Training

Notifying people of their rights

Everyone deprived of liberty has the right to be given a reason for the arrest and detention. Article 9(1) of the ICCPR states that: ‘Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.’

Everyone deprived of liberty has the right to be given a reason for the arrest and detention. Article 9(1) of the ICCPR states that: ‘Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to … Continue reading

The Istanbul Protocol

Identification and Introduction

Interviews for medical evaluations usually begin with the clinician introducing himself or herself followed by:

  • Explanation of the purpose of the evaluation
  • Reviewing the conditions of the evaluation, i.e.
    • Independence of the evaluator
    • Confidentiality of the clinician’s findings and limits thereof
    • Right to refuse answering questions
    • Importance of detail and accuracy of information
    • Acknowledge likely difficulty of recalling certain events
    • Ability to take breaks
    • Access to refreshments and toilet facilities
  • Statement on the overall content of the interview including: detailed questions on events before during and after the alleged torture, followed by a physical examination, should this be the case, and the possibility of photographs
  • Discussing the likely benefits and risks of the evaluation
  • Addressing any questions or concerns that the individual may have
  • Obtaining consent to proceed with the evaluation.

For forensic evaluations, the clinician should establish the identity of the subject. As previously mentioned, law enforcement officials should not be present during the evaluation. If such officials refuse to leave the examination room, it should be noted in the clinician’s report or and/or the evaluation may be cancelled.

When the medical evaluation is being conducted by more than one clinician, i.e. one for physical evidence and another for psychological evidence, the content of the interview should focus on the information most relevant to their expertise.

Interviews for medical evaluations usually begin with the clinician introducing himself or herself followed by: Explanation of the purpose of the evaluation Reviewing the conditions of the evaluation, i.e. Independence of the evaluator Confidentiality of the clinician’s findings and limits … Continue reading

Beatings/Falanga

Beating

Beating is the most common form of physical torture. When the aim is to disguise its effects, beating may be performed with heavy, flexible implements such as sandbags or lead-filled plastic pipes, which may leave short-lived bruising but no permanent scarring. Sometimes the torturers perform the beating over clothing or folded towels. The impact of the blows is still severe and such beating may cause deep muscle bruising (which may take several days to reach the surface) or internal bleeding. This has been reported to lead to acute renal failure due to release of myoglobin (see Module 5). In many countries, severe beatings, which cause widespread bruising, are discontinued after the first few days of detention so that when the victim is produced to court or released after days or weeks later, all obvious signs of beating will have faded.

Falanga

Falanga, also referred to as falaka, can be defined as the applications of blunt trauma to the soles of the feet. The technique has been practised throughout history. It is still very common, particularly in the Middle East, but also in the Indian subcontinent and, according to Amnesty International, in over thirty countries worldwide. In some countries, such as Turkey, it is applied almost as a routine at the time of detention and many torture survivors report having suffered it on numerous occasions.

It may be applied by batons, whips or canes to the bare feet or with shoes still on, and the immediate effect will depend on these variables. Often the victim is made to walk round on rough paving afterwards, sometimes carrying another on his back. This last detail is clearly intended to add to the humiliation as well as the pain.

As with most forms of physical torture, the physical findings associated with falanga change over time. These changes can be summarised as follows:

Acute Symptoms and Signs

The immediate effect of falanga is bleeding and oedema in the soft tissues of the feet, as well as severe pain. At clinical examination, changes are also confined to the soft tissues. Swelling of the feet, discoloration of the soles due to haematoma formation and various degrees of skin lesions are typical and diagnostic findings. Extensive ulcerations and gangrene of toes due to ischaemia have been described, but are not common. Fractures of tarsals, metatarsals and phalanxes are described as occurring occasionally. The acute changes disappear spontaneously within weeks, as the oedema and extravasation of blood resolve, but the induced soft tissue lesions may be permanent.

Symptoms and Signs in the Chronic Phase

The majority of torture victims submitted to falanga complain of pain and impaired walking. The cardinal symptom is pain in the feet and calves, and two types of pain are usually present:

  • A deep, dull cramping pain in the feet, which intensifies with weight bearing and muscle activity spreading up the lower legs
  • A superficial burning, stinging pain in the soles, often accompanied by sensory disturbances and frequently also a tendency for the feet to alternate between being hot and cold, suggestive of autonomic instability

Because of the pain, walking is impaired in most falanga victims. Walking speed and walking distance are reduced. Typically, the torture victim is only able to walk a limited distance, during which the pain will increase and make continued muscle activity impossible. At rest, the pain subsides and the victim can resume walking.

