Viewpoint: stop it now

Tom Davies from Amnesty calls for an end to torture through medical interventions

Shockingly, in the 21st century torture is still with us and actually flourishing.

The medical profession can play a key role in stopping it.

In a country like Mexico, for example, medical examinations of suspects, including official procedures to investigate allegations of torture, fall well short of international standards.

Detainees are supposed to be medically examined following arrest, but many taken into custody say that this just doesn’t happen.

Even a clearly-injured person might not be examined and photographs to document injuries are almost never taken.

And even when a detainee is examined it often happens in the presence of people who may have been involved in the torturing.

In Mexico medical professionals in the detention system are military officials or employees of the offices of the attorney general or the prison system.

The potential for torture to go unrecorded is clear.

These poor procedures and conflicts of interest have played a part in cases like Claudia Medina’s, a mother-of-three subjected to a savage assault after her arrest on suspicion of being a gang member in 2012.

She was tortured using electric shocks, sexually assaulted, beaten and left tied to a chair in scorching afternoon heat.

Mandatory high-quality, independent medical examinations of vulnerable detainees in police custody can often be the difference between torture occurring or not.

It’s one of the key safeguards we’ve identified as providing a barrier between the would-be torturer and the person at risk.

Others are prompt access to lawyers, independent checks on places of detention, the criminalisation of torture in national legislation, and the video recording of interrogations.

Our Stop Torture campaign calls on governments to tackle these issues head on.

Over the past five years, Amnesty has reported on torture and other ill-treatment in an unbelievable 141 countries. It’s banned in law, but still goes on in practice.

As specialists in the field have noted, physiotherapists have a vital role in the healing and recovery process for torture survivors.

All medics should support our campaign.

Tom Davies, Stop Torture campaign manager, Amnesty International UK

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