WMA Secretary General Calls For Increased Action Against Torture

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Dr Delon Human, secretary general of the World Medical Association, has called for increased international action against torture.

Speaking at the National Conference on Torture, Prison Health and Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors in Lagos, Nigeria, Dr Human said that organisations involved in this struggle should urgently improve internal communication, using electronic networks to share information. Cases where human rights were being violated should then be followed up and managed urgently.

Communication had now become one of the most important weapons for groups working against torture and human rights violations. Used responsibly and effectively, this could become the central system of a unified world action group against torture and the abuse of human rights for those in prison.

Collaboration at national and international levels could greatly improve the identification and management of torture-related problems. Non-Governmental organisations had the freedom of developing policies and treatment packages related to torture without the constraints the politicians had.

Dr Human said the effects of the information highway and political and social changes had made it almost impossible for any country to isolate itself. This was illustrated clearly earlier this year when the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia was detained and allegedly beaten in detention.

'The world saw this and demanded an explanation. Whatever the facts may be, governments should be accountable for what happens in their prisons - firstly to their own nations, but most definitely also to the rest of the world.'

Dr Human said the common thread running through the organisations represented at the conference was the fact that they put the interests of their patients first. Torture survivors were some of the most damaged patients. They urgently needed care, help and support.

There could almost not be enough groups actively campaigning against torture and the devastating effect it had on patients. However, if these groups worked in isolation from one another, the synergistic potential was sadly lost. Co-ordinated action would exponentially increase the benefits for the victims.

It was imperative that indigenous, customised material was developed for fact sheets and training manuals used in sensitising the populations of specific countries and regions.

The World Medical Association had experienced how effective collaboration could be when it was instrumental in the release a number of years ago of a group of physicians being detained as political prisoners in Chile.
Dr Human said that although international collaboration could bring about a vision, pressure and resources, ultimately the action had to be taken at a local level. This was where the prisoners and patients needed help.

The role of the National Medical Association in this process could not be overemphasised. It was not by coincidence that health professionals such as physicians often ended up as political activists, or as very vocal protectors of human rights. Physicians saw and experienced with their patients the sad and utterly inhuman effects of torture. Therefore they were bound by their code of honour and service to help.

The principle of collaboration between health professional groups on a national basis was important nationally as it was internationally. Effective pressure groups could be formed when physicians, nurses and other health professional groups worked together to serve the best interest of patients.

Initially, the reason for the WMA's existence was the involvement of physicians in some of the atrocities performed during the Second World War.

Torture, and the relevance it had for physicians, had always been high on the agenda of the WMA and the associaiton had issued a number of statements dealing specifically with torutre, including the Declaration of Tokyo and Statements on "Body Searches of Prisoners", Hunger strikers and the 1997 Declaration of Hamburg concerning support for Medical Doctors refusing to participate in, or to condone, the use of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Individual physicians could freely make use of these guidlelines, and feel secure in the knowledge that there was international consensus and backing for the principles contained in them.