The greatest threat to the fight against torture is apathy: that we silently accept that torture exists. We’ve created World Without Torture to keep the fight against torture high on the global agenda. World Without Torture has been established by the IRCT (International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) – a global organisation with a membership of more than 140 rehabilitation centres in over 70 countries and with over 25 years' experience. The work of the IRCT is threefold: • Rehabilitation of torture victims and their families • Ensuring victims' access to justice • Eradication of torture Our vision is a world without torture. For more information please visit http://www.irct.org/
Every day thousands of Syrian refugees pour over the borders of Syria and into nearby countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. For many the journey is tough – in fleeing their anxieties in war-torn Syria they often encounter poverty, torture and death.
But for one family, the support they received from IRCT member Centre for Torture Victims (CVT) allowed them to tell their story. Here CVT recount their journey through rehabilitation.
The family, who wish to remain anonymous, left behind a comfortable life in Syria because they were afraid for their lives in the Syrian conflict. Their anxieties came from events they all experienced. The children were terrified by almost everything – the noise from planes, fireworks, and even people. They never went outside to play with other children for fear of being hurt. The parents too were scared – scared for their safety, the safety of their home and the safety of their family.
While the parents remained strong, both had depression and sleeping difficulties. Both were witness to some of the most harrowing scenes in Syria, including violent home searches.
Their small home was destroyed and, to save themselves, the family sought refuge in Jordan. It was to be a move leaving them with no money or shelter. One meal a day between the family of four was all they had.
When the family came to the CVT office, the parents only asked for help for their children. However it was evident that the entire family needed help.
After counselling both the parents and children, their anxieties began to disappear. But it was not until later on in this therapy when the father shared a frightening story he had never told anyone before. He shared an event where he almost lost his life. This experience caused all his physical and emotional symptoms.
In the family home in Syria, government soldiers entered one day and began searching the house. The family were threatened and terrorised before the father was ordered to leave the home. Outside with the soldiers, the father was threatened with death.
Different methods were discussed in front of him and, ultimately, his life was spared. When he returned inside the house the father stayed silent about his experience, and has suffered from nightmares and guilt ever since.
But the support from CVT helped these feelings subside. While these experiences may never be forgotten, the father said that the family felt valued and worthy – something they had not felt for a long time.
Soon the children began to laugh again. They began to play again and this, in turn, eased the anxieties the parents felt.
CVT continues to provide support for the family with counselling. Wounds take time to heal but, thanks to CVT support, this family is able to begin regaining control of their lives.
Rehabilitation, even in a few sessions, can lift the shadow of depression that torture brings.
Story edited by Ashley Scrace, Communications Officer with the IRCT. The original story was written by Laura Takacs and Adrienne Carter, psychotherapist/trainers with CVT Jordan – part of a team of psychotherapists, psychosocial counselors, physiotherapists, social workers and outreach staff and volunteers who travel to refugees unable to access the CVT centre.
Editor’s Note: This is the final blog in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our introduction blog here). See other previous posts in this series here.
I was discussing our work recently with the CEO of a company who are redesigning our website, and he exclaimed: “I don’t know how you deal with all of that on daily basis. I just don’t know”.
As of this month I have been working with SPIRASI for ten years, and I can’t count how many times I have been asked this question, both professionally and personally. It’s a question that I know others who work with asylum seekers grapple with; but it’s also something that over my ten years of being at SPIRASI we have tried, sometimes with limited success, to deal with.
It’s an important distinction, in this work with victims of torture, for me to state that I’m not a clinician. I’m neither a psychologist nor doctor, although I have been asked a good few times if I’m a priest given that we’ve been founded by a religious order called the Spiritans (I’m not). Being a non-clinician does mean that I don’t meet with clients to conduct assessments or therapy sessions. Although I do interact with some of the clients of our centre, it’s often unscheduled and normally from a distance. This distinction in our work is important because it can determine not only the impact of the work, but how the response to that impact is often formulated and how readily you can identify the impact.
I think it’s only natural that on the scale of need in the centre for support that I and other administrative staff are often the lowest on that scale – especially when you are aware of the depth of suffering and despair of our clients and what confronts our clinical team. Before the Peer Support Project, we only really thought of the need to support staff in terms of that front line clinical team and along traditional lines, such as individual supervision for therapists. There is an undeniable and demonstrable need to ensure that therapists, social workers and physicians receive regular supervision and support, but the Peer Support Project has shifted this assumption in our organisation. We now accept the need to provide support to those on that lower and less visible end of the spectrum.
