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.
The U.S. government released 198 photos relating to detainee abuse at U.S. military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, but continued to withhold most of approximately 2,000 photos depicting prisoner ill-treatment that had been requested by the ACLU.
A Year After Torture Report, Impunity Persists (December 9, 2015)
The U.S. government must investigate and prosecute all those responsible for the CIA’s unlawful torture program, provide redress to victims, and release the full Senate torture report, PHR said in a briefing paper.
PHR Welcomes APA’s Call to Remove Psychologists from Guantánamo and National Security Interrogations (October 30, 2015)
PHR welcomed the American Psychological Association’s request that the U.S. government withdraw all psychologists from national security interrogation roles and from Guantánamo Bay and other detention settings that operate in violation of international law.
Thursday, 10/29 in New York: Die-In to #DefendDoctors in Syria (October 26, 2015)
Hundreds of health professionals and volunteers will stage a die-in on Thursday, October 29, to represent the medical personnel killed during the Syrian conflict and highlight war crimes being committed through deliberate attacks on Syria’s health care system.
The Human Cost of Guantánamo (January 7, 2016)
This month marks the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay detention center, the most visible symbol of U.S. torture and injustice around the world. President Obama has called the prison a “sad chapter in American history.” Unfortunately, Guantánamo is still open – and so is this sad chapter.
Guantánamo: A Badge of Shame (January 7, 2016)
Fourteen years ago, the U.S. government opened Guantánamo Bay detention facility in an effort to create a place beyond the reach of the law and the Constitution -- a place where the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment could be violated with impunity. Today, the consequences of that pernicious move are being felt in every corner of the United States.
The Shamefully Unfinished Story of the CIA Torture Program (December 9, 2015)
One year ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released part of its massive report documenting the brutality and lawlessness of the CIA torture program. Yet 12 months later, those who designed, ordered, and carried out this deliberate and systematic effort to destroy human beings remain – shamefully – unaccountable for their crimes.
American Psychological Association’s First Step Toward Accountability (August 10, 2015)
When the American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives voted Friday morning to rescind its policy allowing psychologists to participate in the interrogation of security detainees, it was a tectonic shift.
Truth Matters: Accountability for CIA Psychological Torture (December 2015)
One year after the Senate torture report’s partial release, transparency and accountability – let alone redress to victims – remain stalled. The U.S. government must end the cover-up of torture and ill-treatment and honor its obligation to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
Preliminary Statement on the Hoffman Report (August 2015)
PHR’s statement outlines key findings of the Hoffman report and provides recommendations for accountability, policy reform, and justice.
PHR's executive director sent a letter to leaders of the American Psychological Association supporting recommendations on prohibiting psychologists’ participation in interrogations.
Open Letter to the Government of Bahrain (March 2015)
Physicians for Human Rights, partner organizations, and human rights activists call on the government on Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience in the country in the aftermath of the 2011 popular uprising.
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 22 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, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, and Zimbabwe. Read More »