Module 2: Istanbul Protocol Standards for Medical Documentation of Torture and Medical Ethics

The Istanbul Protocol

Module 2 Answers

  1. Answer: B

    The Istanbul Protocol outlines international, legal standards on protection against torture and establishes specific guidelines for the effective investigation and documentation of torture and ill treatment. The Istanbul Protocol is a non-binding document. However, international law obliges governments to investigate and document incidents of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and to punish those responsible in a comprehensive, effective, prompt and impartial manner. The Istanbul Protocol is a tool for doing this.

  2. Answer: True

    The Istanbul Protocol outlines minimum standards for state adherence to ensure the effective documentation of torture in its Principles on the Effective Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, or “Istanbul Principles.” The Istanbul Protocol represents an elaboration of the minimum standards contained in the Istanbul Principles and should be applied in accordance with a reasonable assessment of available resources.

  3. Answer: A

    The Istanbul Protocol and its related Principles have been recognised as international standards for the effective investigation and documentation of torture and ill treatment by the UN General Assembly and the then UN Commission on Human Rights (since 2006, the UN Human Rights Council), the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the European Union and other institutions and organizations.

  4. Answer: B

    Conducting an objective and impartial evaluation should not preclude the evaluator from being empathic. It is essential for clinicians to maintain professional boundaries and at the same time to acknowledge the pain and distress that they observe. The clinician should communicate his or her understanding of the individual’s pain and suffering and adopt a supportive, non-judgmental approach. Clinicians need to be sensitive and empathic in their questioning while remaining objective in their clinical assessment.

  5. Answer: A

    It is important to realize that the severity of psychological reactions depends on the unique cultural, social, and political meanings that torture and ill-treatment have for each individual, and significant ill effects do not require extreme physical harm. Seemingly benign forms of ill-treatment can and do have marked, long-term psychological effects. Although some survivors of torture may have few or no psychological sequelae, most individuals experience profound, long-term psychological symptoms and disabilities.

  6. Answer: B.

    Although there are a myriad of psychological issues that torture victims might have including C and D, PTSD and major depression are the two most common problems.

  7. Answer: B.

    Unfortunately, it is a common misconception among evaluators, attorneys and adjudicators that psychological evidence is of lesser legal value than “objective” physical findings. The aim and effect of torture is largely psychological. The psychological evaluation is critical in assessing the level of consistency between the alleged trauma and individual psychological responses. In some cases, the symptoms may be either attenuated or exacerbated depending on the meaning assigned to individual experiences.

  8. Answer: B

    As the Istanbul Protocol makes clear, the absence of physical and/or psychological evidence in a medical evaluation does not rule-out the possibility that torture or ill-treatment was inflicted. The Istanbul Protocol was developed to prevent torture and ill-treatment and to promote accountability. Governments must ensure that its official representatives do not engage in misuse or misrepresentation of the Istanbul Protocol to exonerate police who are accused of abuses or for any other purpose.

  9. Answer: B, D

    Each detainee must be examined in private. Police or other law enforcement officials should never be present in the examination room. This procedural safeguard may be precluded only when, in the opinion of the examining doctor, there is compelling evidence that the detainee poses a serious safety risk to health personnel. Under such circumstances, security personnel of the health facility, not the police or other law enforcement officials, should be available upon the medical examiner’s request. In such cases, security personnel should still remain out of earshot (i.e. be only within visual contact) of the patient. Prisoners should feel comfortable with where they are evaluated. In some cases, it may be best to insist on evaluation at official medical facilities and not at the place of detention. In other cases, detainees may prefer to be examined in the relative safety of their cell, if they feel the medical premises may be under surveillance, for example. The best place will be dictated by many factors, but in all cases, investigators should ensure that prisoners are not forced into accepting a place they are not comfortable with. Requests for medical evaluations by law enforcement officials are to be considered invalid unless they are requested by written orders of a public prosecutor.