Non-clinical team members are impacted by the work. This impact is often through high levels of stress and some vicarious traumatisation and these needs cannot be ignored by rehabilitation centres. Through the use of the Stress Management Cycle (SMC) that was shared by the Antares Foundation, we now have the ability to approach the stress related to the work in a much more systematic and considered way.
As a result of working daily with victims of torture, it becomes a challenge to see beyond the individual needs of victims and focus on self, team and organisation. The SMC gives us the tools to look at what needs to be in place on a policy level and to ensure that through the time of an employee/intern/volunteer within our organisation, from selection and induction through to post employment support, that we have appropriate mechanisms to support staff, both clinical and non-clinical.
The work is stressful and difficult, and I now readily admit to people like the CEO of our web-design company that it is. But I also make the point to him that it is one of the most rewarding and inspiring jobs that I could have ever wished for and that it’s an honour to work for victims of torture.
By Greg Straton, Director of SPIRASI, Ireland
To enact our vision of a world without torture, the torture rehabilitation movement is led by the human rights defenders on the front lines – figures who may hail from the medical field, the legal field, and right through to activists and anti-torture advocates.
But the core voice from all this work comes from the survivors of torture and the families of the victims. Guided by their experiences – and by providing a space for their experiences — the IRCT methodology of holistic rehabilitation can flourish.
So today we are launching a new space to share their stories and amplify their voices. A new Testimonies Wall will serve as a platform for survivors of torture, their families, and the global torture fighters to speak out against torture with the ultimate aim of ending torture across the globe.
Fourteen stories launch the wall, including two new in-depth features with two survivors of torture from very different locations.
The first is Veli Sacilik whose harrowing story of a prison siege in Turkey is still very much in the European spotlight today. After losing an arm in the siege and subsequent torture, Veli and his fellow inmates have gone on to campaign to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for compensation and justice in their disturbing, shocking case. Sadly, now over a decade later, the case for compensation and justice is still being deliberated, but Veli’s continual campaigning is not only yielding results but is demonstrating the violence that exists in the Turkish prison network.
The second story comes from Carmen Kcomt, a former judge in Peru who was met with violent harassment and intimidation when trying to rightly expose the paternity of a young girl revealed to be the secret daughter of the future president of Peru. Carmen boldly applied the law and listened to her legal training at all times, despite sustained intimidation and torture both physically and mentally from a variety of sources. It is a story of exposing the truth, escaping fear and rebuilding a life in a new country.
The testimonies page will be updated with new stories over time so check back for these unique and insightful insights into torture, rehabilitation and justice.
The right to rehabilitation was adopted by the IRCT as its message for the 2013 International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June. IRCT member centres throughout the world, including Asia, have committed themselves to making this right a reality, to have the right realized on the ground. But what is the reality in Asia, and, in particular, what is the situation in India and how can we move forward?
These were some of the questions the regional meeting sought to address. The theme of this year’s IRCT Asian Regional Meeting held in Kolkata, India was the right to rehabilitation – the ground reality in Asia. Furthermore, the regional meeting was an opportunity for rehabilitation centres to share updates on the implementation of the right to rehabilitation in practical terms in their respective countries. It was co-hosted by the Centre for the Care of Torture Victims (CCTV) of India, which works in Kolkata and West Bengal.
From the nine countries in Asia, in which there are almost 18 IRCT member centres, India is the only country that has not yet acceded to or ratified the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), although it was signatory to the convention almost 15 years ago. Indeed India is the only democracy of South Asia that not yet signed up to UNCAT.
General Comment No. 3, published by the Committee Against Torture at the end of 2012, clarified points of Article 14 of the UNCAT: rehabilitation should be holistic, States have a financial obligation regardless of resources available, rehabilitation must be accessible at the soonest possible point after torture, and that torture victims have a right to choose their provider, be it nongovernmental organisations or the State providing services.
Providing holistic rehabilitation to survivors of torture can help heal the effects of torture and also help towards re-establishing damaged communities. The aim of rehabilitation is to empower the torture survivor to resume as full a life as possible within their families and their communities. However, while international law grants all torture victims a right to rehabilitation, this is not a reality in many countries through the world, including those in Asia.
