Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Doctors and torture

The campaign about doctors and torture in Israel five years on

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 09 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4386
  1. Derek Summerfield, honorary senior lecturer1
  1. 1Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, UK
  1. derek.summerfield{at}

It is three years since we last reported on the progress of a medical ethical appeal representing 725 doctors (235 from UK) from 43 countries.1 In May 2009, we asked the World Medical Association (WMA) to take action on the voluminous evidence base attesting to systematic collusion with torture by Israeli doctors and the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) over many years. The WMA Declaration of Tokyo forbids doctors from participating in torture and mandates them to report and denounce it.

The WMA will not act against Israel. WMA president Yoram Blachar (also the longstanding IMA president) used London lawyers to threaten me as convenor with a libel suit. Thus, in 2010 we escalated our appeal to the UN special rapporteur on torture.

For more than three years there has been no action by the rapporteur, latterly Juan Mendez. In March 2013, the rapporteur’s office informed us that the IMA and WMA were civil society organisations outside their mandate. To whom, then, are these organisations accountable? However, they added that they would “be willing to act on information that concerns the actions of Israeli state agents in specific cases.” This we sent, drawing on authoritative new documentation of actual cases, with named doctors, in a report that The BMJ has reported on.2 3 In not one case did doctors obey the Declaration of Tokyo, showing that this was systemic malpractice. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel says that the IMA sees itself as an institutional branch of the state and will not contest its practices. New cases continue to come to light.4

Another year on, and the rapporteur has done nothing. Yet in 2009 he was tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to prioritise the issue of medical complicity. Elsewhere the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations have refused to act against US doctors and psychologists implicated in “enhanced” torture in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo.5 Is the international regulation of the ethical behaviour of doctors with regard to torture largely a dead letter? Our campaign continues.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4386



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