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/
Posted in On the Forefront on 21/08/2014
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.
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.
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?
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”.
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.
Posted in From our members on 14/08/2014
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.
“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, 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 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.
“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.”
The United States military is not properly investigating civilian torture and deaths in Afghanistan leading to the human cost of the conflict being “compounded by injustice”, a damning Amnesty International report claims.
The report, entitled ‘Left in the Dark’, highlights 10 case studies alongside statistics and investigative pieces showing the full extent to which Afghan families are being “left in the dark about the full circumstances and legality of their relatives’ deaths.”
The 10 cases covered in the report from 2009 to 2013 saw the deaths of 140 civilians through US military operations. Amnesty claim the majority of family members interviewed said they had not been debriefed on the deaths by US military investigators.
Two of the cases – one involving a special operations forces raid on a house in Khataba village, Paktia province, in 2010, and another involving enforced disappearances, torture, and killings in Wardak province from November 2012 to February 2013 – provide “compelling evidence of war crimes,” the report says.
Last November Rolling Stone published a feature analysing the torture and subsequent deaths of civilians in Wardak Province, perpetrated by a special forces group dubbed ‘The A-Team’ who tortured civilians with beatings, strangulation, solitary confinement and even torture designed to restrict urination.
According to the Amnesty report, torture was inflicted on detainees and civilians were threatened with torture in order to intimidate them. The methods used are similar to those used in CIA ‘Black Sites’.
While the report notes there have been improvements in the transparency of civilians deaths, most incidents involve airstrikes and night raids, two tactics openly criticised in he past.
The report concludes deaths and torture were not properly investigated, giving families false information regarding the fate of their loved ones, and that current investigations into human rights abuses are slow and ineffective.
It is another blow to the US whose human rights record is being intensively scrutinised not just for allegations of torture in Afghanistan, but also the conduct of the CIA interrogation officials and potential involvement of US forces alongside the UK military in alleged torture in Iraq.
What Amnesty’s report shows is that, once again, the US apathy to the torture carried out amidst its ranks is systematic and seemingly unrelenting. It is not just the torture that is the problem – the problem is also the impunity generated by the ineffectiveness, or sheer lack of, investigations and justice processes.
The US often preaches assurance and respect of human rights obligations by other nations, yet rarely does its analysis turn itself inwards. Yet with all of these recent controversies, the pressure is now truly on the US to reconsider its position and implementation of human rights.
And quite rightly so.
Posted in From our members on 07/08/2014
Survivors of torture carry wounds which only targeted, specialised rehabilitation can heal. Often torture destroys not only the life of the victim but their life at home, their relationships with their family and friends, and their place in their community.
Therapy, medical care and a whole range of physical and psychological support projects help survivors of torture overcome their past. But one of the most important changes to a torture survivor, both on their way to and through rehabilitation, is the building of confidence and self-esteem to tackle their past and face the future.
Through the Accoglenza e Cura Vittime di Tortura (Vi.To.) project, funded via the European Union’s EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, IRCT member the Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati (CIR) (Italian Council for Refugees) is using theatre to help refugees and torture survivors overcome their experiences, build their self-esteem and teach them valuable new skills.
We take a look at one of their most recent shows.
All of the Vi.To. performances feature refugees and torture survivors who have received, or are receiving, treatment from the CIR centre. Many of them have no previous acting experience but the professional team of make up artists and coaches ease them into their roles.
At one of their most recent performances, held to mark the International Day in Support of Torture Victims on 26 June, huge set pieces were required for the show, taking a lot of preparation and time. But it is something the staff and performers are used to – the project has been running since 2011 and there was expert guidance from Nube Sandoval and Bernado Rey.
The latest performance, a play inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s short story ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World’, features 15 refugees who participated in psycho-social rehabilitation theatre workshop as part of CIR’s Vi.To. project. The play focuses on the reactions of villagers in a seaside town who encounter an unknown dead man washed up on their beach.
