Torture in Healthcare Settings

Thematic Report on Torture in Healthcare Settings





The Special Rapporteur presented his thematic report on abusive practices in healthcare settings to the twenty-second session of the Human Rights Council in March 2013. In his report, the SRT considers a number of abusive practices commonly reported in healthcare settings, which may cross a threshold of mistreatment that is tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In this sense, he analyses practices such as compulsory detention for medical treatment, violations of reproductive rights, denial of pain treatment, and treatment of persons with psycho-social disabilities and some marginalized groups, including LGBTI, persons who use drugs, and sex workers, and how these “treatments” may constitute a violation of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Watch this powerful video to hear from the Special Rapporteur on the problem of torture in healthcare settings worldwide!



The Special Rapporteur’s report has generated widespread global discussion, leading to efforts by advocates and policy-makers to grapple with legislative and policy reform as well as to refine definitions of ill-treatment and abuse in health-care settings.  Mainstream media sources, including  Time Magazine, The Atlantic, Forbes, El Pais, and the Huffington Post, among many others, prominently featured and analyzed the Special Rapporteur’s report. The publication of the report was also covered widely by specialized journals, organizations, academic centers, resource tools and blogs.

Leading medical organizations have responded and engaged with the Special Rapporteur’s report including the Pediatric Endocrine Societies from Europe, Africa, Japan, and Latin America who issued a statement found here. A particularly detailed critique was received from the American Psychiatric Association and the World Psychiatric Association. The letter and the SRT’s detailed response have also been reproduced in the ATI’s follow-up publication on the report.



The Special Rapporteur’s report has had significant impact worldwide. NGOs, international organizations, and governments around have been using the report as an advocacy tool and in order to bring about changes in policy and practices in health-care settings. Just several examples of the report’s impact include:

  • During its Fourth Plenary Session in June 2013, the OAS General Assembly adopted its Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity, which explicitly recognized the SRT’s recent thematic report on abusive practices in health-care settings. The Resolution cited the following findings of the report: “[c]hildren who are born with atypical sex characteristics are often subject to irreversible sex assignment, involuntary sterilization, involuntary genital normalizing surgery, performed without their informed consent, or that of their parents, ‘in an attempt to fix their sex,’ leaving them with permanent, irreversible infertility and causing severe mental suffering.”
  • The American National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency, has drawn on the Special Rapporteur’s condemnation of the use of aversive treatments like Graduated Electronic Decelerators (GEDs) in the US, and particularly on disabled children at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts, to call on the Government to end such practices and expedite investigations into allegations against the JRC’s practices.
  • In March 2013, the Argentinian “Procuraduría General de la Nación” (Office of the Attorney General) adopted a Resolution creating the Office of Institutional Violence as a result of the high rates of torture—which includes deaths in penitentiary centers—and the lack of investigation and accountability. The resolution cited the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s thematic report on abuse in healthcare settings, highlighting concerns regarding the use of electro-shock and forced isolation in penitentiary centers and concluding that the use of either practice amounts to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
  • In an open letter to the Norwegian Government, Amnesty International expressed concerns regarding trans individuals’ enjoyment of their human rights, including the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The letter cited the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s call to States “to outlaw forced or coerced sterilization in all circumstances and provide special protection to individuals belonging to marginalized groups.”





Latest news on Torture and Healthcare!

Torture: It Can Happen Anywhere

Torture: It Can Happen Anywhere

February 13, 2014 – In this new video from the Open Society Foundations, the Special Rapporteur explains that torture can happen anywhere, and is not only limited to the use of harsh interrogation techniques in custodial settings. The Special Rapporteur’s thematic report on torture in healthcare settings illustrates just one of the non-traditional contexts in which torture and ill-treatment can occur. The Special Rapporteur also observes that the use of torture in the context of counter-terrorism efforts only breeds more torture and more terrorism, is an ineffective way of obtaining information and evidence, and dangerously generates distrust in the police and institutions. The video is available on the Open Society Foundations website.

Endocrinologists Respond to UN Statement on Genital-Normalizing Surgery

Endocrinologists Respond to UN Statement on Genital-Normalizing Surgery

The group Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC) has published a letter from an international group of pediatric endocrine societies that responds to the Special Rapporteur’s statement calling for an end to genital-normalizing surgeries without the consent of the affected person. The Special rapporteur discussed this issue in his 2013 thematic report on torture and abusive practices in healthcare settings. According to AIC, “the letter thanks the United Nations for bringing attention to this issue, while offering no rationale for continuing the practice that the Special Rapporteur and human rights bodies in several regions have condemned.”