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

400 days behind bars: Peter Greste and Egypt’s broken justice system

The release of Australian journalist Peter Greste, and a new report by Human Rights Watch has once again turned the world’s attention to Egypt’s poor human rights record. This time focus is on the country’s prisons and its inhumane treatment of political prisoners.

After 400 days in prison charged with supporting a “terrorist organisation”, a farcical trial and an international outcry, Peter Greste from Al-Jazeera was finally released from Egypt’s Tora prison this month. Despite the relief of being free again, Greste called for the release of his two colleagues, his producer Mohamed Fahmy, and cameraman Bahar Mohamed, both of whom remain behind bars.

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Mural tribute to Peter Greste (Courtesy of JAM Project, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

 

Like Peter Greste, the two were given heavy sentences for disseminating “false news” and purportedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which won Egypt’s first democratic elections.

Sadly, their story is not at all unique. News outlets report of tens of thousands of political prisoners detained in Egyptian prisons. As most of these prisoners cannot claim dual citizenship, their future is one of much uncertainty and despair.

Torture and Abuse

The staggering number of political prisoners is just one side of Egypt’s problem. Despite the constitution banning torture and abuse of detainees, the practice is widespread in Egyptian prisons.

As the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) points out, history shows that the Egyptian military and police disregard the rule of law and have systematically used extreme violence and torture in their repressive tactics. IRCT’s human rights partners in the region have for years documented the systematic torture of those detained by military and police forces.

According to Amnesty International, torture is routinely practiced in police stations and unofficial places of detention, with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters particularly targeted.

Amnesty International also reports that there has been a surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions and harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody in the past couple of years.

Last year, British newspaper The Guardian revealed that since July 2013 at least 400 people had been tortured and held outside of judicial oversight in a secret military prison.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch criticising the Egyptian authorities, detailed scores of detainees suffering and even dying while in government custody, but human rights defenders all agree that the number of casualties is likely to be much higher than that.

Fighting impunity

Preventing torture in prisons and other places of detention is not an easy task with so few perpetrators brought to justice. Of all torture complaints in Egypt, only a very few reach the courts due to institutional barriers to justice.

The independent Egyptian human rights law firm United Group released a report in which it described how it had interviewed 465 alleged victims of police torture and that it had filed 163 complaints, of which only seven reached the courts.

Sadly, this hopeless and grim situation is unlikely to change any time soon.

Amid continuous reporting on Peter Greste’s release, an Egyptian court sentenced 183 people to death, 34 of whom were not even present for the trial. If this verdict is anything to go by, Egypt is not reforming its prison and justice system. Instead, it appears determined to continue down this dangerous path, ignoring international human rights law.

Peter Greste’s story offers some relief in an otherwise desperate time. After 400 days in captivity, he is back in Australia. Still behind bars, however, are the tens of thousands of political prisoners. They know about the unjust trials and what police brutality feels like. Now they face the prospect of remaining in prisons for years to come – in a country that took away their freedom and human rights.

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Countries in desperate need of ratifying the UN Convention against Torture

Despite ongoing international efforts to eliminate the practice of torture, it is not a question of whether torture still takes place, but rather where in the world it is still practised and how prevalent it is. Currently, more than 40 states across the globe have failed to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and in many of these countries, human rights defenders are raising the alarm, alerting to the constant flow of cases involving torture and ill treatment.

If anything, the recent report on CIA’s use of torture shows that this crime is more prevalent than most of us probably thought. The US is a signatory to the Convention against Torture, yet its own intelligence agency relied on the practice of torture as an integral part of its interrogation technique.

If a country that has committed to respect the UN Convention still allows for the practice of torture, then what is the status in the 40 something countries that are still to adopt it?

We have looked at three of these countries. Despite facing very different problems, they all have one thing in common: none of them has managed to tackle the problem of torture.

India

As a country with a population of more than a billion, it is not hard to see what an overpowering task it is to eliminate torture. Set on making the country an industrial superpower and creating more jobs, overcoming the enormity of its human rights problems is not an immediate priority – economic reform is.

Nonetheless, it is very worrying that a large number of torture cases in India happen at the hand of the police, and often while the victim is in custody. From 2001 to 2010, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded 14,231 deaths in police and judicial custody in India. The vast majority of these deaths can be ascribed to torture.

Only in recent weeks, newspapers have reported on the city of Chennai, where three police officers are currently being investigated for sexual torture of a 19-year old at the local police station. There is also the police commissioner in Delhi who has had to deny claims that the police has used torture to extract confessions. And in Calcutta, the West Bengal Government faces heat over alleged police torture of a woman.

