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Torture in the World Today

Amnesty International documented cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in 81 countries in 2007.[1] Some studies indicate that between 5 and 35% of the world’s refugees have been estimated to have experienced torture.[2] In 2007, there were 15.9 million refugees around the world and an estimated 26 million people displaced internally by conflict.[3] This suggests that the number of torture survivors in the world today may range from 2 to 15 million. These estimates do not include those affected by war or other human rights violations.

Among foreign-born patients presenting to an urban primary care center in the United States, approximately 1 in 9 met the definition established by the UN Convention Against Torture. As survivors of torture, these patients may have significant psychological and physical sequelae. This statistic underscores the necessity for primary care physicians to screen for a torture history among foreign-born patients and to effectively address their problems.[4]


[1] Amnesty International Annual Report 2008: The State of the World’s Human Rights. Available at: http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/facts-and-figures [1]

[2] Baker R: Psychosocial consequences for tortured refugees seeking asylum and refugee status in Europe, chap 5, In Basoglu M (Ed): Torture and Its Consequences: Current Treatment Approaches. New York, NY, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

[3] Refugees International. Helpful Facts and Figures. Available at: http://www.refugeesinternational.org/get-involved/helpful-facts-%2526-figures [2]

[4] Crosby SS, Marie Norredam M, Paasche-Orlow MK, Piwowarczyk L, Heeren T, and Michael A Grodin MA. Prevalence of Torture Survivors Among Foreign-Born Patients Presenting to an Urban Ambulatory Care Practic. J Gen Intern Med. 2006 July; 21(7): 764–768.