If India has not ratified the UNCAT, then how do advocates push for the realisation of the right to rehabilitation without this particularly back of an international treaty? Dr Laifungbam Roy, President of the Centre for Organisation Research & Education and Director of Human to Humane Transcultural Centre for Torture & Trauma working in Manipur, provided some analysis of his thoughts during the key-note address at the regional meeting. He started by sharing with the audience some interesting views he had read in a paper presented by Emily Reilly at the Ninth Conference of the European Network of Rehabilitation Centres for Survivors of Torture (2010) that considered how various international laws (other than UNCAT) may ensure that survivors of torture can access specialist rehabilitation services/support they might require.
For example, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was cited as a possibly more effective legal basis for ensuring the right to rehabilitation for torture survivors than UNCAT. The reason given was that CRPD recognises the right to rehabilitation as an independent human right, rather than a part of more general measures of reparation or an aspect of the right to health. In addition, the address went on to elucidate that the right to rehabilitation in CRPD applies to all survivors of torture who can be categorized as persons with certain kinds of disabilities, without exception, unlike the right to rehabilitation in the Convention against Torture, which can be enforced only against a State that caused, consented to or acquiesced in the survivors’s suffering.
Looking at and learning from other existing legal instruments and frameworks is important given, as Dr Roy pointed out, that for many different reasons it is only a very small number of torture survivors who can in reality achieve their right to rehabilitation by legal means today. In summary, the recommendation from the first half of the keynote address was that the right to rehabilitation should not be interpreted solely within the framework of victims of torture only, but rather within a broader perspective of rehabilitation rights for many types of suffering and damage inflicted on individual person (s) or groups that includes victims of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.
So what steps do advocates take in a different context – one where the UNCAT has been ratified, yet torture victims still do not have access to rehabilitation?
Though all of the other countries participated in the meeting have either signed up to or acceded to UNCAT, they also faced certain challenges. A representative from Indonesia stated that the government does not give them permission to conduct programmes in prison. Therefore, it’s very difficult to sensitize and raise awareness amongst police officers and others about the right to rehabilitation. Also the support needed from government officials is not forthcoming.
During the second day of the regional meeting, representatives from two member centres in the Philippines made a presentation on “Realizing the right to rehabilitation in the Philippines: ground realities”. In summary, they stated that in the Philippines what rehabilitation means is generally known, per se. But torture rehabilitation is a new idea for most. They went on to state that it’s difficult to convince the government that torture survivors need rehabilitation.
They also highlighted some dilemmas they encounter, such as the fact that torture survivors are both in the community and in the prison system, therefore requiring a different work approach from support organisations. Also given torture rehabilitation should be multidisciplinary and coordinated, they asked who would take the lead? Is it national or local rehabilitation? In the final part of the presentation they proposed a new avenue for centres/countries to explore, which was to maximize the Convention on the Right to Persons with Disability as a pathway for torture survivors to claim their right to rehabilitation, as mentioned in the keynote address on the first day.
What the examples from the Asia regional meeting demonstrate is the need to deeply consider the country contexts in unearthing best approaches to ensuring victims have access to holistic and appropriate rehabilitation.
By Marion Staunton, Regional Coordinator for Asia
 Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, India
The fight to find safety away from persecution and torture is tough enough – every year war and conflict, together with ethnic, religious and cultural persecution, force millions of people to flee their home country to lands often unknown other than in name. Fleeing the homeland is not so much a choice but a necessity for survival.
So imagine, after all the struggles to ensure security, being deported back to the country where you were tortured. That’s the reality for 11 Congolese refugees who, until last month, were residing in Tees Valley, north-east England, to escape their torturers.
In the ‘Unsafe Return 2’ report, from UK human rights charity Justice First, evidence suggests 11 out of 15 Congolese refugees whom the charity tracked between November 2011 and September 2013 are again facing persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after UK authorities took the decision to deport them.
It is feared that three out of the 11 deportees have been killed following detention and ill-treatment at the hands of the Congolese authorities.
The case is another which highlights the urgent need for greater safeguards for refugees and asylum seekers to prevent torture from reoccurring, assuring safety and security from their perhaps tormented past.
Many refugees want to return to their home yet many cannot. It is the responsibility of nations providing asylum to rehabilitate torture victims and to safeguard them from ever returning to places where they face, as the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines, “a well-founded fear of being persecuted”.
Over the past several years, the IRCT has undertaken interventions in support of victims of torture and trauma among refugee and internally displaced populations. For example, the PROTECT-ABLE project has trained doctors, member centres have offered rehabilitation services to torture survivors in refugee camps and assisted local health professionals to conduct psychosocial needs assessments of internally displaced persons across the world.
However, more needs to be done to highlight the special needs of asylum seekers and refugees, so they can have their full case heard and can receive proper protection and rehabilitation from torture.
