A new report says that a new UN resolution could end doctors' participation in torture.
According to experts on bmj.com, the resolution, passed in March 2009, can pose a challenge to torture and cruelty.
The resolution says, "states must never request or require anyone, including medical or other health personnel, to commit any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
Lead author, Dr Peter Polatin from the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims in Denmark, believes there is considerable evidence that health professionals have been involved in torture around the world, for instance in Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in the mid-1990s, in Israel and in Guantanamo Bay.
Polatin points out that doctors' involvement could either mean direct participation in torture or assessment of detainees to ensure that they do not die from the torture practices they are being subjected to. He adds that doctors working for the state, military, prison or police service "may be obliged to serve the interests of their employer, to the detriment of medical ethics".
The paper says, the new UN resolution could help end torture "because it targets states, urging them to act to prevent health workers from becoming involved in torture and to protect those who stand out against it". The resolution also asks the UN special rapporteur on torture to give special attention to "medical complicity".
The authors stress on the need to enforce the powers of the resolution. They say this could be done by strengthening the investigative function of the rapporteur to "ensure that more ases of medical compliciy will be subject to the public scrutiny and that violators will face disciplinary action, including suspension of their professional licence".