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Visits to prisoners and documentation of torture

31-03-2002 by Hernán Reyes

Extract from "The medical documentation of torture", edited by Micheal Peel, chapter 5, pp.77-100, Geenwich Medical Media, London, 2002.


The documentation of torture covers a wide range of situations that require different strategies. According to the context and circumstances involved, the type of interview and the procedures for getting documentation will vary considerably. From the torture victim’s point of view, there will be variations in perception, and adaptation to the situation, according to where and when the interview takes place. It cannot be stressed often enough that a humane approach towards, and true empathy for, the persons interviewed are more important from a humanitarian point of view than getting the actual documentation – a paramount and sometimes neglected feature that workers in this field sometimes tend to forget.

Today there are dozens of major centres – and many more smaller ones – around the world that provide care for victims of torture. Some of these centres are in the countries where torture actually takes place; others are in host countries where victims of torture may perhaps seek asylum. Trained personnel with the necessary medical and psychological skills will obtain documentation in such centres while at the same time providing therapy. Legal advisors and social workers will also be present thus to provide not only medical expertise but also legal advice and social assistance. In these centres, time limitations for interviews will not be a major limiting factor, and having a series of interviews will be the rule rather than the exception.


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