Using technology to protect human rights defenders

The amount of apps for mobile phones is incredible – the last batch of statistics in 2012 showed that over 700 apps were being released across all phone platforms every day.

AIPanicbuttonArguably, many are pointless. But what if one could actually save your life, or could offer you protection?

Amnesty International has sought to create such a useful app with its new Panic Button aimed at helping human rights activists facing torture, kidnap or attack.

The app – currently only available on Android devices – can be disguised as a calculator on a phone and is used to send an emergency text message to other activists so they realise one of their friends or colleagues is in danger.

Those who download the app can set-up a bank of three contacts who will receive the emergency message if the situation arises. To do this, the user only needs to repeatedly press the power button, or fake a repetitive sum by continually pressing the ‘1’ key.

There are some drawbacks to the app, notably its existence on Android devices only at this stage when much of world uses other operating systems. Another criticism is of course the usability of such an app – in a moment of genuine crisis, would a person actually have the time or inclination to send a distress signal on a phone app?

And, even if they did, there is the danger in many societies where human rights are impeded that the transmission can be intercepted.

However, it is a bold step and Amnesty must be praised for their innovation. And, ultimately, the more tools in the box to fight torture and assure the safety of human rights defenders, the better.

Click this link to read more about the app (redirects to an external site)

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European Parliament: How do the political changes affect anti-torture priorities?

IRCT Advocacy Advisor Elena Zacharenko, based in the IRCT’s European Affairs Office, explains the main changes in the political landscape of the European Parliament and speculates on how these alterations could affect the priorities of human rights organisations.

While for most EU citizens the European elections of 25 May might seem like a distant memory, the fallout of the polling day has kept the European Parliament (EP) even busier than usual in the past month and a half. The newly elected (or re-elected) 751 MEPs from the EU’s 28 member states have been frantically trying to set up new groups, coalitions and divide up the numerous vacant posts in the new EP.

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France (picture courtesy of Gerry Balding, used under Flickr creative commons licence)

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France (picture courtesy of Gerry Balding, used under Flickr creative commons licence)

One-month after the election it has become clear that the landscape in the new parliament differs significantly from the previous legislature: the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group has gone from being the fifth to the third most numerous political family, pushing both the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the European Greens (Greens/EFA) further down in the hierarchy of the EP, meaning fewer chances to obtain agenda-setting committee chairmanships for these groups. Furthermore, the highly eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD, previously Europe of Freedom and Democracy) group, despite numerous defections to the ECR, grew by 14 members thanks to the addition of MEPs from the previously absent Italian Five Star Movement.

For the IRCT and other human rights organisations working in Brussels, this suggests that the focus of the EP might turn away from human rights issues within and outside of the EU and towards efforts to dismantle the achievements of EU integration – a worrying trend if it occurs which will require even greater and closer engagement from both the NGOs and the groups which hold human rights close to their hearts.

The chairmanships crucial to IRCT’s work in Brussels have been largely taken by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, which will preside over the Committees on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Development as well as the Subcommittee on Human Rights.

As also the presidency of the entire European Parliament has once again been awarded to S&D’s Martin Schulz, the IRCT European Affairs Office will need to focus on forging a close relationship with key S&D members of parliament as well as the group’s political staffers in order to influence the agenda of the committee meetings and the topics they plan to work on in the coming year. Hopefully the IRCT can expect a continuation of the type of close relationship it enjoyed during the previous legislature with S&D MEP Veronique de Keyser, who authored the EP report on the eradication of torture in the world (passed with a huge majority of 608 votes in favour in March 2014).

A selection of flags outside of the European Parliament building (picture courtesy of the European Parliament)

A selection of flags outside of the European Parliament building (picture courtesy of the European Parliament)

However, the dust has not yet completely settled on the EU political arena. It is still not clear which of the 14 newly elected Vice Presidents of the EP will be hold the responsibility for mainstreaming human rights inside the institution and its policies within their portfolio. The post was previously occupied by ALDE’s Edward McMillan Scott, who proved to be and active and vocal supporter of human rights who worked closely with civil society. Time will tell if his successor follows this example.