  10. Answer: A

    If the forensic medical examination supports allegations of torture, the detainee should not be returned to the place of detention, but rather should appear before the prosecutor or judge to determine the detainee’s legal disposition.

  11. Answer: A

    The presence of police, soldier, warden, or other law enforcement officers in the examination room, for whatever reason, should be noted in the physician’s official medical report. Notation of police, soldier, prison officer, or other law enforcement official’s presence during the examination may be grounds for disregarding a “negative” medical report.

  12. Answer: A.

    Many of the rules and principles of medical ethics have been adopted as professional codes of conduct. While ethics must guide every action of health professionals in their work, in the process of investigating and documenting allegations of torture, there are three areas in which the health professional must be particularly cognizant of specific ethical considerations. The first is the duty to the patient, the second is the clinical independence of the health professional and the third is in the production of medical records, reports and testimony.

  13. Answer: A

    The use of hoods or blindfolds has in itself been found to be a form of ill-treatment. In the health setting hoods or blindfolds not only impair any meaningful contact with the patient; they also prevent the identification of any health professionals and may thus add to a perception of impunity in cases of ill-treatment.

  14. Answer: D

    A, B, and C are all provision under the World Medical Association’s 1975 Tokyo Declaration.

  15. Answer: F

    All of the answers represent either passive or active complicity of health professionals in torture and ill treatment. Physicians and other medical personnel have the obligation not to condone or participate in torture in any way.

  16. Answer: F

    All of the elements listed are essential to informed consent.

  17. Answer: A

    The health professional must contemplate the risks to the patient, and indeed to themselves, in disclosing such information, and the potential benefits to society as a whole (e.g. potentially avoiding further harm to others), before acting. Whatever decision is reached, the health professional should endeavour to gain consent. In such cases, the fundamental ethical obligations to respect autonomy and to act in the best interests of the patient are more important than other considerations.

  18. Answer: B

    In an ideal situation, an independent doctor will have explained the risks of a prolonged hunger strike, and taken instructions on what the person wants to happen if he or she ceases to be capable of rational thought. This should happen in an environment where the patient’s confidentiality can be respected, and where he or she can be protected from undue pressure from political colleagues. In cases where prison doctors have been following hunger strikers before and during the fast, and know what the patients’ positions and convictions are, physicians should respect the principles stated in the Declaration of Malta. If a physician is called upon to take care of a hunger striker already in a comatose state, he or she will have no choice and will have to provide reanimation. A physician should not rely on what amounts to “hearsay” in such cases. The opinions of the immediate family should be taken into consideration, but are not paramount. Neither the opinions of the authorities nor those of the patient’s political colleagues should be given any weight.

  19. Answer: B

    The Declaration of Tokyo was revised in 2006 to include the following provision: “The physician shall not use nor allow to be used, as far as he or she can, medical knowledge or skills, or health information specific to individuals, to facilitate or otherwise aid any interrogation, legal or illegal, of those individuals.”

  20. Answer: G

    The primary goal of documenting allegations of human rights violations is to create an accurate, reliable and precise record of events. All of the forms of information listed are essential to the effective medical and legal investigations of torture and ill treatment.

Answer: B The Istanbul Protocol outlines international, legal standards on protection against torture and establishes specific guidelines for the effective investigation and documentation of torture and ill treatment. The Istanbul Protocol is a non-binding document. However, international law obliges governments … Continue reading

The aims and goals of investigation

Torture and other ill-treatment are prohibited in international law and are likely also to be a crime under national law. International law requires not only that torture not be used, but also that any allegation of torture be investigated, and that those responsible be brought to justice.

Effective investigation, including the aspect of medical documentation, is a vital component in the struggle to eradicate the practise of torture. Legal bodies, domestic and international alike, rely on factual evidence to reach their conclusions and uphold justice.

