Vol 16 No 1 Spring 2005
  • 1. A new name

    On December 4th 2004 Physicians for Human Rights-UK adopted the new name Doctors for Human Rights (DHR). The new website address is www.doctorsforhumanrights.org

    The new name, given the circumscribed usage of the term physician in the UK and elsewhere, more faithfully reflects the underlying perspective and values of the organisation and resonates more readily within the medical profession and the general public.

    The new name will promote recognition as an independent and self-reliant organisation, and end confusion with the American PHR. DHR will be more readily identified by the UN and others in the human rights community, as well as by web searchers.

    The charitable aims of the organisation remain unchanged. Doctors for Human Rights will build upon PHR-UK's considerable achievements

  • 2. The Annual General Meeting 2004

    The Annual General Meeting took place at midday in the Board Room of the Middlesex Hospital on Saturday the 4th December 2004.

    The two most important items on the agenda dealt with PHR-UK’s future. The first was the resolution to change the name Physicians for Human Rights-UK to Doctors for Human Rights. A letter had been circulated by the chair to each member one month prior to the AGM. It had comprehensively explained the reasoning underlying the proposed name change - no comments had been received by the chair prior to the AGM disagreeing with the proposal. The resolution was approved unanimously after some discussion.

    The second resolution proposed dealt with the closing down of Doctors for Human Rights at the time when the Special Advisor's current contract ends on 31st July 2004, if insufficient resources were available to continue the contract. Again the reasoning behind the decision to close the organisation, if it becomes necessary, had been comprehensively explained in the letter circulated one month before the AGM. Some discussion took place and an amended resolution was approved unanimously - that the Chairman will call an extraordinary general meeting for Saturday 25th June to discuss the need to close down Doctors for Human Rights, if it has become clear there are insufficient resources to renew the Special Advisor's contract for a further year.

    There also took place the customary annual elections in the biennial cycle - two executive officers were re-elected unopposed, Dr Peter Hall as chair, and Dr Harold Hillman as hon secretary. Dr Charles Hill, who last year was co-opted as treasurer, was elected as treasurer. Dr Jenny Tonge MP was elected as an executive committee member.

  • 3. Guantanamo Bay book review

    Guantanamo: the War on Human Rights, by David Rose, 2004, London; Faber & Faber, 160pp. 

    Guantanamo: What the World Should Know, by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray, 2004, White River Junction, Vermont; Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 161pp.

    Two titles on Guantanamo made their appearance in the latter half of 2004. David Rose is the writer who produced the revealing article on Guantanamo in the January 2004 edition of Vanity Fair. He lives in Oxford and has worked for the BBC, Guardian and Observer, which published his interview with the returned British detainees from Guantanamo. Michael Ratner is President of the New York based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represented Guantanamo detainees in the landmark US Supreme Court Case decided on June 28, 2004, where he was co-counsel. Ellen Ray is a political journalist, who has authored and edited a number of books and articles on US intelligence and international politics. Both books acknowledge the help of British human rights lawyers Louise Christian, Gareth Peirce and Clive Stafford Smith.

    David Roses book relies on his visit with other journalists to Guantanamo in October 2003, interviews with released detainees, retired US service personnel and others still involved, as well as extensive research. Rose takes the reader through the capture of detainees in Afghanistan, some fingered by a bounty system which explains why innocent people were detained; their treatment there, including the infamous caravan of death in which prisoners died crammed into airless truck containers; and their transport under sedation to Guantanamo.

    Rose then describes the Guantanamo regime, including the notorious ERFings. These were beatings by about 8 guards, known as the Extreme Reaction Force Team, that would take place when there were alleged infringements of such rules of detention, and could involve the use of pepper spray and an intimate body search. He goes on to discuss the interrogations, usually following hours of softening up, through chaining detainees to the floor in painful positions for prolonged periods of time, so that they were forced to answer calls of nature where they were, and the use of isolation, loud music, strobe lighting, excessive heat or cold, sleep and food deprivation, and for those who were particularly religious, sexual humiliation. Unsurprisingly, detainees made false confessions under such circumstances, including the widely known confession by Britons Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, that they were in a video made of Osama bin Laden and Mohamed Atta made in August 2000, which the UKs MI5 demonstrated were untrue, since they were in Britain at the time.

