Any information or documentation you have in relation to allegations of torture could be potentially useful. Below is an incomplete list of the type of information that is most commonly available and useful.
The following are helpful to document torture:
- accurate and reliable information
- detailed accounts from the victim(s) and, where possible, others who might have witnessed the torture;
- medical reports and/or findings from health professionals (medical doctors, psychologists and others);
- photographs or video films of injuries inflicted on a particular individual (it is always helpful if these photographs show both 1) the injury or injuries ; and 2) identify clearly the face of the individual who has suffered the injury;
- documentation of any threats made publically, for example through public statements re-published in news media;
- Secondary/Supporting evidence - for example, evidence confirming that the victim was in fact at the location where the torture is said to have occurred; evidence confirming the alleged perpetrator's position, and that he/she was in the same location and had access to the victim;
- Any other data confirming that torture is prevalent in the country/detention centre concerned.
The proper documentation of torture serves a number of purposes. These include (1):
- Clarifying the facts
- Establishing and acknowledging the individual victim(s) and their families;
- Pin-pointing the State responsible and the officials involved in the torture
- Identifying how to stop recurrence;
- Increasing the prospect of prosecution of or disciplinary action against those responsible
- Demonstrating the need for full reparation and redress from the State, including fair and adequate compensation, medical care and rehabilitation.
States have an obligation to document acts of torture and to investigate with a view to prosecuting those responsible. However, they often fail to independently and consistently do so. In such cases, there may be local civil society groups or human rights organisations that are collecting such data. These bodies may use this information to draw attention to a particular situation or to advocate for reforms; to ensure that survivors have access to appropriate rehabilitative treatment; to ensure that there is an independent record of what occurred; or possibly to bring legal or administrative challenges in local, regional or international courts.
REDRESS has done and can consider doing training on the documentation of torture for human rights activists and organisations.
Are you an organisation seeking to document allegations of torture?
There are a number of excellent sources of information on the standards and procedures for documentation of torture. These should be reviewed in detail:
- Torture Reporting Handbook Human Rights Centre, University of Essex/UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- Istanbul Protocol: Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- Physicians for Human Rights (Research and Investigations)
- Medical Physical Examination of Alleged Torture Victims (IRCT)
- Psychological Evaluation of Torture Allegations (IRCT)
- Action Against Torture (particularly helpful for lawyers) (IRCT)
For further information on the Istanbul Protocol, this website is a helpful resource.
Challenges with documenting torture:
- One of the most important challenges relates to the security and safety of victims and those civil society organisations undertaking documentation. There will be extreme security risks in some countries - at times, documentation may not be feasible, or, this activity will need to be undertaken amidst heightened security conditions;
- The process of seeking statements or other evidence from victims may in itself be a traumatic experience for them. It is normal for those who have suffered severe trauma to experience an array of psychological problems - these can be treated. Survivors should be encouraged to seek professional assistance;
- The process of collecting evidence may itself be difficult - torture usually occurs behind closed doors, with few witnesses. Survivors may not be in a position to obtain a medical examination until after the visible scars have healed. Nonetheless, it can be important to register a complaint with the appropriate body despite these constraints - sometimes, there will be many others who allege the same treatment - which will constitute strong support to the case; occasionally, where specialised doctors are available, they will be able to demonstrate signs of torture in the absence of surface scars.
1. As stated in the Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.The set of principles, known as the Istanbul Protocol was included in the United Nations General Assembly resolution 55/89 4 December 2000 (Annex).