IRCT

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/

Homepage: http://www.irct.org

Story from a Nigerian survivor of torture only reaffirms claims in Amnesty’s new torture report

Whether targeting a Boko Haram suspect, an alleged criminal, a sex worker, or simply part of a minority group, a new Amnesty International report highlights how torture is endemic in Nigeria as the police and military routinely use it to extract confessions, extort money and to break the will of detainees.

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Nigerian police sitting atop a police van. Picture courtesy of the Open Society Institute (OSI) ”Criminal Force Torture, Abuse, and Extrajudicial Killings by the Nigeria Police Force” report, May 2010.

The report, entitled ‘Welcome to Hell Fire’, claims torture has become widespread in the police and military hunt for members of Boko Haram – a militant Islamic group, branded as a terrorist organisation by the US, responsible for a string of attacks and death since 2009 including the Chibok Kidnapping on 276 schoolgirls in April 2014.

The report shows that the pursuit of Boko Haram has led to the torture of many suspects who have no ties to the group at all. Because of this campaign, torture has become routine. The report claims that, as a minimum, 5,000 people have been detained since 2009 when military operations began against Boko Haram. While the level of torture victims from this group cannot be fully determined, Amnesty spoke to 500 detainees, their relatives and human rights defenders, all confirming either they had been tortured or they know a detainee who has.

Consequently detainees and ordinary criminal suspects experience torture “as the main interrogation tactic… despite assurances from the Nigerian government to prevent the use of torture.” Torture practices include beatings, rape and other sexual violence, shooting to legs and arms and periods of time laid on beds of nails.

Torture in Nigeria has long been known by the IRCT, the effects of which continue to be addressed by Nigerian IRCT member Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).

To illustrate the prevalence of torture, the effects of torture and the journey through rehabilitation necessary in just one case, we turn to the story of Leo – a 27-year-old concert-goer who, after happening to stumble across the scene of an earlier robbery in the city of Nsukka, experienced four-months of suffering as the police tortured him repeatedly for a crime which he was not even part of.

Leo’s story: “I do not know now why I was tortured”

Leo, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was travelling to the city of Nsukka, in south-eastern Nigeria, hoping for a relaxing evening with friends at a music event.

Nigerian police training in 2013. Photo: INUSMA/Marco Dormino, used courtesy under Flickr creative commons licence.

Nigerian police training in 2013. Photo: INUSMA/Marco Dormino, used courtesy under Flickr creative commons licence.

On his way to the venue, Leo was approached by four security officials who claimed to recognise him from a robbery that occurred just prior to Leo’s arrival.

“The security forces were looking for a group of hoodlums who had just fled the scene next to the concert venue, and I was accused of being part of the gang,” says Leo. “I tried to explain that I had only just arrived in town, but the explanations fell on deaf ears.

“It was then that the four security guards turned on me and began to beat me,” explains Leo, who still has painful memories of his torture.

Leo’s beating escalated from punches and kicks to being hit with sticks, a shovel and even an iron. The torture continued over a period of a few hours.

“They beat me with whatever they could find nearby,” says Leo. “I had injuries all over my body. I was cut, bleeding and bruised. The pain was unbearable. I could not walk for days afterwards.”

After the beating, an unconscious Leo was taken to the local police station where he was detained, charged with robbery offences and transferred to nearby Nsukka prison, where he spent four months awaiting trial.

Leo does not recall torture while in detention and was released in May 2012 after police could not establish enough evidence against him.

“I do not know now why I was tortured,” says Leo. “I was not part of the crime scene at all and still feel shocked about the attack now, even though it was so brief.”

While in custody, Leo was approached by the team from IRCT member PRAWA, who offered counselling as a way for Leo to talk about the attack.

“The people from PRAWA helped me talk about my experience while I was in prison,” says Leo. “They understood what had happened and encouraged me to talk. They also helped to treat me for my injuries while I was in prison and offered me counselling during my time in prison and when I was released.

“My attackers are wicked people, but counselling has helped come to terms with the attack. I still see the PRAWA psychologist today to talk about any issues I have related to the attack. The attack left me feeling confused, hurt and scared. PRAWA have helped to restore my pride, and my trust in others.”