    Roses most interesting chapter is the last, in which he examines the meanings of Guantanamo. He explores US history, human rights, and the place of religion within US governance. He concludes that Guantanamo has placed the US in the camp of the oppressors and the lawless, and that, whatever the US courts ultimately decide, this image will take a long while to fade.

    Ratner and Ray tell very much the same story. There is perhaps more emphasis on law in their book, but that is not to suggest that Rose has not discussed the main legal aspects. The book is also different because it follows an interview style, with Ray asking the questions and Ratner responding. This does engender some repetition, but nevertheless, the direct answers enable a lot of ground to be covered in 93 pages. This leaves plenty of room for key documents. These include the US Presidents Military Order of November 13, 2001, which opted for a military justice rather than criminal justice response; the exchange between White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and US Secretary of State Colin Powell on the applicability of the Geneva Conventions; and the letter from newly released Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal to members of the US Senate Armed Services Committee. Although such documents are available on the Internet, it is valuable to have them in the book and be able to consult them when reading the text. The book also reproduces A President Beyond the Lawby Anthony Lewis, from the New York Times of May 7, 2004 and includes a short bibliography and webography.

    For anyone who wants an overview of the situation surrounding the US treatment of detainees, particularly in Guantanamo, as known at the middle of 2004, either of these books is excellent. Since their completion, further information has emerged, and doubtless will continue to. The definitive text on the subject has yet to be written, and unlike these two primers, will hopefully have an index.

  • 4. A new slogan

    Throughout 2005, you will see this year's new slogan

    "15 years of fighting for human rights"

    appearing on our web page and in other promotional material.

    Fighting is not a word found in our constitution, and its not the word NGOs commonly use. Supporting, promoting, advancing, advocating, protecting or defending are the words we usually associate with human rights groups. But times are changing.

    As we warned at our November 2001 AGM, human rights are under attack. The then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said in Delhi that same month this is a difficult, a very bleak time for human rights. Since then, each of us has seen ample evidence of this.

    In the USA, there is a move to appoint the architect of the memos that advised the president that he could ignore international law and that the Geneva Conventions need not apply to detainees, Attorney General, the nations chief law officer.

    In the UK, when an Ambassador complains that Uzbekistan employs torture and that information obtained in such an illegal and unreliable manner can be used to detain people as suspect terrorists, he is brought home rather than awarded a knighthood.

    In the UN Security Council, when UN experts testify that crimes against humanity and war crimes are occurring in oil-rich Sudan, powerful states fail to press the government to observe human rights and humanitarian law.

    After over 50 years of developing a system of international human rights and humanitarian standards, the international community is faltering at enforcing them. The war against terrorismis allowed to trump the rule of law, human decency and respect for human dignity.

    If November 2001 was a very bleak time for human rights, the subsequent years have been desperate as the war on terrorism embraced a war on human rights, in torture cells in Asia, in laws adopted by parliaments and in the diplomatic fora of the world.

    That is why doctors are incensed, that is why doctors are seeking action and that is why Doctors for Human Rights now speaks of fighting for human rights.


    The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has just received its third referral from a State. The Central African Republic has sought an investigation into whether international crimes have been committed there. The ICC's Chief Prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo is expected to seek information on the nature of the allegations and legal steps already taken within the Republic before deciding whether a formal investigation should proceed.

    The ICC's Office of the Prosecutor is also following up investigation requests from the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and has also received many requests from alleged victims and from NGOs. The UN Security Council is also empowered to refer situations to the ICC, and some observers expected that body to refer the situation in Sudan to the Court during 2004.

