Just as we have seen in previous years, creativity played a big role in marking this year’s 26 June campaign. Thousands of people across the globe joined the torture rehabilitation movement in showcasing both the resilience and creativity of survivors and caregivers alike.
The UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June is the day in which people and organisations from around the world commemorate and honour victims of torture. For many, it is also a chance to celebrate the achievements of the movement.
Across the globe, members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) organised a diverse range of events that included picnics for torture survivors, vigils, dance and music events, as well as theatre.
26 June is also a time for entire communities and families to come together, and for children to sing dance and play. Some centres had poster competitions, face painting, kite-making and musical performances, especially for and by children.
Dance, song and theatre in particular have become popular ways of celebrating 26 June. Last year, when over 100 organisations took part in the campaign, many chose to mark the day with cultural performances. These events can generate a huge amount of interest, as the public and media can learn about the experiences of survivors first hand, in an original and artistic way.
But more importantly, dance and theatre are great ways of engaging torture survivors and allowing them to process their trauma, which is why many health professionals include movement as a type of therapy for clients.
In Tibet, one centre put on a play about the struggles of political prisoners, while another centre in South Korea organised a colourful and musical day in honour of victims and survivors of torture.
There are endless ways of showing support for the anti-torture movement, and each year on 26 June we are blown away by the creativity that individuals and organisations across the globe demonstrate when they organise their events.
We hope to share more photos from this year’s 26 June events, and in the meantime we encourage you to share your photos and stories with us either as a comment here or on our World Without Torture Facebook page.
In the autumn of 1991 and six months before the three-year long war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, 16-year-old E.B. was living in a city in Croatia, with her Serbian father and Croatian mother. During this time, Serbs in the area were routinely persecuted by the Croatian police, soldiers and paramilitary because of their ethnicity. E.B.’s family were among those singled out by the authorities.
On several occasions, E.B’s family were targeted by the police and military. Armed officers entered their home and made death threats in front of E.B. and her sister. “They told me that they were looking for arms. They threatened me and my children. They did not show me the search warrant. At that time small crosses were put on apartments in which Serbs lived and we were marked and exposed,” recalls E.B.’s mother.
In October 1991, the police came to the house and took E.B.’s father away. Thirteen days later his body was recovered. The pathologist’s report found that he had been tortured and thrown into a river while he was still alive. E.B. was involved in the search and identification of her father. As a result, she lived in a constant state of fear. “I told my mother to stop asking the authorities about my father, they could kill us too,” she says.
Following her father’s death, the police continued to threaten the family, going as far as to subject her mother to interrogation. Growing up in an environment of constant intimidation, combined with the loss of her father and the circumstances under which he died, E.B. developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. She received treatment from a child psychiatrist in Zagreb and finished her secondary school education, but dropped out of university because she was unable to cope with the events of her past.
It was 15 years later in 2006, when E.B. and her mother, along with E.B.’s then eight-year-old son, came into contact with the Rehabilitation Center for Stress and Trauma (RCT) in Zagreb.
RCT was contacting people who could potentially serve as witnesses in war criminal trials. After meeting E.B., the care providers quickly realised that she was struggling to cope, dealing with symptoms including restlessness, low levels of confidence and an inability to make decisions. They also diagnosed E.B.’s mother with severe post traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
To ensure E.B. and her family received the support they needed, RCT Zagreb took a group approach. A social worker and psychologist visited the family twice a month and occasionally they were supported financially. The RCT also organised a support network for E.B.’s son and for her mother, and the family began to cope better with daily life.
The centre continues to support the family through a follow-up treatment programme for torture victims that agree to be witnesses in war crime trials. RCT Zagreb also supported the family in seeking compensation for the death of E.B.’s father. Unfortunately, they lost the case and were ordered to pay the trial costs. It is a sad reality that these verdicts are often given to discourage victims to seek justice for crimes committed against them.
