Archive for March, 2012

Penalties and Punishments of Yesteryear?

A pillory. One of the items for sale

A pillory: 500€

Next Tuesday, 3 April, if you happen to pass by 11, rue Berryer, in Paris, you might be confronted with a display of torture instruments, for sale!

The auction house Cornette de Saint Cyr will be presenting, among the more than 300 objects and documents, a few sets of handcuffs, a hand crusher, and hanging ropes.

The collection belonged to Fernand Meyssonnier, France’s last executioner, who carried out nearly 200 executions in French-ruled Algeria.

Several human rights organisations already expressed their disagreement with the sale, denouncing the “commercialisation of torture”, and called on the French state to put a halt to the sale, if necessary by buying the lot for national museums.

What those behind the auction house may not know is that torture is at the moment a widespread practice in the majority of the countries. If they had known this they probably wouldn’t have accepted to carry out the sale, and they certainly wouldn’t have called the event “Penalties and Punishments of Yesteryear”.

 

Fabio is a Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal at IRCT.

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Torture in Brazil: what changed in a decade?

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) recently visited several Brazilian penitentiary and police institutions, as well as detention facilities for children and juveniles in the states of Espírito Santo, Goiás, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Four months after the visit, its confidential preliminary observations were presented to the Brazilian government.

At the time of the visit, President Dilma Rousseff, a torture survivor herself, was being pressed to get on with a national mechanism to fight torture. This mechanism is based on the recommendations by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, following his visit to Brazil in 2000. His report pointed out the need to end the Brazilian cultural tolerance to torture and highlighted the poor treatment of prisoners in “massively overcrowded” police jails.

Nearly a decade on, the 2009 UNCAT report again raised concern about the systematic practice of torture in Brazil along with “endemic overcrowding, filthy conditions of confinement, extreme heat, light deprivation and permanent lock-ups”. Earlier reports also highlighted the inefficiency of police investigations and to the extreme impunity that prevails in the country, to which judges contributed by ignoring the law defining crimes of torture. According to Conectas, a human rights organisation, the Brazilian government admits a serious problem of torture in the country and admits its own fault in failing to produce systematic data on this abuse.

Many things have changed in Brazil in the past decade. Most notably the consolidation of its status as a global economic power and the outstanding poverty reduction that came with it. While in 2003, 36% of Brazil’s population lived below the national poverty line, that rate fell to 21% in 2009. Torture is, in fact, a cause and effect of poverty. Does this mean we can hope for positive signals in the SPT report? We shall see. That is, if Brazil decides to make the SPT recommendations public.

In the spirit of transparency, which should be a cornerstone of any detention system, we call on the Brazilian government to do so.

Fabio is a Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal at IRCT.

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‘Torture’ advert mocks survivors’ experiences

I’m much too late in seeing this ad, but recently, a World Without Torture supporter e-mailed us a link to an atrocious advert from Woolite, a laundry detergent company.

‘Don’t let detergents torture your clothes’ says Woolite, a subsidiary of Reckitt Benckiser, in an advertisement that mocks the experiences of torture and takes the misuse of this term to a tragic low.

This statement follows several scenes of a masked man, trudging through muddy paths, pulling a jumper on a Medieval style stretcher, and dipping other clothes into boiling water. You can watch the full 30-second commercial below.

Directed by famed musician, director, and horror film enthusiast Rob Zombie, the commercial is at best, gimmicky and tacky, and at worst, reveals a disturbing lack of awareness of the reality of torture. Despite using motifs and torture methods associated with the middle ages, the reality is that torture is still used today – more than 90% of countries around the world use torture, estimates international torture experts.

Most significantly, it’s likely that a torture survivor would actually see this ad. Up to a third of asylum seekers to European and North American countries – such as the U.S. where this commercial was targeted – have been tortured. Re-traumatisation of the torture victim, who happens upon this ad during a seemingly banal evening of TV viewing, is among the possibilities of such callous usages of the term ‘torture.’

Regardless, while the misuse of the term torture (as we previously wrote about) is degrading the reality of torture victims experiences, this ad takes this many steps too far. The Woolite ad makes it seem as if torture only occurred during the middle ages, a part of uncivilized history, rather than a current problem; and then cruelly demonstrating torture to sell… laundry detergent. Woolite should be ashamed.

Have you seen any other videos, advertisements or commercials like this, that use the torture experience to sell things? If so, please send them to us.

Tessa works in the IRCT’s Communication Team.