Theories Explaining the Persistent Pain and Foot Dysfunction After Falanga

The aetiology and pathogenesis of the persistent pain and disability after falanga is not fully understood. Several theories have been put forward, and most likely a combination of trauma mechanisms are responsible.

Reduced Shock Absorbency in the Heel Pads

The footpads are situated under the weight-bearing bony structures, at which in particular the heel pads act as the first in a series of shock absorbers. The heel pad is normally a firm elastic structure covering the calcaneus. It has a complex internal architecture consisting of closely packed fat cells surrounded by septa of connective tissue, which also contain the nerve and vessel supply to the tissues. Because of its structure, the heel pad is under constant hydraulic pressure and maintains its shape during weight load in the standing position.

After falanga, the heel pad may appear flat and wide, with displacement of the tissues laterally during weight loading. This is observed at inspection from behind, with the torture victim in the standing position. At palpation, the elasticity in the heel pad is reduced and the underlying bony structures are easily felt through the tissues. The pathophysiology of the reduced elasticity in the heel pad is thought to be tearing of the connective tissue septa, leading to deprivation of blood supply and secondary atrophy of fat cells with loss of the shock absorbing ability.

Damaged footpads are not pathognomonic of falanga, but are also described in connection with other conditions unrelated to torture, e.g. lesions in long-distance runners and patient with fractures of the heel bone. It should also be stressed that normal footpads at clinical examination does not rule out exposure to falanga.

Changes in the Plantar Fascia

The plantar fascia springs from the calcaneus and proceeds to the forefoot. It is tightened during foot of supporting the longitudinal arches of the foot, assisting the foot muscles during walking. Changes in the plantar fascia are present in some torture victims after falanga and are probably due to the repeated direct traumas to this superficial structure. After falanga, the fascia may appear thickened with an uneven surface at palpation, and tenderness may be found throughout the whole length of the fascia, from its spring to the insertion. Disruption of the plantar fascia has been reported, based on the finding of increased passive dorsiflexion in the toes at clinical examination.

Closed Compartment Syndrome

The plantar muscles of the foot are arranged in tight compartments—an anatomical arrangement which makes it possible for a closed compartment syndrome to develop. A closed compartment syndrome is defined as a painful ischaemic, circulatory disturbance in connection with an increase in pressure and volume inside a well-defined muscle compartment. In the acute form, with a rapidly increasing pressure, e.g. caused by bleeding inside the compartment, the symptoms are alarming and the consequences severe with necrosis of involved tissues if left untreated.

Chronic compartment syndromes may occur as a result of an increase in the muscle bulk and/or a narrowing of the compartment. Clinically, this condition presents itself with pain that intensifies with load and which finally makes continued muscle activity impossible. The pain subsides after a short period of rest, but recurs if muscle activity is resumed—a picture not unlike that seen in impaired walking after falanga.

In a MRI study comparing torture victims exposed to falanga with healthy volunteers, significant thickening of the plantar fascia was found in all victims. Apart from this, morphological changes were present in the fascia, possibly representing scar tissue formation. No signs of detachment of the plantar fascia, closed compartment syndrome or changes in the heel pads were shown in this study.

Neurogenic Pain

The skin of the soles in the normal foot is apart from the arch area, very thick and firmly tied to the underlying tissues. It is very rich in sensory nerve endings, which register touch and pressure. Peripheral nerve lesion affecting the small nerves of the soles is a very possible consequence of falanga. Neurogenic pain due to nerve lesion is therefore a possible contributing pain mechanism.

Impaired Walking

Deviations from the normal gait pattern are very frequent after exposure to falanga. Many torture victims develop a compensatory altered gait with loading of the lateral border (supinating the foot) or loading of the medial border (pronating the foot) to avoid pain at heel strike. The unwinding of the foot is likewise abnormal. Maximal extension and weight loading of the first toe is typically avoided at take-off.

Stride and walking speed are reduced. The gait is broad, stiff and insecure as seen in patients with peripheral neuropathy from other causes. Postural reflexes are elicited from the soles, and, together with the ability to register distribution of pressure, these reflexes are essential for balance and walking. Nerve lesion influencing the proprioception may therefore also contribute to the overall picture. As a consequence of the altered function of the foot, altered gait and frequently concurrent exposure to other forms of torture involving the lower extremities, a chain reaction of muscular imbalance occurs. The various muscle groups of the lower legs are often painful due to increased muscle tone, tight muscles and fasciae, tender and trigger points, and musculo-tendinous inflammation.