By shedding light on cases of torture and other ill-treatment, effective investigation and documentation can assist in the achievement of a number of important goals:

  • Raising awareness of the infliction of torture and its absolute prohibition
  • Battling impunity: bringing torture into the public eye assists in calling states to account for their actions and having them fulfill their legal obligations. On a different level, torture reporting can also help to cast light on the individuals who carry out such practises, to make sure that they cannot continue to engage in such behaviour without negative consequences.
  • Redress for the survivor: there are a number of remedies and objectives that may assist the individual survivor of torture, for example:
    • Preventing and ending ongoing abuse: in certain cases, allegations of torture may be raised by a person who is still in custody of the authorities. Effective and swift investigation can help put an end to the suffering. In other cases, the individual may be seeking protection from abuse in another country, and the determination of whether the individual was a survivor of torture and is personally at risk can prevent the person being deported back into the hands of their torturers.
    • Compensation and other forms of restitution: survivors of torture may, for example, be able to claim compensation for monetary loss, physical and mental harm, and other damage caused by the torture
  • Rehabilitation: many torture survivors are in need of rehabilitation services, including medical treatment, both physical and psychological, legal assistance, and social services. Effective investigation and documentation can assist in diagnosis, treatment (including rehabilitation) and prognosis of the patient.
  • Official and public acknowledgement of their suffering can also be important in the recovery process of survivors of torture.
  • Reform: drawing attention to a situation is not just about seeking condemnation or holding a state accountable. Even more importantly, it is about seeking constructive and long-term improvements in a country, which will contribute to the ultimate elimination of torture. This will often require changes both in the legislative framework and in official attitudes to torture. The eradication of torture is a fundamental and necessary step for any society aspiring to protect human rights and care for its people.

Torture and other ill-treatment are prohibited in international law and are likely also to be a crime under national law. International law requires not only that torture not be used, but also that any allegation of torture be investigated, and … Continue reading

Prevention

(i) To take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture, for example by:

  • Establishing effective monitoring mechanisms to prevent torture in all places of detention;
  • Ensuring that any statement that is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made;
  • Ensuring that the prohibition of torture is included in training of law enforcement and medical personnel, public and other relevant officials;
  • Not expelling, returning, extraditing or otherwise transferring a person to a country when there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be tortured (non-refoulement).

(ii) To ensure that general safeguards againt torture exist in places of detentions such as:

  • Granting detainees prompt and unrestricted access to a lawyer and a doctor of their choice;
  • Informing family members or friends about the person’s detention;
  • Providing detainees access to family members and friends;
  • Not holding persons incommunicado detention;
  • Enabling detainees to promptly challenge the legality of their detention before a judge.

(i) To take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture, for example by: Establishing effective monitoring mechanisms to prevent torture in all places of detention; Ensuring that any statement that is established to have been … Continue reading

Introduction

The term, ‘medical ethics,’ broadly describes the moral framework in which health professionals are bound to carry out their work. Many of the rules and principles of medical ethics have been adopted as professional codes of conduct. While ethics must guide every action of health professionals in their work, in the process of investigating and documenting allegations of torture, there are three areas in which the health professional must be particularly cognizant of specific ethical considerations. The first is the duty to the patient, the second is the clinical independence of the health professional and the third is in the production of medical records, reports and testimony.

There are certain ethical issues which are more likely to come to the fore depending on the various situations in which health professionals may encounter those alleging or showing signs of torture. This section points out the particular ethical considerations raised by situations such as the examination of an individual who is brought to a hospital or clinic still in the custody of the police, military or other security forces, and difficulties encountered by health professionals employed by the police, military or prison authorities.