The war in the former Yugoslavia turned hundreds of thousands of people into victims of displacement, disappearances, torture and rape. Yet, there is a large number of families like E.B.’s that have not received rehabilitation and compensation for their suffering.
RCT Zagreb works with the populations at risk, emphasising the effects of social reconstruction in post-conflict communities and reducing social exclusion, so that people like E.B. can rebuild the pieces of their lives and begin again.
It is time to put a face to torture victims and reclaim their need for and right to rehabilitation – a right guaranteed under the UN Convention against Torture. As part of this year’s 26 June campaign, we are sharing the stories of survivors and care providers to show how providing rehabilitation services to torture survivors is a right and responsibility for all.
For many torture victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation and reparations for the trauma suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. Yet, seeking justice can often be a traumatic experience for a survivor, or been seen as a waste of time. The psychosocial support provided by IRCT members to those seeking justice and reparation plays a hugely important role in changing this perception.
The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), a governance, health and human rights non-profit organisation based in Nairobi, Kenya is one such centre. IMLU supports torture survivors during sometimes lengthy legal cases by offering them group or individual therapy.
In 2014, IMLU provided psychosocial support to a group of nine ex-servicemen from the Kenyan Air Force, who were detained, imprisoned and tortured after a failed coup attempt in Kenya in 1982. Thanks to IMLU, the group overcame the strong feelings of shame and stigma they had experienced, and eventually felt so empowered that they decided to share their stories with the world.
When IMLU first met the group members, they were going through legal proceedings in the form of a civil case, suing the government over wrongful dismissal and ill-treatment. Most of the group members had never spoken about the torture they experienced after the coup attempt and were hesitant to engage in therapy.
IMLU counsellors provided the group with psychosocial support and education about the impact of torture, which helped them normalise their feelings and experiences. Because of this, the group was able to start building trust with each other and the counsellor, which meant they could start to process the trauma.
As a final component of the process, IMLU helped the men let go of any part of their story or feelings that they no longer wished to hold on to. The men chose to write letters to their perpetrators, which they then burned in a letting go ceremony.
IMLU’s group therapy empowered the men to move on and rebuild their lives. They have now formed a society, which they hope to use to help other torture survivors and assist them in rebuilding their lives.
IMLU continued to provide the men with peer counselling training in order to further empower the group to reach out to other torture survivors.
It is time to put a face to torture victims and reclaim their need for and right to rehabilitation – a right guaranteed under the UN Convention against Torture. As part of this year’s 26 June campaign, we are sharing the stories of survivors and care providers to show how providing rehabilitation services to torture survivors is a right and responsibility for all.
In 2014 the IRCT published the stories of ten women who experienced sexual violence and torture during the 100 days of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Today we are sharing the stories of two men who have worked with rehabilitation centres, Association for Research and Assistance for Africa Mission (ARAMA) and Uyisenga Ni Imanzi to rebuild their lives following the torture and trauma they endured during the genocide.
“I was eight years old when the genocide happened. When my entire family was killed, a neighbor took care of me. I was wounded on my leg, and the scars did not heal. Throughout my school years, the wound would open all the time and suffered from infections. I could barely walk and although I am schooled in car-mechanics, I could not find a job. I did not feel like talking to anyone, and I was an outsider in my community. I had no friends and felt so lonely. I started to suffer from depression.
“A few years ago, I met ARAMA. ARAMA decided to help me and send me to the military hospital of Kanombe where my leg was operated on. They continued to be there for me and gave me medicines and therapeutic shoes. I can’t describe how it felt to walk without pain. They also gave me psychological and psychosocial support.
“Before I met ARAMA, I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid of the bad memories that always come at night when I sleep. Since last week, I started to sleep again and the nightmares are gone! Thanks to ARAMA, I don’t feel alone anymore, and I have started to talk to other people again. I feel so much better now.”
“The genocide made me an orphan. I was 18 years old and all of a sudden I became the head of the household, with three little brothers to take care of. I was not ready to become a parent. You need a lot of strength to become your brothers’ father. When the perpetrators took my father’s land, we were left with nothing. For a long time I was sad, hopeless and very angry about what happened.