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Human rights defenders take on investigations in Russia

In Russia, justice for victims of torture may be hard to find, but human rights defenders – like those at the Committee Against Torture – work together to ensure the government can’t ‘soft-pedal’ on the cases

Editor’s note: This is the second post in an ongoing series from Russian member centre Committee Against Torture on their use of a Joint Mobile Group to investigation human rights violations, such as torture. See the first post here.

 

 

The first time Committee Against Torture used a Joint Mobile Group (JMG) method was in January 2005 in Blagoveschensk, Bashkiria. The creation of the JMG was triggered by a report about a massive human rights violation in that Bashkirian town. At that moment, we learnt that according to preliminary estimates, more than 300 Blagoveschensk district residents had been unlawfully detained and ill-treated by officers of the Blagoveschensk Department of Internal Affairs and Special Police Task Force (OMON).

Local human rights NGOs were obviously lacking resources to provide legal assistance to all victims. Having assessed the severity and scale of unlawful violence, several human rights NGOs simultaneously decided to send their representatives to Bashkiria. The task was to conduct a public investigation within the shortest term possible and gather proof of human rights violations.

The situation in Blagoveschensk was aggravated by the fact that law enforcement agencies were trying to conceal the crime, and later, when that became impossible due to wide publicity, to justify law enforcers’ actions and diminish the scale of the crime. Interior Ministry representatives called their action a raid which had been allegedly triggered by a sharp increase in the number of crimes in that Bashkirian district. The regional prosecutor refused to register crime reports. The district municipal authority also contributed to stalling the investigation – it turned off the electricity and central heating in the community centre where the meeting between human rights defenders and victims was to take place.

Members of the Bashkirian representation of inter-regional NGO Committee against Torture

Nevertheless, the JMG succeeded in its task. In the space of five days, JMG lawyers questioned dozens of victims, obtained medical records describing injuries, and identified and questioned eye-witnesses. Thus, it did the job that should have been done by prosecutorial investigators in accordance with law.

All materials collected were submitted to investigative authorities together with crime reports. Simultaneously, the results of JMG activities were covered in local and federal mass media. The Prosecutor’s Office had nothing else to do but instigate criminal proceedings and start an investigation.

Human rights defenders monitoring the official investigation progress and representing victims faced numerous obstacles. However, the evidence collected by the JMG did not allow the authorities to soft-pedal the case. It reached the court, and a number of Bashkirian police officers were found guilty of grave crimes.

Lessons from Bashkirian

The Blagoveschensk experience demonstrated the high efficiency and potential of the JMG approach. The skills and methodology developed there were later improved and used in other Russian regions. Joint Mobile Groups were formed to investigate grave and systematic human rights violations in Tver region, Stavropolsky and Krasnodarsky krays, Chechen republic and Republic of Chuvashia. Each time employees of the Interregional Committee Against Torture took active part in JMGs as representatives of the only Russian NGO professionally using the public investigation method.

One of the most high-profile cases investigated by the JMG is the so-called Sochi OMON case. The JMG worked in the Lazarevsky district of Sochi, where, in July 2006, Special Police Task Force officers had carried out “an action of vengeance” in response to their colleague’s defeat in a mere fight that had taken place in a seaside café. The retaliatory blow hit several dozens of people. OMON officers with all their ammunition arrived at Nizhneye Makopse where they detained and ill-treated more than 30 people who by chance found themselves in the unfortunate café. Among the victims there were local residents, Druzhba Children’s Camp staff and vacationers from other cities.

Within two to three days the Committee Against Torture formed a JMG consisting of representatives of Nizhny Novgorod, Mariy El and Krasnodarsky Kray human rights NGOs. For three weeks, JMG lawyers thoroughly investigated the incident and gathered the required evidence, working alongside Regional Prosecutor’s Office investigators. The joint effort of the JMG and prosecutorial staff resulted not only in collection of proof of the crime, but also identification of specific officials involved in it. The investigation led to the instigation of criminal proceedings, while 35 people were acknowledged victims. Following the investigation, the case went to court and ended in the conviction of eight OMON agents, including commanders, each of whom was sentenced to long-term imprisonment.

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A rotten debate in the state of Denmark

Both former Prime Minister (and current Secretary-General of NATO) Anders Fogh Rasmussen and current Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt have publicly stated their support for the use of information obtained through torture, despite its prohibition in the UN Convention against Torture, to which Denmark has ratified. Left photo by Jose Sena Goulao, and right photo by Arbeiderpartiet; both available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

The Danish debate on torture has continued this week since our first post on the matter. And it has revealed a disturbing level of acceptance of torture at all levels of society – from the general public to heads of state – within this Scandinavian nation.