Now a labourer on a building site, Leo is thankful for his rehabilitation.

“I still feel some pains in my legs due to my injuries and my sexual life has not been the same since due to the injuries I received in the beating,” says Leo.

“But I would say that I am much better than before I met the team at PRAWA. It is good that centres like this exist, and that some people care about helping those who have been tortured regain their lives. I only hope more groups exist to fight torture in society and to provide treatments for victims like me.”

To read the stories of survivors from a range of countries on the IRCT website, click this link.

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Torture victims are victims of 9/11 too

Yesterday marked 13 years since the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, one of the worst terrorist attacks in history, killing 2,996 people and injuring over 6,000.

Every year 9/11 is, and will continue to be, remembered for the sadness of the day. Families lost their loved ones; the lives of many people collapsed with the towers; and the fabric of the city was changed forever.

But what should not be forgotten is the change 9/11 inspired in the realm of national security. The attacks prompted a refocus, not just on the security of airports and planes, but on the protection of a nation.

September 11th should also be remembered as the catalyst for change in national security and anti-terror thinking and practice. Efforts to stamp out terrorism across the globe escalated, not just with political rhetoric but also with military action.

An otherwise calm New York view as the World Trade Centre towers burn in the background following the impact of two hijacked commercial airliners (courtesy of  Sean Donohue, used via Flickr creative commons licence)

An otherwise calm New York view as the World Trade Center towers burn in the background following the impact of two hijacked commercial airliners (courtesy of Sean Donohue, used via Flickr creative commons licence)

All of this came as part of the so-called War on Terror, an anti-terrorist military-backed campaign primarily spearheaded by the United States and the United Kingdom in Afghanistan, initially to eliminate Al Qaeda but later becoming an umbrella term encompassing the spread of its scope across Iraq, northern Pakistan and other areas of the Middle East.

Although U.S. officials no longer use the term, this campaign still rages today. And with this comes torture. Since 9/11, terrorist attacks have risen and, as more suspects are detained, torture incidences have risen too.

The September 11 attacks and the War on Terror that followed led to the ill-treatment of many suspected terrorist detainees – something President Obama acknowledged by stating that the United States military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “crossed the line” in the post-9/11 context by torturing many suspects.

The upcoming CIA torture report, for example, details how suspects were intentionally tortured for information.

Protestors in Trafalgar Square as part of the London Guantanamo Campaign's 26 June protest against the camp

Protestors in Trafalgar Square as part of the London Guantanamo Campaign’s 26 June protest against the camp

Leaks from the report, four-years in the making, show how the CIA misled policymakers about the inhumane nature of their torture techniques primarily at CIA ‘Black Sites’ by rebranding torture as ‘enhanced interrogation’. The seriousness of the torture allegations was then routinely downplayed to the media and politicians. The CIA also relied extensively on outside contractors, such as now-infamous psychologist James Mitchell, to devise horrific torture techniques designed to simply cause harm.

The Committee concluded, as noted back in July 2014, that the torture techniques were unnecessary and yielded “no critical intelligence on terror plots”.

The practices described in the CIA torture report were banned from 2009 alongside the closing of the Black Sites. Despite this, the CIA’s rampant torture campaign inflicted pain and suffering “to the point of death” in many cases, causing long-term damage to the victims which has yet to be addressed. Some of the victims even died from the torture.

While much of the blame for the human rights abuses has been placed on the Bush administration, Obama’s presidency has ensured a culture of impunity has prevailed. The lengthy political process to release this report has meant many victims have been forced to remain silent for years as their experiences have yet to be heard or believed. The continual leaking of different pieces of the CIA report also detracts focus from the overall picture: the U.S. is flagrantly using torture in its anti-terror arsenal yet those who commissioned the torture still remain untouched.

Also impunity will always be ensured all the time figureheads leading the torture programme are still in power. For example, the current CIA director, John Brennan, is still in office and was highly complicit with the torture focus under the Bush administration. Guards – and the administration as a whole – at camps such as Guantanamo Bay remain in place and functional, albeit scaled back.

Post-9/11 torture was not restricted to the CIA though and, as noted, the U.S. military played a large part.

