condone, the Use of Torture or other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, November 1997
- Resolution on the Responsibility of physicians in the denunciation of acts of torture or cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment of which they are aware, September 2003
- Please see also Declaration of Tokyo section