2014 in review

With 2014 coming to an end, we at World Without Torture reflect on a selection of the stories which we have covered over the past year.

We have published a lot of blogs this year so the list is by no means exhaustive, but please feel free to add your additions in the comments.

As the stories show, the past year has encountered tragedies and challenges as well as celebrations and milestone achievements across the globe. Through all of this, your support and participation in the fight to ensure human rights is something that we appreciate and value tremendously.

We look forward to seeing you in 2015 and wish you a very happy New Year.

Staff at CVT

10 questions (and answers) about torture rehabilitation

How do victims overcome the trauma from torture? Or the physical sequelae left by brutal methods of torture? In this blog we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about torture rehabilitation and its effects on torture victims.

‘Wheel of Torture’ shows just how prevalent torture is in the Philippines

The game of the ‘Wheel of Torture’ is simple: a prison guard takes a detainee from his or her cell, escorts them to a roulette-style wheel listing different methods of torture, and spins the wheel to determine just how much pain should be inflicted on the prisoner. Read the full story here.

Psychosocial Support – survivor story

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we focused on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself. In the days leading up to 10 December, we published four stories from survivors of torture who all had received psychosocial support in their fight for justice. This is the story about Randy from the Phillipines.

Doctors who do harm. What will happen to those who designed the torture methods?

This story is more relevant than ever after a US Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogations revealed that two psychologists were heavily involved with the now notorious interrogation program. Not only were the two men the chief architects of the torture techniques used by CIA staff — one of them even admitted that he waterboarded terrorism suspects.
Read the full blog here.

One Rwandan Genocide survivor tells how rehabilitation helped her overcome her torture

As part of our campaign to mark 20 years since the Rwandan genocide came to an end, we shared the testimonies of ten brave women. You can find extracts of all the stories on our blog or you can click on this link to read more about how Germaine overcame torture.

Fighting torture and impunity on the dental chair

Increasingly sophisticated methods and unusual practices join the fight against torture and impunity. In this blog we looked at the dentists who specialised in forensic dentistry, putting their expertise at the use of legal enforcement, and, in some cases, in the fight against torture and impunity. Read more about their work here.

Staging a resistance to the act of torture

An Italian organisation is using theatre to help refugees and torture survivors overcome their experiences, build their self-esteem and teach them valuable new skills. The event was one of the many in this year’s 26 June campaign. Read more about their event here.

The Sound of Torture

Listening to music is often aligned with positivity, healing and relaxation. But what if the music plays to ears who do not want to listen? What if the repetition, the volume, or the content of the music is too much for the listener? Can music be used as a method of control or coercion?

War did not prepare Vaja for torture in a Georgian prison

While Vaja’s psychological trauma was obvious, physical torture was not apparent throughout the war or its aftermath. Four-and-a-half years in a Georgian prison changed that. Read more about Vaja here.

What the bones remember: Doctors from IRCT partner PCATI share their experiences of documenting torture

Detecting signs of torture, often years after they have been caused, can be a tough task. However, due to advancing techniques in medical documentation of torture, physicians are able to establish the injuries inflicted by torture and the best methods of rehabilitation. Three physicians from IRCT partner Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) share their experiences.

On the Forefront: The journey of CVT from local US campaigning to a global movement

Since founding in 1985, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) has rehabilitated over 24,000 torture survivors, provided healing programmes for people affected by torture and violent conflict, implemented community building projects in the aftermath of some of the world’s deadliest wars, and pioneered research into torture rehabilitation and prevention. Read more about the centre here.

IRCT marks 40 years of anti-torture movement with a special event in Copenhagen

With poetry readings, musical sessions, creative writing performances from two brave torture survivors, and the presentation of the Inge Genefke Award, the IRCT’s 8 April event in Copenhagen was certainly a colourful celebration of the 40 years of the anti-torture movement initiated by Danish doctor and human rights defender Inge Genefke. You can read the full story here.