One of the most haunting and famous pictures from Abu Ghraib

One of the most haunting and famous pictures from Abu Ghraib

While not strictly under the War on Terror banner, from 2003 to early 2004 U.S. Military Police personnel from the U.S. Army and the CIA committed, and photographed, human rights violations against prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq.

The pictures are some of the most famous of the 21st century, stirring chilling recollections of a time when vigilantism – mainly perpetrated by outside contracted soldiers from the Blackwater company – ruled the conflict.

But the pictures revealed at the time were only a small batch. Now there is further pressure on the U.S. to disclose the full extent of its activities with one US judge calling on the administration to release the full batch of 2,000 pictures.

All this is the result of just one day in September 2001 – a horrifying, heartbreaking day which will forever remain in human memory as one of the worst attacks on a population.

But the activities following 9/11 gave state officials across the globe an excuse to torture. In many of these cases the perpetrators will never be brought to justice.

So while 9/11 is rightly marked by remembrance for the dead and the profound impact it had on America, take time to also remember those who suffered, and are still suffering, from torture perpetrated under the guise of national security.

Torture victims are victims of 9/11 too.

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From Melbourne to Copenhagen to join the IRCT team

We hear from the newest member of the IRCT Communications Team, Marie Dyhr, who discusses her reasons for joining the IRCT, what challenges lie ahead in her role and what she will be doing on the World Without Torture blog in the future.

IMAG0042After residing in Australia for more than four years, I decided it was time to leave my adopted home of Melbourne to pursue new challenges in my home country, Denmark. Those who live in Denmark or are familiar with the Danish weather might question my decision to leave the paradise that is ‘Down Under’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was not the prospect of riding my bike in rainy conditions while fighting the inevitable headwind that convinced me to move back. It was rather the chance to realise my dream of working for a human rights organisation.

Since my university days, I have wanted to combine my interest in human rights with my background in communications and public relations and when I was offered a job with the IRCT communications team in Copenhagen, I knew it was time to pack up my stuff and book a one-way ticket to Scandinavia.

I have only worked with the IRCT for a couple of weeks now, but I have no doubts that I have found the right place and I look forward to providing those interested in the IRCT and its work with rehabilitation, justice and prevention of torture with interesting stories and updates.

As already mentioned, my background is communications and public relations. I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Copenhagen Business School before relocating to the Southern Hemisphere where I earned my Masters in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University in Melbourne. I also spent some time in New York interning at the United Nations Headquarters, which reinforced my interest in human rights.

I then further honed my skills working at a communications and public relations firm in Melbourne where I spent three years working with clients from a wide range of industries and sectors.

Joining the IRCT

I am very excited about being part of an organisation that supports the rehabilitation of torture victims and the prevention of torture worldwide.

In all regions of the world, crimes of torture are committed every day against men, women and children. In most cases, no one is prosecuted and punished for these crimes. To make matters worse, the consequences of torture reach far beyond immediate pain with victims suffering from various conditions such as severe anxiety, insomnia, depression and memory lapses.

Having spent several years in Australia, I am very interested in Australian news and politics. Recently, I witnessed the Government getting tough on asylum seekers arriving by boat. Referring to asylum seekers and alleged victims of torture as ‘Boat people’ and ‘Illegals’, the Australian Government has been accused of breaching human rights by introducing a highly controversial offshore processing policy.
I certainly do not believe that what is happening in Australia is an isolated case. If anything, it goes to show that issues and problems related to torture are not just confined to certain regions or countries.

For that reason alone, it is vital that we give torture victims a voice and share their stories and that we as citizens listen to these stories and take a united stand against torture. It is also our responsibility to remind our leaders of the principle of accountability and transparency, ensuring that they are committed to helping victims of torture. The greatest threat to the fight against torture is apathy: that we silently accept that torture exists.

I feel very honoured to be able to work for an organisation that aims to bring to light the realities of torture. It is deeply humbling to see that so many people in need have received the support and rehabilitation they are entitled to – a testament to the work of the IRCT and its member organisations.

But we can always do more.

As part of the IRCT communications team, it is my role to discover the stories of survivors of torture and to share these stories with as many of you as possible so we can all understand the effects of torture and what can be done to rehabilitate survivors. It is very inspiring to see how committed each IRCT member centre is to helping victims of torture and I look forward to working together with the centres to bring to light important news and issues.