While many are retracting and doubling-back on public statements, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has agreed* that Denmark may use information obtained through the use of torture.

Earlier this week, journalists asked Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish Prime Minister and current Secretary-General of NATO, about his opinion on the debate – should Denmark use information obtained through torture by third-parties? Despite all NATO states having ratified the UN Convention against Torture, which clearly prohibits this practice, Rasmussen invoked the faulty “ticking bomb” argument and stated that it may be a necessary practice to fight terrorism.

IRCT Secretary-General Brita Sydhoff found that abhorrent.

“This is nonsense. In your position, you really should know better than this, Mr Rasmussen. Courts around the world know it. Intelligence services know it. The armies in many countries deplore its use. Torture is counterproductive, harmful and it creates victims who often suffer for a lifetime. Torture solves nothing.

“While the “ticking bomb” scenario continues to be invoked in such arguments, it has, countless times been discredited [PDF].

“Moreover, torture is illegal. At all times. In all places. The use of information obtained through torture is also illegal under the terms of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which Denmark along with all other NATO countries, has ratified.

“If you don’t understand the Convention, or the rationale behind it, I, and my colleagues throughout our worldwide movement of 150 rehabilitation centres in over 70 countries, can help you. Our doors are always open to you for dialogue. They can also show your our work with survivors of this deplorable act.”

Everyone has begun weighing in. Danish Conservative Party spokesman Tom Benke stated that Denmark’s police force should be ready to use torture if necessary. He later amended this statement.

Shockingly – and most disappointingly –  these state officials are not alone in this opinion. A Gallup poll this week found only 57% of Danes say torture should never be used to obtain information. In 2004, 68% of Danes agreed with that statement; this is a disturbing trend, but not so surprising given the mixed messages coming from those in positions of power.

*Note: Almost all links are in Danish.

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From our members: When human rights defenders continue the fight

Editor’s Note: This will be the first post in an ongoing series featuring the work of our 140+ member centres around the world in more than 70 countries. It’s in these centres, from Argentina to The Philippines, where the fight against torture is most direct – where victims are treated for their physical and psychological wounds, where testimonies are first heard, and where healing begins.

Human rights defenders often face grave dangers for those who investigate violations, such as torture, committed by the state. In the upcoming weeks, IRCT member centre Committee Against Torture, a Russian interrregional NGO, will be updating us on their work with the Joint Mobile Group. The group, coordinated from NGOs and human rights defenders from across Russia, joined together to investigate the human rights violations, including torture and enforced disappearances, in Chechnya. They describe it as follows:

Working in the framework of the Joint Mobile Groups (JMG) is one of the ways to conduct a public investigation into grave human rights violations. We must admit that this type of activity is, in fact, induced, as it requires extraordinary organizational resources and funding.  Therefore, it is used only in the context of large scale or systematic violations, when the region featuring such violations: 1) lacks human rights NGOs capable of conducting a professional public investigation on their own; or 2) when due to the large scale of violations local NGOs do not have the capacity to conduct such an investigation; or 3) when involvement of local human rights defenders into such investigations might pose a real threat to their lives, health and security, or that of their families.

When at least one of these conditions is present, establishing a JMG is basically the only way to effectively fight unlawful violence and seek redress for victims.

The Joint Mobile Group was awarded the 2011 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders At Risk. This video, explains why:

In a second video, Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Joint Mobile Group, speaks about how the international attention and, specifically, the award from Front Line has impacted their work: “Because the authorities there, having realised that it is not possible to scare us away, have started to treat us with total indifference. That is, they still try to frighten the Chechen human rights activists and control them in some way, but with us, they simply pretend that we’re not there.”

Check out the website of Committee Against Torture here, where they have several news stories in English on the work of the Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya. Visit us next week to read more about their work.

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Denmark may use information obtained through torture

Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal had to step back from comments he made promising that the Danish state would never use information from torture. As such, the status quo remains, and Denmark's intelligence services may use such information. Photo available through Creative Commons license, via Flickr.

Information obtained through torturing suspects in other countries will from now on be banned in investigations undertaken by Danish authorities,” said Danish Foreign Minister, Villy Søvndal, in an interview on Sunday morning to national Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende.

The very same evening, Søvndal retracted this in a joint statement with the Danish Minister for Justice, Morten Bødskov in which they stated that Danish authorities must be able to exchange information with countries that “use methods of interrogation that may contradict Danish principles of justice” – in other words information that has been obtained via torture.