According to various rights organisations, these stories are just the tip of the iceberg in a country that still has a long way to go despite its commitments to tackle the most prevalent human rights abuses. While the country has taken positive steps by strengthening laws protecting women and children, its reluctance to hold state officials to account for torture and other abuses continues to foster a culture of corruption and impunity.

Fiji

To many, Fiji is the perfect holiday destination. With its white sandy beaches and exotic palm trees, this tropical archipelago in the South Pacific could easily be mistaken as paradise on earth. But even paradise has a dark side and in the case of Fiji this dark side involves a poor human rights record.

In recent years, there have been numerous allegations of the use of torture by state officials.
In March 2013, a video was posted on the internet showing two prisoners being badly beaten and humiliated by state security officials. Failure by the Fijian authorities to investigate the case has raised red flags about a culture of impunity for police and security forces.

Following last year’s elections, Fiji had its second review by the UN Human Rights Council which, among other things, urged the state to amend repressive decrees that put severe restrictions on freedom of expression, promote women’s rights and ratify the UNCAT.

Despite these recommendations and similar calls from various human rights organisations, the government is still to take action.

In the meantime, cases of police violence and torture involving state officials continue to emerge.

Central African Republic

For more than two years, a violent, sectarian civil war has left Central African Republic (CAR) paralysed, prompting rights organisations to warn of a human rights crisis spiralling out of control.

In the past 12 months alone, at least 5,000 people have been killed and there are reports of torture, including sexual violence, and other human rights abuses.

In January 2015, UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, reported that crimes against humanity have been widely committed by all parties to the ongoing conflict. The Commission strongly recommended that accountability mechanisms be put in place to tackle the ‘cycle of impunity’ in the CAR.

However, recognising that the CAR Government simply does not have the resources nor the political incentive to bring the perpetrators to justice, the Commission has urged the international community to step up and fund a tribunal to prosecute those who have committed crimes against humanity.

These recommendations illustrate how vital it is for CAR to ratify the UNCAT. Until this happens, violence and torture continue to be rampant in the war-torn country.

Source: The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)

Source: The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)

What difference can the UN Convention against Torture make?

In the first instance, the UNCAT is one of the most important international human rights
instruments in the work against torture which outlines the rights of an individual, outlaws torture, and promotes respect for the human rights of an individual.

When a UN member state has become a party to the Convention, the government of that
country is accountable under international law to take action to prevent torture and to support the victims when torture takes place.

According to the Association for the Prevention of Torture, “the Convention against Torture requires that all States, and each of us, remain vigilant to the risks of torture. This is what makes it so relevant in 2014, thirty years after its adoption.”

You can read more about the countries that have ratified the UNCAT by clicking on this link. For comprehensive profiles on each UN member state, the United Nations website provides a full country list.

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Gaza: Interviews with victims of war

“There was a call for help in a house which had been randomly shelled at Mujama’a St, East Gaza City. It was nearly 01:00 on the last day of Ramadan. The house was in complete chaos when the team arrived. There was dense smoke everywhere and a very bad smell, which hardly allowed them to breathe. I got the stretcher and the flashlight and entered the building, where I immediately saw a badly injured woman under the staircase. I took her to the ambulance and went back to the house. We managed to fit 3-6 people into the second ambulance….

“What shocked me most about this incident was that I forgot the flashlight in the house and my colleague asked me to go back and get it, since we would need it later for other evacuations. When I went back, I heard the feeble cry of a small baby, which I hadn’t noticed before. I looked around but couldn’t see anyone. Then I felt that the voice was coming from under a heap of rubble in flames. I searched in the rubble, though I felt my hands getting burnt, and finally I found a baby around one month old. I took her and ran back to the ambulance, but before I arrived she stopped breathing. I performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on her, and she came back to life.

“I was shocked by the incident, because she could have been one of my children, and I had almost left her behind in the fire to a certain death. I still thank God that I forgot the flashlight, so I was forced to go back to the house and could find her! I found a picture of her in the hospital on the internet, and I saved it, because it is a great encouragement for me. Now I want to look for her and see her grow, to tell her how proud I am that she is alive.”

Thousands of people have been killed or injured in the Gaza conflict.

Thousands of people have been killed or injured in the Gaza conflict. (Courtesy of Robert Croma, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

The author of this story is Yousef Al Kahlout, a PRCS paramedic, who was part of the emergency response to Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Although accounts vary, most estimates put the number of residents of Gaza killed in the 50-day armed conflict at more than 2,000, of whom at least 70% were civilians. Additionally, more than 11,000 were wounded and over 100,000 made homeless because of the attacks.

