Skip to Main Content
Printer Friendly Home > Issues > Torture

Torture

Freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is a fundamental human right established in international law. Since its founding in 1986, PHR's core mission has included investigating and reporting on the devastating consequences of torture on individuals, institutions, and society.

Health professionals can detect signs of physical and mental abuse that are not evident to traditional investigators. Where the torturer aims to silence the victim, PHR's work validates the survivor's voice. Where the torturer hides evidence of brutality, PHR provides physical proof of the violation. And, where the torturer uses the physician as an accomplice, PHR exposes the ethical travesty.

Based on our work, PHR developed the first set of international guidelines for investigating and assessing allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

The Association for the Prevention of Torture compiles the OPCAT Database, which contains comprehensive information on all states parties and signatories to the UN torture prevention treaty - the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

US Torture

In response to US personnel's systematic infliction of psychological and physical torture against detainees, PHR seeks to restore the US commitment against torture, to ensure humane treatment of detainees, and to protect US health personnel from complicity in mistreatment and harm. PHR is also working on legislation in MA and NY to sanction health care providers who participate in acts of torture and ill treatment.

Global Anti-Torture

Despite the absolute prohibition of torture in international law, it continues to be practiced in more than 100 countries, from totalitarian regimes to democracies. Countries frequently justify the use of torture as a necessary means to extract confessions, identify terrorists, and obtain intelligence critical to preventing future violence. Convictions are difficult to achieve because torturers have become adept at inflicting suffering through methods that leave few physical marks. In 1999, PHR co-authored the first set of international guidelines (the Istanbul Protocol) for the medical documentation of torture and its consequences. Since then, PHR has trained health professionals around the world to increase the number of independent, qualified experts capable of providing forensic medical evidence of torture so that victims may obtain justice.

Asylum

Every year, more than 40,000 people flee torture and unbearable persecution in their home country and seek safety in the US. PHR provides asylum seekers with medical and psychological evaluations to highlight the scars left by torture, beatings, sexual violence, slavery, and worse. PHR also protects survivors of torture and persecution by elevating the quality of health care in immigration detention centers, reducing the use of immigration detention, and eliminating arbitrary and unjustified barriers to asylum in the US.

Navy Nurse Should Not be Punished for Declining to Force-Feed Guantánamo Detainees (November 19, 2014)

PHR welcomed the American Nurses Association’s statement supporting a nurse who refused to force-feed Guantánamo detainees based on professional ethical obligations.

American Psychological Association to Conduct an Independent Review Into its Role in CIA Torture Program (November 14, 2014)

PHR said today it welcomed the American Psychological Association’s (APA) announcement that it will conduct an independent review of whether it colluded in the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11.

PHR Calls for Federal Probe into American Psychological Association’s Role in CIA Torture Program (October 16, 2014)

PHR is calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the American Psychological Association’s (APA) role in supporting the CIA’s torture program.

Physicians for Human Rights Comments on First Trial on Force-Feeding of Guantánamo Detainees (October 6, 2014)

PHR said today that the trial over the force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab should highlight the legal and medical ethics violations inherent in the practice, which can constitute torture and must immediately end.

More Torture News »
More Torture Investigations News »
More Global Torture News »
More US Torture News »

Psychologists Must Stand by their Ethical Obligations (August 11, 2014)

American psychologists designed and oversaw the brutal regime of interrogation used on detainees in U.S. military custody at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere during the U.S. war on terror; but the profession has yet to punish any psychologist who participated in torture or to fully distance itself from this legacy.

Honoring Victims of Torture Means Repairing Trust in Healers (June 26, 2014)

Today, UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, marks 27 years since the UN Convention against Torture came into effect.

Justice at Guantánamo Requires Charge or Release of Detainees (May 23, 2014)

Today’s Global Day of Action to Close Guantánamo marks another 365 days of detention that have passed since President Barack Obama renewed his promise to close the notorious prison.

The War on Health Care in Syria (May 19, 2014)

Dr. H has treated bombing casualties, chemical weapons survivors, and victims with bullet wounds – all standard cases in his field hospital in one of the opposition-controlled areas of Syria.

More Torture Posts »
More Torture Investigations Posts »
More Global Torture Posts »
More US Torture Posts »

PHR Joins Letter Urging White House to Lead in Declassifying Torture Report (April 2014)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) joins seven other organizations in calling on President Obama and the White House staff to lead the declassification process of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The letter emphasizes that the United States must reckon with the past in order to prevent torture in the future. Releasing the committee’s report is a foundational step in that process.

Impunity in Honduras (February 2014)

PHR sent a team of forensic experts to Honduras to investigate cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment by the country’s security forces that had occurred in the aftermath of the 2009 coup d’état.

Letter to President Obama on Releasing SSCI Report (January 2014)

On the 5th anniversary of President Barack Obama’s signing of the executive order to close the detention facility at Guantánamo and to standardize use of the Army Field Manual for interrogations, PHR and partner organizations sent a letter to the president.

Statement on the Syrian Refugee Crisis (January 2014)

PHR submitted a statement on the Syrian Refugee Crisis to a Hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights.

More Torture Research »
More Torture Investigations Research »
More Global Torture Research »
More US Torture Research »

Featured Campaign

US doctors 'hid signs of torture' at Guantánamo

US government doctors who cared for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay deliberately concealed or ignored evidence that their patients were being tortured, the first official study of its kind has found. Read More »

Featured Expert

Steven Reisner, PhD

Steven Reisner, PhD

Dr. Reisner has worked tirelessly to amend policies of the American Psychological Association that support psychologists’ participation in unethical military and intelligence interrogations in places such as Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and the CIA ‘black sites’. Read More »