Outside of the EP, appointments to the EU’s executive body – the European Commission – are still up in the air. The appointees for posts of Commissioner for Justice and Fundamental Rights, Home Affairs, Development, EU Neighbourhood Policy and Health – as well as that of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs – will influence the EU’s action and legislation in areas crucial to the IRCT, notably eradicating torture and providing rehabilitation to victims.

The EU’s current efforts to promote human rights outside of its borders as well as ensure victims’ rights within them need to be vastly enhanced. The EU’s new top leaders will play a deciding role in this process and therefore must act decisively against torture.

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Rwandan Genocide: Our campaign marking 20 years since the genocide comes to an end


Over the past 100 days we have been marking one of the biggest, most damaging humanitarian atrocities in history – the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Through the testimonies of ten brave women, we helped fulfil their goal — that their stories not only reach other women who are victims of rape but also the perpetrators.

They hoped that the men who have caused them and others so much pain may, through reading the stories, come to understand what their past actions have caused in terms of suffering among the women they violated.

In the space of 100 days over one-million civilians were tortured, raped and murdered in one of the largest examples of ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen as Hutus repeatedly and mercilessly attacked the Tutsi population following the death of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, himself a Hutu.

Special thanks to artist Yildiz Arslan who has supported us throughout this campaign

Special thanks to artist Yildiz Arslan who has supported us throughout this campaign

Yet while the genocide had far-reaching effects, some survivors did pull through, thanks in part to group therapy programmes established following the genocide.

For the latest edition of IRCT’s Torture Journal, the team worked with editors Annemiek Richters and Grace Kagoyire to collate ten stories from female survivors of the genocide, all of which are available in pdf and here on World Without Torture.

During the process of collecting the stories, and using their own words, the editors developed a deep connection with the authors of the stories. “We admire their courage to overcome their silence and share with us, and through us with many others, their deepest suffering and the steps they have taken on the road towards healing. Our hope is that they will continue to support each other and together face the continuing and new challenges in their lives.”

The stories, while painful to read at times, reflect not only on the horrors of the genocide but also the strength and hope of the survivors. And while many survivors of the genocide still require rehabilitation and assistance today, the testimonies are a powerful testament to the benefits of therapy.

To read all the survivor stories, click this link.

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26 June: Highlights from the international day against torture


This year’s 26 June campaign was the biggest yet. Armed with impactful artwork, campaign guides, factsheets, posters and more, over 70 organisations around the world joined the IRCT and World Without Torture in organising events to mark the day.

Peaceful demonstrations, press conferences, concerts, radio shows, panel discussions and many other events took place, reaching thousands of people with a message of support to survivors and a clear call to end impunity.

But it did not stop there – the 26 June campaign was also huge on social media with over 100,000 seeing the #26June and #NoMoreImpunity hashtags through the day.

These efforts will be collated and presented in the upcoming 26 June Global Report, distributed to thousands of human rights individuals and organisations.

But for now, see the gallery below for some of the highlights on the day.


Do you have more pictures of your activities on 26 June? Send them to us at



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Rwanda 20 years on: “I wouldn’t still be alive if it wasn’t for sociotherapy”


In the penultimate story of our Rwandan Genocide campaign, marking the 100 day period of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, Therese Kazeneza tells her story of becoming widowed from the genocide and journeying through sociotherapy to overcome her past – although there are still challenges ahead.

You can read an extract of Therese’s story “I wouldn’t still be alive if it wasn’t for sociotherapy” below.  To read her full story, click this link. And to read the stories of the other brave women featured in our campaign, click this link.

Therese’s story

I was born 1961 in Kayonza District, Eastern Province. We were ten children, three girls and seven boys. My family was rich and we had a good life when I was young. What I liked about my childhood was conversing with my parents and siblings while we were together at home. My mother loved me and I loved her.

Picture courtesy of The Examiner

Picture courtesy of The Examiner

The first violence I experienced was in 1973. People came to my school and selected Tutsi pupils to be killed. After killing some of the students they threw them into a hole. I managed to escape by running and hiding in the bush. Because of the harassment, I stopped going to school and stayed at home.

