As the war in Gaza draws to a 72 hour calm in its fourth week, organisations around the world are taking stock of the damage caused. Figures from the BBC show 1,450 people have died, the majority of whom are Palestinian civilians. Internal displacement is still a real issue as 43% of the country is marked as a no-go zone. And only now, weeks too late, is the first humanitarian aid arriving in Gaza.
But the often unsighted consequence of war is trauma. Every day hundreds of new cases of trauma are exhibited yet the services established to ease this very suffering are being destroyed every single minute.
This week the IRCT published a story reflecting on the strain its membership in Gaza and Palestine are facing amidst this war. The story highlights the strain the members face each day in providing some normality for survivors of torture and trauma.
But they are struggling. While international aid and support is welcome in this 72 hour truce, the war must end completely so suffering ceases and the region can be accessed by international agencies who can implement concrete strategies beyond this current three-day window.
In unity with this come many calls from IRCT members across the globe to end the fighting, to ensure rehabilitation services are prioritised immediately and to stand side-by-side to support the men, women and children who are at the mercy of this conflict.
Statements of solidarity and calls to end the war
One such statement of solidarity comes from IRCT member CORE-H2H in Manipur, India, who joined 24 other human rights organisations in the Asia region in calling for an immediate end to “one of the most horrendous humanitarian disasters and crisis of serious human rights violations of this century. ” (Click here to read the full statement)
In Latin America, the Latin American coalition Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Instituciones de Salud contra la Tortura (the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Health Institutions against Torture, Impunity and other violations of Human Rights) calls upon States and international organisations, as well as society as a whole, to recognise and condemn the continuing breaches of human rights obligations in this war. (Click here to read the full statement)
Finally the IRCT joined its colleagues in the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition who call for armed groups on both sides, Israel and Palestine, to observe an immediate ceasefire and halt their continuing violations on international human rights and humanitarian obligations. (Click here to read the full statement)
The IRCT, along with hundreds of human rights organisations across the globe, is following very closely the events in Gaza and stands united with its members in the region, and across the world, in calling for an end to this war. Only a bilateral ceasefire, enforced by the international community alongside provisions for rehabilitation, can provide real prospects for peace in at this time in the Middle East.
While July was an incredibly busy month for the anti-torture movement, one story stood out beyond the rest: the trauma experienced in Gaza amidst the current context of war.
Over 1,200 people are dead in the war in Gaza, the majority of whom are civilians. Families are being torn apart by the war, cities are being destroyed and support mechanisms which typically assist rehabilitation and rebuilding are being destroyed at a ferocious rate.
The IRCT has three centres in the Palestine-Gaza territory – all have felt the effects of this war first hand.
In order to show the strain the people on the ground are under, the IRCT published a story summarising the strain the centres face and the growing problem of trauma which has spread throughout Gaza – trauma which would normally be treated but cannot be effectively in this instance due to the relentless destruction present every day.
The IRCT will continue to monitor the situation in Gaza closely and will encourage the international community to remember the importance of rehabilitation and support mechanisms which assist society in regaining strength.
The situation in Ukraine has been unstable ever since anti-government protests began last year.
Yet now, with the continued battles in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, torture reports and incidences have been extremely prevalent on the radar.
In order to gather some perspective on how often these incidences of torture are reported, the IRCT spoke to its member in the region about the realities of torture in eastern Ukraine and what the international community could be doing to stop this crime.
Still in Europe, our most popular blog this month focused on the possible fallout human rights organisations in Europe could expect with the recent changes in the European Parliament.
To give a full and fair perspective on the possible changes, we spoke with IRCT Advocacy Advisor Elena Zacharenko, based in the IRCT’s European Affairs Office, who outlined the main changes in the european political landscape and speculated how these alterations may impact on the priorities of human rights organisations.
It seems like a long time ago already when hundreds of human rights groups united around the world to campaign for the end of torture.
However it was only last month when thousands of people across the globe voiced their support and solidarity for victims of torture and condemned the practice of torture perpetrated in a variety of contexts.
The main theme for the 26 June campaign was #NoMoreImpunity, a theme replicated across all the IRCT materials for the day – many of which are viewable in the photo blog summarising the highlights of the day.
Since April we have been publicising ten hard-hitting, insightful, harrowing stories from female survivors of torture and sexual violence of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
Twenty years after the genocide these brave women, and many more throughout Rwandan, are still seeking therapy and justice. But it is thanks to the provision of therapy that many of these women are overcoming their past.
We focused on ten stories over the exact 100 day period of the genocide, each with a different theme and experience. All of the stories are featured in the IRCT’s latest publication of Torture Journal, which you can read in full here.
July signalled a positive step towards the global fight against impunity with Sweden adopting a new law which grants them international jurisdiction to try perpetrators of torture, no matter how historic the cases of torture may be.
The law, which is expected to be expanded upon once more in January 2015, was welcomed by the IRCT as a positive step in assuring victims of torture receive justice and redress for their torture.
The IRCT also wishes to congratulate the Swedish Red Cross who were instrumental in assuring this law was possible.
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In May 2009, Sri Lankan government forces seized the last Tamil Tiger controlled area of the country, signalling an end to 25 years of violent conflict. Despite this, bitterness still remains in the country today and while the civil war has been declared over, Sri Lanka still contains a vast number of war veterans and victims who seek rehabilitation from their trauma.
Adding to this is poverty – poverty not only caused by the conflict, but also due to the high frequency of natural disasters which seem to doom Sri Lanka, the latest incident being the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed the lives of 40,000 people.
To relieve the mental stress of those who have been reduced to poverty because of the conflict and natural disasters, IRCT member Survivors Associated (SA) was established in 1996 alleviate the distress felt by thousands across the country.
Initially Survivors Associated sought to conduct psychosocial development activities at grass roots level in conflict areas. By attending to their economic, social and health needs, self-confidence could be instilled and a route for victims of war to attain their social aspirations could be highlighted.
The work of Survivors Associated now extends across the majority of the country and has broadened its focus once more, now aiming to cure the poverty – and the vulnerabilities to torture which poverty brings – caused by natural disasters.
In particular, Survivors Associated emphasises the importance of treating marginalised groups, such as female torture survivors, disabled war veterans, and children. Through community based holistic care, rehabilitation, education, economic empowerment and peace building, it is hoped victims of trauma in Sri Lanka can overcome their past.
The close ties Survivors Associated has built with the communities it works with has formed a solid foundation for building ethnic harmony in the country. Some recent positive developments include establishing creative therapy groups for women and children, group therapy programmes including a range of participants, and educational courses essential to many for living including cooking, woodwork, and weaving.
Through their work, Survivors Associated hopes Sri Lanka can continue to unite, move past their past and, ultimately, evolve as a nation.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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)
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.