Stopping Torture Around the World: Building Capacity to Document and Prosecute
Torture destroys people’s bodies and minds, rips apart communities, and undermines democratic institutions and the rule of law.
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.
Although the scale of torture varies among states, a systemic culture of impunity in which perpetrators are rarely punished and justice for victims is elusive is common to all. Perpetrators tend to be powerful state actors including police, military, and security personnel. Leaders fail to condemn these horrific crimes. Judges and police lack the capacity—or the will—to pursue torturers. Victims are isolated and have no trusted, safe place to report torture. And those who pursue justice, accountability, and redress often face the threat of reprisals.
This cycle of impunity cannot be broken until torture crimes are brought to light and perpetrators are prosecuted. Successful prosecutions are hard to achieve when torture victims lack hard evidence to prove their claims of abuse, but specially trained health professionals can identify and interpret the scars left on victims’ bodies and minds. And when health professionals document their findings in medical-legal affidavits, victims and prosecutors have a critical and incontrovertible source of evidence to chip away at the wall of impunity.
One of the most effective tools for ending impunity related to torture is the Istanbul Protocol. This UN document spells out the international standards for how to conduct effective legal and medical investigations into allegations of torture and ill treatment. It also calls on states to implement effective measures to protect people from torture and ill treatment.
Since 1997, every June 26 has marked the annual United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Millions of people around the world, including an estimated 500,000 in the United States, are struggling with the impact of horrific acts intentionally inflicted on them.
Torture Testimony Contributes to Decision in Federal Case in Ohio (December 12, 2012)
A medical expert in the Asylum Network of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) provided key testimony contributing to a significant ruling in Ohio last month in which a federal judge held that a former Somali security official was responsible for ordering the arrest and torture of a Somali law professor more than 20 years ago.
Retired general who probed abuses in Iraq to be in Maui (The Maui News, November 9, 2012)
Retired Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who grew up on Oahu and was assigned to investigate prisoner abuses at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, will be appearing Sunday at the Veterans Day Memorial at the Makawao Veterans Cemetery and at the We Love Veterans Maui luncheon in Kahului. He retired from the Army in 2007, and the next year he accused the Bush administration of war crimes in a report by Physicians for Human Rights.
How the US Rendered, Tortured and Discarded One Innocent Man (The Nation, June 29, 2012)
In fall 2009, I found myself in a Tanzanian hotel lobby, sitting across from Suleiman Abdallah, a lanky man with a goofy smile and a broken tooth. Over the next few days, he would describe in excruciating detail how he had been captured in Mogadish in 2003 by a Somali warlord and handed over to American officials, who had him rendered via Kenya and Djibouti to Afghanistan for five years of detention and torture.
Calculating the Immeasurable: Somali Torture Victim Wins $15 Million in Civil Damages (August 23, 2013)
This week an Ohio judge awarded $15 million to Abukar Hassan Ahmed, a Somali constitutional law professor and human rights advocate, following a civil trial in which a Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) volunteer doctor delivered testimony crucial to the case.
A Day to Honor Torture Survivors (June 26, 2013)
An Ethiopian man who sought asylum in the United States had been repeatedly beaten and tortured in his home country simply for engaging in protests against the government. A young Sudanese woman who was an outspoken human rights advocate bears scars from having been burned and beaten by her torturers; she now struggles to interact with people and is afraid of enclosed spaces like subway stations.
Uzbekistan’s ‘House of Torture’ Is No ‘Home Sweet Home’ (August 17, 2012)
Uzbekistan, already notorious for its deplorable prison conditions and abuse of prisoners, has one prison that stands out more gruesome and horrific than the rest: Jaslyk Prison. Its prisoners, at least those lucky enough to live to tell their tales, have described the myriad methods of torture used at the prison, including sexual assault, needles forced under prisoners’ fingernails, electric shock, and long periods of isolation in solitary confinement without food or drink.
The Games Are Over (August 17, 2012)
London’s Summer Olympic Games focused the eyes of the world on Great Britain as it hosted a two-week celebration of international competition, coupled with what seemed like true respect for and appreciation of the histories and cultures of some of the world’s greatest athletes. As the games came to a close, however, so too did Britain’s seeming respect for its foreign visitors, as reports surfaced alleging that officials at its Dover immigration removal center have been too dismissive of detainees’ torture claims.
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.
Forensic Documentation of Torture and Ill Treatment in Mexico (December 2008)
PHR documents the Mexican government's historic attempt and ultimate failure to implement international standards of forensic evaluations of torture and ill treatment.
We are writing to urge a significant increase in U.S. pressure on the Government of Pakistan to end martial law and to release those who have been detained or are under house arrest.
The Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, commonly known as the Istanbul Protocol, outlines international legal standards and sets out specific guidelines on how to conduct effective legal and medical investigations into allegations of torture and ill treatment. Read More »
During his 18 years with PHR, Dr. Vincent Iacopino has conducted medical fact-finding investigations and documented a wide range of human rights violations all over the world, including in Afghanistan, Botswana, Burma, Chad, Chechyna, Iraq, Kosovo, Mexico, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, and Zimbabwe. Read More »