News 12 Feb 2018
UN anti-torture committee adopts new standards on rights to rehabilitation

Last week, the UN Committee against Torture published its long awaited General Comment no. 4, which established enhanced standards for the implementation of torture victims’ rights.

UN anti-torture committee adopts new standards on rights to rehabilitation

Physiotherapy session for torture survivors at the Swedish Red Cross Rehabilitation Center in Malmø, Sweden. © Swedish Red Cross, Ola Torkelsson

Based on the IRCT’s contributions through health-based expertise three crucial elements have been included in the General Comment to ensure that torture victims receive the protection and support they are entitled to:

  • Torture survivors cannot be returned to States where there are no rehabilitation services available to them;
  • States must apply asylum processes that ensure that torture survivors are not disadvantaged due to psychological trauma such as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD);
  • All persons alleging past acts of torture must be afforded an independent medical examination in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol so that they can prove their claims.

Everyday IRCT members in all corners of the world work to rehabilitate torture survivors whom have left their home countries to seek protection from torture. Rehabilitation practitioners with decades of experience in successfully helping survivors rebuild and lead fulfilling lives in their host countries, support patients by providing holistic rehabilitation services.

Unfortunately, practitioners often see their efforts frustrated by asylum processes that do not take into account the physical and psychological effects of torture on individuals and families. Victims are often labelled as not credible in asylum proceedings due to conditions such as PTSD, which may lead to inconsistencies in recounting true events; they have been denied the possibility to document that they were in fact tortured in their home country; and they eventually are expelled to places where no rehabilitation support is available, leading to catastrophic deterioration of their already fragile psychological state. The result? Torture victims with legitimate protection claims are rejected and re-traumatised instead of gaining access to the protection and help they are entitled to receive.

“This is not a fringe issue. Scientific studies indicate that well in excess of 25% of asylum seekers and refugees are victims of torture and ill-treatment. Therefore, it is all the more important that the Committee has considered our health-based knowledge of what torture does to people in its elaboration of legal standards. We see this as an important beginning of a closer integration of health and legal perspectives on torture in the Committee’s work”, said Jorge Aroche, IRCT President. 

The General Comment provides a strong foundation for torture victims and rehabilitation centres to advocate for legal processes that provide an effective remedy to ensure victims’ rights to protection and rehabilitation. 

The IRCT looks forward to further engaging with the Committee against Torture and directly with states to ensure that this important step results in concrete changes for individual survivors.

For more information

IRCT position paper on the General Comment 

Falling Through the Cracks: Asylum Procedures and Reception Conditions for Torture Victims in the European Union

Erika Sigvardsdotter et al, "Prevalence of torture and other war- related traumatic events in forced migrants: A systematic review", in: TORTURE, Vol. 26 No. 2 (2016), pp. 41-73.

“This is not a fringe issue. Scientific studies indicate that an average of 27% of asylum seekers and refugees are victims of torture and ill-treatment. Therefore, it is all the more important that the Committee has considered our health-based knowledge of what torture does to people in its elaboration of legal standards. We see this as an important beginning of a closer integration of health and legal perspectives on torture in the Committee’s work”

Jorge Aroche, IRCT President.

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