The story is one of hope, acceptance and commemoration. It shows how the dead stranger is pulled from the sea and welcomed into the identity of the village as if he were one of their own and the realisation of change the villagers would have to make to adapt to accepting the handsome drowned man, a white man in an otherwise African community.
Over 400 people attended the performance, all giving positive and encouraging feedback about the performance of the cast, the direction and the messages which were prominent throughout the play. Approximately 1,300 refugees have been involved and rehabilitated since the project began.
After the performance – which is as nerve-racking as it is exciting – the cast and staff from CIR unite for an evening of dancing, showing their solidarity and support for victims of torture across the globe.
If you would like to find out more about CIR in Italy, click this link.
The Vi.To. performance will be featured in the upcoming 26 June Global Report, but if you would like to read more about the project then click this link.
Posted in Advocacy and Influencing Policy on 05/08/2014
Yesterday we focused on the soft use of language by President Obama in relation to the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which are now understood to constitute torture. Today the theme is language still, but of a different kind as we welcome the comments of Dr Peter Young on the conditions asylum seekers face in Australian detention centres.
Human rights organisations across the world congratulate Dr Young, former director of IHMS mental health services, the company responsible for healthcare in all of Australia’s detention centres, for his boldness and honesty in confronting what many have suspected for a long time: treatment in Australia’s asylum seeker detention centres is akin to torture.
Here is the most important quote from Dr Young:
“If we take the definition of torture to be the deliberate harming of people in order to coerce them into a desired outcome, I think it does fulfil that definition”
We at World Without Torture have written much in he past about Australia’s dreadful treatment of asylum seekers, not just in the detention centres but in the heavy-handed Australian approach of simply turning away all asylum seekers to their country of origin, regardless of the potential human rights abuses the man, woman or child faces in their homeland.
We, and many other organisations, have written extensively on the topic, calling for compassion towards asylum seekers, calling for Australia to uphold the rights or asylum seekers – particularly as a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Australia’s government should give fair and proper consideration, screening and treatment to anyone seeking asylum, to identify potential trauma and suffering which forced them to take the decision to leave their country. But even more basic than that, to assure basic protection of human rights, correct and fair treatment of asylum seekers is a must.
Yet no one has ever spoken out that these horrifying conditions exist – politicians have denied there is torture and ill-treatment and much of the calls for prohibition of this treatment have been based on stories from detainees in the centres and observations made from external human rights groups.
But Dr Young’s bold admission – an admission that comes from direct experience in the detention centres – is a damning one, turning the spotlight directly onto Australia’s potential ignorance of its human rights obligations for the first time in this troubling story of continued torture of the most vulnerable people.
Now let’s hope politicians take note, not just of the honesty and openness, but of what must change right now to end this ill-treatment and ensure victims of this torture are able to access rehabilitation.
Posted in Advocacy and Influencing Policy on 04/08/2014
It is a surprisingly careless, candid admission to make: “We tortured some folks”. But President Obama said just this in a news conference on Friday, in one blunt line confirming what many suspected the CIA had carried out since September 11th: there was torture of alleged terror suspects.
Yet the admission does not accuse anyone in particular of wrongdoing and, if the Republican support of the ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques is anything to go by, perhaps no one will ultimately take the fall.
According to the Guardian the CIA torture report, which may be released as early as this week, shows there is a difference in opinion in the US government as to what constitutes torture and how useful torture is – a needless debate which rages on despite human rights organisations around the globe constantly remind governments that torture never works and is never justified, humane or acceptable. Democrat representatives have long been critical of the CIA’s enhanced torture techniques while Republicans have argued these action, while against human rights, helped national security and aided the takedown of Osama Bin Laden.
Whichever view you take though Obama’s phrase “we tortured some folks” is perhaps the most troubling quote in this debacle. Either Obama is understating the full effects of the report – a report which is expected to showcase some detailed descriptions of the primarily Bush-era torture – or he has carelessly brushed aside the crime of torture, its effects, the victims and the importance of preventing this international crime in the future.