“When Uyisenga Ni Imanzi came, they were the first to tell us that there was still hope for us. They gave us and other orphans counselling and taught us how to farm and grow maniocs and pineapples. Together with the other orphans we created a cooperation called ‘Duhozanye’. Being a member of the cooperation feels good, we have enough to eat and we can even save some money for the future. In ‘Duhozanye’ we talk a lot and can understand each other’s problems.
“We are not alone anymore. Uyisenge Ni Imanzi helped me and my brothers get our land back and they helped my brothers go back to school. My brothers now go to university. For us, Uyisenga Ni Imanzi got us out of the darkness and gave us hope for the future. They helped me chase away the sadness and the hatred. Sometimes, I lose my strength and then everything turns bad. But the staff at Uyisenga are like parents for me, and when these bad feelings come up, they are always there to give me hope again.”
The Russian government has once again been criticised after introducing a new law that allows any foreign or international NGO to be declared “undesirable” and to be shut down. The law is the latest attempt to limit the impact of human rights organisations that are deemed anti-government. Adding to this, local and international NGOs continue to be targets of intimidation and discrimination.
Three staff from the Danish rehabilitation centre, Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY) were fined and expelled from Russia while on a recent mission to provide technical assistance on trauma rehabilitation and prevention of torture. Their work with a Russian human rights organisation, the Committee Against Torture (NGO CAT) had been publicly announced, and despite having secured visas they were found to be in violation of Russian visa regulations.
DIGNITY and NGO CAT are both members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and their aim is to support and treat survivors of torture. A mission that many governments value. Yet, in Russia, NGO CAT is one of many civil society organisations facing increasing hostility.
The Russian government recently introduced a new law that makes it possible to ban foreign NGOs and prosecute their employees, who risk up to six years in prison or being barred from the country. The law is the latest step in a series of restrictions on civil society, NGOs and human rights defenders.
In 2012, the Russian parliament adopted a new law that required NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if they engaged in “political activity” and received foreign funding. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in Russia “foreign agent” can be interpreted only as “spy” or “traitor,” and there is little doubt that the law aims to demonise and marginalise independent advocacy groups.
NGO CAT are among the organisations labelled a foreign agent, and the centre fears that it could be forced to close down unless a court removes the tag. But as the Russian president Vladimir Putin seems set on imposing more restrictions on independent organisations and civil society, a removal of the tag is highly unlikely.
For NGO CAT, anti-NGO laws are not the only means of intimidation that the organisation is worried about. In December last year, the office of NGO CAT initiative, Joint Mobile Group (JMG), based in the Chechen capital Grozny was set on fire in what appears to be an act of intimidation by local authorities. The following day the police visited the provisional premises of NGO CAT and, for no apparent reason, seized the centre’s mobile phones, computers and CCTV cameras and held two staff members for several hours. Prior to the fire, NGO CAT staff had been receiving threatening phone calls and text messages.
Sadly, the story of NGO CAT is far from unique. Human rights groups and defenders are continuously subjected to acts of intimidation and threats. Offices have been raided, activists have been arrested and organisations fined. In some cases, prominent human rights defenders have even been killed, with no one charged with their murders.
Back in Denmark, the three DIGNITY employees remain puzzled as to why they were expelled, but the whole process leading up to their expulsion has revealed a flawed justice system allowing for false witness statements and documents.
Most of the international community have expressed their concern about the treatment of human rights defenders in Russia, and rightly so. For NGO CAT, the stakes are high. As the anti-NGO laws increase the pressure on the organisation, its future is uncertain. The only thing that seems certain at this point is Russia’s determination to repress NGOs.
On 3 June, a group of people broke into NGO CAT’s regional office and apartment in Grozny. According to NGO CAT’s regional coordinator Oleg Khabibrakhmanov, the group arrived late in the morning as part of a protest rally. Khabibrakhmanov said his colleagues in Grozny called police immediately but none arrived.