Perhaps most worryingly is this, and many other heavy-handed approaches to asylum seekers in the UK, shows how flawed the UK asylum system may be.
Written by Ashley Scrace, Communications Officer at the IRCT in Copenhagen
Inspired by the brilliant but appalling UN Women ad campaign we’ve decided to find out what Google, or its infamous algorithm, says about torture.
Type “torture is…” or “torture should…” and the results, calculated after a few milliseconds, are abysmal yet unsurprising – the world is still divided. “Torture is justified” and “torture should be legal” are followed by “torture is wrong” and “torture should be banned.” Fortunately, “torture is ineffective” comes right before “torture is good”.
What does the algorithm tell us about specific methods of torture? Believe it or not, “waterboarding is baptizing terrorists with freedom”. Absurdities aside, the two top results, again, were predictable: “waterboarding isn’t torture” comes right before “waterboarding is torture.”
We know very well that data on torture is difficult to get, and few polls measure the public opinion toward torture. Although Google’s autocomplete isn’t a perfect picture of the reality it scarily hints to it.
In an article published earlier this year about sympathies towards torture in the United States, Amy Zegart writes:
“Americans are significantly more pro-torture now than during the Bush years. In 2007, 27 percent of Americans surveyed in a Rasmussen poll said the United States should torture prisoners captured in the war against terrorism. In an August 2012 YouGov national poll I commissioned, 41 percent said they approved of torture, a gain of 14 points.”
The poll results are not too distant from the algorithm’s result. One negative result followed one positive shows that public opinion is highly polarised. As explained by Arwa Mahdawi in the Guardian, Google’s autocomplete feature anticipates what you’re looking for, based on what other people have searched for in the past.
She also explains that, “autocomplete suggestions differ according to variables such as region and time, but there tends to be a degree of consistency across results.” Try it out. Then let us know what’s like in your part of the world.
Amidst the Copenhagen bustle sits 26-year-old Bahraini human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja who, on the face of it, appears to be oblivious to her anxieties. These are perhaps the only two minutes to relax from her work at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
Maryam has just been discussing her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been imprisoned since April 2011 for participating in the pro-democracy protests which swept the nation of Bahrain.
Tortured ever since – including beatings so severe he underwent urgent surgery to reconstruct his jaw in 2011 – Abdulhadi’s case looks increasingly desperate. But Maryam manages to distance herself from this well.
“It is another case indicative of the repression exercised by the rulers of Bahrain,” she says flippantly. “In 2011, I wrote a report about a man who had been beaten to the point that no one recognised him.
“I was told at the end of the report that the man who had been tortured was my father. My initial reaction was not to break down but to finish the report. There are so many other torture cases and personalising them does not help my work. You need to normalise it. In my head, most of the time my father is not even in prison.”
But the fact is that along with thousands of other pro-democracy protestors, Maryam’s father, and sister Zainab, wallow in the horrifying conditions of Bahraini prison with little chance of a fair trial or basic human rights.
“There is torture in the prisons,” says Maryam. “The international community focus so much on improving conditions for prisoners when, in reality, these political prisoners should not be detained in the first place. Their release should be called on and they should have assured prison qualities until that point.”
The ‘failed’ revolution?
Yet pressure on the ruling family of Bahrain to accept their shameful human rights record is something which Maryam cynically believes will not be applied by the international community. “People seem to assume that somehow the Bahrain revolution failed but I do not think it is fair to assess the revolution of Bahrain as a ‘failed’ revolution,” she says. “It is just an inconvenient revolution – a revolution which is happening in a country which is solidly linked to the interests of the West in terms of oil, trading and so on that it would prove problematic to recognise as an active, powerful movement.”
We’re talking with each other in the same week that Syria has dominated the news – a humanitarian crisis which has seen millions of people seek refuge in nearby countries.
In this field of vision, Bahrain has become lost. The revolutionary protests which screened all over the world almost three years ago in early 2011 seem long forgotten.
“Bahrain is such a controlled country that now the protests are rarely seen. People are fearful that if they go to the wrong street, or even to the shops in their area, they will be arrested, tear gassed, tortured and so on. They therefore do not have the safety, inclination or room to go into the streets and protest like you would perhaps see elsewhere. And that’s one reason why it does not get coverage. The ruling family of Bahrain know this.”