    The ICC, which is recognized by 97 States, came into being in July 2002, and has jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. Doctors for Human Rights played a significant role in supporting the Court's establishment and its acceptance by a number of States. Drawing on the expertise of Committee member Gill Hinshelwood, we also worked hard to ensure that both sexual crimes and gender crimes were fully recognised by the Court, that the needs of a witness to such a crime, who might also be the victim, were taken into account, and that there was a gender balance among the judges.

  • 6. Doctors for Human Rights organizes Roundtable on a violations approach to the right to health

    Following its February 2003 colloquium on the right to health at the BMA and its meeting of international right to health experts in March 2004 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, DHR plans to hold a round table on the violations approach at Doughty Street Chambers, which is headed by prominent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.

    This is the approach explored by Audrey Chapman in her seminal paper 'A "Violations Approach" to Monitoring the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights', which was published in Human Rights Quarterly 18 (1) 23. Dr. Audrey R. Chapman directs the Science and Human Rights Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is frequently consulted by the World Health Organization and UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, where she has played a major role in advising on General Comments, including on the right to health. She will attend the roundtable in February.

    It is intended that the Round table will explore international and domestic remedies for violations of the right to health, whether specifically codified in laws or not. Despite their countries' right to health undertakings, far too many people in rich and poor nations don't even reach the starting line where basic public health and health care measures are concerned. It is hoped that the roundtable might lead to further thinking about this problem.

  • 7. Pinochet’s appointment with justice - an update

    It is unlikely that the mental capacity of any alleged criminal has been the subject of so many contradictory judgements as that of General Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile.

    In July 2002, after what was his third mental capacity assessment, Pinochet was spared trial when the Chilean Supreme Court decided he had moderate dementia and could not take a valid part in criminal proceedings. All he then had to do was keep his head down and not attract attention, but it appears vanity triumphed over prudence. He went on TV in Miami and discussed his record as a leader in Chile - so successful was the interview that his mental capacity appeared commensurate with participation in a trial.

    A further (fourth) medical assessment followed and the presiding judge decided, given that the three doctor medical panel were unable to give a unanimous verdict, that he had the required mental capacity. Within days Pinochet suffered a further stroke and remained hospitalised for a short while.

    Meanwhile his legal team appealed the indictment but, despite the new stroke, the Supreme Court ruled him able to face murder and kidnapping charges in the death and disappearance of 10 leftists in the 1970s as part of Operation Condor, a campaign by South American dictators to get rid of dissidents. He was placed under house arrest .

    Sergio Munoz, a special judge who is investigating multimillion-dollar secret accounts that Pinochet held in the 1990s at Riggs Bank in Washington, has accused him of having 4 different passports. The discovery of the Riggs accounts in July last year led to investigations of tax evasion and fraud, on top of the dozens of investigations Pinochet already faces for human rights violations during his 1973-1990 regime. Munoz said "the court has in its power four passports presumably extended to Augusto Pinochet under false identities." He did not say when or how the court obtained the passports, nor whether the passports were Chilean or issued by other countries.

    The Chilean government added more fuel to the fire by interrogating his son, Augusto Pinochet Hiriart, to glean what he might know about the millions stashed abroad and just how his father might have procured such vast wealth. The pursuit of Pinochet -- who many believe will never see the inside of a prison cell due to his age and deteriorating health -- is part of Chile's efforts to make amends for its past.

    At this stage, victims and their loved ones are not looking for imprisonment of the ageing general or even compensation, but they do wish to see him held accountable in a court of law for his regime's human rights violations

  • 8. UPDATE ON UN COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE - the Committee's recommendations

    The Committee's Recommendations

    Following November's testimony by DHRs Helen Bygrave and Senior Advisor Bernie Hamilton to the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva, the Committee took the unprecedented step of asking the UK Government to respond to eight of its recommendations within twelve months. [See Newsletter 15.3 for background information. Ed.]

    DHR very much welcomes the Committee against Torture's conclusions. Their suggestion that the courts rather than the politicians are best placed to determine the medical competence of someone like Pinochet to stand trial has been a concern of ours since we first wrote to the Home Secretary on this matter six years ago.