It is a pleasure to be here and I hope my work with the IRCT can contribute to the fight against torture, and can help survivors seek rehabilitation and justice. I also hope that you will visit the World Without Torture blog to read our latest posts and stay up to date with our work.

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Detention, imprisonment and torture: The new life of the Al-Khawajas

When Maryam Al-Khawaja announced her trip to visit Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain last week, following the recommencement of his hunger strike, all seemed well. The trip was to simply see how her father was faring.

Yet her assessment of his condition never came. In the morning of 30 August, Maryam posted a series of tweets on Twitter outlining how she was immediately detained on arrival with security forces claiming she is “not a Bahraini citizen”:

“I’m denied entry. I’m starting a water-only hunger strike. I won’t voluntarily leave. My only demand is to be let into my country.”

Human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja spoke to us about the often unseen torture in Bahrain: http://wp.me/p1FGNE-rJ

Human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja spoke to us about the often unseen torture in Bahrain: http://wp.me/p1FGNE-rJ

Since then Maryam has been posting regular updates on her situation, from her declaration of beginning a water-only hunger strike and the snippets of conversations she hears from guards who wish to deport her.

Now, five days after her detention, her Twitter account has changed. A third-party is writing the tweets for her; news is sparse; and the condition of her father, Abdulhadi, must be deteriorating.

Ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and torture are no distant themes to Maryam, her family and her friends. Maryam and her colleagues – and those associated to those colleagues – have been continual targets for their role in supporting human rights in Bahrain through the criminalised Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

A long friend of the IRCT, Maryam has spoken in the past about the appalling human rights record of Bahrain, what the international community needs to do to recognise the abuses and the situation facing her family and friends on a daily basis.

The year 2011 marked the beginning of the now well-documented struggle for the Al-Khawajas. Following several years of banning from the Bahrain state, head of the BCHR Nabeel Rajab (himself only recently released from prison for his role in the centre) and Maryam began travelling the world to speak out about the situation in Bahrain, the vicious crackdowns on protestors and the torture which exists in the Bahrain prison network. It is a story Maryam knows all too well – her father, on hunger strike now, was arrested in April 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Maryam’s sister Zainab was then targeted and has been subjected to repeated arrest, long-term detention, harassment, and physical abuse, including facing ongoing charges in relation to calling for her father’s freedom. Zainab was released on bail in February 2014, after almost a year’s detention on the oft-cited charges of “insulting the King”, a charge which can lead to seven years imprisonment. Now seven months pregnant, Zainab faces trial again in October. If sentenced she could ultimately give birth inside prison.

Next on the arrest list was Maryam’s long-term friend and colleague Nabeel Rajab. In April 2012, amidst protests to cancel the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, Nabeel was arrested and sentenced to prison for having “insulted” Bahraini authorities via Twitter – a landmark ruling at the time as social media dissent had not been punished quite so harshly.

Thankfully Nabeel was released in May 2014, but his experience inside was harrowing. He was beaten, interrogated, left in solitary confinement with a dead animal and stripped naked on many occasions.

It is this prevalent treatment which worries human rights organisations now. Maryam’s father has already undergone major surgery in the past to treat the torture he received in Bahraini jail. And as Maryam told World Without Torture last year, her sister has been a victim of continued harassment, threats and beatings during her time in jail also.

Right now, according to BCHR, Maryam is facing “charges of assault and battery against on-duty public employees during their performance of official duty,” alleging Maryam attacked a lieutenant and another policewoman and injured them when they asked her to hand over her mobile phone at the airport.

Her lawyer has been denied access to her, as have her family. She has been moved to the Isa Town women prison and placed with two convicted criminals.

There is a high degree of urgency in assuring the safety of Ms Al-Khawaja, particularly considering the abuse which her family has suffered in the past.

Maryam’s release must come now. The world is watching.

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Creating a world without torture: August in review

We round-up our blogs from August 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.

The US and torture: Ignorance, arrogance and denial

Over the past month many blogs have focused on the continuing involvement, direct or indirect, of the US in torture across the world.