In 1988, I got married to my first husband and was happy during that marriage, even though my husband had forced me to marry him. When the genocide happened, we had four children together.

During the genocide, my husband and children were killed, which made me a widow. The genocide came totally unexpectedly.
It was beyond my imagination that the Interahamwe could cut and kill so many. All of my siblings as well as my parents were
killed. I do not know where they threw their bodies. The most shocking thing for me was that my mother was killed by the beating from the Interahamwe who were brought to my mother by one of my sisters-in-law. That sister-in-law was Hutu. She is now imprisoned for the crimes she committed during the genocide. To continue reading Therese’s full story, click this link (opens as PDF)

To view the full list of stories, which will be updated every two weeks from April until July, please click this link.

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Poll shows wide Danish support for torture

‘Do you support torture if it can gather information that can protect the public?’ While the majority of people across the globe answer a resounding ‘no’, 37 per-cent of Danish men disagree and gave a resounding ‘yes’.

According to a recent Yougov poll, published in the Metroexpress, 17 per-cent of women in Denmark also supported torture. Overall the support for torture in the poll is identical to the support of torture shown in Russia and South Korea.

People wandering the streets in Copenhagen, Denmark (picture used under creative commons licence courtesy of  adrimcm)

People wandering the streets in Copenhagen, Denmark (picture used under creative commons licence courtesy of adrimcm)

It is a shocking revelation, particularly in a country with a long and pioneering history supporting the global fight against torture – a history reflected in the fact that Denmark houses the headquarters of the International Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (IRCT), a global network of more than 140 torture rehabilitation centres around the world, including three in Denmark: Dignity, OASIS and RCT Jylland.

Clearly there are deep-seated misconceptions about torture, the effectiveness of it and the effects it has on victims. Also, the time-ticking bomb scenario is still tricking the public to favour torture.

First of all the principle of using torture to gather information is wrong. We live in societies based on democratic, human principles of respect, dignity and integrity. Ensuring these principles is fundamental for a progressive, secure world.

But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the rationale for justifying torture is also wrong – simply put, the question is flawed in the first instance because it wrongly assumes that information collected from torture can protect the public. This is largely a myth. Evidence has shown that the information torture produces is, at best, unreliable.

Therefore, the use of information obtained through torture is often not admissible in legal proceedings. In fact, any use of evidence gained through torture breaks the UN Convention Against Torture, ratified by a majority of countries.

Everyone has the duty to hold states to account for their torture, not to support them in their torture. Torture is a crime with far-reaching consequences and it should be in the minds of everyone to stop this inhumane crime. This includes the Danish people.

Regardless of the differences between the genders, regardless of the apparent justifications, torture is a crime and a severe abuse of human rights. Next time you are asked a similar question, consider your answer.


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Ex-Chicago police commander allowed to keep pension, despite his links to torture

In October 2013 we wrote a piece commenting on the decision of the Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel apologising on behalf of now-infamous Jon Burge, an ex-police commander and celebrated war veteran sentenced to four-years in prison for a campaign of racism and torture in 1970s’ and 1980s’ Chicago.

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday morning, June 29, 2010. (Jos? M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday morning, June 29, 2010. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Mr Burge was sentenced in 2011 to four-years in prison for lying under questioning when the allegations of torture were brought against him, allegations which he faced no charges for following his dismissal from the police in 1993.

Yet as more and more evidence came to light, it appeared Burge had indeed spearheaded a campaign of torture which affected over 200 people. Most of these survivors have since been awarded compensation but Burge was not charged for these crimes – he was charged for lying about them, not committing them.

But today it is not only the victims who are receiving money – Jon Burge is too.

Despite earning his publicly-funded pension entitlement during his notorious near two decade rule as police commander, Jon Burge, a convicted felon, will be able to receive his $3,000-a-month pension.

At a recent police pension board meeting, a tied vote of 4-4 assured that Mr Burge will be able to claim his pension upon release. As the Chicago Sun-Times notes:

Half of the board members actually argued that his 2010 conviction for lying about torturing suspects was not connected to his police job because the crime for which he was convicted — lying — came after he was no longer a cop. We’re sure that’s not how it looked to the men who were beaten, put through mock executions and shocked on their genitals by Burge and his midnight crew in the 1970s and 1980s.