This remark alone is not enough to judge. However Obama’s public support of CIA Director John Brennan and remarks stating that it is important “not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job [the CIA] had” certainly adds credence to the cynical view that torture is being ignored by the US.
One final remark from Obama: “A lot of those folks [in the CIA] were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.”
Torture is not so much as being ignored, but its implementation is being justified too.
The details of the CIA report are still under wraps and only upon release will we really see the full extent of the CIA. But let’s not forget this: the United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified in October 1990.
The US often laud their own human rights superiority, quickly condemning other nations who break their obligations. And perhaps, after the release of the CIA report, their criticisms will turn inwards as the country strongly reflects on the crime committed in the name of national security.
Then and now the US, its government and its people have human rights obligations to adhere to, particularly surrounding the prevention and prohibition of torture.
But with Obama’s remarks, can you really tell?
Posted in From our members on 01/08/2014
As the war in Gaza draws to a 72 hour calm in its fourth week, organisations around the world are taking stock of the damage caused. Figures from the BBC show 1,450 people have died, the majority of whom are Palestinian civilians. Internal displacement is still a real issue as 43% of the country is marked as a no-go zone. And only now, weeks too late, is the first humanitarian aid arriving in Gaza.
But the often unsighted consequence of war is trauma. Every day hundreds of new cases of trauma are exhibited yet the services established to ease this very suffering are being destroyed every single minute.
This week the IRCT published a story reflecting on the strain its membership in Gaza and Palestine are facing amidst this war. The story highlights the strain the members face each day in providing some normality for survivors of torture and trauma.
But they are struggling. While international aid and support is welcome in this 72 hour truce, the war must end completely so suffering ceases and the region can be accessed by international agencies who can implement concrete strategies beyond this current three-day window.
In unity with this come many calls from IRCT members across the globe to end the fighting, to ensure rehabilitation services are prioritised immediately and to stand side-by-side to support the men, women and children who are at the mercy of this conflict.
Statements of solidarity and calls to end the war
One such statement of solidarity comes from IRCT member CORE-H2H in Manipur, India, who joined 24 other human rights organisations in the Asia region in calling for an immediate end to “one of the most horrendous humanitarian disasters and crisis of serious human rights violations of this century. ” (Click here to read the full statement)
In Latin America, the Latin American coalition Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Instituciones de Salud contra la Tortura (the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Health Institutions against Torture, Impunity and other violations of Human Rights) calls upon States and international organisations, as well as society as a whole, to recognise and condemn the continuing breaches of human rights obligations in this war. (Click here to read the full statement)
Finally the IRCT joined its colleagues in the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition who call for armed groups on both sides, Israel and Palestine, to observe an immediate ceasefire and halt their continuing violations on international human rights and humanitarian obligations. (Click here to read the full statement)
The IRCT, along with hundreds of human rights organisations across the globe, is following very closely the events in Gaza and stands united with its members in the region, and across the world, in calling for an end to this war. Only a bilateral ceasefire, enforced by the international community alongside provisions for rehabilitation, can provide real prospects for peace in at this time in the Middle East.
Posted in News & Clippings on 31/07/2014
While July was an incredibly busy month for the anti-torture movement, one story stood out beyond the rest: the trauma experienced in Gaza amidst the current context of war.
Over 1,200 people are dead in the war in Gaza, the majority of whom are civilians. Families are being torn apart by the war, cities are being destroyed and support mechanisms which typically assist rehabilitation and rebuilding are being destroyed at a ferocious rate.
The IRCT has three centres in the Palestine-Gaza territory – all have felt the effects of this war first hand.
In order to show the strain the people on the ground are under, the IRCT published a story summarising the strain the centres face and the growing problem of trauma which has spread throughout Gaza – trauma which would normally be treated but cannot be effectively in this instance due to the relentless destruction present every day.