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of  Isabel Esterman)

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of Isabel Esterman)

As continued pressure grows on the US to release in full the CIA torture report, which highlights the extent of torture perpetrated by the CIA against terror suspects post-9/11, we reminded critics of the CIA to also remember that the torture methods and devices were designed by doctors – doctors who have a duty to heal, not harm. While the CIA role cannot be understated, the role of medical personnel in designing torture must be accounted for also.

Overseas, we joined hundreds of human rights organisations in calling for the US military to be held accountable for the deaths and torture of Afghani civilians and for better practices to ensure that families of the dead are made aware of the circumstances of death immediately. Currently many families simply do not know the true fate of their loved ones. This blindness prevent them not only knowing the truth, but also accessing justice and rehabilitation. This has to end.

 

New rehabilitation modes taking torture and culture seriously

Still in the US, but a more positive note, we looked at one program from the Harvard Program in Refugee Torture which is helping Cambodian survivors of torture overcome the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.

torture journalToday Cambodians still come to terms with the Khmer Rouge regime, one which is still being brought to justice, most recently with the life sentences of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, two figureheads of the regime.

For the survivors, justice only does so much. For many their families are destroyed and those who tortured them have already escaped punishment throughout the majority of their lives.

The article, which you can read here, is set to feature in the new edition of Torture Journal also.

 

Underground torture in Lebanon

Several floors under the busy Adlieh intersection in east Beirut, hundreds of people suffer harsh interrogation and torture in a makeshift detention centre.

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

It is a place unknown to many – thousands of commuters pass over the site every day. But it is a place very much present in the minds of refugees in the city, some of whom have spent time in this underground chamber.

It is this clandestine chamber that IRCT member centre Nassim for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture at the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) exposed and campaigned against on this year’s 26 June — the latest call of many to end torture and impunity in Lebanon.

You can read more on CLDH’s campaign to end the detention centre by clicking this link.

 

Australia can no longer deny that its treatment of asylum seekers does not constitute torture

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Criticism of the Australian policy on detaining and deporting asylum seekers with little consideration for their wellbeing quietened over August. That was until Dr Peter Young, former director of IHMS mental health services, the company responsible for healthcare in all of Australia’s detention centres, boldly confronted what many have suspected for a long time: treatment in Australia’s asylum seeker detention centres is akin to torture.

We congratulated Dr Young for his honesty. Read more about it here.

 

Two different but effective rehabilitation programmes from two IRCT members

The 143 IRCT members across the world are working tirelessly every day to ensure survivors of torture are rehabilitated, given access to reparations and justice and that torture is prevented within their contexts.

This month we focused on two centres in particular who are using art forms to rehabilitate torture survivors.

The first was the Accoglenza e Cura Vittime di Tortura (Vi.To.) project, funded via the European Union’s EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) for IRCT member the Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati (CIR) (Italian Council for Refugees). Staff at the centre use theatre to help refugees and torture survivors overcome their experiences, build their self-esteem and teach them valuable new skills.

You can read more about the project and see all the pictures here.

Secondly we focused on Freedom from Torture in the UK and their “Write to Life” project. A creative writing group the “Write to Life” project is one of the most powerful therapy programmes on offer. It has been meeting continuously every two-weeks for 12 years, has produced a formidable body of writing, and the participating torture survivors have reported that the group has aidedtheir rehabilitation – not bad for an initiative initially dismissed by some medical experts. You can read more about it here.

 

For further information from World Without Torture, do not forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Click here to visit our Facebook page, and here to visit our Twitter feed.

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New rehabilitation models are taking culture seriously: treating Cambodian survivors in the USA

Four years was all Cambodian dictator Pol Pot and his regime needed to murder 1.5 million people. From 1975 to 1979, starvation, torture, disease and overwork mainly contributed to the deaths that affected the well-being of the entire country.

torture journal

The upcoming edition of the Torture Journal will cover topics related to torture and rehabilitation.

Today Cambodians still come to terms with the Khmer Rouge regime, one which is still being brought to justice, most recently with the life sentences of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, two figureheads of the regime.

For the survivors, justice only does so much. For many their families are destroyed and those who tortured them have already escaped punishment throughout the majority of their lives.

