The United Nations (UN) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) was adopted in 1984. Torture has become a major concern in the world community. It not only adversely affects the physical and emotional well being of victims, at times it also destroys the dignity and spirit of entire communities.
As a matter of state policy and practice the Government of Sri Lanka maintains a zero-tolerance policy on torture. Article 11 of the Constitution and the Torture Act No 22 of 1994 are the main legal documents which deal with torture.
In Sri Lanka according to the instruction given by the Ministry of Health, it is compulsory to conduct a medico legal examination of all victims of criminal offences, including torture, when they seek medical treatment from government or private hospitals. As per the Police ordinance it is necessary to produce all police detainees to medico legal doctor before remanding or releasing on bail.
The medico-legal examination of victims of torture is main cities undertaken by Judicial Medical Officers attached to teaching, provincial or general hospitals and senior lectures in departments of forensic medicine of medical faculties. However in majority of base and small hospitals such examinations are carried out by ordinary Government Medical Officers with or without short term training in forensic medicine. Therefor it is essential to train these doctors in management of torture survivors in proper manner.
Documentation and reporting of torture survivors according to the Istanbul Protocol was introduced in Sri Lanka in 2004 with the help of the International Rehabilitation Center for Torture victims. Doctors and lawyers in some areas were trained in this regard in work-shops conducted throughout the country. It is necessary to train doctors and lawyers through out country in regular manner.
The role of the doctor in preventing torture by properly documenting and reporting it, was highlighted in many forums. The College of Forensic Pathologists of Sri Lanka recently developed a hand book on medico legal management of detainees of Police and torture survivors, based on the Istanbul protocol suited for Sri Lankan medico-legal practitioners. A special format of Medico Legal Report (MLR) was also developed to be used in reporting torture cases to courts and other authorities as the existing general MLR format was not suitable for proper reporting of torture survivors to courts, Human Right Commission and other authorities.
Doctors can play a vital role in preventing torture by properly documenting and reporting it to proper authority. Sri Lankan doctors have taken initiative in this regard to fight against torture.
Key words: Torture, Istanbul Protocol, Torture Act, Handbook on medico legal management, Medico Legal Report.
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