Under Denmark’s former government, the Danish police intelligence unit (PET) was permitted to use information obtained through torture under the guise of anti-terror policies.

For a brief moment, following Søvndal’s statement, it seemed that this policy would come to an end, However, the withdrawal of Søvndal’s initial statement leaves Denmark with the status quo whereby information obtained by torture can be used in investigation procedures by the Danish authorities.

Denmark has often been described as a country at the forefront in the fight against torture, not least because the Danish founder of IRCT, and it’s local member centre the RCT, Inge Genefke, devoted her life to fight this horrific practice.

Today, the hypothetical “ticking bomb” scenario, a fantasy of Hollywood movies, was recited in Danish newspapers as an argument in support of the use of torture. The legal spokesman from the Danish Conservative Party, Tom Behnke, said: “If the intelligence unit from a rogue state informs the Danish police intelligence unit (PET) that a terror attack has been planned against the Danish Opera then PET, of course, has to be able to use this information”.

The anti-torture movement has countered the “ticking bomb” scenario with facts and good reason countless times. It should be commonly understood by now, especially among high-level politicians, that information obtained through torture is completely and utterly unreliable. The pain and suffering that torture inflicts upon a person will make him/her say anything to end the pain; additionally, the anguish and distress during the torture disrupts a persons’ sense of reality and truth so that the victim cannot differentiate between the two, as Danish IRCT member centre RCT also stated today.

Accepting information obtained through torture effectively legitimises the regimes around the world that maintain their grip on power and terrorise their populations through the use of torture. To give a current high-profile example, it is tantamount to legitimising Assad’s Syria.

If any thing good can be said about this developing news story, it is that a renewed debate on Denmark’s slippery position on the use of torture has gained the renewed interest of the public. In case people didn’t know before, they know now: yes, Danish authorities may accept evidence obtained through torture. And yes, this contradicts the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT), to which Denmark is a signatory. Should there be doubts about the applicability of this particular debate, Article 15 specifically stipulates that:

Each State Party shall ensure that any statement, which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings.”

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Women at the frontline in the fight against torture

Today, on International Women’s Day (8 March), we wish to join the worldwide movement to honour women as human rights defenders. Women from all over the world, including at our 140+ member centres in over 70 countries, work at the frontline in the fight against torture. These women lobby national governments, head human rights inter-governmental bodies, work in rehabilitating torture survivors, and are often survivors of torture themselves.

At World Without Torture, we would like to honour these women by providing a platform for their stories today. Please share these stories to honour not only their work, but the hundreds of thousand of women human rights defenders worldwide.

What do we do with what others have done to us?

Brazilian psychologist and human rights activist Vera Vital Brasil knows from experience what she is talking about when she tells about her years of work with torture victims.

As a student at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in the late ’60s, Vera participated actively in the student movement, a major focus of resistance to Brazil’s military dictatorship. Because of her activism, in 1969, she was arrested and tortured on the premises of the notorious DOI-CODI, the Destacamento de Operações de Informações – Centro de Operações de Defesa Interna in Rio de Janeiro. After three months in prison, Vera left Rio for exile in Chile. Her exile lasted six years and upon her return to Brazil, she was determined to try to turn the wrongs that others done to her into something good.

“What do we do with what others have done to us? Internalize this tormenting experience or fight to stop this happening again? I chose the latter,” she says about her involvement with victims of torture through clinical work.

In 1982, Vera joined other former political prisoners living in Rio de Janeiro against the appointment of people responsible for torture during the dictatorship. This initiative eventually led a group of former political prisoners, torture survivors and relatives of dead and missing people to found the Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais (GTNM/RJ, which in English stands for Never More Torture Group) in 1985, which, in 1991, started providing medical and psychological treatment and physical rehabilitation to victims of torture.

Throughout these years, her personal experience and dedication to other victims have convinced her that the trauma caused by torture can never be completely overcome but must be addressed through clinical treatment and proper redress.

“The damage caused by torture is accentuated if it is ignored, if there is no justice, or no redress. The fact that the state, which should guarantee and protect human life, is the agent of violence has a devastating effect on people’s psychological well-being. Our clinical practice is insufficient to cure this damage. But we can try to get people who have gone through this harrowing experience to feel better and give another meaning to this suffering, shifting it from a personal and private level to the collective and historical level, “she says.

Read Vera Brasil’s full story here.