Now, ahead of the upcoming edition of Torture Journal, we hear from a different project in the USA which is helping Cambodian torture survivors there overcome their past through rehabilitation.

The Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma’s Cambodian Health Promotion Program uses health professionals from psychiatry, nutrition, mental health and biomedicine fields to implement group sessions with 126 survivors of torture to help them move on from their past.

The torture survivors themselves are instrumental to their own recovery with much of the onus on each survivor equipping themselves with power and knowledge to resume their lives, under the facilitation of the health professionals and other group members.

Groups discuss their past, their present and, with hope, their future. Heightened healthcare is promoted through Cambodian culture running alongside traditionally western health concepts; depression and sleeping patterns are discussed to analyse the effects these have on the body; the benefits of physical activity in promoting good mental health are explored; and the benefits of good nutrition are outlined also, all within the context of Cambodian cuisine.

What the project attempts to do is to empower victims of torture to improve their own physical and psychological wellbeing without prescribing the correct ways to look at things – at every stage the cultural traditions of Cambodia are synthesised with evidence-based medical developments.

The study documents that survivors of the genocide generally report worse health conditions than those who were not affected by the Khmer Rouge regime. It is estimated that over 50 per-cent of the survivors were tortured, which has led to chronic health conditions.

Across the four-year health promotion group, improvements were reported across the group of survivors in healthcare, health behaviours, sleeping patterns, self-confidence and depression.

Only seven per-cent rated their health-state as poor after the conclusion of the project, down 13 per-cent since the survivors were surveyed at the inception of the project. Incidences of daily nightmares were only reported by three per-cent of the group (down 10%) and self-confidence issues dropped by over 20%.

Projects such as this show the positive impact of rehabilitation. Whether it is in a community setting, a medical setting or otherwise, targeted, tailored rehabilitation has life-changing results.

 

To read the full report click this link.

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Fighting human rights abuses in Lebanon

WWT - Members series

Several floors under the busy Adlieh intersection in east Beirut, hundreds of people suffer harsh interrogation and torture in a makeshift detention centre.

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

It is a place unknown to many – thousands of commuters pass over the site every day. But it is a place very much present in the minds of refugees in the city, some of whom have spent time in this underground chamber.

It is this clandestine chamber that IRCT member centre Nassim for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture at the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) exposed and campaigned against on this year’s 26 June — the latest call of many to end torture and impunity in Lebanon.

Migrants and refugees remain the main targets of torture and arbitrary detention in Lebanon, and those are the main groups CLDH supports since their establishment in 2006.

CLDH was created by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily), which has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human rights violations.

CLDH monitors the human rights situation in Lebanon and through regular press conferences, workshops and advocacy activities, continually reminds the state of their international human rights obligations. The centre also documents cases of torture and human rights violations.

One of the overarching aims of the CLDH team on the ground is to determine exactly what happens to all arrested and missing persons in Lebanon, from the time of arrest to sometimes, unfortunately, their death. By working with the IRCT, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, these cases are actively monitored and reported.

CLDH’s torture rehabilitation centre opened in 2007, providing multi-disciplinary professional support and case management for victims of torture and their families.

Whether working in clandestine chambers under the ground in east Beirut or on the 7th floor of Bakhos Building, where their office is located, CLDH is an important institution in Beirut and an key element of the fight against torture and human rights abuses in Lebanon.

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Combatting chronic impunity in Colombia

Based in Bogotá, Colombia, the Centre for Psychological Assistance (CAPS) treats around 300 clients per year and focuses primarily on the psychological treatment of torture victims – something much needed in a country where thousands of forced disappearances during decades of internal conflict impacted on families for generations.

Police controlling unrest in Bogota (used courtesy of  Antena Mutante under Flickr creative commons licence)

Police controlling unrest in Bogota (used courtesy of Antena Mutante under Flickr creative commons licence)

Today the effects are still being felt, effects running parallel to continued claims of torture at the hands of the police. Currently over 5,000 political prisoners are detained across the country and torture is still widespread, despite Colombia signing the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Alongside this is a culture of impunity as Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law fails to provide full justice and peace. Despite the dissolution of paramilitary groups, affecting 30,000 paramilitaries, initial ideas included granting benefits to paramilitaries who admitted their crimes, meaning they would escape punishment. Thankfully this was only proposed and never enacted, however many demobilised fighters were still eligible for, and granted, amnesty under the law.