The Bahraini royal family, the House of Al Khalifa, assumed power approximately 230 years ago and have yet to relinquish it. Indeed half of the current Parliament in Bahrain are aligned to the family and the country’s only unelected Prime Minister, who has been in his position for 43 years, is related to the family also, being the uncle to the current self-declared king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
It is this monopolised rule which led to the protests in April 2011 – protests which have, in fact, been occurring regularly since the 1920s’ and before.
In the 1950s’ a group called Intifadat al-Haya’a, led by the religious leaders of both the Sunni and Shia communities, started an uprising for civil rights. At this time Bahrain was still a British protectorate so with the help of the British the Bahraini regime crushed this opposition and arrested all of the leading figures..
“The Al Khalifa family knew that if the Sunni and Shia communities stayed united it could spell the end of their rule,” explains Maryam. “So since the 1950s’ the family has been focusing their attention on marginalizing the majority of the country, the Shia community, thereby sidelining their biggest threat. They created this ‘us and them’ fashion through labeling the Shia community more and more, to make it impossible for them to integrate with the Sunni community and, as such, crush any uprising. This is not saying that Sunnis benefit entirely from the Bahrain rulers, because they do not. But it is just one move into the ruling party’s idea to change the demographic of the country so it is majority Sunni rather than Shia.”
This sectarianism is, according to Maryam, just another tool of gaining control by the royal family.
“The family see everyone as an enemy yet portray to Western media that there is a sectarian problem, not a problem between the rulers and the people,” she says.
“It is simply not true. Bahrain is not a sectarian problem. It’s a human rights problem. People, no matter who they are, have no room for freedom of expression, right to safety and so on. People are beaten, tortured and detained on a mass scale – and why? All because they want to exercise their human rights.”
But what can be done to bring change in Bahrain and, in the first instance, call the human rights record of the Al Khalifa family to attention?
“You do not need military feet on the ground,” states Maryam. “What you need is pressure on the Bahraini government to accept the evidence we already have, in relation to sanctions against individuals like visa rejections, torture documentation and so on. What you need is for the countries who claim that they promote human rights and democracy to uphold these values – not among their enemies, but among their friends. Bahrain is a friend which is not upholding basic human values, but that would be an embarrassing thing to admit.
“At least in Egypt there is a sphere to go out on the streets and protest. But in Bahrain, public space is controlled in a suffocating manner . In that sense it is not really similar to other protests in the Middle East and is actually more similar to Rwanda – not that there will be a genocide, but there will come a time when something which as been silently bubbling will explode into the open. There is absolutely no room for expression, for freedom of speech or to manoeuvre.”
Fittingly, in the same way I misinterpreted the calmness in Maryam at the coffee shop, it seems Bahrain has a hidden undercurrent of turmoil.
“Everything seems alright and as if changes have been made. But there is always something happening underneath [in Bahrain],” says Maryam. “Distancing ourselves from this turmoil only makes it worse. The time is now for the international community to apply pressure on Bahrain and bring the human rights abuses to light.”
Written by Ashley Scrace, Communications Officer at the IRCT
“More than one million refugees have come to the US, fleeing torture and political violence,” begins Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture, an outstanding new documentary from the Refuge Media Project.
The vast numbers are staggering, but what makes a greater impression in this stand-out documentary are the small, individual stories from survivors and those who offer them care and support as they resettle in the US.
Ben Achtenberg, project director at the Refuge Media Project and producer/director of Refuge, says the film – seven years in the making – came about as his general interest in healthcare and mental health issues drew him to organisations and healthcare providers that offer support to survivors in the US. Previously, he was nominated for an Oscar for the film Code Gray: Ethical Dilemmas in Nursing, which he produced and served as cinematographer. Mr Achtenberg also won the 2009 IRCT Film Competition for his 30-second public service announcement.
“During the same period, I had started contributing to organizations that work with survivors and, in particular, was receiving the newsletters of Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis and similar groups around the country, about their work with survivors. At some point, it clicked that this was the film I should focus on.”
The stories presented in the approximately one-hour film are diverse, from a physician from Guatemala to an older man from Liberia who wishes to move his daughter to the US. They have different stories of torture, different stories of migration to the US, but they have all sought refuge and have found their way to the various featured torture treatment programmes, many of which are IRCT members. (A full list of organisations featured in the film can be found on their website)
Through the stories of survivors, both devastating and inspiring, we take home still another call to action – that healthcare professionals will, in fact, see a survivor of torture during their work, and they need to know what to look for and how to approach it so that the person can receive appropriate care.
“People who have survived torture are living everywhere in our communities, though you may not know who they are,” says Mr Achtenberg. “If you’re in or going into a healthcare or human services profession, you will encounter torture survivors in your client population. How you deal with them can have an impact on their ability to thrive in their new communities.”
