Archive for category Asia
The day saw an unprecedented number of organisations around the world come together to mark the day, to stand in solidarity with survivors of torture and to remind the world that rehabilitation for torture survivors not only works, it is a right to which they are entitled.
As Joost Martens, IRCT Secretary-General says in his foreword to the report,
Each year, on 26 June, we pause to commemorate and honour the victims of torture, both historic and present. The day has been marked since 1988, which was the first anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, signed on 26 June 1987.
Yet today, despite its absolute prohibition, torture continues to be a global phenomenon: both physical and psychological torture is prevalent in over half the world’s countries. This is a disgrace in the twenty-first century.
Its victims are men, women – often targeted by rape and other sexual torture, and also, children. Torture victims are disproportionately from marginalised groups, in particular the poor, but also minority groups, such as ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.
The day gives us a time to pause and remember those who have suffered, and stand with those who continue to suffer, for, the effects of torture continue long after the actual act has happened.
These are some of the photos we got from 26 June events around the world:
How IRCT Pakistan member is confronting the country’s problems
Upon meeting Khalida Salimi, she almost immediately thanked me for being among the ‘young people’ entering into the field of anti-torture work.
“We need more young people to eventually take over for us,” she explains. Salimi views the anti-torture movement as just that – a movement of human rights defenders worldwide, where new, young people must take up the cause and move forward the great strides the elder generation has started.
Salimi herself started working in this field around 20 years ago. She founded the Pakistani centre SACH Struggle for Change in 1994 as part of the growing movement for human rights in her country. She is a trained sociologist, which explains her commitment to a multi-disciplinary approach to the rehabilitation of torture survivors in a field largely dominated by doctors and lawyers. A multi-faceted view, she says, is highly necessary when working in a country beset by large-scale and ongoing poverty, armed conflict while acting as a recipient of a massive population of Afghan refugees from the long history of conflict in the neighbouring country.
Among those various views on how to tackle the problem of torture, Salimi has dedicated herself to continued engagement with all levels of both civil society and government. “A holistic approach,” she explains, “means we need to address and reach the police, the judiciary, the prison systems and then of course the medical professionals and lawyers.”
Reaching the police in particular has been a long—term process, one most recently partially supported by the Non-State Actors (NSA) project from the IRCT, of which SACH is a member. Initially, SACH had to reach out to the police authorities to offer them training on sensitisation of human rights and the law. Now, she reports, the relevant government authorities are reaching out to SACH and requesting further training from the NGO.
“They (police authorities) have moved from denial to acceptance that torture exists and it is a problem.”
The project has assisted Salimi’s organisation in producing manuals for police training to continue the ongoing process of ingraining a culture of human rights. “At the very least, we should ensure a baseline – that the police understand that there is a right to life, a right to dignity.” Now, several police stations in Islamabad have posters with the definition of torture, translated into Urdu, hanging on their walls, thanks to the work of SACH. And in February of this year, the organisation held a training session for nearly 50 prison staff from 8 prisons in the Faisalabad region on the definition of torture, the effects of torture and on improved prison management techniques.
And this is indeed a long and ongoing process, she emphasises, especially in a country that has fundamental challenges in its capacity to address several problems. Take the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), for example. SACH was fundamental in convincing the Pakistani government to sign and ratify the treaty, a process that took many years. Part of that challenge, Salimi says, was convincing the relevant government authorities that Pakistan could indeed comply with the Convention.
The UNCAT, among the fundamental international treaties that prohibits the use of torture, obligates the states that have ratified it to report on certain requirements. Has that country criminalised torture in their domestic laws? Have they neglected to investigate claims of torture? Has the country rendered individuals to a third country where they could have been tortured? The monitoring of the UNCAT obligations requires that countries report on these issues regularly.
The government authorities in Pakistan, she says, attributed their reluctance to sign and ratify the UNCAT because they worried about having the ability to respond to these reporting requirements. But they did it in the end: on 23 June 2010, Pakistan ratified the treaty. One year later to the day, SACH, in coordination with several other civil society organisations, held a workshop with several government ministers to facilitate their reporting to the United Nations on the Convention.
