DIGNITY's Health Team

Health expertise in the fight against torture

Torture has severe physical, psychological, and social consequences, and doctors and other health professionals play a central role in the use, documentation, and prevention of torture and rehabilitation of victims of torture. The expertise of health professionals is therefore a crucial tool in the fight against torture.

The experts in DIGNITYs health unit contributes to national and international development, monitoring and research activities (in DIGNITY and outside), health-specific inputs in relation to the prevention of torture and rehabilitation of torture victims, and works to achieve concrete health-related knowledge goals, with the overall aim of strengthening DIGNITY’s prevention- and rehabilitation efforts.

Knowledge

The Health Department develops and disseminates knowledge on torture: both its health consequences and health related preventative mechanisms. This is carried out through research projects, publication of articles and development of manuals and factsheets. The aim is to disseminates knowledge on torture to other organisations, institutions etc. as well as contribute to the field of research.

Additionally, the department works to build the health capacity of partner organisations through education and developing training material, for example education of medical students in how to detect signs of torture and treat torture victims.

Facts about torture methods

This is a series of one-page fact sheets each defining a method of torture
or ill-treatment, recapping related international standards and outlining the health consequences.

Documentation


The documentation of torture and its consequences serve several purposes. It is crucial in court cases for victim  compensation and the prosecution of perpetrators. Documented cases of torture may also contribute to illustrating the scope or type of torture used in a specific area. Civil society organisations may then use the information to effectively petition state authorities and others to address injustices. The documentation can also have decisive impact on whether an asylum seeker is granted asylum or not.

The documentation of torture is typically carried out by doctors, psychologists and lawyers. The collaboration between these professions is mandated by the Istanbul Protocol, an internationally acknowledged protocol containing guidelines on torture documentation. In accordance with the Istanbul Protocol, DIGNITY’s health experts work with DIGNITY’s legal experts to develop manuals on how professionals (on both basic and higher levels of education) can identify torture survivors and document the consequences of torture.

DIGNITY’s health unit also develops and implements training sessions for doctors, medical students, health professionals, monitoring authorities, and others who may meet torture survivors in their daily work. In rare cases, the experts of the health unit conduct examinations of torture survivors themselves.

EXAMPLE (national):

Recently, the health department together with lawyers from DIGNITY, a forensic clinician and an expert in intercultural studies, organized and held a training on torture for the Danish Immigration Service. The training included the legal definition of torture, the effects of torture, external signs of torture, and things to be aware of when interviewing a torture survivor.

EXAMPLE (international):

Training of health care personnel, including forensic doctors, prison doctors and mental health professionals in Morocco and Tanzania on the identification of torture survivors, proper and professional documentation of the torture and ethical and legal obligations pertaining to torture cases.

Support to the improvement of procedures related to the initial medical exams in prisons in Morocco as well as procedures related to documentation of death in custody.

Active involvement in the development of a supplement to the Istanbul Protocol that will provide updated knowledge and a few additional chapters. The process involves UN key persons and a large number of civil society representatives from all over the world.

Development of a documentation manual and a training curriculum for North African non-expert lawyers and doctors who may meet torture survivors in their daily practice

Monitoring


Regular monitoring visits to prisons and other places of detention is internationally acknowledged as an essential way to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The inspections can be conducted by different entities, for instance in relation to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) which demands all signatories to establish an independent monitoring mechanism.

Human rights institutes and civil society organisations can conduct monitoring visits as well. DIGNITY’s health experts work to develop tools and manuals that can be used when monitoring health facilities in prisons.

We focus on the health conditions of the detained, on the structure of the health care service and function, and on factors in prison which may affect the health of the detainees. This could for instance be the size of the cells and the air ventilation. Furthermore, we focus on the ethical dilemmas in which health workers in prisons may find themselves.

The monitoring tools are developed on the basis of international standards such as the European Prison Rules and the Mandela Rules, which are internationally acknowledged minimum standards of how to treat people in prison.

We support the development of local guidelines, and we teach health workers and others with monitoring capacities on how to conduct appropriate inspections of the health facilities.

EXAMPLE (national):

In Denmark, doctors from the health department participate in monitoring visits in Danish prisons as DIGNITY is an official member of the independent monitoring mechanism (NPM under the OPCAT) in Denmark. In Denmark, the NPM is coordinated by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Membership includes DIGNITY and the Institute for Human Rights. We visit prisons and detention centers, psychiatric departments, social psychiatric homes, asylum centers, etc. In addition, we participate in meetings with relevant authorities, including Kriminalforsorgen (authority responsible for places of detention), where we can point out more general issues and advise on how health conditions can be improved.

EXAMPLE (international):

Development of a Health Monitoring Manual aimed at supporting authorities and individuals who conduct monitoring in places of detention to better address the health aspects of monitoring.

Training of official authorities charged with monitoring places of detention (National Preventive Mechanisms and/or National Human Rights Institutes) in Morocco, Tunisia and Tanzania. This includes the co-creation of national guidelines on monitoring health aspects in places of detention.