It’s a delicate and caring relationship between the health professionals – doctors, therapists, social workers – and the survivors of torture they treat. “It’s a doctor that can listen to you and make you feel like you’re a human being,” says one survivor in the film. Another describes a mural painted by survivors at a centre in Boston: “We come from our countries, swimming across and arrive here naked, but you pick us up and give us back what we have lost.”
This wonderful film offers a unique perspective into the world of torture survivors, their experiences and reservations opening up, and into the world of the care-givers, as they approach the formidable task of helping them recover their dignity and life.
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two blogs on the Latin American Regional Seminar, which took place in Quito, Ecuador a few weeks ago. Read the first one here. Here, IRCT member Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial (EATIP) of Argentina speaks about the work – and the challenges — of rehabilitating indigenous victims of torture in Latin America.
We want to share our views on torture rehabilitation in the multicultural environment in Argentina, as discussed at the 16th Regional Meeting of the Latin American network of institutions working against torture.
Argentina has a hegemonic culture related to the flood of European migrants from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. This culture often does not include the perspectives of the native populations, aggravated by political and administrative centralism. Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial (EATIP) gives priority to social class factors, including also ethnic and gender factors.
The Latin America regional network is giving more attention to violation of indigenous people rights, especially related to the protection of their territories due to exploitation of natural resources (mining, oil, etc.), cultivation of soya, etc., in which important corporative interests are at the stake. Other characteristics of this problematic situation are the social polarization and confrontation between groups and members in the communities due to co-optation by governments.
For interventions with these groups, we used community-based approaches. For psychosocial interventions in those cases, specific training of professionals is needed. At the present, the economic difficulties that EATIP and other centres in the region are facing impede the continuity of these activities. EATIP has assisted migrant groups from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, who live in slums called “Villas Miserias”; and African youths and political refugees.
In the 16th Regional Meeting of the Latin American members of IRCT and allied organisations, our centres identified that the inter-cultural factors have strong significance that enrich our work.
By Dr Mariana Lagos and Mr Ely Stacco, Clinical and Psychosocial Area, EATIP, Argentina
To mark this year’s UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October, UK-based torture rehabilitation charity Freedom From Torture hosted a special one-off online video debate with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Méndez, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona.
Anchored by Kolbassia Haoussou, Co-ordinator of the Survivors Speak OUT network, the debate is the first time the two UN global human rights leaders have ever come together to discuss the issues of poverty and torture.
The debate focused on three questions submitted via Twitter users but one message came out of all the answers – more can be done to break the cycle of torture and poverty.
“First and foremost it is everybody’s responsibility to ensure that rehabilitation services are provided,” says UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona.
“States need to realise their obligations under the convention against torture and various groups and NGOs currently assisting victims of torture need to be allowed by states to complete their work,” she adds.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Méndez, believes more needs to be done by governments and groups to facilitate the needs of torture victims. He says: “The fact is that all torture makes a person poorer. In this situation you are making an already poor person poorer. This should compel us to make even greater efforts to help them.
“Particular people in the poverty bracket are asylum seekers and refugees. Their social standing often means they cannot access the services they need, and this is wrong. Rehabilitation services should be the obligation of any state including those where a torture victim resides, regardless of immigration status.”
The debate saw much involvement from the public and even attracted participation from Jon Snow, news anchor at the UK’s Channel 4 news, who asked the question of whether states are aware of their obligations to ensure human rights and rehabilitation to torture victims.
“I think many states do, but what we’re having to be careful of at the moment is that states are not using financial crisis as excuse to cut support and protection for survivors,” says Ms Carmona.
“Rehabilitation services are not a drain on finances and there are plenty of ways to offer rehabilitation if those services are allowed to function. There are people who simply seem to have no access to these services. Living in poverty is not only about lack of income. It’s really a lack of human capabilities and lack of power.”
The fact remains – people in poverty are seen as easily exploitable and unable to defend seek justice for their treatment. It is a vicious cycle as often the impoverished position which leads a person to torture is also often the result of torture.
But the cycle can be broken says Ms Carmona: “What type of society we want to live in? It is everyone’s responsibility – governments, groups and the public – to ensure states comply with their international legal and ethical obligations.”
You can see World Without Torture’s coverage of the debate by going to our Twitter page: @withouttorture
For more information on poverty and torture you can read Freedom From Torture’s latest report, the ‘Poverty Barrier’, by clicking the link.