Online proceedings for the IRCT General Assembly and 10th International Scientific Symposium - Delivering on the Promise of the Right to Rehabilitation

Time: 11:10 to 11:30 Download Presentation

Medical documentation of torture in hot conflicts where systemic torture, widespread detention, and mass displacement decimate populations - case study: Syria

Presenter(s) and co-author(s): Ms. Christy Fujio - Independent Human Rights Lawyer


The war in Syria is in its sixth bloody year with no end in sight. Gross atrocities have been inflicted, and more than 250,000 people have been killed. Millions have been displaced, forced to seek safety elsewhere in Syria or in other countries. The Syrian iteration of the Arab Spring blossomed into full-blown civil war while the international community watched and wrung its collective hands. Despite well documented allegations of war crimes including systemic use of mass detention and torture by the Assad regime, the UN Security Council has declined to refer the Syrian case to the International Criminal Court.


Committed cadres of human rights investigators have undertaken medical documentation projects to build a strong, credible body of evidence for prosecutions when the conflict ends. This work is dangerous and distressing, and yet investigators continue to see torture victims, listen to stories, and document wounds in the hope that someday justice will be obtained. For more than three years I have trained and worked with Syrian lawyers and doctors who are documenting torture occurring in Syria. All of them know someone -- family member, friend, or neighbor -- who has been detained and tortured, often to death. And many of they themselves have been detained and tortured.

They bring unique experience, the kind of experience that no human should have, to their medical documentation of torture, and they have special needs that must be addressed in the course of training and ongoing work. Experienced documenters are reminded to monitor their own feelings and not to undertake too many cases. The conundrum is that these committed doctors and lawyers want to document every single case that walks through the door; they know there are too few documenters and too many torture victims.


Numerous sessions to discuss resilience strategies have been incorporated into training weeks and subsequent meetings, and mentors are instructed to continually assess secondary trauma risks and symptoms. Short games and light activities are critical parts of the agenda every day in order to balance the heavy and depressing nature of the Istanbul Protocol curriculum. Documenting torture in hot conflicts is challenging in every aspect: recruitment, physical security, and logistics are just the tip of the iceberg. Ensuring the psychological wellness of all participants, including trainers and staff, is both the most important and the most difficult aspect of the work. There are many strategies to help monitor mental health and mitigate the risks associated with documentation of torture in hot conflict, and it is incumbent upon NGOs to implement measures to safeguard the health and wellness of the people they are training and supporting to do field work.

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I declare that no funding or conflicts of interests exist that would compromise the validity and integrity of this abstract and presentation.

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