Vol 12 No 1 Spring 2001
  • 1. PHR-UK wins two awards

    1. PHR-UK has been awarded grants exceeding $50,000 towards its work in educating health professionals about human rights. The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (UNVFVT) has provided $25,100; and matching funds have been offered by the UK Department for International Development(DFID). The two grants are to enable PHR-UK to train health professionals in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, about how to recognise and respond to torture.

    Speaking in Geneva after the UNVFVT award was announced, Bernie Hamilton said, "I am so glad that the UN has put its weight behind this initiative. One of the first things that struck me about PHR, was how well health professionals from different backgrounds got on together. At International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisation (IFHHRO) meetings, I saw doctors from rival countries sitting down together and working for the common cause of human rights. It seemed to me that this strength could be harnessed at a regional training programme."

    PHR-UK became aware of the need for training in 1997, during a three week investigative visit to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. PHR-UK's team of four examined 67 people, all of whom provided credible evidence of having been tortured by the Azeri security forces. The team felt that, with appropriate training, local health professionals could do much to help.

    Committee member Gill Hinshelwood, one of the original team to visit the region in 1997, commented, "We always wanted to be able to do more than just record human rights violations, important though it is that people with our training do that. We decided to adopt a long-term approach of alerting people to the problem, suggesting a solution and then persuading various bodies to finance it. It was a team effort, with Peter and Bernie going off to see people in Geneva and Whitehall and then having to wait for months to see whether our ideas would attract support. Now, we have an opportunity to go back to the region and try to make a difference. It is very exciting."

    Soon after our report on torture was published [Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia 1997, A report of the abduction and torture of ethnic Armenians, available for £5.00 from: Peter Hall, Chair PHR-UK, 91, Harlech Road, Abbots Langley, Herts. WD5 0BE. Make your cheque payable to "PHR-UK".], PHR-UK started talking to various experts at the United Nations about the problem. This resulted in a number of training recommendations being made by such bodies as the UN Committee against Torture. In 1999, Peter Hall and Bernie Hamilton took these recommendations to DFID and UNVFVT. Following a number of meetings in Geneva and London, an eight day training programme was agreed. This will take place in Armenia, but will be open to health professionals from Azerbaijan and Georgia. The total cost of the programme will be $75,000, and so PHR-UK is currently seeking a final grant of $25,000.

    Chair Peter Hall said, "I am so glad that PHR-UK is likely to be returning to Armenia. Our team has a strong commitment to this project,which draws on our expertise in both torture and human rights education.The award is a tribute to our Committee. We went through lengthy discussions about whether it was all right to apply for awards from bodies we might have to criticise. We spent a substantial part of our annual budget on trips to Geneva. We had to be very patient. It can take seconds to commit a human rights violation and it can take years to put right."

    PHR-UK is hoping that this recognition by the UK and the UN will encourage others to support its work. We particularly need funding that is not linked to specific projects, which will help us meet our routine office expenses in central London. A sub-committee has been working on this since the summer, and recently had a meeting with the Chair of the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers. Ultimately, we rely on our members to give us what they can, and to encourage other health professionals to join us. Please show this Newsletter to a colleague. Please send a cheque for whatever you can afford to: Peter Hall, Chair PHR-UK, 91, Harlech Road, Abbots Langley, Herts. WD5 0BE. Make your cheque payable to "PHR-UK".

  • 2. Who are we ?.

    An interesting question arose at the AGM concerning the difference between PHR-UK and another human rights organisation. This is a tough question to answer, because we cannot expect to know as much about any other organisation as we do about our own. Working closely as we do with numerous British and oversea human rights organizations, we have a sense of how our colleagues interpret their mandates and what their current priorities are. That doesn't really qualify us to make public comparisons though. At best we can talk about our mandate, our priorities and ourselves.

    Our Membership

    PHR-UK is an international human rights organisation. Our members are drawn from the health profession. Other human rights organizations draw their membership from such professions as law, journalism and academia or the general public. Some do not have members as such. Health professionals have a distinct contribution to make to human rights because of their special skills, their humanity and their influence. PHR-UK provides a way for members of the medical profession to influence human rights, and that is why we are so delighted that membership increased last year from 200 to 250. This is the result of such recruitment efforts as our Chair's talk to the International Forum of Royal Colleges, our advert in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and the BMA News Review article on our work. However no amount of sophisticated advertising can beat word-of-mouth recommendation. So we welcome this opportunity to thank you for telling your colleagues about us, for showing them copies of our Newsletter and for encouraging them to join. Please keep this up. The bigger we are, the bigger will be the contribution wean make to human rights.

    Our Mandate

    Our revised mandate was approved at the 1999 AGM. It is the basis of our registration as a charity and a not-for-profit company. We exist to secure the abolition of human rights violations, to raise awareness of human rights and to assist victims to gain redress and other relevant help. Our definition of human rights includes those that UN Members are called upon to promote and secure under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means that we have a very broad human rights mandate indeed. Our concern is with all human rights, whether civil, political, social, economic or cultural. We can teach about them, help victims and work to end violations. Given these possibilities, how we actually work in practice is determined by our current priorities.