Clinical Examination for Falanga

The clinical examination of torture victims exposed to falanga should include:

  1. Inspection and palpation of the soft tissues of the feet: heel pads, plantar fascia, skin
  2. Assessment of foot function and gait
  3. Examination of soft tissues and joints in the lower extremities
  4. Neurological examination

It should be stressed once again that none of the findings at clinical examination in the late phases after falanga are pathognomonic, and that a normal examination of the feet does not rule out the possibility of this specific torture method. Special investigations that may aid in correlating allegations of falanga include x-rays, scintography and MRI (see Module 5). Treatment in the chronic phase often includes gentle massage to the muscles of the feet, calves and thighs, re-education of the walking pattern and supportive footwear, especially designed to offer cushioning of the heels.

Beating Beating is the most common form of physical torture. When the aim is to disguise its effects, beating may be performed with heavy, flexible implements such as sandbags or lead-filled plastic pipes, which may leave short-lived bruising but no … Continue reading

Introduction

Modules 7 and 8 each include a case example of alleged torture and ill-treatment. The Modules are designed for students to develop the clinical skills necessary for the effective documentation of medical evidence torture, including both physical and psychological evidence. These cases were used extensively in Istanbul Protocol trainings in Mexico and also, with some modifications, in Sudan. The content of each was specifically designed to represent common evaluation scenarios and to include a wide range of challenges related to the documentation of physical and psychological evidence of torture. The cases are complementary, i.e. one with “strong psychological and weak physical evidence” (Case #01) and the other with “strong physical and minimal psychological evidence” (Case #02) and reflect composite imformation of actual cases. Each case consists of 1) a brief Case Summary/Refferal that the students read before the evaluation, 2) a Case Narrative to guide role-players in acting their part as an alleged torture victim, and 3) a detailed set of Guidelines for Instructors (and/or individual student users if that is the case) which outline learning objectives, relevant case information, and points for discussion for each of the 8 primary components of medical evaluation:

  1. Introduction/Conditions of Interview & Identification Information
  2. Past Medical and Surgical History & Psychosocial History – Pre-Arrest
  3. Trauma History
  4. Review of Torture Methods
  5. Physical Symptoms (acute and chronic) and Disabilities
  6. Psychological Assessment and Mental Status Examination
  7. Physical Examination
  8. Interpretation of Findings & Conclusions

It is highly recommended for the instructors to contact local treatment centers for survivors of torture, and/or other experienced clincians or providers who may be available to participate in the case examples.

Modules 7 and 8 each include a case example of alleged torture and ill-treatment. The Modules are designed for students to develop the clinical skills necessary for the effective documentation of medical evidence torture, including both physical and psychological evidence. … Continue reading

Head Trauma and Post-traumatic Epilepsy

Head trauma is among the most common forms of torture. Even repeated minor head trauma can cause permanent damage to brain tissues. This can in turn cause permanent physical handicap. Lacerations and abrasions of the head and their late consequences should be documented as above. Scalp bruises are frequently not visible externally acutely unless there is swelling. Bruises also may be difficult to see in dark skinned individuals, but will be tender to palpation.

Survivors of torture often report that they were unconscious at times, but it is impossible for them to know what happened unless they were with a reliable witness. It is necessary to try to differentiate between loss of consciousness following blows to the head, post-traumatic epilepsy (see below), asphyxiation, pain and exhaustion, or any combination of these.

Many victims of torture have suffered blows to the head, and many complain of persistent or recurrent headaches, whether or not they have sustained any head injury. Generally the headaches are psychosomatic or due to tension headache. In some cases with a history of repeated blows to the head, it is possible to feel areas of hyperaesthesia (extreme sensitivity of neurological sensation) and some thickening of the scalp from scar tissue.

Headache may also be the initial symptom of an expanding subdural haematoma. There may be associated psychological changes of acute onset, and a CT scan or MRI must be arranged urgently, if one is available. It may also be appropriate to arrange psychological or neuropsychological assessment. Soft tissue swelling and/or haemorrhage will usually be detected with CT or MRI. In cases of trauma caused by falls, contracoup lesions (on the opposite side to the point of impact) of the brain may be observed on investigation, whereas following direct trauma, the main damage to the brain may be seen directly under the point of impact.