The tale of Yousef and the baby he saved is one of hope. However, buried in the rubble in Gaza are many other stories of the short but devastating conflict.

Eight independent medical experts travelled to Gaza to uncover these stories. In a new fact-finding report, commissioned by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, they detail the types, causes and patterns of injuries based on interviews with victims.

The report, which is now available, provides a unique insight into the devastating impact war had on the civilians and communities in Palestine, and, at least partly, brings to light some of the stories the conflict nearly erased.

To read the full report, click here.

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Terror, Torture and Trial in the North Caucasus

Guest blogger, Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign takes us through the longest-running criminal trial in modern Russian history and describes how the use of torture to extract confessions remains widespread.

More than 30 years since the UN Convention against Torture entered into force, torture remains a regular practice in many states, with impunity. A recently concluded trial in the Russian Federation shows how prevalent reliance on torture evidence remains in some regions.

On 13 October 2005, groups of armed men carried out attacks on public institutions in Nalchik, the capital city of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) in the volatile North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. In the ensuing violence, which was quelled the following day, more than 150 people died, mainly attackers, and more than 100 were injured. Two militant groups claimed responsibility for the attacks.

It nonetheless took more than nine years to reach a verdict in what became the longest-running criminal trial in modern Russian history, with the largest number of defendants. On 23 December 2014, guilty verdicts were delivered against all 58 defendants in a trial tainted by torture evidence and efforts to obstruct the legal process, resulting in changes to the Russian criminal law; some commentators and human rights NGOs compared it to a show trial worthy of the Stalinist era.

In the days following the attacks, more than 2000 people were arrested; some were forced from their homes by armed police and others handed themselves in for questioning. By the end of the year, 59 remained in detention (one of the defendants died before the case went to trial).

In the week after their arrest, stories and images of their torture at the Nalchik pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) started to emerge. The images quickly circulated in the media causing an outrage which led to official admission that the suspects were tortured but the claims were never investigated. At least one of the defendants has a pending claim at the European Court of Human Rights for the torture he suffered.

Prisoners were tortured to sign confessions. (courtesy of kIM DARam, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

Prisoners were tortured into signing confessions. (Courtesy of kIM DARam, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

The suspects were tortured into signing confessions that were self-incriminating and that incriminated others. In some cases, they did not know the persons they were incriminating. All charged with at least ten offences under the Russian Criminal Code, at trial, many withdrew their confessions, claiming they had been tortured into making them. Those who admitted involvement in the attacks did not plead guilty to all the charges against them. Indeed, many defendants had credible alibis and witnesses to prove it. One defendant was at university in another town at the time, which his teacher and classmates could vouch for; he was nonetheless given a 14-year sentence.

The torture and abuse did not end there; since 2005, and now pending appeal of their sentences, the defendants have been held at the Nalchik SIZO in cramped, unhygienic conditions which are inadequate for short-term pre-trial detention, let alone almost a decade. In addition, beatings by guards are not infrequent as well as prisoners being placed in solitary confinement as arbitrary punishment. On occasion, the defendants have gone on hunger strike in protest. Denied adequate medical attention, the past decade has taken its toll on the health of many defendants, who were healthy young men when they were jailed. Investigating these further claims of abuse has been hampered by the harassment of lawyers and restricted access to them.

Inside the courtroom, the trial was delayed when the defendants were denied a jury trial; instead, changes were made to the Russian Criminal Code retrospectively to restrict jury trials in such cases, thereby leaving the decision on the admissibility of torture evidence to a panel of three judges who passed the verdict. The dubious nature of the judgment is reflected in the fact that none of the four defendants caught with weapons in their possession were among the five given life sentences. More curiously, in a case hinging on the violent deaths of so many people, the murder charge was dropped against all the defendants, meaning that no one convicted in this case is responsible for the deaths. The implication of a former Guantánamo prisoner who lived just outside Nalchik in the attacks was used to justify the disproportionate response by the Russian authorities.

Amnesty International slammed the verdict as “a textbook case of criminal injustice, where the authorities manifestly refused to investigate allegations of torture, despite overwhelming evidence, and the defendants languished for nine years in pre-trial detention, all in violation of international law”. Human Rights Watch called on the authorities “to finally conduct effective and impartial investigations into the torture, hold those responsible to account, and immediately withdraw as evidence any coerced statements by the defendants.”