The term, ‘medical ethics,’ broadly describes the moral framework in which health professionals are bound to carry out their work. Many of the rules and principles of medical ethics have been adopted as professional codes of conduct. While ethics must … Continue reading

The aim of medical documentation

Medical documentation may be critical to legal investigations of torture through the following means:

  • Producing a contemporaneous record (a record as close in time as possible to the event) of signs and symptoms of ill-treatment when an individual presents to any health professional for treatment after the event – the examining health professional may not be called upon to produce a report, but in the future an expert may be asked to use this record to form an opinion of events at the time
  • Providing detailed understanding of the case so that the person can be referred for the appropriate treatment and rehabilitation in a specialised centre or by other specialists
  • The production of a medico-legal report for submission to a judicial or administrative body:
    • for judicial enquiries or court cases aimed at the prosecution of perpetrators
    • for a judicial process which decides on the responsibility of the state
    • for a judicial process which decides upon compensation/reparations for survivors
    • in individual cases where a medico-legal report may be used as part of a court application to end on-going abuse while the person is still in detention
    • for the case of asylum seekers when medical evidence may be used as part of the evidence (e.g. in hearings) to show a history of ill-treatment in another country and the physical and psychological consequences thereof.
  • The documentation of patterns of widespread abuse. Courts, NGOs, and inter-governmental mechanisms, can all have need for knowledge of the existence of widespread abuse. Assessment of the prevalence of torture and other ill-treatment, relies upon well-documented individual allegations
  • The production of supporting material during visits to places of detention. Medical documentation may not necessarily lead to the production of a medico-legal report on specific cases, but the medical findings can be used more generally to support allegations of conditions and treatment amounting to torture or other ill-treatment.

Medical documentation may be critical to legal investigations of torture through the following means: Producing a contemporaneous record (a record as close in time as possible to the event) of signs and symptoms of ill-treatment when an individual presents to … Continue reading

About the Istanbul Protocol

Istanbul Protocol thumbnailThe 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 on protection against torture and sets out specific guidelines on how effective legal and medical investigations into allegations of torture should be conducted.

The Istanbul Protocol is an important source as it both reflects existing obligations of States under international treaty and customary international law and aids States to effectively implement relevant standards. It became a United Nations official document in 1999. The Istanbul Protocol is intended to serve as a set of international guidelines for the assessment of persons who allege torture and ill-treatment, for investigating cases of alleged torture, and for reporting such findings to the judiciary and any other investigative body. The investigation and documentation guidelines also apply to other contexts, including human rights investigations and monitoring, assessment of individuals seeking political asylum, the defence of individuals who “confess” to crimes during torture, and assessment of needs for the care of survivors of torture. In the case of health professionals who are coerced to neglect, misrepresent, or falsify evidence of torture, the manual also provides an international point of reference for health professionals and adjudicators alike.

The documentation guidelines apply to individuals who allege torture and ill-treatment, whether the individuals are in detention, applying for political asylum, refugees or internally displaced persons, or the subject of general human rights investigations. The guidelines provided cover a range of topics including:

  • Relevant international legal standards
  • Relevant Ethical Codes
  • Legal Investigation of Torture
  • General Considerations for Interviews
  • Physical Evidence of Torture
  • Psychological Evidence of Torture

Many procedures for a torture investigation are included in the manual, such as how to interview the alleged victim and other witnesses, selection of the investigator, safety of witnesses, how to collect alleged perpetrator’s statement, how to secure and obtain physical evidence, and detailed guidelines on how to establish a special independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged torture and ill-treatment. The manual also includes comprehensive guidelines for clinical examinations to detect physical and psychological evidence of torture and ill-treatment.

The Istanbul Protocol also outlines minimum standards for state adherence to ensure the effective documentation of torture in its Principles on the Effective Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, or “Istanbul Principles” The guidelines contained in the Istanbul Protocol are not designed to be fixed, rather, they represent an elaboration of the minimum standards contained in the Istanbul Principles and should be applied in accordance with a reasonable assessment of available resources.

The Istanbul Protocol is a non-binding document. However, international law obliges governments to investigate and document incidents of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and to punish those responsible in a comprehensive, effective, prompt and impartial manner. The Istanbul Protocol is a tool for doing this.

