Protocol on Medico-Legal Documentation of Sleep Deprivation


  • Pau Pérez-Sales
  • Elna Søndergaard DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture
  • Efrat Shir Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
  • Ergün Cakal DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture
  • Marie Brasholt DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture



Psychological Torture, Accountability, Medico-legal documentation, Interdisciplinary cooperation between lawyers and health professionals, sleep deprivation


This Protocol originates from a joint project regarding documentation of psychological torture initiated by the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), REDRESS and DIGNITY - Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY) in 2015 after the Copenhagen Conference on Psychological Torture. The project is a vehicle to establish a common understanding between health and legal professions as to how to best ensure the most accurate documentation of torture.

Historically, sleep deprivation has been used for different objectives but, primarily, to cause stress and duress for the purpose of extracting information and confessions. Detention centers with poor conditions is another context in which sleep deprivation, as a consequence of sleep disruption, takes place. This is often due to overcrowding, insufficient or no mattresses, and poor conditions of transportation between the courts and detention facilities. The aim of the Protocol is to improve documentation of sleep deprivation used in such settings (most often during interrogation) and therefore to clarify the facts of the case so that stronger legal claims can subsequently be submitted to local and international complaints mechanisms. The Protocol has been developed based on a methodology involving: compilation and review of legal and health knowledge on sleep deprivation, also in non-torture contexts; drafting by first author; discussion in the group of international experts; pilot- testing by PCATI; and evaluation by the three organizations and the group of experts. Despite generic elements of sleep deprivation, the context in a specific country will determine many aspects of the factual situation. Each context differs and as such this Protocol could serve as a guideline or a checklist of elements to be considered in a specific context. We hope that this Protocol will assist in the discussions between the various stakeholders and provide guidance on what can be documented and how to document sleep deprivation.


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How to Cite

Pérez-Sales, P., Søndergaard, E., Shir, E., Cakal, E., & Brasholt, M. (2019). Protocol on Medico-Legal Documentation of Sleep Deprivation. Torture Journal, 29(2), 28–55.