    DHR is also pleased to see that the Committee sought a formal expression of the Government's intention not to rely on information believed to have been obtained through torture. In addition, it wanted to see a way for individuals to challenge the legality of evidence that might have resulted from torture, which is a vital guarantee in any democracy.

    The recommendation that any violations of the torture convention revealed by inquiries into the conduct of UK forces in Iraq or Afghanistan should be publicised and subject to an independent review where appropriate, will be welcomed by everyone, and not just doctors. The armed forces have a very difficult role to play and they deserve appropriate training and support. DHR understands that some NATO exercises will now incorporate international humanitarian law scenarios and hopes that human rights obligations also find their way into these.

    DHR is particularly pleased that the Committee said the Government should ensure that the conduct of officials, including those attending interrogations at any overseas facility, should conform strictly to the torture convention, and any breaches should be investigated and if necessary prosecuted. We have long felt that doctors were not given the training to help them resolve the role conflicts they confront when dealing with detainees, and argued that human rights education could be of real value in such circumstances.

    The Committee's recommendation that alternatives to indefinite detention under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act should be reviewed is widely welcomed. The uncertainty related to indefinite detention for reasons that are not understood can have a serious psychological impact on persons.

    DHR is very glad that concern was expressed about extraditing persons overseas where diplomatic assurances had been obtained that such persons would not be harmed. The Committee rightly asks how many such removals have occurred since 911, what was the minimum acceptable guarantee and how have these been monitored following removal. There have been too many stories circulating of persons being persecuted after the UK has deported them, and concerned doctors need to be sure that the UK's procedures are effective.

    The Committee's recommendation that there should be a routine medical examination of everyone who is to be forcibly removed by air and a further one should the removal fail, is something DHR would like to see the UK Government explore. Nobody would wish to add to the trauma of expulsion, but medical examinations conducted appropriately along the lines suggested by the UN experts could provide a deterrent against any excesses of the kind revealed by a recent study of failed asylum seekers, and reported to the Committee by Doctors for Human Rights.

    Developments since the Committee Session

    There have been a number of developments since the UN Committee released its recommendations. UK-based NGOs who went to Geneva in November, met in London and wrote to the UK Government and the UN Committee against Torture expressing concerns about the Geneva session and requesting further meetings in 2005. They are to meet with the Department of Constitutional Affairs towards the end of January.

    On December 14, 2004, the High Court ruled in Al Skeini and Others v Secretary of State that the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act can extend to outposts of the States authority, including UK-operated prisons in Iraq. The cases concerned the deaths of several civilians in south eastern Iraq in 2003 following the official cessation of hostilities. One of the dead, Baha Mousa, was allegedly tortured to death by UK troops. The High Court found that the enquiries that took place into Baha Mousa's death were not adequate in terms of the implied procedural requirements of Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention.

    The Court's judgment is consistent with the concerns expressed by the UN Committee against Torture that the Convention protections extend to all territories under the jurisdiction of a State partyand that this principle includes all areas under the de facto effective control of the State partys authorities.

    On December 16, 2004 the Law Lords, in A (FC) and others (FC) (Appellants) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) X (FC) and another (FC) (Appellants) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent), ruled that the indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects is unlawful, in that it is incompatible with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

    A number of courts martial of UK troops, alleged to have been involved in abuses of Iraqi prisoners, are scheduled to be held early in 2005, and these may reveal a fuller picture of the steps the UK has taken to comply with its obligations under the torture convention.

    Doctors for Human Rights are acutely aware of the important role that a doctors human rights body can play in this vital area. Its June and December 2004 conferences were devoted to the topic. If you wish to support our campaign against torture, please make a donation through our secure website www.doctorsforhumanrights.org or send a cheque, payable to DHR, to Dr. Peter Hall, 91 Harlech Road, Abbots Langley, WD5 0BE. No amount is too small for us to use - thank you.


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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 23, 2018, 7:01 am GMT   Copyright Physicians for Human Rights-UK(c)2004