Freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is a fundamental human right established in international law. Since its founding in 1986, PHR's core mission has included investigating and reporting on the devastating consequences of torture on individuals, institutions, and society.
Health professionals can detect signs of physical and mental abuse that are not evident to traditional investigators. Where the torturer aims to silence the victim, PHR's work validates the survivor's voice. Where the torturer hides evidence of brutality, PHR provides physical proof of the violation. And, where the torturer uses the physician as an accomplice, PHR exposes the ethical travesty.
Based on our work, PHR developed the first set of international guidelines for investigating and assessing allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
In response to US personnel's systematic infliction of psychological and physical torture against detainees, PHR seeks to restore the US commitment against torture, to ensure humane treatment of detainees, and to protect US health personnel from complicity in mistreatment and harm. PHR is also working on legislation in MA and NY to sanction health care providers who participate in acts of torture and ill treatment.
Despite the absolute prohibition of torture in international law, it continues to be practiced in more than 100 countries, from totalitarian regimes to democracies. Countries frequently justify the use of torture as a necessary means to extract confessions, identify terrorists, and obtain intelligence critical to preventing future violence. Convictions are difficult to achieve because torturers have become adept at inflicting suffering through methods that leave few physical marks. In 1999, PHR co-authored the first set of international guidelines (the Istanbul Protocol) for the medical documentation of torture and its consequences. Since then, PHR has trained health professionals around the world to increase the number of independent, qualified experts capable of providing forensic medical evidence of torture so that victims may obtain justice.
Every year, more than 40,000 people flee torture and unbearable persecution in their home country and seek safety in the US. PHR provides asylum seekers with medical and psychological evaluations to highlight the scars left by torture, beatings, sexual violence, slavery, and worse. PHR also protects survivors of torture and persecution by elevating the quality of health care in immigration detention centers, reducing the use of immigration detention, and eliminating arbitrary and unjustified barriers to asylum in the US.
As the hunger strike continues at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) stressed the need for the Obama administration to immediately stop the unethical force feeding of detainees on hunger strikes.
PHR applauds the publication today of a bipartisan independent report that supports PHR’s longstanding contention that the interrogation and treatment of many detainees in US custody since 9/11 amounted to torture.
Free Guantánamo Detainees Who Are Cleared for Release (April 10, 2013)
As a hunger strike by dozens of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay enters its third month, PHR calls on President Obama to take immediate steps to free those who have been cleared for release and to treat remaining detainees in conformance with ethical guidelines and international law.
Thousands of people awaiting immigration hearings in the US detention system are routinely held in solitary confinement, which can cause serious and lasting psychological and physiological harm, PHR says in a new report.
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Failing to Heal: Hunger Strikes in Guantánamo and the Role of Medical Professionals (April 30, 2013)
In a recently released bipartisan report on detainee treatment at the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the Constitution Project’s Expert Task Force devotes a whole chapter to the spectacular failure of medical professionals in GTMO to protect detainees from harm or injustice.
Anti-Torture Update: Take Action to End Torture (January 3, 2013)
January 11, 2013, marks the 11th anniversary of the day detainees were first brought to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The National Defense Authorization Act 2013 (NDAA) recently passed by Congress and signed by President Obama does little to shut down the Guantanamo prison, though the President had promised to close it almost four years ago.
UN Advisor Says Solitary Confinement in the US is Torture (October 16, 2012)
For all the controversy over whether solitary confinement should ever be used in American prisons and jails, the evidence is clear: Isolation for 23 hours a day causes severe and often irreversible psychological damage.
PHR Joins Amicus Brief in Spanish Court to Hold US Officials Accountable for Torture (October 3, 2012)
On Sept. 25, PHR joined a group of international human rights experts and organizations in filing an amicus brief on an appeal before the Spanish Supreme Court. The case seeks to hold accountable six senior legal advisers in the Bush administration who allegedly facilitated the torture and abuse of people detained at Guantánamo and other detention sites overseas.
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President Obama Urged to Coordinate Executive Branch Response to Senate Committee's Study on CIA Interrogation Program (May 2013)
PHR has joined seven other NGOs, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, The Center for Victims of Torture, and others, to urge President Obama to make sure the Executive Branch response to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence study is not driven by individuals who might be implicated in the CIA’s use of torture.
Solitary confinement is a form of segregation in which people are held in total or near-total isolation in small cells for 23 hours a day. It is used to control and discipline detainees in federal and state prisons, local jails, and immigration and national security detention facilities. Unlike incarcerated prisoners, immigration and national security detainees are held not as punishment for a crime but as a preventive measure, and will likely never be charged with a crime. For these people, solitary confinement then becomes entirely punitive, with dire consequences for their mental and physical health.
Examining Asylum Seekers (December 2012)
Clinicians can assist asylum seekers and others seeking protection in the United States by providing objective documentation of their physical and psychological injuries and trauma. This documentation becomes evidence that can corroborate the asylum seeker’s narrative of persecution. This manual is a tool for clinicians to use in assisting their evaluation and documentation of asylum seekers' histories. PHR intends to provide medical professionals with the information necessary to conduct these potentially life-saving evaluations by including an overview of political asylum law and procedure in the United States, an explanation of the physician's role in verifying signs and symptoms consistent with torture, and a review of components of appropriate written and oral medical testimony.
Ending Impunity: The Use of Forensic Medical Evaluations to Document Torture and Ill Treatment in Kyrgyzstan (October 2012)
Torture and ill treatment are widespread and systematic in Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries. During 2011-2012, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has worked to transform Kyrgyzstan’s stated policy of zero tolerance for torture and ill treatment into action. The initiative is intended to serve as model to end impunity for torture in the region as well.
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