Yet impunity thrives as victims of the paramilitary groups – and the torture they perpetrated over years of fighting – are scared of coming forward as they continue to live in areas where paramilitary groups have yet to be fully dissolved.

This fear also prevent many victims seeking rehabilitation. It is therefore a tough mission facing CAPS, one where fear has to be overcome to allow progress.

In an effort to tackle this, CAPS offer a range of tailored psychological programmes to help families and victims of torture overcome their past.

CAPS also uses creative expression as a means of rehabilitation, something reflected in their 26 June campaign this year. In Bogotá, theatre and musical performances involving centre staff, supporters and survivors of torture peppered the day, alongside musical performances, exhibitions and screening of films at the ‘Parque de los Periodistas de Bogotá’ on 26 June.

In a country deeply affected by conflict and where torture is still a systematic practice, CAPS offers a service in high demand — holistic treatment to countless victims of torture and their families. And by doing so, is making an undeniably positive contribution to the fight against torture in Colombia.

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

Amidst the CIA taking the central role as the perpetrator for the torture committed under the ‘War on Terror’, one particular question has been forgotten: what will happen to the people who actually designed the torture methods?

CIA emblem

CIA emblem

Recent spin and simplification lumps the CIA as the overwhelming perpetrator of all the torture against terror suspects. Without understating CIA’s role in this — CIA operatives mercilessly implemented the torture techniques documented today in the upcoming CIA torture report and through the continued allegations emerging from those victims who survived CIA ‘black sites’ in particular — it must be remembered that the network involved in the torture of suspects is far-reaching.

Behind the torture is a methodology, a design to break even the most resilient individual. Behind the design is calculated thought, professionally planned actions that inflict the maximum level of pain and suffering while minimising identifiable scars and traces.

And behind this thinking are doctors.

It has long been documented by a range of media outlets that US military doctors were complicit in the design of torture methods, clearly violating their ethical, medical and legal codes as health practitioners.

A report from the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in November 2013 states that after 9/11, health professionals aligned with the military and intelligences authorities participated in the production and implementation of “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees”.

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of  Isabel Esterman)

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of Isabel Esterman)

Yet many of these doctors will simply never face trial. Regardless of whether doctors were coerced or tricked into the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ processes, justice still needs to be served.

It’s a concern echoed by Vincent Iacopino, Senior Medical Advisor for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and member of IRCT’s Independent Forensic Expert Group, in a recent letter to the Editor of the New York Times.

“Before lawyers wrote memos distorting the definition of torture, psychologists worked in concert with interrogators to develop methods intended to exploit the vulnerabilities of detainees and to inflict physical and mental pain,” says Mr Iacopino in the letter.

He continues: “As detainees suffered — and in some cases, died — health professionals routinely failed to report, document or stop the abuse.”

In doing so, they betrayed the core ethical principle of health professionals: do no harm. They also did not question their role. Apathy is apparent in the instance of US psychologist James Mitchell, who was instrumental in designing the torture techniques. Speaking in April 2014 he said the following:

“I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.” (quoted in Russia Today)

It is the Milgrim experiment CIA-style: the infamous study which showed people are far more likely to inflict pain on another human being if someone in perceived higher authority delivers the orders.

This is wrong and shocking. The doctors who are meant to heal contributed to the harm.

When the truth about the CIA torture methods comes to light, hopefully perpetrators will be brought to justice. Those who inflicted the pain must be punished for their crimes and victims, who are still alive, should be directed to the appropriate channels of rehabilitation and redress.

Yet punishment needs to extend beyond those ordering the torture and those following the orders. Behind the programme against human rights are doctors who designed the methods. These people are perpetrators too.

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The power of the pen

While writing has often been appreciated as a mode of expression and creativity, as well as reporting and everyday communication, never before had creative writing been directly associated with torture rehabilitation.