Violent shaking of the upper body has been reported as a form of torture (as it has as a form of child abuse). Survivors complain of severe headaches and persistent changes in cognitive function. In these cases no injuries are visible. Shaking can lead to death due to cerebral oedema and subdural bleeding. Retinal haemorrhages have been noted on post-mortem examination and, when seen in children, are very suggestive of shaking injuries.

Immediately after severe head injury there may be concussive convulsions, but these do not necessarily lead to epilepsy. Convulsions (or seizures) in the first week or so after a severe head injury tend to be tonic-clonic. They may recur for a year or more, but are not generally lifelong. Severe head injuries leading to brain lesions, specifically in the temporal lobe, can cause convulsions that start months or years after the incident. The latter are complex partial seizures.

Typically (>90% of cases), complex partial seizures start with an aura (a strange feeling that precedes the convulsion). This is followed by an absence that can last up to two minutes. Concurrent automatic movements, particularly lip smacking have been reported. After these episodes there is usually a period of a few minutes of disorientation. Often the aura is described as a strange feeling in the stomach, but it may involve bizarre smells or tastes. These must be differentiated from the re-experiencing phenomena of PTSD where the person is always capable of being roused and never completely loses consciousness.

In most countries the prevalence of epilepsy in the population is 2%. About 65% of epilepsy is due to complex partial seizures. The cause of complex partial seizures is unknown in 45% of cases. Traumatic events including birth events account for 3% of it. The likelihood of acquiring epilepsy after a head injury depends on the severity of the injury (see table).

Degree of head injury Loss of consciousness Relative risk of epilepsy Duration of increased risk
Minor < 30 minutes 1.5 5 years
Moderate < 24 hours 2.9 (three times)
Severe > 24 hours 17.2 (17 times) 20 years

Survivors of torture rarely have an accurate account of their head injuries, and unless they have an external reference, they cannot know for certain how long they were unconscious. One problem with attributing epilepsy to head trauma is that there is rarely any information about the individual’s neurological state prior to the incident.

Head trauma is among the most common forms of torture. Even repeated minor head trauma can cause permanent damage to brain tissues. This can in turn cause permanent physical handicap. Lacerations and abrasions of the head and their late consequences … Continue reading

Introduction

Psychological reactions to torture present physicians, clinicians and social scientists with the challenge of evaluating and assisting individuals who have survived crises of life-threatening proportions. For many that have survived torture, the experience can cause profound effects at a deeply personal level that may persist and fluctuate for many years. Psychological consequences develop in the context of personal meaning and personality development. They will vary over time and are shaped by cultural, social, political, interpersonal, biological and intrapsychic factors that are unique to each individual. One should not assume that all forms of torture have the same outcome. However, over the past two decades much has been learned about psychological, biological and neuropsychiatric responses to extreme stress, including torture, and clusters of typical symptoms have emerged that are recognised across cultures.

Psychological reactions to torture present physicians, clinicians and social scientists with the challenge of evaluating and assisting individuals who have survived crises of life-threatening proportions. For many that have survived torture, the experience can cause profound effects at a deeply … Continue reading

Introduction

Torture can affect a child directly or indirectly. The impact can be due to the child having been tortured or detained, the torture of his/her parents or close family member or the witnessing of torture and violence. When individuals in a child’s environment are tortured, the torture will inevitably have an impact on the child, albeit indirectly, because torture affects the entire family and community of torture victims. A thorough discussion of the psychological impact of torture on children and complete guidelines for conducting an evaluation of a child who has been tortured is beyond the scope of this Manual. Nevertheless, several important points can be summarised.

First, when evaluating a child who is suspected of having undergone or witnessed torture, the clinician must make sure that the child receives support from caring individuals and that he/she feels secure during the evaluation. This may require a parent or trusted care provider to be present during the evaluation. Second, the clinician must keep in mind that children often do not express their thoughts and emotions regarding trauma verbally, but rather behaviourally. The degree to which a child is able to verbalize thought and affect depends on his/her age and developmental level as well as on other factors, such as family dynamics, personality characteristics and cultural norms.

