The IRCT grew out of a need to create an international platform for health-based work against torture, which began in 1973 when Amnesty International started a campaign to diagnose and heal torture victims in Chile. Soon after, Inge Genefke and three other medical doctors formed the first Amnesty International Medical Group. Other inspiring pioneers in the field of rehabilitation were expanding their work elsewhere.
The late Helen Bamber, OBE, was part of a small group of health professionals that established the first Medical Group in the British Section of Amnesty International. By the end of the 1970s, there were several thousand doctors in Amnesty International Medical Groups around the world.
In 1980 Dr. Genefke and her colleagues were given permission to admit torture victims to the University Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in 1981, she became one of the founders of the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (today, IRCT member centre Dignity). In 1985, Helen Bamber co-founded the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (today, IRCT member centre Freedom from Torture).
By 1985, it became evident that the growing movement would need an organisation to support the foundation and financing of new centres. Thus, the IRCT was established, with an assignment to support fundraising, information, research and training.
From 1985 to 2014, the IRCT evolved from a loosely organised collaboration of rehabilitation centres to a movement of 144 member centres, in seven regions and 74 countries. The IRCT is the world’s largest membership-based civil society organisation working in the field of torture rehabilitation. Member centres work in a wide range of contexts including some of the most repressive and conflict driven regimes in the world.
According to the last census carried out by the IRCT in 2008, an estimated 100,000 torture victims receive treatment by member centres.