However, SACH’s engagement isn’t limited to the government and preventing torture, but also working with the victims of torture around the country. One aspect of holistic rehabilitation to which they are committed is engagement with torture victims and their families through livelihood training.
“We don’t want to simply give people fish; we need to teach them to fish.”
Many of the survivors they work with have been given a small subsistence allowance through the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Through technical and financial cooperation with the IRCT, they have worked with dozens of survivors to improve their skills to create viable small enterprises.
“These are small-scale enterprises, such as vegetable carts in the markets. But we meet with the survivors and analyse their skills. Then we provide a basic adult education, such as understanding the finances of pricing items.”
Overall, it is the potential for the global movement that most excites Salimi. Through the NSA project the IRCT is facilitating capacity development for centres through exchanges and sharing knowledge with other centres around the world.
The torturers can always come up with new ways to torture people, she says, so the networks of torture rehabilitation centres around the world can help the caregivers make sure they stay ahead.
“The perpetrators are powerful, while the care providers may not have the resources, power and time. But by building our networks and becoming connected, the caregivers are united against torture.”
Hanging on the wall in Steen Holger Hansen’s office is a hunk of twisted metal.
“It’s part of a German aeroplane shot down by the Americans during World War Two,” he notes. “It was found in Southern Denmark just ten years ago, although it crashed more than 60 years ago. I wrote the death certificate for the German pilot, and he was finally buried properly.”
Dr Hansen’s office is lined with similar objects; objects that, for him, tell stories. As a forensic pathologist at the University of Copenhagen, he is in some ways a story-teller, and a historian. His mission to Cambodia last year was of particular historical significance: he had to find evidence of torture, evidence that victims had been brutalised by state authorities, from more than 30 years ago, during the Khmer Rouge era.
Dr Hansen took part in the forensic investigation mission to Cambodia last year as one of three health and medical experts, which included Marina Staiff of Switzerland and Pierre Duterte of France. Dr Staiff and Dr Duterte were tasked with the psychological assessment of 11 clients of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO); Dr Hansen was there to conduct the physical examination of those clients.
When he traveled last year to Cambodia, he says, he approached the task – that of examining those claiming torture to verify their allegations – through near-endless research. He read all the books he could find on the country’s devastating history, the four years of Khmer Rouge rule from 1974 to 1979, during which half the population was killed in labour camps and through extrajudicial executions and torture.
He also visited the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school turned torture centre during the Khmer Rouge period. There he noted particular leg shackles – metal bars in a D-shape. One part of this story.
He was particularly pessimistic about this task, he says. He read crushing personal testimonies from that four-year peiriod. But he was in doubt about his possible role in helping them.
“This was more than 30 years ago, and I thought I would probably not be able to do anything. Even with very recent torture, there can be difficulty in finding physical confirmation in an examination.”
Getting the evidence
TPO, an IRCT member, sits in a tall, modern building in the capital Phnom Penh. They offer a vast array of psychosocial services, in particular for victims of sexual and gender-based violence and victims of the genocide of the 1970s. They are providing assistance to victims of the genocide who have come forth as witnesses in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the tribunal that, since 2007, has been tasked with trying former Khmer Rouge officials on crimes against humanity, including war crimes, murder, torture and genocide. There are many thousands of survivors of the genocide who have registered as witnesses in the cases.
The 11 clients that the three doctors examined were among these thousands registered in ‘Case 002′ at the ECCC. The hybrid tribunal brings together the Cambodia judiciary and international experts to assist in the ongoing trials of Khmer Rouge leaders. Only one case – Case 001 – has concluded. The ECCC found Khang Khek Leu, often called ‘Duch’, guilty of crimes against humanity, including murder and torture. During the regime, Leu ran the Tuol Sleng prison.