If a child has been physically or sexually assaulted, it is important, if at all possible, for the child to be seen by an expert in child abuse. Genital examination of children, likely to be experienced as traumatic, should be performed by clinicians experienced in interpreting the findings. Sometimes it is appropriate to videotape the examination so that other experts can give opinions on the physical findings without the child having to be examined again. It may not be appropriate to perform a full genital or anal examination without a general anaesthetic. Furthermore, the examiner should be aware that the examination itself may be reminiscent of the assault, and it is possible that the child may make a spontaneous outcry or psychologically decompensate during the examination.

Torture can affect a child directly or indirectly. The impact can be due to the child having been tortured or detained, the torture of his/her parents or close family member or the witnessing of torture and violence. When individuals in … 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

Examination Following a Recent Assault

While it is rare that a victim of rape during torture is released, it is still possible to identify acute signs of the assault. In these cases, there are many issues to be aware of that may impede the medical evaluation. Recently assaulted victims may be troubled and confused about seeking medical or legal help due to their fears, sociocultural concerns or the destructive nature of the abuse. In such cases, a doctor should explain to the individual all possible medical and judicial options and should act in accordance with the individual’s wishes. The duties of the physician include obtention of voluntary informed consent for the examination, recording of all medical findings of abuse and obtention of samples for forensic examination. Whenever possible, the examination should be performed by an expert in documenting sexual assault. Otherwise, the examining physician should speak to an expert or consult a standard text on clinical forensic medicine. When the physician is of a different gender from the victim, he or she should be offered the opportunity of having a chaperone of the same gender in the room. If an interpreter is used, then the interpreter may also fulfil the role of the chaperone. Given the sensitive nature of investigation into sexual assaults, a relative of the alleged victim is not normally an ideal person to use in this role. The individual should be comfortable and relaxed before the examination.

A thorough physical examination should be performed, including meticulous documentation of all physical findings, including size, location and colour, and, whenever possible, these findings should be photographed and evidence collected of specimens from the examination. The physical examination should not initially be directed to the genital area. Particular attention must be given to ensure a thorough examination of the skin, looking for cutaneous lesions that could have resulted from an assault. These include bruises, lacerations, ecchymoses and petechiae from sucking or biting. Lesions on the breasts, particularly from bites, should be enquired about in women who have been sexually assaulted. When the legs are examined, the inner thighs should be inspected thoroughly. Where women have had their legs forced apart, there may be finger bruising, scratches, cigarette burns, incisions and other wounds, or their late consequences.

When genital lesions are minimal, lesions located on other parts of the body may be the most significant evidence of an assault. Even during examination of the female genitalia immediately after rape, there is identifiable damage in less than 50 per cent of the cases. Anal examination of men and women after anal rape shows lesions in less than 30 per cent of cases. Clearly, where relatively large objects have been used to penetrate the vagina or anus, the probability of identifiable damage is much greater.

Where a forensic laboratory is available, the facility should be contacted before the examination to discuss which types of specimen can be tested, and, therefore, which samples should be taken and how. Many laboratories provide kits to permit physicians to take all the necessary samples from individuals alleging sexual assault. If there is no laboratory available, it may still be worthwhile to obtain wet swabs and dry them later in the air. These samples can be used later for DNA testing. Sperm can be identified for up to five days from samples taken with a deep vaginal swab and after up to three days using a rectal sample. Strict precautions must be taken to prevent allegations of cross-contamination when samples have been taken from several different victims, particularly if they are taken from alleged perpetrators. There must be complete protection and documentation of the chain of custody for all forensic samples.

If the woman is being examined shortly after the rape, it is important to discuss issues of pregnancy and emergency contraception, and however long has passed since the assault, sexually transmitted diseases (especially gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis and trichomoniasis) and other infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B (HBV) and HIV must be considered (see below), and treated where present if the necessary facilities are available. If rape occurred within the previous seventy-two hours, consideration must be given to the administration of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) for preventing infection by HIV and this depends on a detailed assessment of the nature of the sexual assault. The risk of infection with HBV should be assessed and the need for immunisation determined.

Some women are raped persistently over a long period which increases the likelihood that they will become pregnant; in some cases they are then detained until it is too late to consider termination of pregnancy (if that would otherwise be an option). In such cases routine ante-natal examinations should be performed including, if possible, ultrasounds. This will enable the time of conception to be estimated.

While it is rare that a victim of rape during torture is released, it is still possible to identify acute signs of the assault. In these cases, there are many issues to be aware of that may impede the medical … Continue reading