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Human Rights Day 2014: Psychosocial Support in Focus

Today people and organisations around the world come together to celebrate one of the most important days in the human rights calendar, the international Human Rights Day.

Commemorating the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this is an occasion to shine a light on pressing human rights issues.

To mark this year’s Human Rights Day, the IRCT has decided to highlight a key area within torture rehabilitation — psychosocial support in legal proceedings — by launching the report ‘In Pursuit of Justice’.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation.

Sadly, for various reasons many of them never make it to the courtroom.

Fear of reprisals and re-traumatisation, no belief in the justice system and fear of stigmatisation from community or family members are some of the factors dissuading victims of torture from participating in legal proceedings against their perpetrators.

Yet, for those who do have their case heard, a trial is often an emotionally painful process during which victims re-visit traumatic memories. Many of them still suffer from the impact of torture even years after the event, needing constant support from health and legal professionals to prevent re-traumatisation.

The report on psychosocial support has been launched

The report on psychosocial support has been launched

By offering victims of torture specialised psychosocial support and access to justice programmes, centres can help them overcome the psychological burden of a trial while enhancing the therapeutic impact of justice on the individual’s rehabilitation.

Psychosocial support can also strengthen the overall quality and effectiveness of the legal process. A traumatised torture victim who testifies at trial without support runs a greater risk of providing a poorly prepared testimony that may impact negatively on their case by providing the court with unclear or contradictory information.

The consequences can be devastating. The victim may never see the perpetrator brought to justice and impunity is likely to encourage perpetrators to continue their violations.

With this in mind, it is hard to argue against the importance of psychosocial support in legal proceedings and it is easy to assume that this kind of support is offered to victims of torture.

Unfortunately, that is far from the case. Lack of psychosocial support in legal proceedings remains a problem – a problem that currently receives little attention.

With the launch of the report, the IRCT hopes to raise awareness about psychosocial support in legal proceedings and there is no better time to do this than on the international Human Rights Day.

We hope you will join us in voicing our support for the victims of torture and their pursuit of justice. Any torture victim deserves to find justice and psychosocial support in legal proceeding can help them achieve this.

The report is now available for download at www.irct.org.

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In pursuit of justice – Catherine from The Democratic Republic of Congo

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

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Catherine’s experience with the police derailed her intentions to prosecute. 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

In our fourth and final survivor story, we meet Catherine from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Catherine thought she could depend on the police to investigate the rape of her daughter in March 2014. Instead, Catherine was beaten, threatened and witnessed the arrest of her husband as punishment for her complaints. The rapist was, as it transpired, a policeman himself. Yet psychosocial support helped her overcome her initial dissuasion and she decided to seek justice.

However, Catherine’s experience with the police derailed her intentions to prosecute. The reprisals, which is commonly a dissuasive factor preventing torture victims pursuing justice, halted the case. As a result, the accused police officer was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

The security concerns Catherine faced were not the only factors dissuading her. Her husband spent two months in prison and lost his job as a result. These traumatic factors made it harder for Catherine to mount a case again. Coupled with the fears of re-traumatisation, Catherine no longer has faith in the police. Frustration with the justice system and fear of facing the perpetrator are reported as two common factors dissuading torture victims from seeking justice.

Catherine expected compensation from the perpetrator of her daughter’s rape and a criminal conviction for the rapist, common expectations motivating torture victims to pursue justice.

Due to the lack of security, neither of these outcomes were achieved. Yet the psychosocial support offered by SAVE CONGO, an IRCT member in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gave Catherine the strength to go through the trial in the first instance and to come to terms with the trauma she, her daughter and her husband face following their torture.

“I took comfort in the support of psychologists from SAVE CONGO,” says Catherine. “I’m not satisfied at the moment because I have not received any compensation from the perpetrator.

“As an impoverished torture survivor, the cost of private medical care and trial are prohibitive factors which could have stopped me seeking rehabilitation and justice,” Catherine explains, echoing that one of the main reasons torture survivors are dissuaded from going to court is the financial burden it places upon them.