    Our Priorities

    PHR-UK understands the importance of contributing its unique expertise in the most appropriate areas. Occasionally the application of that expertise will be in response to an event. A good example is the unanticipated arrest of Senator Pinochet, where PHR-UK was able to advise the Home Secretary on a number of issues relating to the evaluation of fitness for trial. In general though, PHR-UK seeks to be proactive, identifying and working on existing problems. Currently, we are working in three broad areas, torture, the right to health and medical education.


    PHR-UK works closely with the UN Committee against Torture, and other relevant organs. We regularly inform them of alleged violations and possible responses. Those who heard Yuval Ginbar's talk to our members last June, will be aware of PHR-UK's role in bringing about a change in Israel's interrogation methods, which were described as torture by a number of UN human rights bodies. We also meet periodically with British Foreign Office staff to discuss ways of combating torture. For some time, we have been monitoring the death penalty, with a view to assessing whether its use amounts to torture. This is something we are planning to take up with the UN Human Rights Committee at the appropriate time.

    The Right to Health

    PHR-UK continues its concern with the explication of the right to health, contained in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Having worked for two years to secure this explication, in the Committee's General Comment of May2000, we plan to ensure it has an impact. We are establishing a panel of experts to assist us with this. We hope to ensure that the General Comment is available in a number of languages. We also wish to expand awareness of the Right to Health through such means as workshops, and to see the General Comment's effect evaluated at an international conference.

    Medical Education

    PHR-UK intends to remain in the vanguard of human rights education. Making our Health and Human Rights module freely available on the Internet has been a major contribution to human rights education. It is downloaded in every corner of the world. In addition, we provide human rights courses at various UK medical institutions in London. In April, we commence a 10-week open access evening course in health and human rights. The course is accredited as continuing medical education. It draws on internationally recognised experts, and we hope to see many members enroll. We hope that, in future years, we will be able to assist health professionals from overseas to join our courses, and even conduct training overseas.

    Other activities

    In planning to work in these areas, where we believe we have a special contribution to make, PHR-UK is not ignoring other aspects of human rights. We retain our concern to see the early establishment of an International Criminal Court. We remain a committed partner in the International Campaign to end Genocide. We continue to support the efforts of the International Federation of Health and Human Rights to ensure that prisoners and other detainees are not denied basic health care. PHR-UK is ready to explore alleged violations at home or abroad. We will still hold meetings in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Westminster Palace to discuss human rights issues. PHR-UK is now in its twelfth year. It is right that we should utilize the expertise we have built up over that time and, given the comprehensive nature of the PHR-UK’s mandate, the organisation can be expected to continue a role as speaking on human rights issues on behalf of the profession.

  • 3. UK launches anti-torture measures

    Support for UN Committee

    The UK is launching a second tranche of anti-torture measures, following earlier initiatives launched in 1998. In partnership with Denmark, it is lobbying governments around the world to ratify the UN Convention against Torture, which has less ratifications than any of the six core human rights treaties. The UK will also pay for an NGO liaison officer to work with the UN Committee against Torture to facilitate communications with local NGOs.

    New Guide for Doctors and Others

    The UK is also funding the publication of the Torture Reporting Handbook in the UN languages and in Turkish. The handbook, which was compiled by Essex University's human rights teachers, sets out in clear terms how doctors, lawyers and others concerned with human rights can accurately report torture. A regional book launch is planned for Latin America in Mexico, and possibly Beirut will host one in the Middle East.

    Funds for Victim Assistance

    There will also be £75,000 for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's anti-torture programme, and over £100,000 for the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. The UN Fund is expected to contribute eight million pounds towards medical and legal assistance for torture victims this year. Current Foreign Office funded projects, such as human rights training in Kenya by UK lawyers, will continue to be funded.

    Strengthening Inspection Expertise

    A senior UK police officer is to be seconded to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. She or he will assist the Committee in its inspection of places of detention throughout Europe. Inspections are recognised as a vital weapon in the fight against torture. Committee members can visit any place of detention in any of 41 European states without prior notice. The secondment is the result of a suggestion by Sylvia Casale, a British criminologist who is President of the Committee.

    Measures Welcomed

    These measures have been welcomed by PHR-UK, which is in regular contact with the Foreign Office about torture and cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment. Speaking in London recently, Chair Peter Hall said, "These measures will make a real difference. Not only will they have a direct effect themselves, but also they will stimulate other nations to adopt similar measures."