Lyudmila Alexeyeva from the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group visited some of the defendants at the SIZO and was told by them, “you would have confessed too, if you had been through what we have had to go through.”

 

For more information on the case in English: https://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/creating-a-state-of-mass-terror-in-the-north-caucasus/

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Torture knocking on Denmark’s door

Recently, the IRCT and two of its Danish member centres spoke with Copenhagen-based monthly newspaper The Murmur about their work with torture victims in Denmark.

Torture is something that most of us assume only affects those in developing nations, where civil wars still rage, governments are heavily corrupt and poverty plagues the masses. But while it is more prevalent in these nations, Amnesty International found evidence of torture in 79 countries, all of which had ratified the UN Convention Against Torture.

The IRCT is a leading organisation that helps rehabilitate these individuals, with 144 rehabilitation centres providing holistic treatment to torture victims in 76 countries.

IRCT murmur

Asylum seekers arriving in Denmark often bring with them scars from their encounters with torturers. In Copenhagen, the Oasis rehabilitation centre has just 15 staff members tending to approximately 130 victims, mostly hailing from Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Somalia. Its sister organisation, Rehabiliteringscenter for Torturofre (RCT) in Jutland, treats many people from the Balkans, Chechnya, Syria, and the Post-Soviet Republics.

Both organisations treat the victims using a range of services and personnel, including social workers, psychologists, physical therapists and psychiatrists.

“We treat many civilians who have been victims of, or have witnessed organised violence against others, either during armed conflicts or under terror regimes, but we also treat perpetrators, as many from the Balkans were forced into military service against their will,” explains Mikkel Auning-Hansen, an RCT psychologist.

“Chechen refugees are damaged in many ways. Some were hunted, interrogated or tortured by paramilitary groups. Most of them have family members missing, hiding away from home or hunted for their political views. Some still feel that they are being hunted in Denmark.”

Ruth Lauge, the Director of Oasis, says soldiers are often the perpetrators. “We’ve treated a number of people who were kidnapped by the Taliban. For example, young children who were beaten and forced to put on suicide vests and being psychologically prepared to die, before they escaped,” she explains, adding that many victims have been living in Denmark for years, even decades, before they seek treatment.

“Many people come from being on the run and they just want a normal and safe life, with a home, family and work – just like anyone else,” Auning-Hansen says.

“Most cope for a limited time, but eventually, stress at work, problems in the family, loss of job or other unforeseen stresses tip the load and that’s when people reach out for help.”

 

Read the full article in the latest issue of The Murmur or click on this link.

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Why are torture victims not seeking justice?

It is hardly news that for many torture survivors achieving justice is a crucial part of their rehabilitation process. Nor is it surprising that many victims never find justice because of impunity of their perpetrators. But what might come as a surprise is the fact that many survivors of torture choose not to seek justice for reasons other than impunity.

When it comes to overcoming their trauma and piecing their lives back together, many torture survivors place hope in the prospect of finding justice. Unfortunately, impunity often puts an end to this dream and instead of seeing justice done, the victims see their perpetrators walk away free.

But impunity is not the only factor preventing victims from seeking justice. Just like each victim’s situation may vary, so do the reasons for not taking their perpetrator to court.

Christopher-web_big

Those working with survivors of torture highlight the fear of reprisals, including fear for safety as one of the most common factors for not participating in legal proceedings. Sadly, there are too many tales of victims and their families being threatened for filing a complaint that you easily lose count. Others are harassed and beaten while their families are arrested to punish victims for speaking up.

Perhaps it is not very surprising then that the lack of belief in the justice system is another reason for why torture survivors do not take the matter any further. How can you trust the system to look after you and your family when you have been abused by the authorities or the police?

Even for those who have not experienced any abuse or wrongful arrests, opting for legal proceedings is far from an easy or pleasant choice.

Taking their case to court means reliving some of the most painful and traumatic moments in their life. Naturally, they might ask themselves if the chance of achieving justice and redress is worth all this pain.

Exacerbating the trauma is often the length of the trial or legal process. For those victims whose everyday life is already a constant struggle, taking part in drawn-out and traumatic court proceedings will hardly give them the respite that they need.

It very quickly becomes clear that too often the justice system protects the perpetrator and not the torture victim — something that can have dire consequences when the victim lacks resources and support.

Like a David and Goliath battle, those who have been exposed to torture also tend to be the weakest and poorest in society. To go down the legal path they will need both financial support and help with the often complex court proceedings. The sad reality is that most likely these victims will be on their own unless they are lucky enough to receive help from a rehabilitation centre.