The men were seen to be smashing furniture, computers and destroying paper files and folders. Some of them brought an angle grinder and eventually broke through to the adjacent apartment where temporary staff of NGO CAT were working.
It has been nearly six months since the US Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the CIA’s use of torture, attracting worldwide outcry and condemnation. We revisit that day in December last year when torture was featured by every news outlet around the world and look at whether the release of the report has actually changed anything.
Nearly six months since the Committee released its report on the CIA’s gruesome post-9/11 torture program, the findings in the 6,000-page report may seem like old news, but did it lead to any change? And what happened to those involved, including the politicians in office at the time, the interrogators and most importantly, the victims?
The report, released by the Committee’s Chairman Dianne Feinstein despite a last-minute plea from Secretary of State John Kerry and members of Congress not to release the information to the public, detailed the CIA’s extreme interrogation techniques used on alleged terrorists after the September 11th attacks. Soon after its release, a UN expert on human rights called for the US to live up to its international legal obligations and prosecute senior officials who authorised the use of torture.
However, it quickly became evident that the White House would not follow the human rights experts’ calls and pursue prosecutions that could prove to be politically explosive.
In fact, the New York Times recently revealed that many of those in charge of the CIA’s torture program had been rewarded with promotions, rather than being fired. The newspaper reported how the people whose names had been redacted from the Senate’s torture report to avoid accountability now run another CIA program under the agency’s Counterterrorism Center.
The only person being punished seems to be Alissa Starzak, a former lead investigator for the torture report, whose professional career is in jeopardy, with critics of the report, some of them senators, working hard on stalling her nomination as general counsel to the Army.
Starzak’s situation could not be more different from that of former US president, George W Bush and members of his administration. The Bush administration’s knowledge of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques has long been a contested topic. Despite evidence that Bush in 2002 signed an executive order, which stated the Geneva Conventions did not apply to Al-Qaeda or Taliban suspects, there has been no further investigation into this because he as a former Head of State enjoys special immunity and cannot be prosecuted.
According to international law, any person whose human rights have been violated shall have access to an effective remedy. But while the report details the use of various torture techniques, including rectal feeding, sleep deprivation and waterboarding, the US government has failed to compensate victims of the CIA’s programs.
In Cuba, the Guantanamo Bay prison camp continues to house victims of CIA torture despite President Barack Obama’s promise in 2013 to close it down. According to the organisation Close Guantanamo, 122 detainees remain there, although 50 of them were cleared to leave more than five years ago.
If the status quo of Guantanamo Bay is the symbol of anything, it is of the lack of political will to pursue justice and the apathy towards the victims and their families.
The international human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently set up a petition urging the Obama administration to begin a “full criminal investigation” into torture techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency. HRW is one of several organisations that continue to be vocal in the fight for justice, but so far, their efforts have not brought about the change they were hoping for.
Back in December 2014, when she released the report, Dianne Feinstein said that CIA’s actions were a stain on America’s values, and while the report could not remove that stain, it was an important step to restore the country’s values and show the world that it is a just and lawful society.
Six months on, it is reasonable to question whether the US has restored its values. If you ask HRW and other human rights organisations, they will say that the victims and their families are still to experience the just and lawful society Feinstein referred to.
Guest blogger Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign writes about a controversial counter-terrorism bill in India that, if passed, could increase the risk of torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners.
On 31 March, the government of the state of Gujarat, in Western India, passed a controversial counter-terrorism bill for the fourth time in 12 years.
First passed in 2003 under the auspices of the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, when he was Chief Minister of the state, the Gujarat government now hopes that Modi’s current status will help the bill acquire the presidential assent required for it to become law – something that has been denied three times already.
One of the most controversial provisions of this latest amendment of the bill, now called the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill (previously, only organised crime was mentioned in the title), is clause 16, which would allow confessions made to a police officer at or above the rank of superintendent admissible evidence in court.
