Physicians should report acts of torture, says WMA President

The ethical obligation on physicians to report acts of torture has been restated by the President of the World Medical Association, Dr James Appleyard.

Giving the annual address at the English Speaking Union in Canterbury, England on Saturday, Dr Appleyard said that the non denunciation of acts of torture might be considered as a form of tolerance and non assistance to the victims.

'Doctors cannot turn a blind eye to what is going on. Torturers rely on the cloak of secrecy. The ability to expose acts of torture is crucial to its prevention.'

Dr Appleyard said that according to Amnesty International the practice of torture continued in 115 nations. But he said the tragedy was that most acts of torture were not open to public scrutiny.

He said that the World Medical Association had supported the Istanbul protocol, giving a comprehensive guide to the legal and medical professions on how to investigate thoroughly allegations of torture.

'The type of torture varies from country to country. We have partnered the International Council for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, an international non governmental organisation based in Denmark, to undertake an exercise in five countries to discuss with lawyers and doctors in those countries how this protocol could be applied locally and give physicians and lawyers support in their work on human rights'.

Dr Appleyard that the WMA's Declaration of Tokyo was clear that 'the doctor shall not countenance, condone or participate in the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading procedures, whatever the offence of which the victim of such procedures is suspected, accused, or guilty and whatever the victims beliefs or motives, and in all situations, including armed conflict and civil strife'.

This was later augmented by the WMA's Declaration of Hamburg in 1997 which reaffirmed the responsibility of all doctors to support their colleagues experiencing difficulties as a result of their attempts to speak out or act against such inhuman practices.

Dr Appleyard said that violence was a major public health problem and one that could only be tackled by a reduction in poverty and inequality between groups in society, by a reduction in the access to biological, chemical, nuclear and other weapons and by ensuring that international treaties were adhered to.