Dr Hansen tells me that Tuol Sleng, now a museum, provided much of the research he conducted alongside the examination of the 11 clients. There, he says, an estimated 20,000 people were detained during those four years of whom there are only seven known survivors . The rest were killed, either through devastating incarceration, torture, and murder or labour camps. But it was in Tuol Sleng that Hansen saw the D-shaped leg shackles. These particular shackles were also depicted in the art work of Vann Nath, one of the handfuls of survivors of Toul Sleng.
On all of the clients that claimed they were shackled during their torture were small scars along their ankles. They were extremely faint. But they were there.
“These marks were consistent with their testimonies. We say that findings are consistent with claims of torture. We do not directly say, ‘Yes, these people were tortured.’ That is the job of the judiciary. But yes, all the shackle scars were highly consistent with the allegations.”
Further clients had marks of burns caused by metal rods. Others had marks from arms binds around their elbows. The physical scars of torture, nearly 30 years after they occurred, still testify to their agonizing experiences at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Old scars can still tell stories.
Forensic evidence at the ECCC
It is not known yet if this forensic evidence will be used in the ECCC in Case 002. Three top Khmer Rouge leaders are one trial: Ieng Sary, former foreign minister; Nuon Chea, the regime’s second in command; and Khieu Samphan, a former head of state. A fourth, Ieng Thirith, who was the social affairs minister, was found unfit to stand trial, reportedly because she has Alzheimer’s, and was dismissed from the case. All four are more than 80 years old.
Although it remains a possibility, Dr Hansen is doubtful over whether he will be called to testify to the tribunal. The use of forensic documentation is still not well-enough understood throughout the world, even among the judiciary, and with a witness list numbering well over a thousand, there is still much evidence to go through. The process allowed anyone with an allegation to come forth, provide testimony and register as a witness; it included allegations of war crimes, genocide, murder, rape, other sexual violence, forced marriage, forced labour, and massive accounts of neglect resulting in starvation and death from untreated medical needs.
However, regardless of whether or not he testifies, Dr Hansen remains extremely positive about the experience. “We now know that you can confirm torture allegations that are nearly 30 years old. We know that we should not discount the possibility of finding forensic evidence even from such old cases. People often ask me, ‘How can you read about these cases?’ People say, ‘It’s just so terrible to read this.’ It is terrible. But we should read and learn, and then you can help. What I’m saying is just that these stories should never be forgotten.’
Tessa, a US citizen living in Denmark, is Communications Officer at the IRCT.
In the most militarised place on earth, one man is standing up to the armed might of the world’s largest democracy. Kashmir’s Torture Trail follows a Kashmiri lawyer as he uncovers India’s violent secret.
Kashmir erupted in violent demonstrations in 2010, when hundreds of thousands of teenagers took to the streets pelting the Indian Security Forces with stones.
However, while the cameras were drawn elsewhere, there followed a vicious crackdown, which by the time it had finished in April of last year, had all but cleared the streets, extinguishing the demonstrations.
A team from True Vision, a documentary-film company, filmed while lawyer Parvez Imroz and his field workers uncovered a network of torture centres that sprouted up throughout the mountainous state of Kashmir, all of them using identical torture methods, creating a profound fear among Kashmiris.
Kashmir’s Torture Trail will be on Channel 4 (UK), Tuesday 10 July at 11:10pm. Watch the film’s trailer
Read more at irct.org
While the HRW reports a disastrous year for human rights in Pakistan, positive signals are arriving from Punjab. The province’s police have been instructed to stop torturing suspects in custody after the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights took note of media reports of an ‘increasing trend of police torture’ in the province. Read the news here.
We welcome the news that the committee seem to have convinced the police to revise their investigation methods and concentrate on collecting physical evidence using forensic techniques rather than coercing suspects into making confessions. It also called for improvements in the recruitment and training of police and other law enforcement personnel.
According to the committee “Only incompetent investigation officers believe in torture”. Yet sadly, it’s not just incompetent police officers who torture. Despite being a gross violation of human rights, which has many times been proved inefficient, many prison officers and detention staff, military personnel, paramilitary forces, state-controlled contra-guerilla forces, and even some health and legal professionals still believe in it. Read more about who the perpetrators of torture are.