“With SAVE CONGO I’ve been treated by medical doctors, psychologists have visited me and my family to help me overcome my experience and to prepare me for court, and I have been able to participate at a group therapy session at their rehabilitation centre,” Catherine explains.

“I’m grateful for their support, especially as they have limited resources to treat victims of torture.”

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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In pursuit of justice – Christopher from Moldova

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

Christopher spent 20 days in two different police detention settings, being violently beaten. 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

In the third story we meet Christopher from Moldova.

In 2009, Christopher was arrested (together with his friend) while at college. He was taken to the police station by two policemen dressed in civilian clothes, who did not produce any identification.

At the police station, the two were separated. Christopher heard his colleague screaming. After some time, Christopher was taken into the yard, where he was beaten.

Christopher then spent 20 days in two different police detention settings, being violently beaten with rigid objects, fists and feet, over the whole body and over the head including blows to the ears.

He was strangulated for about 2 minutes, was forced to stay in the same position for several hours (at the wall with his hands up and forced not to move; any movement was punished with beatings). He was forced to hold a police shield in his hands while the perpetrators kicked the shield with their feet, causing him pain and humiliation.

Toilet facilities were restricted; with no water for more than 24 hours and food for three days. He was repeatedly transferred (on at least seven occasions) to different police stations in the city centre and surrounding districts, without any explanation. As a result of this ill-treatment, his health significantly worsened and he was eventually hospitalised.

Christopher’s case was referred to RCTV Memoria for medical assistance, documentation of the physical and psychological injuries from the torture and legal review by the centre’s legal advisor.

RCTV offered legal and psychological support to Christopher during the criminal procedure. Throughout the investigation Christopher and his lawyer collaborated with RCTV Memoria’s legal advisor. After the first court hearing, and because of pressure and aggressive behaviour shown by the defendants and their lawyers, the prosecutor investigating the case requested that representatives from RCTV Memoria be present during the trial.

Thanks to RCTV Memoria’s intervention, the trial was monitored by NGOs (RCTV Memoria and the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights) and by journalists. Taking into account the complexity of the case and the inappropriate behaviour shown by the defendants and their lawyers, the case was examined by a panel of three judges. RCTV Memoria’s legal advisor attended three hearings, while RCTV Memoria’s psychotherapist attended four court sessions. The psychotherapist was called as an expert and also monitored Christopher’s health and mental state during the proceedings.

The defence team tried to delay the proceedings and hearings were frequently postponed. Unfortunately, since 2012 this case is still waiting to be heard by the Appeal Court in Chisinau, where only thirteen cases have been heard in the past two years. Meanwhile, the perpetrators are free and still working in the police force.

Christopher’s disappointment at the delays to the Court hearings and lack of justice affect his health, which continues to worsen. He and his family also feel intimidated by the perpetrators. During the last two years, Christopher has continued to receive psychological assistance, because of depression and other trauma consequences.

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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Creating a world without torture: November in review

We round-up our blogs from November 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.

World’s largest collection of documents on torture still a well-kept secret

The Documentation Centre and Library holds the world’s most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects.

Only 15 minutes from Copenhagen’s city centre lies a library that, despite a collection that makes others pale in comparison, remains a well-kept secret.

The Documentation Centre and Library holds the world’s most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects.

The DIGNITY Library holds the world’s most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects.

The DIGNITY Library holds the world’s most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects. In fact, the library boasts more than 40,000 items, ranging from books and articles to journals and images.

Learn more about the DIGNITY library here.

 

‘Body Movement Reconnect’ – Interview with STTARS Survivor

‘Body Movement Reconnect’ is a joint initiative between STTARS and Uniting Care Wesley Bowden

A circus is a show featuring colourful, entertaining and often daring acts. A circus aims to amuse, to entertain and to joke.