    Further Anti-torture Measures Needed

    Dr. Hall went on to suggest further anti-torture measures the UK should take up. Pointing out how much effort PHR-UK had put into the Pinochet case, he said, "We would like to see the Government take a firm stand on impunity for torturers. The International Criminal Court Bill currently going through Parliament provides a unique opportunity for the UK to adopt universal jurisdiction over those who commit gross violations of human rights overseas and then seek a safe haven in this country. We saw with Senator Pinochet and more recently with Rwandan Lt. Col. Muvunyi, now in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on genocide charges, how reluctant the UK is to investigate, prosecute or extradite alleged violators. This does nothing to deter would-be torturers or provide survivors with a sense of justice. Adopting universal jurisdiction while ratifying the ICC Bill, as fellow Commonwealth countries New Zealand and Canada have done, would send a clear signal around the world, and be an anti-torture measure of which we could all feel proud."

  • PHR-UK succeeds in moves to prevent genocide in East Timor

    As dawn rose on Saturday May 15 1999, a lone car made its way through the quiet Hertfordshire countryside bound for the Euro Tunnel. Before noon its only occupant PHR-UK Chair Peter Hall was in the Hague, his destination a meeting of human rights organisations convened to discuss ways of combining efforts to prevent genocide. Among those present were, International Alert and the Leo Kuper Foundation from London, Genocide Watch and Prevent Genocide International from Washington and others from mainland Europe.

    Drawing on their experiences with Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda the group determined to develop a campaign to end genocide. They agreed to share their information and efforts to end developing genocides while seeking to improve structures available to the international community to enable it to prevent, suppress or punish genocide, such as the training of a rapid response force and the establishment of an independent international criminal court.

    The campaign did not have long to wait before its capacity to meet its ambitious objectives was tested. In August 1999, a UN supervised election in East Timor resulted in a 78% vote for independence from Indonesia. There followed a violent response by anti-independence militias. Overseas students who had been recruited by the UN to supervise the election suddenly found themselves aboard planes whisked away from the people they had persuaded to go out and vote, as shots rang through the air and smoke rose from looted homes.

    The campaign swiftly formed an East Timor Crisis Group, and drew on other NGOs, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Catholic Relief Services. Five objectives were set. The immediate goal was to get an international peacekeeping force into East Timor and to provide aid for displaced persons. A special session of the UN Commission on Human Rights needed to be convened to set up a UN inquiry into the atrocities, to be followed by a tribunal to try the perpetrators of international crimes.  

    Tasks were divided up amongst the campaign's members. PHR-UK took the lead in appraising the UK Foreign Secretary of the need to create an international criminal tribunal for East Timor. The following day, Robin Cook publicly announced his support for the creation of a tribunal. The Leo Kuper Foundation used its excellent relations with a Paris based NGO to inform the French Government. Amnesty International took the lead in lobbying the 53 members of the Commission on Human Rights to convene a special meeting. They succeeded by one vote - bringing about only the 4th special session in its 50 years existence. In Washington, the government, the IMF and the World Bank were lobbied, and all three advised Indonesia's President Habibie of the importance of accepting a peacekeeping force if he wanted financial assistance to continue.Indonesia acquiesced.

    Swiftly, Australia launched a UN approved peacekeeping force. Catholic Relief Services then led a refugee relief project. The UN Commission on Human Rights instigated a commission of enquiry, which recommended that a tribunal prosecute those who carried out gross violations of human rights. The 200,000 East Timorese refugees forced into West Timor were allowed to return home.

    This is not a success story of course. People died or were injured. Homes were looted or burnt out. Displaced persons remain. Those who were persuaded by the young volunteers with the UN that it was safe to vote are left feeling that their trust was betrayed. Many UN volunteers remain distraught at what was allowed to happen and their own powerlessness in the face of it. However, what might have become another Twentieth Century genocide was averted. The major powers acted and the UN Security Council and Commission on Human Rights worked in the way they are supposed to. This came about through the foresight and combined efforts of human rights groups anxious to see the lessons of previous genocides learned. PHR-UK played its part. It was worthwhile getting up early one May morning.

  • Internatioal Criminal Court

    By December 31st, 2000 27 states had ratified and 139 states signed the 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court. The recent Queen's speech included an ICC bill. PHR-UK wrote to Robin Cook about the bill, expressing concern about the absence of universal jurisdiction in the proposed ratifying legislation - reference:

    PHR-UK attended a five hour debate in the Lords on Monday January. 15th, 2001 where a substantial number of speakers expressed concern to see universal jurisdiction in the legislation. The Government agreed to discuss that further. The bill will move to the Committee stage in February and is expected to complete its passage in the Commons in March.

    Two further PrepComs are planned for New York in February and September 2001, to discuss the workings of the proposed Court.

    The International Criminal Court will have jurisdiction over Crimes against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes. It will be based in the Hague and come into existence when sixty states have ratified its Statute. PHR-UK has been monitoring efforts to establish the Court since 1998, when it organised a briefing for health professionals.


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    Web deployment by Rahul Roychoudhuri. DHR is the trading name of Physicians for Human Rights - UK. Registered Company No 3792515. Registered Charity No 1078420   October 20, 2018, 6:45 pm GMT   Copyright Physicians for Human Rights-UK(c)2004