Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctors and torture

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 14 August 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:397

Acting collectively doctors can support each other in protecting victims

  1. Vivienne Nathanson, head of professional resources and research group
  1. BMA, London WC1H 9JP

    Torture and other human rights abuses have been common throughout history For many centuries, for example, judges in France could order torture of prisoners to obtain information. In the American civil war deserters were branded, and even today branding may be part of a sentence in Iraq. But these abuses have rarely reached public perception and understanding. Asylum seekers reaching the United Kingdom from Kurdish Iraq or Bosnia have faced hostile accusations of being “economic refugees,” not deserving of emotional, social, and economic support. Kosovo may have changed that. Increasingly knowledge of abuses is recorded by us all as we watch our television screens. The stories told of torture and of executions were simple, coherent, and compelling—and reinforced by pictures from recent discoveries: the torture chamber in a school basement and mass graves. This type of reporting has been a trend for some time and has added impact to undercover reportage of human rights abuses in Turkey and Israel. The rapid appearance of pictures on the internet further broadens news coverage—and provides access to the world's media for repressed minorities. This public awareness is a new phenomenon; in time we will see …

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