This decision adds another example of impunity for the crimes of torture in the US and sends a negative message to the victims and to the human rights groups who have condemned the news. Many of the victims have yet to receive full reparations or rehabilitation and this move shows that full condemnation of a torturer is still a long way off.

And for the US – who could be a powerful anti-torture advocate – rulings such as this are incredibly worrying.

Further reading:

For more information on the Jon Burge case – including the decision by the Chicago Mayor to apologise on his behalf – click this link for our previous blog summarising the story.

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Rwanda 20yrs on: Sociotherapy cured my solitude


In the eighth story marking the 100 day period of the Rwandan Genocide, Mutegwamaso Foyibi recounts her feelings of loneliness and desperation following the death of much of her family in the genocide, and how sociotherapy has helped her overcome her solitude.

You can read an extract of Mutegwamaso’s story “Sociotherapy took me out of solitude” below.  To read her full story, click this link. And to read the stories of the other brave women featured in our campaign, click this link.

Mutegwamaso’s story

I am fifty-eight years old. I have been a widow since 1995. Because of the ethnic conflicts that reigned in Rwanda over a period of many years, I grew up and lived in different neighbouring countries. I returned to Rwanda in 1992, at the age of thirty-eight. I was born into a family of six children, four of whom died during the genocide. Only one sister and I are still alive.

foto 1cI married my husband in 1968 when I was fourteen years old. We had seven children together. Four are alive, the three others died during the genocide.

In the 1963 war, when I was nine years  old, our family fled to Burundi. This war followed previous wars that took place in 1959 and in 1962. We fled this time because our house was destroyed and most of the members of my extended family were murdered. In 1974, my parents and some siblings went back to Rwanda because the country was peaceful. My husband did not want us to go back and so we left for Uganda, where we lived for years before deciding to move back to Rwanda in 1992 – just before the genocide devastated our lives. To continue reading Mutegwamaso’s full story, click this link (opens as PDF)

To view the full list of stories, which will be updated every two weeks from April until July, please click this link.

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Creating a world without torture: June in review

June was an incredibly busy month with some fantastic and powerful events, publications and calls for action from across the globe – culminating on 26 June in the worldwide marking of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Below we round up our blogs from June and don’t forget to keep checking the blog in the coming weeks for more. Click here to visit our Facebook page, and here to visit our Twitter feed.

Thousands mark 26 June with powerful campaigns around the world

The biggest date of the anti-torture calendar came around once more on 26 June and here at the IRCT we marked the day with a united message – no more impunity.

Thanks to a coordinated effort in the months leading up to the date, the IRCT members across the globe were able to hold their own branded events calling for an end to torture and impunity.

Also the day was marked on social media with live updated pictures from organisations marking the day and a continual stream of comments, opinions and messages of support linked to the #26June and #NoMoreImpunity hashtags.

The day was incredibly successful with not only hundreds of anti-torture organisations taking part, but with also over 100,000 mentions of the day on social media. For a summary of the day click this link – and stay tuned for an upcoming gallery of actions around the globe.

The team behind ‘The Act of Killing’ distribute the award-winning film for free on 26 June

A shot from critically-acclaimed The Act of Killing

To mark 26 June we teamed up with the team behind the incredibly successful, award-winning documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ who arranged for free public screenings of the film on the day.

Fifteen IRCT members took part in the screenings, but you can still become involved now if you are continuing your 26 June activities a little after the date.

For more information on this unique partnership click this link.


Twenty-years after the Rwandan Genocide, survivors tell their stories

Illustration courtesy of Danish artist Yildiz Arslan

Illustration courtesy of Danish artist Yildiz Arslan

Our most popular blog series is the Rwanda: 20 years on campaign which uses the voices of survivors of torture to capture the horrors of the genocide and the successes of the subsequent rehabilitation programmes which have helped them resume a life free from ill-treatment.

This month saw the publication of two stories, from Germaine and Ntakwasa, who both recount the rape, murder and torture they encountered and how one women’s survivor group helped them to overcome their past.