Clause 16 does not contain any safeguards against fears that it may be used to obtain confessions coerced through torture or other inhumane treatment. The last time the bill was approved and sent for presidential assent in 2009, the president’s office asked for this clause to be removed.
According to Amnesty International India, the lack of adequate safeguards in clause 16 “will almost certainly increase the risk of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.”
In addition to clause 16, the Gujarat bill includes a very broad definition of torture and affords immunity against prosecution of police or government officials acting in “good faith”. It is modelled on a similar law from the neighbouring state of Maharashtra on organised crime, which contains the same provision. However, this bill differs in its widening of the scope to include counter-terrorism, harking back to controversial old counter-terrorism laws. According to journalist Manoj Mitta, this clause “threatens to serve as a legal cover for torture”.
India is still to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the use of torture in Indian prisons is rife, particularly where prisoners are accused of or convicted of terrorism-related offences. A 2011 Human Rights Watch report on the treatment of terrorism suspects in India states that “much of the worst abuse” was committed by the Gujarat police. In the first decade of this century, more than 100 people died in custody in Gujarat, usually as a result of torture.
Just weeks after the Gujarat government passed the bill in mid-April, the Gujarat police sought to prevent the release of a book detailing the torture suffered by a man who had been arrested under the earlier repealed counter-terrorism law. Tortured into confessing, along with five others, the man was convicted and sentenced to death in 2006; he was acquitted of all charges in 2014 by the Indian Supreme Court and released from prison after 11 years.
An Amnesty International survey from 2014 found that 74% of respondents in India – the highest rate along with China – believe “torture can sometimes be justiﬁed to gain information that may protect the public.” Both widespread and widely accepted in India, such a law would only further sanction its use and could lead to an increase of the practice. Amnesty International India has called for similar existing laws in other states to be repealed immediately.
Speaking of the Gujarat bill, Shemeer Babu, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India, said, “Instead of weakening criminal procedure safeguards, authorities should be giving state police the training, resources and autonomy they need to prevent and solve crimes.”
And besides prevention, the government should do more to treat those who have fallen victims to torture in the country, which has one of the highest incidences of torture in the world. Torture is a complex problem that requires comprehensive solutions.
On 23 April, the state governor of Gujarat sent the bill to the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee for his assent. The opposition party in the state has said it will ask the President not to approve it. A decision is likely in May.
Throughout the years, we have been moved by some powerful anti-torture campaigns seeking to highlight the horrors of torture and its devastating impact on the victims and their families. With less than two months to 26 June, which is also the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we are in campaign mode and saw it fit to share some of the most effective campaigns from the anti-torture movement.
As some of the campaigns on our list show, powerful can also be controversial.
Sounds from torture – Amnesty International Portugal
First up is this campaign from Amnesty International Portugal. As the name suggests, the campaign from last year was built around sounds of torture. At the center of the campaign is a drum set made up of objects used in torture methods. Created by artists and musicians, the drum set was on display around the country, creating awareness about different torture methods and amplifying the pain sounds to make everyone listen.
For those interested, you can still test each instrument on the campaign website – just prepare yourselves for some terrifying sounds.
Visit the campaign here.
“Torture a man and he’ll say anything” – Amnesty International Belgium
This satirical campaign, also from 2014, was controversial for various reasons. The use of brutal imagery of famous people quickly got the internet talking, but the campaign suffered a blow when it was revealed that Amnesty used images of its subjects without permission.
Controversial or not, the campaign certainly had the shock factor that many other campaigns can only dream of. One of the images showed a beaten up Iggy Pop together with the quote “Justin Bieber is the future of Rock and Roll”, and followed by: “Torture a man and he’ll say anything. Torture is not just inhumane, it’s ineffective. Stop it”. The message and image are very powerful together and address a sad reality – that most people believe torture works.
