Archive for category Asia
Forced virginity testing is a serious human rights violation and at its worst it constitutes rape and torture. This is how a group of experts have described the highly controversial practice that is used to determine a woman’s virginity.
In the past few months, Indonesia has made headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons. Late last year, the country unwittingly found itself in the spotlight when it emerged that the national government subjected female applicants for Indonesia’s National Police to “discriminatory and degrading virginity tests.”
When a few months later a local Indonesian MP proposed that all girls should be subjected to virginity tests in order to graduate from school, it sparked an outcry. Shortly after, the deputy head of the district announced that the proposal had been scrapped.
Sadly, Indonesia is far from the only place where forced virginity testing is still happening despite the practice being illegal in many states.
Recent cases in Egypt and Afghanistan reaffirm that this gruesome practice is flourishing in many countries around the world.
For those unfamiliar with the practice it may seem like a simple intervention, but according to the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) – a group of more than 30 of the world’s leading forensic experts – forcibly conducted virginity testing is likely to cause severe and lasting psychological symptoms and disabilities that remain over time.
“The practice can cause women to feel intense humiliation, self-disgust, and worthlessness, especially since examinations are likely to involve other forms of abuse such as unconsented touching or groping, as well as threats, coercion or force,” the group said in a recent statement.
The IFEG also pointed that the practice has zero scientific value and at is worst it constitutes torture and rape.
“Health professionals have no medical foundation for conducting virginity examinations,” it said.
The IFEG is not the only group of experts condemning forced virginity testing. In December last year, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) joined the growing opposition against the tests, calling on states to end the ‘degrading, discriminatory, and unscientific “virginity testing” of women and girls.’
So why do states continue to carry out these tests?
Most experts agree that the larger issue at stake here is the perception of and the treatment of women in these countries. In some instances forced virginity testing has the effect or purpose of controlling women and denying them their rights.
“Prejudice and negative stereotypes against women and girls are passed off as medical science by many doctors who wrongly believe they can determine a woman’s virginity,” explained women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, Liesl Gerntholtz.
While there is a growing focus on what we know as sexual violence against women, forced virginity testing is still just one issue on a long list of overlooked violations against women and girls.
There is hope, however, that the highly publicised cases in Indonesia and Egypt will change this.
Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), Victor Madrigal-Borloz has reminded doctors of their responsibility to respect human rights.
“As a movement made of health professionals, we are in a key position to condemn forced virginity testing, often carried out by health professionals in a clear violation of professional ethics and international human rights.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Despite suffering arrest, beatings and forced push-ups on the burning hot concrete of a Thai military camp, Hasan Useng is not entitled to remedies and reparations for this torture.
That’s the ruling made by a Provincial Court in Thailand on 7 October 2014, one which received condemnation from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Reporting on the case, Amnesty International explain the ruling was made to prevent remedy to Hasan Useng because the military coup in May 2014 annuls Thailand’s Constitution, specifically Article 32 which assures reparations for victims of torture.
It is not the allegations which are necessarily disputed. It has been well-documented that Hasan Useng was arrested at his house in Narathiwat province. He was taken to the Inkhayuthaborihan Military Camp in Pattani province where “military personnel allegedly kicked him and ordered him to do several hundred push-ups and jumping jacks on the hot concrete in his bare feet,” according to Amnesty International.
What Hasan is being denied is rehabilitation and redress due to a pointless, inconsistent technicality.
Despite the ruling from the Thai courts, the government still has obligations under international law – specifically the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) – to provide redress and rehabilitation to victims of torture, even in a time of martial law.
What this ruling indicates is that Thailand is exploiting the military coup as a way to ignore ongoing torture allegations.
“The Hasan Useng decision highlights the concrete damage to human rights protections in Thailand resulting from the military coup, and the fact that it is now virtually impossible to hold security forces legally accountable for their actions,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, reporting to Amnesty International.
As already expressed by Amnesty and other human rights organisations Thailand should take immediate measures to ensure all persons alleging torture and ill-treatment should have an opportunity for prompt and effective investigation into their claims, as well as full access to rehabilitation and legal routes in their case.
To read the full article on Amnesty International’s site, click this link.
We hear from IRCT Asia Regional Coordinator Marion Staunton as she visits CORE-H2H in Manipur, India, to learn about the centre’s activities to tackle torture in the region.
On a clear day under cobalt blue skies, along the shores of a murky canal choking with vegetation, we climbed in to small dugout canoe that would take us on a twenty minute journey to the centre of Loktak Lake in the mountainous Manipur State of the north-eastern region of India.
The lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the region and has an important role in its ecological and economic security. The purpose of our journey was to meet some members of fisher community living on floating huts who are being supported by the Human to Humane Transcultural Centre for Torture and Trauma (H2H) project of the IRCT member the Centre for Organization Research & Education (CORE).
H2H, established in 2009, is the independent health and humanitarian service of the nongovernmental organization CORE which provides direct assistance to survivors of torture within a holistic rehabilitation framework. Support is provided through in-house clinical psychologists, art and expressive therapists, physiotherapists, spiritual and traditional healers. H2H activities are supported by the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
CORE was founded in 1987 in the capital Imphal of Manipur State in response to the extensive human rights abuses taking place. Its main focus is on the documentation of such human rights abuses, including torture, and advocacy for indigenous peoples’ rights. Since 2005, CORE has Special Consultative Relationship with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
In the canoe accompanying me on my journey was one of the founding members of CORE and its current president Dr Laifungbam Roy. Dr Roy, who heads the H2H project, explained how in Manipur people in appearance and culture have more in common with South East Asia than distant New Delhi. Many insurgencies have been fought in this region for autonomy and separation from India, and the Indian government has responded with tough military crackdowns that have resulted in heavy loss to life, property and the development of the state.
In particular, he explained about the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA), a racially discriminatory “state of emergency” martial law that is in place in Manipur that gives soldiers extraordinary powers and legal immunity from prosecution under India’s criminal justice system. Soldiers are shielded from prosecution by this law as they cannot be prosecuted without explicit permission from the central government, which has never been granted. Unsurprisingly, the law has led to decades of impunity, human rights violations and abuses, such as arbitrary killings, rape, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and enforced disappearances. One particular client group that CORE works with and supports is that of indigenous peoples, the majority population of the province.
When we reached our destination we met with the Loktak Fishing Community and the All Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union Manipur Secretary on their indigenous phumsangs which are traditional floating huts made of bamboo and thatch situated in the middle of lake. Currently the traditional life style and livelihood of the Loktak Fishing Community is severely threatened due to ‘development’ plans to construct a ring-road and embankment around the lake with the authorities using the old and authoritarian Loktak Lake (Protection) Act of 2006 that criminalises traditional fishing and seeks remove the fishing community from the lake.
Their lives, livelihoods and way of life are in danger and in recent times they have endured arson attack, torture and evictions from their homes by the government with nowhere else for them to go. The community are extremely traumatised and distraught following recent arson attacks on them and their homes. According to H2H and CORE they are under continuous stress not knowing when the authorities will return and attempt to evict them and destroy their homes again.
In recent months H2H has provided counselling support to a number of torture victims from this community. But the community say that their uncertainty of what will happen to them, their children and community causes them continued mental anguish and torture.
This week in the ‘On the Forefront’ series we meet the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation in Cambodia, a group committed to providing Cambodians with opportunities and resources to care for themselves in the wake of the Cambodian Genocide which still has effects 40 years later.
In June 2013, the Asian Human Rights Commission declared that torture in Cambodia is “systematic” with 141 documented cases of torture in police custody since 2010. With a population of nearly 15 million, perhaps the 141 figure seems low. However this figure is only officially documented cases – unreported instances of torture could be much higher.
And regardless of the numbers, Cambodia is a country still reeling from the terrible effects of the Khmer Rouge regime which, almost exactly 40 years ago, killed at least two-million people through the Cambodian Genocide.
During the four-year rule of Pol Pot (1975-79) torture, starvation, and political executions were commonplace amidst a rule now hailed by prosecutors in the subsequent war crimes trials as “one of the most heinous regimes history has ever known.”
It is in this historical context of torture that the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation Cambodia (TPO Cambodia) exists, to provide support to those who are unable to care for themselves due to their circumstances.
Established in 1995 as a branch of the Netherlands based NGO “TPO International”, TPO Cambodia was registered as an independent local NGO in 2000 with a vision to allow Cambodian citizens to live with good mental health and a satisfactory quality of life. Their remit is wide and among other medical and psychosocial programmes to benefit anyone in Cambodia, rehabilitating torture survivors is one of their key focus areas.
Dealing with the effects of the Khmer Rouge is a still a priority – it is estimated around 14% of Khmer Rouge survivors, and their descendants, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder today, with even higher rates reported among those testifying in the trials against the regime.
TPO Cambodia estimates that state torture is far more prevalent than official statistics depict, with figures from 20-35% of detainees reported to have been tortured in state prisons. Electric shocks and physical beatings remain the most popular form of torture, and poverty among the victims often leaves them without a legal or rehabilitative route to overcome their torture.
