Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Medical complicity in torture

Time for WMA to take action

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 04 August 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4105
  1. John S Yudkin, emeritus professor of medicine1,
  2. Hadas Ziv, executive director2,
  3. Ishai Menuchin, executive director3
  1. 1University College London, London WC1E 6BT
  2. 2Physicians for Human Rights—Israel, Jaffa-Tel Aviv 68135, Israel
  3. 3Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, POB 4634, Jerusalem 91046, Israel
  1. j.yudkin{at}

    In a recent correction Professor Michael Baum conceded that Dr Derek Summerfield is sincere in his belief that the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) is complicit in torture, even though Professor Baum is equally convinced that the association is not.1 However, the IMA has still not answered several important questions about the charges.

    In October 2009 one of us (JSY) outlined the IMA’s failure adequately to investigate several allegations of medical complicity in torture collated in a May 2007 report.2 The IMA has still not adequately investigated these allegations, or responded to detailed questions about them from Physicians for Human Rights—Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and the author of the article.

    More reports continue to surface of medical complicity in torture.3 4 The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel has received details of one case, which has been forwarded to the IMA and Ministry of Health. It includes allegations that doctors in an emergency room did not report injuries that a Palestinian prisoner was reported to have sustained during questioning by the General Security Service, returning the prisoner to detention two hours later.3

    The IMA has repeatedly stated its commitment to the Declaration of Tokyo of the World Medical Association (WMA), which prohibits doctors from condoning or participating in torture, and requires them to speak out when they encounter it. Failure to do so is defined as complicity in torture. The WMA is aware of the allegations in the 2007 report, and of the case described above. The WMA must now take action.

    Doctors in the Israeli prison service need a secure address to which testimonies can be submitted, as well as legal protection as whistleblowers. Should the WMA’s hand require strengthening, the March 2009 resolution of the UN Human Rights Council provides both the authority of a UN resolution and the resources of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.5


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4105


    • Competing interests: None declared.