Apparent Dismissal of Torture Claims in UK Detention Center Reaffirms Need for Victims’ Medical Evaluation
London’s Summer Olympic Games focused the eyes of the world on Great Britain as it hosted a two-week celebration of international competition, coupled with what seemed like true respect for and appreciation of the histories and cultures of some of the world’s greatest athletes. As the games came to a close, however, so too did Britain’s seeming respect for its foreign visitors, as reports surfaced alleging that officials at its Dover immigration removal center have been too dismissive of detainees’ torture claims.
Britain’s Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick describes the reports coming from medical officials examining detainees at Dover as poor, “often hand-written and difficult to read” and frequently lacking “photographs or body maps.” Medical officials in the Dover center apparently made no effort to truly understand or corroborate torture claims. As Hardwick explains, “in a case where the detainee claimed to have been shot, there was no judgment on whether the scars were consistent with gunshot wounds.” More disturbing is the plight of a detainee who claimed to have been raped. Instead of medically evaluating the detainee’s claim, prison officials reasoned that, if he truly had been raped, he would have raised this issue at the onset of his detention; since he had not done so, his claim of rape was dismissed.
The dismissal of torture claims by officials in Dover is obviously alarming for many reasons, but perhaps primarily because these torture victims should not even have been detained in the first place. Rule 35 of Great Britain’s 2001 Detention Centre Rules, which govern medical examinations of immigrants alleging torture, mandates that torture victims should be detained only in “exceptional circumstances.” Furthermore, Rule 35 requires doctors and healthcare teams in facilities like Dover to report the case of anyone they believe to have been tortured. When independent medical evidence is found to support a detainee’s torture claim, Rule 35 mandates that the victim be released.
Criticism of Britain’s inability to follow its own rules has been widespread. In February of the year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees criticized Britain’s inadequate screening process that sent rape and torture survivors to detention centers in handcuffs. Furthermore, a recent investigation by UK-based Medical Justice found that, among 50 people who had medical evidence of torture, only one had been released in compliance with Rule 35. Since the study began in May 2010, only 14 of those detained have been granted asylum; the others are still in detention pending decisions about their claims.
The revelations regarding torture victims in Dover’s immigration center reaffirm our belief that a timely and proper medical evaluation by an independent clinician is essential for all asylum seekers and detainees claiming to be victims of torture. Forensic medical evaluations conducted in compliance with the Istanbul Protocol constitute critically important evidence in torture cases. Trained clinicians examine all signs and sequelae of physical and psychological abuse and produce a medical-legal affidavit documenting their conclusions. These affidavits serve as key evidence to use in the prosecution of perpetrators of torture, to help victims obtain redress in civil courts, and to substantiate claims of asylum in new countries.
In recent weeks, Great Britain has demonstrated its ability to welcome foreign guests to its shores and to treat them with the utmost respect and dignity. Now it must show that its hospitality is not limited to athletes, journalists, and politicians, but also embraces people most in need of its humanity.