Prevention of violence and torture

Inside and outside Denmark, DIGNITY works with the prevention of torture.

In Denmark

Our work in Denmark takes place, among other things, within the framework of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Together with the Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Danish Institute of Human Rights, we monitor the conditions in Danish prisons and other closed institutions and help to ensure that Denmark complies with its human rights obligations.


In countries where the human rights situation is particularly worrying, such as Egypt or Belarus, we work closely with civil society organisations to combat the oppression of civil society, provide legal assistance to inmates in prisons, and document serious human rights violations, including torture.

In many countries, we work with partners to increase respect for the UN Convention against Torture and other international conventions and standards that aim at preventing human rights violations. We assist our partner organisations and the authorities in various countries in their efforts towards reforms in the field of justice and in improving conditions for persons deprived of their liberty.

From our country offices in Jordan and Tunisia, we work closely with organisations and authorities in the two countries and in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa to advance our goals.

We fight violence in poor urban areas that are characterised by inequality, corruption, and oppression. Together with partner organisations, we develop knowledge about how torture and organised violence can be reduced in such urban areas, and how safer living conditions can be established.

International programmes

We work with partners. Together with our partners around the world, we work for social and political change to ensure that all torture survivors have access to help.

Health expertise in the fight against torture

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment often have severe physical, psychological, and social consequences. Doctors and other health professionals play a central role in the prevention of torture as well as in the rehabilitation of victims of torture and in seeking justice and accountability. The expertise of, and commitment by, health professionals is therefore crucial in the fight against torture.

The experts in DIGNITY contribute to national and international development and research activities, provide health-specific inputs in relation to the prevention of torture, the rehabilitation of torture victims, and the efforts to seek justice and accountability for them. Moreover, they work to achieve concrete health-related knowledge goals, with the overall aim of strengthening DIGNITY’s prevention, rehabilitation and accountability efforts.

DIGNITY develops and disseminates knowledge on torture: both its health consequences and health-related preventative mechanisms. This is carried out through research projects, publication of articles and development of manuals and factsheets. The aim is to disseminate knowledge on torture to DIGNITY’s partner organizations as well as other organisations, institutions and experts working in the field, but also to contribute to the field of research.

Additionally, the Health experts in DIGNITY work to build the health capacity of partner organisations through advocacy, education and the development of training materials, for example on how to document medical evidence of torture and on how to monitor health in places of detention.

The documentation of torture and its consequences serves several purposes. It is crucial in court cases for victim compensation and the prosecution of perpetrators. Documented cases of torture may also contribute to illustrating the scope or type of torture used in a specific country or area. Civil society organisations may then use the information to effectively petition state authorities and others to address injustices. Documentation can also have decisive impact on whether an asylum seeker is granted asylum or not.

The documentation of torture is typically carried out by doctors, psychologists and lawyers. The collaboration between these professions is mandated by the Istanbul Protocol, an internationally acknowledged protocol containing guidelines on torture documentation. In accordance with the Istanbul Protocol, DIGNITY’s health experts work with DIGNITY’s legal experts to develop manuals on how professionals can identify torture survivors and document the torture.

DIGNITY also develops and implements training sessions for doctors, psychologists, monitoring authorities, and others who may meet torture survivors in their daily work. In rare cases, the medical doctors in the department conduct examinations of torture survivors themselves.

Example (National):

  • Training on torture for the Danish Immigration Service. The training included the legal definition of torture, the effects of torture, external signs of torture, and things to be aware of when interviewing a torture survivor.


Example (International):

  • Training of health care personnel, including forensic doctors, prison doctors and mental health professionals in Morocco on the identification of torture survivors, documentation of torture, and ethical and legal obligations pertaining to torture cases.
  • Training of psychologists in Ukraine on documentation of torture and interviewing techniques when interviewing a torture survivor.
  • Support to the improvement of procedures related to the initial medical assessments in prisons in Morocco as well as procedures related to documentation of death in custody.
  • Active involvement in the development of the updated Istanbul Protocol. The process involved key UN persons and a number of civil society representatives from all over the world.
  • Development of a documentation manual and a training curriculum for North African non-expert lawyers and doctors who may meet torture survivors in their daily practice

Regular monitoring visits to prisons and other places of detention is internationally acknowledged as an effective way to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The inspections can be conducted by different entities, for instance in relation to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) which demands all signatories to establish an independent monitoring mechanism, called a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM).

Human rights institutes and civil society organisations can conduct monitoring visits as well. DIGNITY’s health experts work to develop tools and manuals that can be used when monitoring health in places of detention.

We focus on the health conditions of those in detention, on the structure of the health care services and their functioning, and on factors in the institution which impact on the health of those residing there. This could for instance be the material conditions, the use of physical restraint measures, the nutrition or the air ventilation. Furthermore, we focus on ethical dilemmas in which health workers in prisons may find themselves.

The monitoring tools are developed on the basis of international standards such as the UN Mandela Rules and the UN Bangkok Rules, which are internationally acknowledged minimum standards on how to treat persons in prison.

We support the development of local guidelines, and we teach health workers and others with monitoring capacities on how to conduct effective monitoring of health in places of detention with the aim to prevent torture and ill-treatment.

Example (Nationalt):

In Denmark, our doctors participate in monitoring visits to Danish places of detention, as DIGNITY is an official member of the independent monitoring mechanism (NPM under the OPCAT) in Denmark. In Denmark, the NPM is coordinated by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Membership includes DIGNITY and the Institute for Human Rights. We visit prisons and detention centers, psychiatric departments, social psychiatric homes, asylum centers, etc. In addition, we participate in meetings with relevant authorities, including Kriminalforsorgen (the Danish authority responsible for places of detention), where we can point out more general issues and advise on how health in places of detention could be improved.

Example (International):

Development of a manual on monitoring health in places of detention (the ‘Health Monitoring Manual’) aimed at supporting authorities and individuals who conduct monitoring in places of detention to better address the health aspects of monitoring.

Training of authorities and institutions with an official mandate to monitor places of detention (National Preventive Mechanisms and/or National Human Rights Institutes) on monitoring health in Morocco and Tunisia. This included the co-creation of national guidelines on monitoring health aspects in places of detention.