Giving a voice to the victims

“You try to channel revenge through peaceful channels, you know, campaigning, publishing, providing legal consultation, providing legal aid, taking the person to court, accompanying the person throughout this process,” says Dr. Aida Seif El Dawla.

Dr. Seif El Dawla, founding member, psychiatrist, and human rights defender at Egyptian centre El Nadeem, was awarded the 2011 Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders.

For nearly two decades at the El-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, she has worked with countless victims of torture. When the Egyptian clinic began in 1993, Seif El Dawla and the other founders wanted to provide psychological services to the survivors of torture and their families. They sought other like-minded organisations – medically-based NGOs that served the psycho-social needs of victims of violence – to model their new clinic. Soon they realised that focusing simply on the psychological rehabilitation neglected the social and political aspects that allowed the crimes to continue – the victims’ access to justice and seeking the prevention of torture.

“Many of the people who come don’t really want to have a psychological assessment,” she says. “I realised that those people aren’t really patients in the classic sense of patients. They have responded very normally to an extremely abnormal situation.”

El-Nadim not only had to treat the psychological consequences of torture, but provide their clients with access to medical doctors to treat the physical wounds. In addition, many survivors came to the clinic with a need to channel their anger, humiliation, and helplessness into bringing their perpetrators to justice, bringing the crimes to light.

When the image of Khaled Said’s face appeared in the newspapers, bruised and beaten, Seif El Dawla had seen it all before. Said’s image ignited change. The people of Egypt have become fed up with a broken system and a police force that tortures, carries out arbitrary arrests, and falsifies forensic reports, she says.

“Already before the 25th of January people had enough of this kind of violence. They had enough. And it’s not a coincidence that the first targets of the people when they revolted were the police stations, all over, because there isn’t a governor, there isn’t a city, where there isn’t a family who has lost somebody to a police station or who has a relative who was abused or humiliated in a police station. So, it was already boiling. Now, people are not willing to take it anymore.”

Read Dr. Seif El Dawla’s full story here. And, see the short film on the Khaled Said case, which features her in an interview.

A voice for the torture victims in Ecuador

During her medicine studies in the late eighties, Yadira Narvaez was unexpectedly transferred from a neurological clinic, where she worked as an intern, to the medical department of a male prison.

The unwanted transfer was a punishment for her habit of wearing trousers. “My superior said that if what I wanted was to look like a male, I should be as close as possible to men”, she remembers. The experience became one of the most transformative events in Forensic Doctor Yadira Narvaez’s life. “It was a striking experience: there I learned the difference between being alive and dead”.

While working at the medical department of that prison, where approximately 1,500 men served their sentences, she discovered the real meaning of the word torture. “By then, I really didn’t know what torture meant and what it could do to people”. Dr Narvaez‘s placement at the prison ended after 18 months but has led to decades of dedication to the treatment and protection of torture survivors and prisoners.

Two years after the end of the “punishment”, Dr Narvaez decided to go back to work in the same prison, this time, of her own free will. She went on to also work in the treatment of female detainees at another penal institution. Being a witness of the suffering caused by a lack of respect for human rights made Dr Narvaez realise that she needed to do something to try to protect prisoners and to assist torture survivors.

To address the problem on a national level, Dr Narvaez helped found the Foundation for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (in short PRIVA) in 1997. In addition to denouncing torture in Ecuador, PRIVA focuses on the prevention and eradication of torture and the care of torture victims and their families.

“Like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream: that one day in my country all individuals who, for any reason come into contact with the penal system have their rights respected, have the right to be heard and the right to justice,” says the 52-year old doctor. “And torture victims need access to rehabilitation services to recover at least part of the health lost due to arbitrary practices by state agents. In addition, torture survivors need to be assured that these violations will not continue so that they can go on to live without fear”.

Read Dr. Narvaez’s full story here.

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Taking the Istanbul Protocol forward

Creating national plans for documenting torture – and UN monitoring of it – is hopefully the next stage for IRCT’s work with the Istanbul Protocol

A main impediment for torture victims to access justice is their lack of access to have physical and mental trauma documented by qualified medical experts. Without such evidence, cases are often dismissed without trial and the victims branded as lacking credibility.

Simply, for torture victims to take a case forward and for perpetrators to be held accountable, victims need access to documentation of their trauma provided by qualified experts.

For more than 10 years, the IRCT and key partner organisations have been working on ensuring effective access for all torture victims to a competent, independent and impartial medical/psychological examination of their trauma. This has mainly been done through promotion of the Istanbul Protocol, the UN-recognised standard and guide on documenting torture.

