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Prevention and Accountability

Preventing torture and other forms of ill-treatment is primarily an act of political or professional will and the responsibility to combat it extends to all those in authority in society. Judges and prosecutors, given their role in upholding the rule of law, have a particular responsibility to help prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment by promptly and effectively investigating such acts, prosecuting and punishing those responsible and providing redress to the victims. Preventing and investigating alleged acts of torture poses particular problems for judges and prosecutors, and for the administration of justice, because the crime is usually committed by the same public officials who are generally responsible for upholding and enforcing the law. This makes it more difficult to deal with than other forms of criminality. Nevertheless, judges and prosecutors have a legal duty to ensure that the integrity of their profession and the justice they uphold are not compromised by the continued tolerance of torture, or other forms of ill-treatment.

Health professionals should understand that medical documentation of torture and ill-treatment is one of many critical prevention and accountability measures. The following obligations on governments to ensure protection against torture as recognised in international treaties and customary international law[1] illustrates the context within which medical documenation occurs. These prevention and accountability measures also demonstrate a range of advocacy activities in which health professionals can and should consider for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment.

[1] In particular the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 5 Of the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Torture is also prohibited under international humanitarian law, in particular common Article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, and constitutes an international crime, both in its own right and as an element of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. See on the obligations of states parties under the Convention against Torture, REDRESS, Bringing the International Prohibition of Torture Home: National Implementation Guide for the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, January 2006.