Peter Helmers (IRCT’s Head of Programmes) and I recently travelled to Manila, in the Philippines, to take part in the annual Asian regional seminar of IRCT member centres which, this year, focused on the subject of access to justice.
The Philippines is an apt country in which to discuss justice for torture survivors: its relatively new law on torture – supported by a set of implementing rules and regulations – positions the country as one of the most advanced in the region in the struggle against torture and attempts to prevent it. It provides an example for other countries to follow, and much of the credit for this advanced legal and regulatory framework goes to our Filipino member centres the Medical Action Group – hosts of the regional meeting – and Balay.
Access to justice for victims of torture can be a complicated area, but luckily, over the course of the seminar we had the opportunity to learn from those working in the field about what it means and how it can be achieved. Not only were our colleagues and friends from many Asian countries able to join the seminar, but several local NGOs enriched the learning experience for us all.
According to international standards, justice for victims of torture entails access to restitution, satisfaction, guarantee of non-repetition, compensation and rehabilitation. This means that victims should, to the fullest extent possible, have restitution to the status quo before torture happened; their suffering should be acknowledged and perpetrators should be punished by the law; they should receive the guarantee that no-one will ever torture them or anybody else again; they should receive financial compensation and they should receive medical and psycho-social rehabilitation.
That’s the theory anyway, but, what does this mean in practice? Well, this is where it can become complicated! Of course, international standards are recognized by all as the ones to follow, yet, they can be difficult to achieve in practice. Limits are imposed by the national socio-political context that differs from country to country and sometimes even within the same country.
One of the great influencing factors in accessing justice can be the presence of a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) which often balance the immediate needs of survivors with peace and confidence-building measures in post-conflict situations. Another important influencing factor identified was the possibility to file legal complaints in front of national courts. In some countries legal advocacy for torture victims is hindered by either fear of immediate retaliation or judicial complacency regarding crimes committed by police forces and / or the army.
Of course, the concept of justice has differing meanings across national and cultural boundaries. When we asked each other what justice meant, one of the participants wrote the following: social justice, spiritual justice, cultural justice, customary justice and collective community justice. What characterizes all of these is a strong community oriented approach which may reflect what some perceive to be the rather individualistic nature of many of the legal standards developed around the status of victim of torture.
Moreover, the very idea of who is ‘generally’ a victim of torture might influence the concept of justice. While the traditional image of the torture survivor is one of a political opponent, the torture survivor in Asia is often the worker, the farmer, the indigenous person, the person of low socio-economic status. Is then the concept of justice larger than the one many have focused on in the past?
Well…it’s certainly food for thought, and we look forward to furthering exploring with our Asian member centres, how the concept can be further developed as they continue their day-to-day work of helping torture survivors overcome the trauma inflicted on them.
Research in action: giving evidence of ongoing torture in Sri Lanka to the UN Committee against Torture
I didn’t expect to find myself, after a little over a year at Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture), giving evidence to a special session of the UN Committee against Torture following our report on ongoing torture in Sri Lanka. As the researcher of the report I had the task of reviewing the clinical evidence documented in our medico-legal reports, physical and psychological, of FFT’s Sri Lankan clients who had been tortured since the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka in 2009. These cases revealed in distressing detail, that a wide range of different forms of torture continue to be used in Sri Lanka with apparent impunity, and that severe suffering is being inflicted on victims leaving devastating psychological and physical consequences.
I was lucky enough, thanks to the support of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), to be able to present our evidence in person to the Committee at the special NGO briefing, held in advance of the public examination of the Sri Lankan government delegation. Although the briefing session was held in the formal and imposing headquarters of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, the Committee endeavoured to create an open dialogue. NGO representatives from different European states and from Sri Lanka highlighted their key concerns and the issues they hoped would be addressed with the government delegation and the Committee asked us questions to clarify the evidence we had brought to them.
The session, only an hour long, was over too soon for any of us to feel really satisfied, including some of the members of the Committee it seemed, as they stayed behind in their lunch hour to continue our discussions. The Committee Rapporteurs had attempted to manage our expectations of the public session to follow, saying that they would need weeks to do justice to the wealth of information in front of them and the issues of concern to be addressed with the Sri Lankan government, instead of the few hours they had.