The IRCT will continue to monitor the situation in Gaza closely and will encourage the international community to remember the importance of rehabilitation and support mechanisms which assist society in regaining strength.
The situation in Ukraine has been unstable ever since anti-government protests began last year.
Yet now, with the continued battles in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, torture reports and incidences have been extremely prevalent on the radar.
In order to gather some perspective on how often these incidences of torture are reported, the IRCT spoke to its member in the region about the realities of torture in eastern Ukraine and what the international community could be doing to stop this crime.
Still in Europe, our most popular blog this month focused on the possible fallout human rights organisations in Europe could expect with the recent changes in the European Parliament.
To give a full and fair perspective on the possible changes, we spoke with IRCT Advocacy Advisor Elena Zacharenko, based in the IRCT’s European Affairs Office, who outlined the main changes in the european political landscape and speculated how these alterations may impact on the priorities of human rights organisations.
It seems like a long time ago already when hundreds of human rights groups united around the world to campaign for the end of torture.
However it was only last month when thousands of people across the globe voiced their support and solidarity for victims of torture and condemned the practice of torture perpetrated in a variety of contexts.
The main theme for the 26 June campaign was #NoMoreImpunity, a theme replicated across all the IRCT materials for the day – many of which are viewable in the photo blog summarising the highlights of the day.
Since April we have been publicising ten hard-hitting, insightful, harrowing stories from female survivors of torture and sexual violence of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
Twenty years after the genocide these brave women, and many more throughout Rwandan, are still seeking therapy and justice. But it is thanks to the provision of therapy that many of these women are overcoming their past.
We focused on ten stories over the exact 100 day period of the genocide, each with a different theme and experience. All of the stories are featured in the IRCT’s latest publication of Torture Journal, which you can read in full here.
July signalled a positive step towards the global fight against impunity with Sweden adopting a new law which grants them international jurisdiction to try perpetrators of torture, no matter how historic the cases of torture may be.
The law, which is expected to be expanded upon once more in January 2015, was welcomed by the IRCT as a positive step in assuring victims of torture receive justice and redress for their torture.
The IRCT also wishes to congratulate the Swedish Red Cross who were instrumental in assuring this law was possible.
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.
Posted in On the Forefront on 29/07/2014
In May 2009, Sri Lankan government forces seized the last Tamil Tiger controlled area of the country, signalling an end to 25 years of violent conflict. Despite this, bitterness still remains in the country today and while the civil war has been declared over, Sri Lanka still contains a vast number of war veterans and victims who seek rehabilitation from their trauma.
Adding to this is poverty – poverty not only caused by the conflict, but also due to the high frequency of natural disasters which seem to doom Sri Lanka, the latest incident being the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed the lives of 40,000 people.
To relieve the mental stress of those who have been reduced to poverty because of the conflict and natural disasters, IRCT member Survivors Associated (SA) was established in 1996 alleviate the distress felt by thousands across the country.
Initially Survivors Associated sought to conduct psychosocial development activities at grass roots level in conflict areas. By attending to their economic, social and health needs, self-confidence could be instilled and a route for victims of war to attain their social aspirations could be highlighted.
The work of Survivors Associated now extends across the majority of the country and has broadened its focus once more, now aiming to cure the poverty – and the vulnerabilities to torture which poverty brings – caused by natural disasters.
In particular, Survivors Associated emphasises the importance of treating marginalised groups, such as female torture survivors, disabled war veterans, and children. Through community based holistic care, rehabilitation, education, economic empowerment and peace building, it is hoped victims of trauma in Sri Lanka can overcome their past.
The close ties Survivors Associated has built with the communities it works with has formed a solid foundation for building ethnic harmony in the country. Some recent positive developments include establishing creative therapy groups for women and children, group therapy programmes including a range of participants, and educational courses essential to many for living including cooking, woodwork, and weaving.
Through their work, Survivors Associated hopes Sri Lanka can continue to unite, move past their past and, ultimately, evolve as a nation.