And a circus is also a method of rehabilitation.

Despite the fun factor, circus acts and similar physical activities are used by IRCT members to encourage confidence, creativity and cooperation among torture survivors.

One particular example of this is the ‘Body Movement Reconnect’ programme, a joint initiative between Australian member STTARS and the group Uniting Care Wesley Bowden.

Read our full blog here.

 

Human Rights Day 2014: Psychosocial Support in Focus – Randy

Randy 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

In the first survivor story we meet Randy (not his real name) who was arrested, blindfolded, beaten and stabbed. Now twenty-seven years old he is still overcoming his torture for allegedly joining a communist militia in the Philippines. With guidance and support Randy overcame his anger and vengeance. Today, he still seeks legal punishment of the perpetrators.

“I want to get justice. Support through the legal process has helped me locate the people who tortured me. I hope they will one day be punished.”

Read the full story here.

 

Human Rights Day 2014: Psychosocial Support in Focus – Veli

Veli 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

In our second survivor story we meet torture victim, Veli Saçilik whose case progressed into a complex back-and-forth case eventually reaching the European Court of Human Rights.

Veli always hoped for a positive outcome in his case – after all, with his right arm missing, the physical scars are obvious.

It was July 2000 when Veli’s story began. One of 60 prisoners in Burdur Prison, south-west Turkey, Veli tried to defend himself against an onslaught of 415 Turkish state forces who, responding to calls from the Prison Governor, fired tear gas and destroyed the prison with bulldozers to prevent what was portrayed as an internal uprising.

Read more here.

 

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In pursuit of justice – Veli from Turkey

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

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Veli: “I looked through the hole, and I saw a bulldozer outside, breaking the wall. I shouted to him to stop the attack, to stop this treatment of prisoners. And then my right arm was just ripped off.” 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

In our second survivor story we meet torture victim, Veli Saçilik whose case progressed into a complex back-and-forth case eventually reaching the European Court of Human Rights.

Veli always hoped for a positive outcome in his case – after all, with his right arm missing, the physical scars are obvious.

It was July 2000 when Veli’s story began. One of 60 prisoners in Burdur Prison, south-west Turkey, Veli tried to defend himself against an onslaught of 415 Turkish state forces who, responding to calls from the Prison Governor, fired tear gas and destroyed the prison with bulldozers to prevent what was portrayed as an internal uprising.

As Veli tried to defend himself, a bulldozer crushed the wall behind him.

“I looked through the hole, and I saw a bulldozer outside, breaking the wall. I shouted to him to stop the attack, to stop this treatment of prisoners. And then my right arm was just ripped off,” says Veli.

Veli was then held by the security forces where he was beaten and forced to remain without food and water. Hours after the incident, he was transferred to hospital where he received treatment, but his arm was missing and could not be saved.

Veli accessed the services provided by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) where the expert team explained what rights Veli had and the processes he would need to go through.

Undeterred by the lengthy legal process ahead, Veli and the other prisoners lodged a criminal case against the members of the security forces. Veli also lodged a claim for compensation against the government for the loss of his arm.

None of the Turkish authorities were ever charged for causing injury in the attack. However, Veli and the other prisoners’ fight for justice continued and they lodged a case before the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that the actions of the security forces amounted to ill-treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention and that the Turkish authorities had failed to adequately examine their allegations.

Then in March 2005, in relation to Veli’s claim for compensation, a Turkish court ruled that the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior should award Veli 140,000 Euros in compensation.

Receiving monetary compensation is one of the expectations of torture victims when going to court. For Veli, receiving compensation was particularly important to prove the state’s culpability.

“But then the Ministries launched a campaign against the ruling,” Veli explains. Although the compensation awarded by the lower court was paid to Veli, the Ministries lodged an appeal eventually leading to a decision of the higher court in 2008 to quash the compensation payment, thereby condemning Veli to pay back the compensation.