The campaign, which will run throughout the 100 day period of the genocide until mid-July, sees a new survivor of torture telling their story every two weeks.

To read all the stories from the campaign, click this link. And keep checking the blog, our Facebook, and Twitter for future updates to the campaign.

Syrian snapshots: a life in ruins

The sunset in Ma’arra.

We caught up with Ida, a photographer and frequent visitor to Syria, who recounted another trip to the ruined city of Ma’arrat al-Numan where she heard stories of torture, ill-treatment and death.

In her second blog for World Without Torture, Ida uses pictures to illustrate not only the destruction in Syria but also the sadness brought to the region by the frequent arrests and torture of Syrian citizens.

To read the blog in full just click this link.


Torture for ‘development’ in India

THE small dugout canoe that would take us to the centre of Loktak Lake in the mountainous Manipur State

The small dugout canoe that takes Marion to the centre of Loktak Lake in the mountainous Manipur State

The IRCT’s Senior Advisor for Asia, Marion Staunton, reported from her latest visit to Indian IRCT member CORE-H2H who are continuing to offer support to indigenous people in the north-east of India, people who are facing torture and homelessness as big-businesses plan to develop their rural communities into major road networks.

Those who refuse to move, or have publicly objected to the development, have become victims of torture and frequent arson attacks to the community only further increase the levels of trauma and sadness among the community.

Click this link to read the full blog.

Rape used as a routine weapon of torture in the Democratic Republic of Congo

A woman who was raped by a government soldier recovers at the Heal Africa hospital in Goma. Picture courtesy of Freedom from Torture.

A woman who was raped by a government soldier recovers at the Heal Africa hospital in Goma. Picture courtesy of Freedom from Torture.

June also saw IRCT member Freedom from Torture launching a harrowing report into the commonplace usage of rape as a form of torture in the DRC, despite pledges from the country that it is doing all it can to stop rape.

The report came as international decision-makers met in London for a global summit on preventing sexual violence. Spearheaded by actress Angelina Jolie and UK politician William Hague, the campaign aims to end sexual violence in conflict zones.

However, as the Freedom from Torture report indicates, it is not just in conflict zones where sexual violence takes place and the anti-torture organisation called on the UK government to do more to stop sexual violence in every context.

To read the news story on the report click this link (redirects to the website) and, to read the full report, click this link.

For further information from World Without Torture, do not forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Click here to visit our Facebook page, and here to visit our Twitter feed.

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26 June is here: Join us in fighting impunity


The 26 June UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is here. Organisations and human rights defenders across the globe are standing united right now to end impunity, the theme of this year’s 26 June campaign – and you can join them with your voice today.

Social media:

Throughout the day World Without Torture’s Facebook and Twitter pages will be updated with the latest information on what groups across the globe are doing to mark this important day. Don’t forget to use the hashtags #26June and #NoMoreImpunity wherever you can.

Global map of events:

You can see on our global map to find out exactly what IRCT centres are holding today – and in the coming weeks – to help create a world without torture.

IRCT Global Reading for 26 June:Poster5-150

Every day crimes of torture are committed across the globe and, in many of these cases, justice is never served – the perpetrators are still free and the victims are denied any access to rehabilitation.

But there is hope and organisations across the world are attempting to create a world without torture. You can read and share the full global reading here (also in French and Spanish) to get an idea of how the work we do is having a positive impact on the world, even if at times the fight against torture seems lengthy.

26 June campaign kit:

If you want to use any of our campaign materials still then please do so by clicking this link.

Here you will find all the posters, factsheets and statements relating to the 26 June.

What is happening right now?

Already organisations around the world have begun hosting their events: ASeTTS in Australia have hosted their panel meeting on how to fight impunity; Fora Penal in Venezuela are holding a forum on impunity; BCHRD in Bangladesh are standing united to promote the rights of torture victims; and APT have created an excellent video explaining what impunity is. These are just some of the hundreds of organisations who will mark the fight against impunity and torture today.

Those who tortured you to speak now want you silent.
Join us in the fight against impunity #NoMoreImpunity.


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