New initiative to stop medical complicity in torture
In a letter to the Danish Medical Association RCT proposes that the World Medical Association and its affiliated associations might be the conduit through which doctors’ concerns about “dual loyalty” abuses could be communicated to the UN special rapporteur on torture.
The UN Human Rights Council Resolution, entitled "Torture and
other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment: the role
and responsibility of medical and other health personnel" was
passed on 20 March 2009. The resolution targets states directly,
urging them to act to prevent health workers from becoming involved
in torture and to protect those who stand out against it. In
addition, it directly addresses both healthcare professionals and
the UN special rapporteur on torture, by asking the rapporteur to
give particular attention to the problem of "medical
A full discussion of the resolution recently appeared in the
British Medical Journal (Polatin et al, BMJ 2010, 340: c973). Download the article here
The World Medical Association has established the Tokyo Declaration
as an ethical code which precludes medical involvement in, and
complicity with, torture. However, the association may lack
investigative powers, particularly in countries where advocacy
groups are not tolerated. Moreover, The Tokyo Declaration is not a
binding obligation that would empower the World Medical Association
to investigate allegations of medical complicity in torture, even
if it had the resources to do so. These two constraints are not an
issue for involvement by the UN special rapporteur on torture.
These facts offer the possibility of an alliance between the World
Medical Association and the UN special rapporteur, who could act
together to ensure compliance with the resolution.
Particularly relevant would be reports about 1) cases of torture
and 2) work conditions or employers that infringed upon physicians'
ability to maintain their professional integrity. The special
rapporteur, then, could have the resources and authority to
investigate plausible allegations, with the force of this binding
resolution to apply in the event that findings were to substantiate
the claims. This, in turn, could lead the World Medical Association
to either back the appropriate actions for the national medical
association to take, or consider bringing sanctions or even
suspension, should the local organization have been deemed
insufficiently proactive in response to the findings of the special
RCT ends the letter with an offer to discuss further involvement at
the practical level and to support and/or develop methods for
monitoring dual obligation conditions.
Written by Heidi K. Tokle