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UN Human Rights Council 13th Session Series Report: Health Professionals' Role on Documenting Torture as It Relates to China

March 11, 2010 |  

(Clearwisdom.net) During the 13th session of the UN Human Rights Council being held in Geneva, a panel discussion was held on the role of health professionals in documenting torture. Many times, government officials in various countries were human rights abusers, and health professionals documented the torture and offered evidence to law enforcement. The panel, hosted by Dr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on Torture, was joined by experts from the World Medical Association and government representatives in discussing the role of medical professionals on documenting torture.

The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is an international human rights instrument, under the review of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture around the world.

Article 1 of the UN Convention defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

China signed the Torture Convention on December 12, 1986 and ratified it on October 4, 1988.

A representative from Turkey gave an introduction on the effectiveness of training for doctors to identify torture. The Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, commonly known as the Istanbul Protocol, is the first set of international guidelines for documentation of torture and its consequences. It became an official United Nations document in 1999. The Istanbul Protocol is intended to serve as a set of international guidelines for the assessment of persons who allege torture and ill treatment, for investigating cases of alleged torture, and for reporting such findings to the judiciary and any other investigative body.

Since 1999, the Turkish project has trained doctors, health professionals and legal professionals in over ten countries to work together, share their experience and identify torture. They established a 42-hour curriculum for medical students and law school students to identify torture victims.

Immediately following the panel speakers, several NGO's raised the question of when health professionals become accomplices to torture, who are going to protect victims.

A lawyer from Argentina asked, "The topics raised by the panelists were about medical workers documenting injuries of torture. What happens when it is the actual medical practitioners that inflict torture on people? I am talking specifically about China and its persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners. The forms of torture are both mental, by the injection of nerve damaging drugs and physical by using medical practices to inflict pain, for example, the woman sitting across the room, Madame Fang Yi Si, was tortured using acupuncture needles inserted deeply in meridian points where pain is intense. These doctors are more concerned about losing their jobs if they don't inflict the torture rather than protecting health or upholding ethics."

A representative from the Conscience Foundation, a NGO from the United States, shared the lawyer's concern and extended the question. He pointed out that the situation in China is so different from the rest of the world. During the past eleven years of persecution, medical professionals, including doctors and nurses in hospitals and labor camps, have become accomplices of the persecution. They administered forced-feedings not to sustain practitioners' health but to inflict pain, and they have injected psychotropic drugs. They have harvested practitioners' organs for profit. When medical doctors, instead of documenting evidence of torture, become accomplices, then in a country like China, who can safeguard the lives of those innocent people and what can the international community do about it?

A representative from Freedom House expressed similar concerns when physicians help the government persecute political dissidents, like in China, what kind of vehicles can the United Nations use and what can the World Medical Association do to stop the practice.

Mr. Paul Jaszczack from the World Medical Association said that the China question is not easy to answer, but when ethics and economics collide, economics tends to win. So he suggested informing other local medical associations around the world to press Chinese medical associations and their members to fulfill their obligations.