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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 on protection against torture and sets out specific guidelines on how effective … Continue reading

Legal Investigation of Torture

According to the Istanbul Protocol, investigations into torture should seek to establish the facts of alleged incidents in an effort to identify and facilitate the prosecution of perpetrators and/or secure redress for the victims. When possible, forensic experts should obtain detailed information on the following topics: 1) the circumstances leading up to the torture; 2) the approximate dates and times when the torture occurred; 3) detailed physical descriptions about the people involved in the arrest, detention and torture; 4) the contents of what was asked of or told to the victim; 5) a description of the usual routine in the place of detention; 6) details about the methods of torture and/or ill-treatment used; 7) any instances of sexual assault; 8 ) resulting physical injuries; 9) weapons or physical objects used; and 10) the identity of any witnesses.

When designing commissions of inquiry, states or organisations should be very clear in defining the scope of the investigation. By framing the inquiries in a neutral manner (without predetermined outcomes), allowing for flexibility, and being clear about which events and/or issues are under investigation, the proceedings can achieve greater legitimacy among both commission members and the general public.

Commissions should be given the authority to obtain information by compelling testimonies under legal sanction, ordering the production of State documents, including medical records, and protecting witnesses. In addition, the commissions should be granted the power to conduct on-site visits and issue a public report.

Perhaps most crucial to the legitimacy of any medico-legal investigation is their impartiality. According to the Istanbul Protocol, “…[c]ommission members should not be closely associated with any individual, State entity, political party or other organisation potentially implicated in the torture. They should not be too closely connected to an organisation or group of which the victim is a member, as this may damage the commission’s credibility.”

In addition, commissions should, whenever possible, rely on their own investigators and expert advisers, especially when examining misconduct by members of the government.

Following the inquiry, the commission should issue a public report, with minority members filing a dissenting opinion. These reports should include: the scope of inquiry and terms of reference, as described above; the procedures and methods of evaluation; a list of all testifying witnesses—except for those whose identities are protected—with their age and gender; the time and place that each sitting occurred; all relevant political, social and economic conditions that may have influenced the inquiry; the specific events that occurred and supporting evidence; the commissions’ conclusions; and finally, a set of recommendations. In response to these reports, the State should issue a public statement describing how it plans to heed the commission’s recommendations.

The Istanbul Protocol also includes obligations of governments to ensure minimum standards for the effective investigation and documentation of torture and ill-treatment as stipulated in the Istanbul Principles as mentioned above.

According to the Istanbul Protocol, investigations into torture should seek to establish the facts of alleged incidents in an effort to identify and facilitate the prosecution of perpetrators and/or secure redress for the victims. When possible, forensic experts should obtain … Continue reading

Multidisciplinary approach to documentation

Although straightforward allegations of torture can be documented by a health professional on his or her own, the investigation and documentation of torture is ideally a joint effort to be carried out by a number of actors with expertise in different fields. These usually include a lawyer, health professional and human rights monitor. Others who play an important part in the effort are judges, the police, the media, and of course the individuals and their families.

Although straightforward allegations of torture can be documented by a health professional on his or her own, the investigation and documentation of torture is ideally a joint effort to be carried out by a number of actors with expertise in … Continue reading

Duties of the health professional

Health professionals have a duty to treat all patients without any form of discrimination and to provide treatment based only upon medical criteria without outside influence. In cases where torture or other ill-treatment is suspected, the health professional must keep in mind that these are crimes under international law, and probably domestic law. Therefore, irrespective of what the individual may be suspected, charged or convicted, the health professional’s duty is to document objectively any psychological or physical findings and, where pertinent, provide treatment or referral to colleagues for treatment. Thus those who become aware of torture have a duty to act, both to relieve the suffering and to document the evidence. To do nothing may be seen as acquiescence and as compounding the abuse. On the other hand, when choosing a course of action, consideration also needs to be given to the torture victim’s situation and how the risk of reprisals can be avoided or minimised.

Health professionals have a duty to treat all patients without any form of discrimination and to provide treatment based only upon medical criteria without outside influence. In cases where torture or other ill-treatment is suspected, the health professional must keep … Continue reading