I left feeling that our evidence had been well received by the Committee, detailing as it did specific torture allegations in forensic detail, albeit on the basis of anonymity for the protection of our clients. NGO colleagues also welcomed our report, saying that they hoped we would continue to make use of the incredibly rich resource of evidence contained in our medico-legal reports. Although the face to face session with the Committee was brief, being there in person clearly focused their attention on our written submission and provided me with the opportunity to answer their questions.
Freedom from Torture followed up with the launch of a public version of our report and a package of media work (including with Channel 4 and the Guardian) ahead of CAT’s open session with the Sri Lankan government to ensure that our concerns – and the Committee’s scrutiny – were highlighted publicly. We were then able to follow this with advocacy, targeting our own government whom we have called on to take action to ensure they are not returning Sri Lankan refused asylum seekers to a risk of torture. It made such a difference that IRCT was able to ensure the open session was available by live-streaming so that we – and our media contacts – were able to follow what was happening in real time.
Above all, I felt glad that that the testimony and evidence of the horrific experiences endured by our clients, who generously allowed us to make use of this information, could contribute powerfully to the efforts of those who are seeking to hold the government of Sri Lanka to account and most importantly to their efforts to prevent torture from continuing to be perpetrated there in the future.
A huge thank you to Asger from IRCT for all the advice and support in preparation for the CAT session and in Geneva!
Jo Pettitt, Researcher, Freedom from Torture
China does not fall under our radar very often, but today a very interesting piece on torture in China caught our attention. The German Der Spiegel tells the story of the poet Liao Yiwu and presents his recently published memoir. In his memoir, forbidden to be published in China, Liao Yiwu reveals the abuses and torture he suffered during four years in prison.
When you think you’ve heard everything there is to hear about Guantánamo, here comes a new angle. The Russian daily Pravda reports that Guantanamo is the world’s most expensive jail, using $800,000 for each of the 171 detainees.
Finally, the Bahraini Muscat Daily published exclusive interviews with two Bahraini women medics. These women, who were sentenced to 15 years each in jail for their alleged role in the anti-government protests in Manama early this year, have revealed that they were severely tortured during their detention.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part mini-series on our work in coordination with member centres in the Philippines. Look back to Thursday for Tessa’s post on the Balay Rehabilitation Centre on monitoring torture in detention.
“Are children being tortured?”
This is a question I have been asked many times when explaining IRCT‘s current project on children and torture.
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The next question is usually an (understandable) staggering, “Why?”
On a recent IRCT mission to the Philippines, the aim was to investigate this question in the context of the Philippines together with IRCT’s Quezon City-based member centre BALAY Rehabilitation Centre.
Globally, the issue of tortured children is rarely highlighted. Often reference is made to child abuse and violence against children, but torture against children is rarely included as a specific category. The objective behind the children’s project is to document cases of tortured children in the Asian region, and not least to find out why and how it is happening in order to develop measures for prevention and rehabilitation.
In Manila and its surrounding cities, it is especially street children, children living in poverty and children coming from broken families who are at risk of being tortured; either as a punishment for having committed a crime, or as a means of making them confess to a crime they might never have committed. Why this is happening is a complex matter, but the root causes include poverty, corruption, lack of awareness and lack of preventative measures.
During the mission to the Philippines, a round-table discussion on the issue of children and torture in the Philippines was held. The round-table brought together representatives from national and international NGOs working with children, agencies of the Philippine government working on child-related matters, prison management staff, social workers, lawyers and health professionals.
The purpose of round-table discussions is exactly that – bringing together different perspectives and disciplines in order to highlight an issue. At this round-table the presence of so many different perspectives proved crucial for understanding why torture against children is happening in the Philippines and what can be done about it.
