30 May 2018
IRCT issues legal brief clarifying often misunderstood psychological findings

Today, the IRCT filed a legal brief to La Chambre de l’Instruction de la Cour d’appel de Paris arguing that  asylum decision- making process should take into account the way traumatic experiences, specifically torture and sexual assault and humiliation, and post-traumatic stress disorder may affect the ability or willingness of asylum applicants to disclose or discuss their torture experience, to do so immediately and in a chronological and coherent manner.

IRCT issues legal brief clarifying often misunderstood psychological findings

Photo credit: Par Benh LIEU SONG — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2792142

Judges and asylum authorities often misconstrue how mental health experts conduct their evaluations and make their findings. For example, they have held that psychological findings are unreliable because they incorrectly believe them to be based only on the subjective statements of examinees.  And they have wrongly opined that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma- and stress-related disorders can result from any life event causing stress or insecurity so attributing the disorder or its symptoms to a specific cause such as torture is impossible.   

In the brief submitted In the Case of Iratxe Sorzabal Diaz heard before the Court of Appeal in Paris on 30 May 2018, the IRCT sets out to clear up some of these common misunderstandings. 

We attempt to explain the relevance and reliability of medico-legal reports – and particularly psychological findings – produced following the standards and principles of the Istanbul Protocol.  We explain to the Court how mental health experts undertaking an Istanbul Protocol investigation consider not only the statements made by an alleged victim of torture:

…but also the individual’s personal biographical history, previous health records, narrative description of ill-treatment, consistency between verbal and non-verbal communication, coherence in the events described, consistency between the events described and the emotion and resonance with which they are expressed, acute symptoms, social life, and circumstances.

We further clarify that PTSD cannot be caused by general stress, insecurity, or some feeling of persecution.  On the contrary:

In order to diagnose PTSD [according to current international standards], an individual must have experienced a traumatic event that involved life-threatening experiences and produced intense fear or horror such as torture ….

Moreover, as experienced by the IRCT’s rehabilitation centres across the globe, symptoms of PTSD can be chronic or fluctuate over extended periods of time and be present even more than 16 years [or several decades] later.  

For more information on the international standards for assessing psychological findings, you can find our legal brief submitted in the Case of Iratxe Sorzabal Diaz here.

"In order to diagnose PTSD [according to current international standards], an individual must have experienced a traumatic event that involved life-threatening experiences and produced intense fear or horror such as torture …."

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