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights gave its ruling in July 2011 in relation to the case brought against the Turkish authorities, noting that Turkish authorities used “systematic, disproportionate and unjustified violence” towards the inmates – in a prison which had seen “no problems or uprisings” – and had therefore violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Support from HRFT has been paramount through this legal wrangling. Veli says: “It has taken a lot of work since the attack to feel right again. This case is still ongoing and reminds me of the events.”

“With the help of the centre, I am being given a space to talk. I expect access to rehabilitation and I am being given that too,” says Veli, recounting two expectations which are incredibly important to victims seeking justice.

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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In pursuit of justice — Randy from the Philippines

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day on 10 December, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

Randy: “There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished." 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

Randy: “There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished.” 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

We start with the testimony of Randy (not his real name) who was arrested, blindfolded, beaten and stabbed. Now twenty-seven years old he is still overcoming his torture for allegedly joining a communist militia in the Philippines. With guidance and support Randy overcame his anger and vengeance. Today, he still seeks legal punishment of the perpetrators.

“I want to get justice. Support through the legal process has helped me locate the people who tortured me. I hope they will one day be punished.”

Randy’s drive to ensure punishment of those who tortured him is not unique. In fact, research conducted across IRCT’s members indicates that seeing punishment for the perpetrator is the top expectation of torture victims, when taking their case to court.

Randy is still overcoming the torture he experienced in April 2010. A suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the military arrested Randy while he prayed at his home in the northern part of the Philippines.

Two soldiers escorted Randy outside and beat him. Then, in sight of Randy’s family, they stabbed him in the hip with a bayonet. Afterwards Randy was blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van. The journey in the van ended at a military camp. There Randy was detained, doused in water and electrocuted.

“I cannot explain the pain I felt,” says Randy. “It felt like my body would explode. I kept pleading for them to stop but they did not listen.

“Instead of being killed, I was tortured and then transferred to a police station. There I was forced to sign a confession that I was a member of the NPA,” says Randy.

It was during this time that IRCT’s member centres – BALAY and the Medical Action Group (MAG) – visited him to show how the State had infringed his rights. Initially Randy did not want to pursue justice. According to IRCT’s members in this report, a lack of knowledge of their rights and legal processes, and fear of reprisals, are some of the most frequent reasons why victims often do not pursue justice.

“Initially I wanted revenge,” says Randy. “I even considered actually joining the New People’s Army to find my torturers and to punish them for what they had done.”

With guidance from BALAY and MAG, Randy’s vengeance subsided and he was encouraged to mount a case, so long as he was in a secure location. Randy’s bail was paid and he was moved to a secure location in Manila.

“The experts who visited me in prison helped me understand how legal proceedings can have positive effects for me and for other torture survivors,” Randy explains. “Filing a case against the soldiers who tortured me was a vital step in my recovery process. I felt the need to file a case not only for me but also for other victims.”

Legal processes can entail trauma – not only must the torture survivor relive their experience in a different setting, but many torture victims find the court’s attitudes regarding care towards the victim is often negative. It is something Randy noticed throughout his court proceedings. “The events are still fresh in my mind. I cannot forget it and I can recall all of the details,” he says.

In 2011, the prosecutor found probable cause in the torture case filed by Randy and released warrants of arrest against the two soldiers. However, by the time the warrants of arrest were released, the two soldiers had been transferred to a different unit. There were several attempts to locate the soldiers to no avail.

Then in 2012 the criminal case filed against Randy came to a resolution. He was sentenced to be imprisoned for three and a half years. The court favoured the soldiers’ testimonies and considered that he had been arrested as part of a legitimate operation. Randy and his relatives’ testimonies were given less credibility and considered inconsistent.

Randy’s lawyer immediately filed a motion to appeal his criminal conviction with the Court of Appeal; the appeal is still pending.

However, the case filed by Randy against the military is currently at a standstill. Although the court sent out warrants of arrest against the two soldiers in 2011, they are still at large.

