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Editor’s Note: This is a blog post from IRCT Secretary-General Joost Martens
The turning of the year has provided many of us with an opportunity for reflection and taking-stock. For me, it’s no different: looking back at my first months in the job, since taking on the role of Secretary-General, and looking ahead at the many challenges and opportunities that we have in front of us.
As I have said before, the IRCT exists because of its members, and in recent months, I’ve been getting to know our members better, through the Governance Council meetings in the autumn, through my participation in regional seminars and through ad hoc contacts. And I’ve been overwhelmed by the dedication and commitment of the people that make up this movement.
An important part of the challenges ahead of us are related to the incidence of torture. This can be in the form of increased sexual violence and torture against women and girls in many parts of the world; it can take the form of a rise of human rights abuses perpetrated not just by governments, but related to private business interests; or it can be linked to the economic austerity that is impacting upon the refugee and migrant populations in Europe, North America and Australasia, where a growing tide of anti-immigrant rhetoric is heaping further harm on those who need protection most.
But there is another type of challenge of great concern, which has to do with the working of the centres and the rehabilitation that can be provided: this has to do in part with threats to IRCT member centres’ staff in different parts of the world, because the stigmatization of human rights defenders as subversive – care for caregivers is an important and urgent need in that respect. What is most concerning, however, is the mere fact that many of the rehabilitation centres may face forced closure because of lack of financial resources, putting at risk the presence of sustained and professional torture rehabilitation facilities.
In that context, it is essential that there is global acknowledgement and recognition of the right to rehabilitation. Therefore, an important area of activity of the Secretariat is on advocating and campaigning for realising this Right to Rehabilitation, as envisaged under Article 14 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Realising this right is a key advocacy aim for the IRCT in 2013. With this right accepted as part of the Human Rights Framework of the UN, it gives the IRCT members an instrument to advocate for more resources to be made available for the rehabilitation of torture survivors.
The IRCT starts 2013 in a stronger position that we’ve been in for a while. Our funding base is stronger than in recent years, which is testament to the hard work put in by my colleagues at the Secretariat. We look forward to increasing our engagement with the membership through the hiring of new staff, to be based not at the Secretariat’s headquarters here in Copenhagen, but in the regions. This will allow us to be in closer contact with our member centres and work towards building and strengthening our capacities. As 2013 progresses, we will focus on making sure that the Secretariat as a whole is “fit for purpose”.
Being fit for purpose is key because the challenges ahead are many. But, from what I’ve seen so far, I know that as a movement we are ready to rise to the challenges; ensuring rehabilitation and access to justice for survivors of torture, and work towards the prevention of torture.
We shall be taking a short break for the winter holidays and will return on the 3rd of January 2013.
While also a fond farewell to Brita Sydhoff, Friday’s reception was also a warm welcome to new Secretary-General Joost Martens
Brita Sydhoff, former Secretary-General of IRCT, bade a warm and thankful farewell to the more than 100 guests Friday night at a reception in her honour. The reception was also to warmly welcome IRCT’s new Secretary-General Joost Martens.
More than a hundred guests joined the staff of IRCT, including staff from member centre Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims, members of the IRCT Executive Committee from all over the world, ambassadors and other diplomatic staff based in Copenhagen, and friends of the organisation.
“I wish to truly thank all of you, through thick and thin times we’ve had at the IRCT for your hard work and dedication to this cause – the rehabilitation of torture victims worldwide,” Brita said in her farewell speech. Among her achievements, she recounted she was particularly proud of the steadfastly democratic governing structures that lead the IRCT today. The Executive Committee, who are elected every three years by the 144 members of the IRCT, were in attendance at Friday’s festivities as they had just completed a two-day meeting in Copenhagen.
Click through our slideshow for photos of IRCT staff and supporters of the organisation during the reception on Friday.
These stories came to us through our member centres – the more than 140 rehabilitation centres worldwide that treat victims of torture and their families. As experiences of torture and rehabilitation are a particularly delicate subject (for a multitude of reasons, but foremost is the autonomy of survivors, their privacy and concerns of re-traumatisation), we wanted to share how we go about balancing these concerns with the belief that sharing stories can be effective in rehabilitation.
