Health professionals as human rights advocates

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a week-long series from Lars Døssing Rosenmeier, who is writing from the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) Regional Seminar in Amman, Jordan. The seminar is part of the European Commission-supported project, Non-State Actors, which you can read more about here. Read here for the first post.

The very initial moments of treating a torture survivor – the first interviews and basic data questions – can have greater importance than one expects.

The family in the short video had been arrested and tortured by Israeli armed forces after two members of their family were killed in a demonstration against the seizure of their land. The two phases shown in the film – the initial stages of intervention, and after they had received primary rehabilitation services – testify to the power of rehabilitation.

The family shown had received care at the Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (TRC), based in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank.

The video was one presented by TRC at the IRCT Middle East-North Africa (MENA) Regional Seminar, which they are currently co-hosting with the IRCT Secretariat in Amman, Jordan this week. The meeting has brought together 20 health and human rights professionals from across this region to discuss some fundamental practices of their respective rehabilitation clinics.

Some of the participants during a workshop at the MENA Seminar this week.

Intake proceedings and documentation were the focus of the regional seminar this week: where health professionals gathered together to learn their respective procedures and processes to work towards determining a standardised form for data sharing. While collecting data and information, such as name, gender, birth date, and employment status, may seem like a simple function of a rehabilitation clinic, identifying the information that is already collected and can therefore most easily be shared across all treatment centres within the MENA region is very important for the fight against torture.

As Wisam Sehweil of TRC said, referring to the set of simple data that can now be shared; “I have been in many trainings, but this is the first time that a consensus is sought and reached in this way”.

It’s important because doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and psycho-social counsellors are also human rights advocates when working in torture rehabilitation. They are fighting for the right to health and rehabilitation for the torture survivors they meet with every week. International human rights treaties, such as the UN Convention Against Torture, the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, oblige states to provide protection from torture and proper rehabilitation for torture victims.

So what can health professionals do? In addition to treating and rehabilitating torture survivors, health professionals have the knowledge and experience on the ground to advocate for states to live up to these obligations. That’s why creating standardised procedures, such as basic data collection, is important in the fight against torture: health professionals, as human rights advocates, can bring this information to the United Nations and inform the UN monitors about the unmet needs of torture survivors in their country.

So this week in Jordan, 20 participants, from 10 different torture rehabilitation centres in 7 countries, are addressing these questions and in the processing reframing the way we think of health care professionals. Lest we forget: doctors, psychologists and counsellors are among those on the forefront of the fight against torture.

Lars assists the membership team, focusing on management of the NSA project. The NSA project is supported by the European Commission.


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  1. #1 by Medical Action Group (@medactiongroup) on 11/09/2012 - 06:00

    Yes. Since medical doctors are often among the first persons to come into contact with a torture survivor after the incident. Medical doctors play an essential role in preventing torture by effective medical documentation using the Istanbul Protocol.

  1. Strengthening the ties that bind us together « World Without Torture

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