“There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished,” Randy explains. “I am not satisfied. Developments and updates about the case have been limited and the process is very slow. ”

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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World’s largest collection of documents on torture still a well-kept secret

Only 15 minutes from Copenhagen’s city centre lies a library that, despite a collection that makes others pale in comparison, remains a well-kept secret.

The Documentation Centre and Library holds the world's most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects.

The DIGNITY Library holds the world’s most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects.

The DIGNITY Library holds the world’s most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects. In fact, the library boasts more than 40,000 items, ranging from books and articles to journals and images.

“We probably receive around one hundred new items each month,” says the library’s documentalist, Ion Iacos. “On top of that, we also monitor around 300 bibliographical sources on a regular basis so there is plenty of material for our visitors.”

The DIGNITY Library is open to the public and visitors are very welcome to use its modern facilities.

“We have study areas, media rooms and user terminals that are all free to use,” explains Mr Iacos.

While most visitors are researchers, PhD students or people with a special interest in the anti-torture movement, schoolchildren also stop by to learn about specific areas within human rights and work on assignments.

“We have had 13-year old schoolchildren doing research on child soldiers in Africa. It was great to see how passionate they were about this topic and even better to be able to help them with their research,” says Mr Iacos.

There is no doubt that Mr Iacos himself feels strongly about human rights and that he sees the library as an important resource and knowledge hub for those wanting to do research or simply just learn more about the anti-torture movement.

Having worked there for 15 years, he still enjoys helping visitors find the right material and he hopes to receive even more publications from researchers and authors around the world. After all, as he says, “libraries are all about centralising knowledge and it is a place for you to have your voice heard.”

To find out more about the DIGNITY Library or to book an appointment go to: http://www.reindex.org/RCT/rss/Portal.php

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‘Body Movement Reconnect’ – An interview with a STTARS Survivor

A circus is a show featuring colourful, entertaining and often daring acts. A circus aims to amuse, to entertain and to joke. And a circus is also a method of rehabilitation.

'Body Movement Reconnect' is a joint initiative between STTARS and Uniting Care Wesley Bowden

‘Body Movement Reconnect’ is a joint initiative between STTARS and Uniting Care Wesley Bowden

Despite the fun factor, circus acts and similar physical activities are used by IRCT members to encourage confidence, creativity and cooperation among torture survivors.

One particular example of this is the ‘Body Movement Reconnect’ programme, a joint initiative between Australian member STTARS and the group Uniting Care Wesley Bowden.

With the assistance of trainers at the South Australian Circus Company, this six-month program from February 2014 helped female survivors of torture body awareness, develop social connections, improve fitness and build self-esteem to reduce the impact of chronic pain.

For Katie, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, the STTARS programme restored happiness and a sense of belonging, missing after years of fear during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, her subsequent move to Iran and her experience of rape as a child.

“When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan [in 1979], I was 11 years old. At this time, the Soviet soldiers were catching girls and disappearing with them. They would also come after the young boys taking them in the name of military service,” Katie explains.

“At the time, I didn’t feel that affected because I was young. But I remember many girls disappeared. If you left the house then you could be taken. So we did not leave the house.”

In 1980, Katie and her mother, four sisters, three brothers and grandmother fled to Iran. Her father stayed in Afghanistan to fight. He was killed.

“In Iran, I didn’t go to school. Half of the children did not go to school because of the expense, the rent of the house, and living in a country illegally,” says Katie.

“It was only after we moved that I began to recall trauma I suffered in Afghanistan. I had been lying to people to stop them finding out.”

While bringing a meal to her brother-in-law, Katie was imprisoned in his home and raped.

“I didn’t know anything about being a woman,” Katie says. “I did not know what had happened to me as I passed out. I felt ashamed and embarrassed.”

“It was hard to forget the memories when I was 11 years, but my husband was a good man. We had a beautiful son together, but when my son was five-years-old, he became sick and died. That was the saddest time of my life.”