Recently, staff of the IRCT Secretariat sat down to update our policy on collecting and sharing torture survivors’ testimony. Most of us would agree that survivor participation is a cornerstone of effective torture rehabilitation services, but it can be a difficult task finding this right balance between safeguarding the mental and physical health of survivors and respecting their autonomy.
While testimony can be a powerful way to give a voice to survivors in the anti-torture movement, it can carry significant mental and physical health risks. During the meeting, the doctors in the room worried openly about the re-traumatisation of survivors and reducing the risk of harm from government retaliation.
Lawyers in the room added concerns over how to make sure that survivors freely give their permission at all stages of collection and use of their stories. Members of the communications team saw personal testimony as an important way of introducing the voices and experiences of survivors in to the anti-torture discussion, but were keen to avoid sensationalising stories.
With all these concerns, collecting and publishing testimony of survivors seems like a scary proposition. But from our experience at the IRCT, we’ve seen that many torture survivors want a forum to publicly share their experiences and participate in the anti-torture movement even where it places them at risk of future violations. So our biggest obstacle was designing a policy that took our presumptions and fears out of the equation and provided a consistent method for us to realistically assess the dangers, provide accurate information to survivors and trust that survivors themselves are the best experts on their experiences, values, preferences and approach to risk.
After going through many versions, we ended up with a procedure that hopefully guides us through the process of equipping survivors with the right information for informed consent, and a providing a flexible way to evaluate the context, safety concerns, and wishes of the survivor when deciding how to use a story.
There are of course still many challenges and a fair amount of debate over the most responsible way to collect and publish survivor stories, but what’s clear is that sometimes the most valuable service we can offer is simply a platform for survivors to make their voices heard.
Well, this is pretty neat. Find us on Scoop.it, a web service where you can ‘curate’ your own news topic. Ours, The Fight Against Torture, will be updated daily with news clippings, opinion pieces, and blogs on the global struggle against torture, ongoing cases, and the mechanisms at hand to prevent torture.
Thus, rather than having them here on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, we will now be able to update the Scoop.it site daily. Follow us, keep updated, and break the cycle of silence.
Press release from our website:
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) has been awarded the 2011 Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize, by the government of Argentina.
“This prize belongs to the entire movement of 150 IRCT member centres globally who work tirelessly for the rehabilitation of torture survivors, access to justice and the prevention of torture”, said IRCT Secretary-General Brita Sydhoff.
“We are immensely grateful for the recognition, especially from Argentina – a country that has worked so hard to overcome its own history of torture – which in providing international visibility to our work will aid the protection of so many of our colleagues working under inhospitable conditions around the world,” concluded Sydhoff.
Established in 2007, the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize grants recognition to foreign organisations or individuals fighting impunity against systemic violations of human rights. The prize is the first human rights distinction to be awarded by a developing country.
We are truly humbled by this selection. Read the full statement here.
Welcome to the new World Without Torture blog.
Having just passed our 25-year-mark, we wanted to take the next step – blogging. World Without Torture is found on Facebook and Twitter, but we hoped to expand our efforts in social media. We wanted to provide a space where our community of torture fighters, supporters, and survivors can speak about this global struggle for a world without torture.
And, at the IRCT - the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims – we wanted to open our doors so our community of supporters can understand a bit more about just what we do at our Secretariat office in Copenhagen, and liaison offices in Geneva and Brussels. Additionally, we plan to ask our member centres – more than 140 members in about 70 countries worldwide – to add their voices to this space to explain the ongoing work in preventing torture, providing access to justice, and providing rehabilitative services to the victims.
And, more than anything, we wanted to highlight a space for survivors of torture to share their stories.
As such, in the coming weeks and months, expect many changes in how we share our organisation’s work, mission, and experiences. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we will post news links, updates, and some analysis on ongoing cases of torture around the world. Every week, we will write a focused piece on a region or issue related to torture. And, our in-house experts will provide analysis and explanations of the work they do – from missions to the Philippines to study the affects of torture on children, to our regional member seminars in Latin America and how rehabilitative clinics in that region share information and knowledge.
And throughout this blogging ‘conversation’, we will, of course, always keep our doors open. If you have an idea for a blog post, an issue you would like us to cover, please feel free to add it to the comments or e-mail us at email@example.com.