“Torturer Wanted” – Freedom from Torture
In 2012, Freedom from Torture, an IRCT member in the UK, placed a series of mock advertisements in The Guardian and the Independent. The aim was to create awareness and get people to think about torture in a different way – an objective that seemed to work.
Right in the middle, between the usual job suspects, job seekers could read the ad for a “Torturer”, which offered an annual salary of between £16,000 and £21,000.
The ad then read: “The government of a Middle Eastern state is recruiting a senior torturer to work in a well-equipped prison. Our ideal candidate would be prepared to inflict extreme pain and suffering. Familiarity with dental and medical equipment and knowledge of human anatomy is required…” (to read the full ad, click here).
The reality portrayed by the campaign was a surprise to the general public. The reality is, torture – and torturers – exist and is a common practice around the world. Lack of awareness about it impedes the work done by torture rehabilitation organisations like Freedom from Torture. The campaign received plenty of attention and support from the media, other NGOs and on social media.
“Fighting Impunity” – International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
Unlike some of the other campaigns on this list, last year’s “Fighting Impunity” campaign by the IRCT used more traditional tactics to raise awareness about torture and impunity.
Culminating on 26 June, which is the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the campaign sought to mobilise IRCT members and other torture rehabilitation organisations around the world, and engage with the general public on social media.
The campaign depicted four archetypical torturers making the “shhh” finger gesture for quiet. The images were accompanied by the message: “Those who tortured you to speak now want you silent”.
110 organisations all over the world joined the campaign to call for the end to impunity, organising their own events, and thousands of people and NGOs showed their support on social media.
You can read more about the campaign here.
Getting Away With Torture – Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has for many years been a strong opponent of torture and other ill-treatment of numerous detainees in US custody at the Guantanamo detention camp.
In its latest efforts to bring those responsible to justice, HRW recently released a petition calling on the Obama administration to order a full criminal investigation into torture and other serious abuses at Guantanamo Bay.
In the petition, HRW says that despite overwhelming evidence of torture and other ill-treatment of numerous detainees in US custody after 9/11, the US government has not held a single senior official accountable.
Whether the HRW petition will amount to any significant changes, it serves as an important tool to pressure the US Government and ensure that what happened at Guantanamo will not be forgotten or swept under the carpet.
The campaign is still ongoing and you can sign the petition here.
For other not-for-profit and human rights campaigns, including anti-torture initiatives, we recommend that you visit the brilliant ‘resource for all things in the world of non-profit and social messaging’ website www.osocio.org
It has been nearly a week since a devastating earthquake ripped through Nepal, leaving a trail of death and destruction. With a death toll in the thousands and more casualties to come, the impoverished kingdom is struggling to provide shelter and relief to the survivors. Among the rubble is IRCT member centre, Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT) that explains how Nepal’s need for help extends far beyond the immediate aid efforts.
“We all are safe at CVICT, but we are still feeling scared and only stay at open places,” writes CVICT’s Jamuna Poudyal in an email after letting us know that all staff at the torture rehabilitation centre are safe.
Based in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, Ms Poudyal and her colleagues witnessed how the 7.8-magnitude earthquake – Nepal’s worst in 80 years – levelled historical monuments and whole buildings in just a matter of few moments.
“Many people lost their life when their houses collapsed,” says Ms Poudyal. “People in the Kathmandu Valley still feel that their life is in danger because of the many aftershocks.”
According to the UN, more than eight million people in Nepal have been affected by the earthquake and some 70,000 houses have been destroyed.
Shailendra Guragain, also from CVICT, explains how priorities have suddenly changed at the centre: “Torture victims are not the first priority this week. People in jail and custody living without roof and without medicine are also not a priority now. Wounded people from the disaster is our current top priority.”
But as the world is concentrating on reaching out to as many people as possible and providing necessities such as shelter, food, medicine and clothes to the survivors, Ms Poudyal makes a point of highlighting the urgent need for psychological assistance to the people who have witnessed death and destruction on a scale that most of us cannot fathom.