This culmination of sadness from fleeing Afghanistan and her rape began to takes its toll on Katie.

“My life during those times was coloured with sadness. I came to Australia with hopes for a better life. I was very scared in the beginning. Everybody spoke a foreign language and everything was unknown,” Katie says.

“When I came to STTARS three years ago, I met ladies from my country, it was here that I began to feel safe.”

Katie soon joined the Body Movement Reconnect programme, participating in a range of circus activities accompanied by therapy and group counselling.

After six-months of support from STTARS, Katie feels reinvented.

“For me it was like being with my sisters again, there were women laughing, having fun, exercising. We shared lunch and talked about our countries and background. It always felt like a safe space and I knew the women there understood me and I understood them. I am a strong Afghani woman, and that makes me feel proud.”

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Beyond PTSD: New study reveals pervasiveness of torture effects

Eating, showering and getting dressed. Most of us do these basic activities every day. Many of us also use a phone or some other form of technology on a daily basis and housework and grocery shopping are part of our weekly chores. Performing these and other daily activities come natural to the majority of us, yet for some, even a simple task like brushing your teeth is a daily struggle.

The latest issue of Torture Journal is now online and can be downloaded from the IRCT website.

The latest issue of Torture Journal is now online and can be downloaded from the IRCT website.

A recent study in Denmark has established a link between exposure to torture, trauma and post-migration stress in newly arrived asylum seekers and a decreased ability to perform activities of daily living. The researchers behind the report Activity of Daily Living Performance amongst Danish Asylum Seekers: A cross-sectional study used a number of different measures to first determine the health of 43 asylum seekers and then look at their ability to perform basic everyday tasks. The result showed an overwhelming 62% struggled with completing some of their daily tasks.

Across the world, health professionals often refer to activities of daily living (ADLs) when measuring the functional status of a person. While there is much information on how well individual groups such as the elderly or people with disabilities perform ADLs, no larger studies have addressed ADL issues encountered by traumatised asylum seekers and refugees. Although relatively small, the Danish study is a good indicator of what to expect from future studies addressing this issue.

When it comes to measuring a person’s ability to perform ADLs, it is impossible to ignore their health and well-being. Pain in particular, is an important factor when discussing ADL ability, as it is well documented that persistent pain interferes with a person’s ADL performance and social participation.

In the Danish study, which involved asylum seekers from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, a staggering 72% of the participants reported that they suffered from a pain problem. Alarmingly, most of them had been exposed to torture and many of them showed signs of stress and depression, both of which can contribute to a low ADL score.

Most people arriving in a new country after fleeing war and mass conflict need urgent treatment and rehabilitation to help tackle the trauma and other physical and mental after-effects. Yet, unlike other groups in Denmark that struggle with completing everyday tasks, asylum seekers, tortured or not, do not instantly have access to treatment or rehabilitation.

Many of the specialised rehabilitation centres simply do not offer rehabilitation before the asylum seeker has been granted asylum just as health care and social subsidies remain a privilege for the resident population. Until their pending case is decided and they receive refugee status, asylum seekers only have access to acute medical needs, unless they apply to the Danish Immigration Service for further medical attention.

As the study points out, the right to rehabilitation should in principle be regarded as an obligation to rehabilitate those who are in need. Failing to do so can have far-reaching consequences for traumatised asylum seekers, including social isolation, dependency on others and deteriorating health.

According to the Danish researchers, one way of preventing further loss of ADL ability among traumatised asylum seekers is to provide them with the appropriate rehabilitation upon arrival, and not wait until they have been granted asylum. An argument that is difficult to disagree with when reality is that most asylum seekers have complex health and social care needs that require our immediate attention.

In other words, health impediments that reduce someone’s quality of life must be addressed as soon as possible. After all, something as simple as brushing your teeth should not be a struggle for anyone.

 

To read the latest issue of Torture Journal click here.

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