For example, through the IRCT’s collaboration with key forensic scientists, we have been able to use the Istanbul Protocol in key torture cases, such as with Khaled Said in Egypt.

One aspect of this work is to ensure that international and regional human rights mechanisms promote Istanbul Protocol implementation when they discuss human rights implementation with States. Last week in Geneva, two important events revitalised our belief that this ambitious objective can actually be achieved.

On Friday, Human Rights Foundation Turkey, Physicians for Human Rights, REDRESS and the IRCT co-hosted a meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and several of her staff to kick off the drafting of an action plan for national implementation of the Istanbul Protocol.

This plan, which will be developed in consultation with experts from across the globe, will set the framework for future activities aimed at building national systems for documenting torture. The plan, based on 10 years of experience and learning by the stakeholders, will tackle such issues as legal reform, raising awareness of professionals – such as immigrations officials and judges – that come in contact with torture victims,  and monitoring and quality control. This will set the policy framework for much more concerted efforts on Istanbul Protocol implementation in the years to come. In this regard it was particularly encouraging to hear the strong support from the high commissioner herself, Navi Pillay, who has taken a very implementation-focused approach to her mandate.

With a strong implementation framework in the pipeline, the IRCT has worked actively to ensure that UN human rights monitoring mechanisms make strong and targeted recommendations on torture documentation to States.

The latest of these activities took place the day before the meeting with the High Commissioner. Here, two colleagues and I participated in a discussion with the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture on how strengthen its torture documentation recommendations to States. The dialogue was based on a discussion paper developed by the IRCT where we set out a wide range of concrete initiatives that can be recommended to States wishing to improve torture victims’ access to documentation. The intention was to initiate a process of reflection among the SPT members on how they can advance their work in these areas. It was therefore very encouraging to see the level of engagement from many SPT members and the subsequent decision for the SPT medical group to further consider the discussion paper.

Having worked for five years on Istanbul Protocol implementation, it is very encouraging to see these developments taking place at a fairly rapid pace, and it generates renewed energy to move forward with the next initiatives. This will include a combination of international policy initiatives and concrete analysis of access to torture documentation in individual countries.

 

By Asger, IRCT’s Legal Officer and Geneva representative

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New treaty would empower child survivors of torture

School children rally against torture in Sierra Leone with IRCT member Community Association for Psychosocial Services (CAPS). The new treaty creates a mechanism for children to bring their complaints of human rights violations, such as torture, before an international body.

Tuesday, the new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child opened for signature. The treaty will create an international complaints mechanism for children who have experienced human rights violations – the last of the core human rights instruments to gain a complaints procedure.

Importantly, the first 10 states to ratify it will be decisive actors in bringing the mechanism alive, since it will enter into force upon the 10th ratification. This post is an encouragement and tribute to the States that will take the lead in implementing this crucial measure for the enhancement of children’s rights worldwide.

When entered into force, children or their representatives will be able to bring complaints of human rights violations before a committee of international experts, when and if domestic courts fail to remedy violations. This is a major step towards strengthening the rights of the child, and giving children a status as equal rights-holders to adults.

However, is it justifiable and reasonable to make children go through an international complaints procedure for alleged human rights violations? Especially when the process of going through judicial procedures includes a high risk of re-traumatisation? It is genuinely difficult even for adults to overcome the psychological pressure involved in such a procedure, where the victim is required to often continuously re-tell the traumatic event and alleged violation is continuously discussed and requiring for explanations and re-telling the story.

While this holds true, and we can all agree that no child should ever be forced to undergo such procedure without full consent and awareness of the implications of doing so, we must not forget that children, just like adults, are survivors rather than victims and that bringing the wrongs committed against them to justice is crucial for the protection of their rights and future well-being.

In working on IRCT’s project on children and torture, it has become clear that where national complaints mechanisms are ineffective or non-existent, tortured children are left unable to seek redress. Furthermore, we have seen cases where children who are tortured have had to face their perpetrator in court. As a result, they are subjected to repercussions and threats from their perpetrators not to file a complaint.

We must take this opportunity to expose the horrific practice of child torture by bringing it to the international level. We encourage States to sign the Optional Protocol for the CRC, as to provide this much-needed mechanism for children to take up their rights and find justice for the crimes perpetrated against them.

Please see the IRCT’s press release calling on states to sign the Optional Protocol to the CRC here.

Line, a sociologist specialising in human rights, implements the research project on children and torture in Asia.

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