The “Write to Life” project changes this. A creative writing group of Freedom From Torture (FFT) – an IRCT member centre and the UK’s only national charity dedicated to the holistic rehabilitation of survivors of torture from around the world – the “Write to Life” project is one of the most powerful therapy programmes on offer. It has been meeting continuously every two-weeks for 12 years, has produced a formidable body of writing, and the participating torture survivors have reported that the group has aidedtheir rehabilitation – not bad for an initiative initially dismissed by some medical experts.

Write to Life’s coordinator Sheila Hayman speaking at the IRCT's 40yrs event

Write to Life’s coordinator Sheila Hayman speaking at the IRCT’s 40yrs event

“The positive effects have been pronounced and clear on those who work with the group,” says Write to Life’s coordinator Sheila Hayman. “With the combination of therapy through a key worker, who initially refers the survivor to the group, it allows many people who are sidelined in society to voice their opinions, to be creative, and to couple this with targeted therapy.

“I remember one of our group members said he preferred the writing therapy to face-to-face counselling, partly because the level of control rests entirely with the individual rather than a clinician. Each person writes what they want to write and in the style they want, and this means they can deal with their past and counsel themselves on their own terms.”

The positives are certainly echoed by two members of the group, Jade Amoli-Jackson and Yamikani Tracy Ndovi. Impressed by their stories and poems, Jade and Yamikani were invited to present their work at the IRCT’s 8 April event in Copenhagen to mark 40-years since the beginning of the international anti-torture movement.

Jade and Yamikani standing alongside IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz and Write to Life's Sheila Hayman

Jade and Yamikani standing alongside IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz and Write to Life’s Sheila Hayman

Jade, from Uganda, worked as a sports reporter following her journalism training through school. But in 2001, Jade was forced to flee her homeland due to unrest that year caused by corrupt elections and crackdowns on society by the state.

“I was initially frightened when I started seeing doctors, therapists and so on through Freedom From Torture because it was something completely different to anything I had done,” Jade explains.

“But then I joined the ‘Write to Life’ group and began talking to others who had suffered, and I realised I was not alone. I began making friends. Being an asylum seeker is tough, and you are not trained to be on your own in a new country.

“It was a struggle to come to the UK,” says Jade, “but the writing group helped me make things better. It has helped me appreciate how far I have come. It has helped me appreciate myself again. It has allowed me to say what is on my mind.”

Jade’s friend and fellow group member, Yamikani, was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she studied electrical engineering. Her parents, who ran a flower farm which shipped flowers to the Netherlands and Canada, were assassinated in 2001 for allegedly collaborating with white Zimbabweans, a crime under the rule of Robert Mugabe.

Yamikani speaking at the IRCT 40yrs event

Yamikani speaking at the IRCT 40yrs event

Yamikani was imprisoned and only released at the point of near-death. Following an escape from the country, Yamikani made it to the UK before being deported to South Africa, then to Ireland, then to the Netherlands, and then eventually back to the UK. Only after five years in the UK was Yamikani finally reunited with her daughter, who now lives with her.

“Settling somewhere was so hard, and every time I found somewhere it was not the permanent solution – it was only the beginning of the nightmare,” she explains.

“I could never set foot in simple places, even like Heathrow Airport. I could not trust anyone. When I joined the writing group, sometimes I really did not want to go, and I would not like it. But now I like the group as it motivated me. Sometimes the pain is still in the back of my mind, but I do not show it. Instead I use it in my writing and to help others.”

The group has also helped Yamikani overcome her asylum fears: “You are not allowed to do everything that others can, and you are always aware that being an asylum seeker means that your rights could be taken away from you at any point,” she explains.

Jade speaking at the IRCT event in April 2014

Jade speaking at the IRCT event in April 2014

“When I got the letters from the Home Office, it made me relive my experiences all the time – it made me feel unwelcome. But when I came to this group, it helped me come to terms with what I was thinking.”

The group’s writing has had success beyond those who write with the group, and collaborations with the Tate Gallery, Sinfini Music and Carmen Electra Opera, and with Tamasha and Ice & Fire theatre companies, have been well received.

“It is hard to get status, and I appreciate the difficulty of it,” Jade adds. “All the people in the group have some guilt because they have found safety. But the writing has helped me come to terms with my past. We feel like ordinary, respected humans.”

 

Click here to read more about the Write to Life project

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