For example, representatives from the prison management showed that they are receiving children from the police, although the police know or should know that the children are to be referred to youth homes according to a 2006 law on juvenile justice. At least one of the reasons as to why the police continue to refer the children to the prison authorities is the insufficient number of youth homes available in the Philippines and the incapability of the existing ones to accommodate and rehabilitate the children due to a lack of funding and support.
One of the representatives of the prison management explained yet another reason when discussing torture of children by the police at the round-table:
“The police still turn over children to us saying they are not minors because of their behavior. For the police, what the children have done is not something children can do, so to them they are not children any longer.”
As an answer to the recommendations given at the round-table she continued:
“What we can do is recommend a policy of hiring, which demands of a person to have understanding of care for children. Even uniform people are also humans they can be made to respond to children. If you strip off their uniform, they are still humans.”
On a practical level the round-table provided for a possibility to raise the awareness of and need for documentation on cases of tortured children. On an idealistic level, the round-table became a reminder that dialogue with all people involved – NGOs, the government, child advocates, prison officials, and police – including the ones you disagree with or do not expect to know or understand the issue, is crucial to address torture of children in the Philippines.
About a week after the recent our mission to the Philippines, we received a mail from BALAY saying they had been asked for input to the Philippine National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC) 2011-2016 and that the input could concern children and torture in the Philippines.
The NPAC forms part of the Philippine’s response to signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is based on the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. The main purpose of the NPAC is to set out five year plans and goals for improving the welfare and well-being of children in the Philippines. Since the knowledge of the issue of tortured children is low even among organizations working with children in the Philippines, the possibility of providing input to the national planning on this matter is of immense importance.
The draft NPAC we received did not include any programming or information on tortured children. Instead, they focused on issues related to children and violence and child abuse. This reflected the information we had been able to gather during the mission that made it clear that torture of children has failed to reach the national agenda and attention in the Philippines, although it is a concerning and highly prevalent practice.
In cooperation with BALAY we were able to add comments on torture and children in the NPAC policy. This is the first time children and torture is mentioned in a national policy document on children in the Philippines. By the 10th December we will know whether our comments were accepted – for now we are crossing our fingers.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part mini-series on our work in coordination with member centres in the Philippines. Look next Tuesday for Line’s post on the project on children and torture.
Every Friday morning at the Copenhagen office, the available staff of the IRCT gathers for breakfast.
Generally, we take an hour to present our work to each other and catch up on the different departments over a cup of coffee and some Danish rugbrød. Last week, however, we were very pleased to have some guests from the member centre Philippines join us and share about their work in Manila on torture prevention and rehabilitation.
“We have faced some great challenges, and have had new opportunities emerge,” said Ernesto Anasarias, executive director of Balay Rehabilitation Centre, of the recent years of work in fighting torture and impunity in the Philippines.
While there has been a long history of torture in the Philippines, Ernesto says that the targets of torture have begun to change. Previously, torture was applied to political dissidents and protesters. Now, police use torture in interrogating suspects or as punishment for their crimes, and they consistently target the poor. Inside prisons, ill treatment of detainees is not uncommon.
Alongside several projects that target particularly marginalised groups of torture victims – children, women, religious minorities, and the poor – Balay has been focusing on monitoring prisons and providing psycho-social rehabilitation services to those in detention.
With a population of about 94 million people – the world’s 12th most populous country – there are more than 1,000 prisons scattered about the archipelagic nation. Around 10% of which detain the political prisoners. And there is massive overcrowding in the Philippines’ prisons, says Matabai Mustapha, who runs the prison monitoring project at Balay.
However, in addition to the added possibility of abuses among inmates in the prisons, Matabai says the overcrowding creates a problem in treating victims of torture in prisons – there is simply no space for privacy and confidentiality usually required for such counselling or treatment.
“We maximize what is available,” she explains. Sometimes that means trying to find a quiet corner; on other occasions, when they have established a working relationship with prison authorities, they may use management offices.
Despite the sometimes-makeshift circumstances, Balay offers a comprehensive programme of psycho-social rehabilitation services, which includes the torture victim and his or her family.
For more information on the Balay Rehabilitation Centre and their work throughout the Philippines, please visit their website.