Forensic medical examination of refugees who claim to have been tortured

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2005 Jun;26(2):125-30.


The United Nations Convention against torture prohibits repatriation of refugees if there is reason to believe they will be tortured on return to their country. A history of torture is therefore an important factor in making a case for asylum. In this study, the results of the medical examinations of 59 torture victims investigated at the Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Aarhus, Denmark, 1996-2002, are presented and discussed. Variables including age, sex, education, health, torture methods, condition of confinement, torture aftereffects, and findings at the forensic examination were registered in a database (Paradox) and analyzed. In 70%, aftereffects of torture could be documented. These included scars after fixation, burns, incisions, or flogging. Symptoms and signs from joints, muscles, and nerves were common in victims who had been suspended. Many of the victims of phalanga had painful feet and signs of walking impairment. A majority of the victims suffered from posttraumatic stress syndrome. An independent medical report offers an opportunity to evaluate and elaborate the story told by the victim and should be used in disputed cases. We have a duty to protect refugees against torture.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asia, Western / ethnology
  • Cicatrix / pathology
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Ecchymosis / pathology
  • Foot Injuries / pathology
  • Forensic Medicine*
  • Hematoma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Joints / injuries
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries
  • Physical Examination*
  • Prisoners / psychology
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Skin / injuries
  • Skin / pathology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Tooth Injuries / pathology
  • Torture / psychology*
  • Torture / statistics & numerical data
  • Walking / physiology
  • Yugoslavia / ethnology