In a landmark new report presented today to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez says that severe abuses in health care settings amount to cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment—and even torture. The Open Society Foundations and the Campaign to Stop Torture in Health Care welcome this conclusion, which places immediate legal obligations on governments to end such abuses.
Responsible for interpreting international understandings of torture, the Special Rapporteur’s report is the first systematic examination of torture and ill-treatment committed in health care contexts. The report says that abuse cannot be justified by claims of “medical necessity,” and it underscores the fundamental need for free, full, and informed consent by patients to any and all medical procedures.
The Special Rapporteur highlights examples of forced treatments that can constitute torture and ill-treatment:
- Forced sterilization of women, transgender, and intersex people, and forced abortion—a violation disproportionately suffered by those women who face systemic discrimination, like ethnic minorities, women with disabilities, and women living with HIV.
- Forced treatment and involuntary commitment of people with psychosocial (mental) disabilities, and the use of restraints, and solitary confinement.
- Forced detention of drug users in inhumane facilities under the guise of treatment. Detention itself often results in painful drug withdrawal, and many facilities mandate so-called therapies—often overseen by non-medical personnel—which include beatings, shock therapy, and rigorous manual labor.