Physicians call for Effective Systems to Document Torture Allegations

(08.03.2010) The issue of how to promote and institutionalise the forensic documentation of alleged cases of torture will be the subject for a panel of renowned experts gathering in Geneva tomorrow (March 9), chaired by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Professor Manfred Nowak.

The event, hosted by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and the World Medical Association (WMA), will take place in conjunction with the 13th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The panel will include Marija Definis-Gojanovic, member of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, as well as representatives from Turkish and Danish medical associations, the academic community and of the Association for the Prevention of Torture.

‘We will explore what states can do to honour their obligation to prevent torture and to investigate all allegations of torture’, said Dr Önder Özkalipci, forensic expert at the IRCT. ‘In this connection it is important to recognise that medico-legal reports guided by the so-called Istanbul Protocol can be a very powerful source of evidence in torture cases. A very efficient way of promoting the production of such reports is to integrate forensic documentation of torture cases in domestic health systems’.

His comment echoed Professor Nowak’s latest report to the Human Rights Council, in which he wrote that ‘all too often, the safeguards required by international human rights law are neither foreseen nor effective in preventing torture’. He added that ‘forensic medical science is a crucial tool since it can establish the degree of correlation of the medical findings with the allegations brought forward and therefore provide evidence on which prosecutions can based’.

Dr. Dana Hanson, President of the World Medical Association, said: ‘This event is a follow-up to the 2009 Human Rights Council resolution on the role and responsibility of medical and other health personnel in torture.

‘The WMA has a clear and long-standing commitment in condemning all forms of doctors’ involvement in acts of torture. But it is also an absolute ethical duty for the medical profession to document torture and to denounce it. In that sense, physicians can and do prevent torture, but more must be done in collaboration with other relevant actors to eradicate these flagrant human rights violations’.