“The government of Nepal and most of the aid organisations present in Nepal are focusing on relief packages, including medical and food. But people are suffering from psychological problems as well,” explains Poudyal.
“There is a huge need for psychological first aid to the people.”
In all corners of the world, there are people whose support for the anti-torture movement makes an enormous difference to torture survivors, their families and caregivers. Among them are some high profile individuals who are using their name and status to raise awareness about torture and to promote justice for torture victims. We highlight four of them and their actions, and look at why the movement needs more supporters like them.
It is not every day that a blog on torture includes a famous rapper, a retired bishop and a baptist minister, but that is nonetheless the case with our list of anti-torture supporters:
#1 Mos Def
The first on our list is American rapper and actor Mos Def, also known as Yasiin Bey. In addition to his music and acting career, Mos Def is a strong supporter of the anti-torture movement and he has taken unorthodox measures to raise awareness about torture and ill treatment. Most notably, he starred in a campaign video for human rights organisation Reprieve, in which he volunteered to be force-fed through the nose to bring attention to the force-feeding of 44 detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.
The video was released in July 2013 via the Guardian, and quickly went viral. In fact, it became the eight most viewed video in the history of The Guardian. But not everyone was a fan of the project. The following year, Mos Def, who lives in South Africa, was forced to cancel his tour in the United States after immigration refused his entry to the country.
#2 Desmond Tutu
Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop and human rights activist – Desmond Tutu’s many roles and achievements make others pale in comparison. A leading figure in the justice and racial reconciliation movement in South Africa, Desmond Tutu is also a strong advocate for a world free from torture.
Before retiring, he voiced criticism of serious violations of human rights, including Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and the Israeli government’s mistreatment of Palestinians.
Desmond Tutu may be retired, but he is still involved in the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, which he founded together with his wife in 1998. He is also protector of IRCT member centre in Denmark DIGNITY, and continues to speak out against torture.
#3 Rev. Jesse Jackson
In addition to being a Baptist minister and former politician, Jesse Jackson is one of America’s most renowned civil rights activists. While many know him for his work with the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson has also been very vocal in ensuring justice for victims of torture. He has for years been a supporter of the many men who were tortured by Chicago police, led by former Commander Jon Burge, during the 1970s and 1980s. When the Mayor of Chicago recently issued an apology and proposed a $5.5 million reparations fund for dozens of torture victims, Jesse Jackson called for a “truth and reconciliation commission”, saying if it was good enough for South Africa it is good enough for Chicago.
“Because Jon Burge was in charge, he was the commander,” Jackson said. “He did not do this alone. Other police witnessed Jon Burge torturing these men.”
#4 Rage Against the Machine, REM, Nine Inch Nails and others
The last one on our list is not just one person, but a group of musicians whose efforts we thought should be mentioned.
Upon discovering that their music had been used in interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, high profile musicians such as REM, Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor joined the Close Gitmo Now campaign.
Launched in 2009, Close Gitmo Now is a coalition of activists, artists and retired generals aiming to put pressure on US politicians to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.
Speaking out against Guantanamo Bay and the use of music as no-touch torture there, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine said:
“Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured – from water boarding, to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts – playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums. Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me – we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now.”
The need for more high profile supporters
While the support of well-known musicians or other high profile individuals alone is not enough, it can raise public awareness and influence the general debate. Guantanamo Bay is the prime example of this. Although the world’s most notorious detention camp still remains in operation, what goes on there never fully escapes public scrutiny.
Sadly, in other parts of the world, there are numerous cases of torture that will never receive even a fraction of the attention that Guantanamo Bay gets. Not enough people care. If torture victims had the support of a well-known name, they might be able to get the attention they need to bring the perpetrators to justice. The same goes for most torture rehabilitation centres that often struggle financially. Without this form of support, it can be difficult to attract potential donors or raise additional funds. One of the biggest challenges in the fight against torture is apathy. The support of famous people can make a difference.