This leads to the question: what can we do to change this?

The road to justice is long and winding, and often full of obstacles for victims of torture, but without them and their testimonies, we are nowhere closer to bringing the perpetrators to justice and obtain reparation for the victims. Everyone involved needs to recognise this while acknowledging the many factors that dissuade torture survivors from seeking justice.

By looking at the process from the victim’s perspective, it becomes clearer to health professionals, lawyers, judges, court officials, police and all the other relevant actors why some torture victims choose never to take steps to seek justice and reparation for the torture inflected upon them.

Without the right support, a victim may never take the first step.

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7 Human Rights Days Significant to the Anti-Torture Movement

Are you a human rights activist at heart whose New Year’s resolution is to voice your support for the movement, but never know when to do so? We have put together a list of significant human rights days worth adding to your 2015 calendar.

Throughout the year there are several days promoting human rights, many of which pay tribute to torture victims and those who have sacrificed their life fighting for justice. We have picked seven days that are all important milestones in the anti-torture movement.

(courtesy of Zack Lee, used via Flickr creative commons licence)

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (courtesy of Zack Lee, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

24 March – International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims

In 2010 when the United Nations General Assembly chose 24 March as the day to honour the victims of gross and systematic human rights violations, the assembly had one particular person in mind. El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated on 24 March 1980 after speaking out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. Like so many others, he lost his life defending the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence.

On this day, the world pays tribute to those who have devoted their lives to, and lost their lives in, the struggle to promote and protect human rights for all.

7 April – Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwanda Genocide

On numbers and timescale alone, the 1994 Rwandan genocide remains the largest of modern times. In 100 days, over 800,000 people were killed for being part of a different ethnic community. Hundreds of thousands civilians were also tortured and raped as the largest ethnic group, the Hutus repeatedly and mercilessly attacked the Tutsi population.

The mass killings began on 7 April, which is also the day that has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the Day of Remembrance of the many victims.

The aim with this day is to honour the many victims and to ensure that the world will never let history repeat itself.

4 June – International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression

On 19 August 1982, at its emergency special session on the question of Palestine, the United Nations General Assembly, decided to commemorate 4 June of each year as the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.

The purpose of 4 June is to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.

20 June – World Refugee Day

For the first time since the Second World War, the global refugee figure has passed 50 million, the majority of whom live in developing countries.

Health professionals and researchers commonly estimate that between 4-35% of refugees worldwide have been subjected to torture.

For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own Refugee Days and even Weeks. One of the most widespread is Africa Refugee Day, which is celebrated on 20 June in several countries. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly decided that this day would also be celebrated as World Refugee Day.

26 – June International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Since the first 26 June celebrations in 1998, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture has undoubtedly become the most significant day for the anti-torture movement.

Torture is a crime under international law, but despite freedom from it holding the status as one of the few universally recognised human rights, torture is still widely practised. The consequences reach far beyond immediate pain, destroying the lives of many victims and their families. Yet, too often, the perpetrators are not brought to justice, resulting in more pain and suffering for the victims.

26 June helps us remind the world and ourselves that torture is serious crime and a human rights violation which must be investigated, prosecuted and punished. Every year, the IRCT marks 26 June with a host of events, making it the world’s largest anti-torture campaign.

25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Women’s activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981. This date came from the brutal assassination in 1960 of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

Globally, violence against women remains rampant, with up to 35 per cent of women having experienced some form of violence.

Women are often more vulnerable to violence and discrimination than men and sexual abuse such as rape becomes a weapon of war in armed conflicts. 25 November not only commemorates the Mirabal sisters, but also serves as a reminder to all of us that it is time to end this global pandemic of violence against women.

10 December – Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is celebrated by the international community every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

10 December is a key day for organisations like the IRCT that use the day to cast a light on important human rights issues, including torture, through various events such high-level political conferences and cultural events and exhibitions.

 

Have any day to add to the list? Write us a comment.

 

For a full list of official UN days click on this link.

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2014 in review

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

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

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

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

Staff at CVT

10 questions (and answers) about torture rehabilitation

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

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

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

Psychosocial Support – survivor story

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting torture and impunity on the dental chair

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

Staging a resistance to the act of torture

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

The Sound of Torture

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

War did not prepare Vaja for torture in a Georgian prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Human Rights Day 2014: Psychosocial Support in Focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The report on psychosocial support has been launched

The report on psychosocial support has been launched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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