And this is where TPO Cambodia excels. By providing medical health checks and mental health assessments as standard, the experts at TPO Cambodia can quickly and effectively assess the damage of torture. From there the IRCT member offers basic legal counselling, financial aid, and testimonial therapy to allow survivors of torture to restore a sense of control over their lives and to restore their reputations among their communities.
With the help of several NGOs and government ministries, TPO Cambodia tirelessly fights for the rights of torture survivors through an extensive list of programmes and initiatives. And with a fully functional website featuring vast libraries of information discussing current projects and services, and collating all their past research and resources, TPO Cambodia is certainly one of the leading anti-torture organisations in south-east Asia.
Even though the horrifying reflections on the past still take prominence in the country, and even though torture is still not a defined criminal offence in Cambodia, the work of TPO Cambodia offers hope and support to illuminate a positive future.
Despite being the shortest month of our calendar, February has been packed with important news stories, statements and developments across the anti-torture movement.
We summarise some of our most popular blogs, social media content and news releases below. Simply click the relevant links and pictures to read the full stories.
Ever wondered what can be achieved through rehabilitation? Ever wanted to know exactly what can be done to help victims of torture overcome their past? Or have you simply questioned how many centres across the globe offer torture rehabilitation services?
This month we collected the top ten questions asked by our readers about anti-torture work and answered them with links to our work. Just click the picture or this link to read more.
Another popular story this month came from the IRCT whose President, Suzanne Jabbour, has been awarded the prestigious North-South Prize from the Council of Europe in recognition of her lifelong commitment to preventing torture.
The award, which will be presented this Spring in Lisbon, Portugal, has a long list of famous previous winners including Kofi Annan and Bob Geldof.
Suzanne is overjoyed with her victory and we want to thank everyone who joined us in congratulating Suzanne on this award. Read the full story here.
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.
This ‘Wheel of Torture’, which uses torture as a game, came to light in the world media this month following an inspection of prisons in the Philippines and shocked human rights groups worldwide.
The practice not only showed us how torture is still being reinvented and adapted in sadistic ways, but also showed just how little is being done in the Philippines to stop torture. You can read our full blog on this, and the statement from human rights defenders in the country, by clicking this link.
A story we shared on Facebook this month garnered much attention – the vivid, hard-hitting documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ achieved must deserved recognition from the British Academy of Film, Television and Arts (BAFTA) this month, receiving the award for Best Documentary at the latest awards ceremony.
Click our status below to watch an interview with the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer following the award.
We caught up with IRCT member the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims in Iraq this month to see what they are doing to help survivors of torture in the region.
The newest member of the IRCT movement, the Kirkuk Centre have extensive links across the north of the country to aid victims of torture from all backgrounds, from those affected by the war in Iraq, to the recent influx of Syrian refugees in the region.
It comes as part of our ‘On the Forefront’ series, which you can see all the entries for by clicking this link.
Incredible news from Tunisia this month, who passed a new constitution promoting equal rights for women, freedom of religious expression, and freedom from torture – all ratified just three years after revolution.
We joined world leaders in congratulating Tunisia on this move which will hopefully push other contries to follow the lead.
However in Bahrain, which also experienced uprisings against the government three years ago, the situation of ill-treatment of protestors and limits to freedom of expression has not changed.
Protests continue on a daily basis, and the three-year anniversary since the beginning of the protests was tragically marked itself by further protests and excessive crackdowns from the authorities.
Bahrain needs to change now. It simply cannot wait any longer. Read the full story by clicking the picture or clicking this link.
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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.
It sounds like a macabre gameshow in a dark future where “30 seconds of hanging” and ”20 seconds of beatings” are used for entertainment. But as recent news has shown, this game is a reality – and it may not be an isolated incident, one anti-torture union claims.
Following reports of the torture wheel’ earlier this week, the United Against Torture Coalition (UATC) in the Philippines is concerned that while the torture wheel is an extreme example of torture, it exists in a context where there is room for further practices like this to exist.
“The existence of secret detention facility indicates the government’s reluctance to ensure full implementation of the Anti-Torture Law [which gives room for] routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody,” the statement reads.
The coalition – a union of over 30 human rights groups including IRCT members Balay Rehabilitation Center and the Medical Action Group (MAG) – believe that while the 2009 Anti-Torture law is in place in the Philippines, it is having minimal impact on the prevention of torture.
“Four years since the law took effect, the number of cases brought to court against perpetrators remains a drop in the bucket,” the statement continues. “The government has overlooked zero-tolerance of torture and full implementation of the Anti-Torture Law, and has further set the stage of existing culture of torture impunity in the Philippines.”
The ‘wheel of torture’ discovery inside the Philippine National Police Laguna Provincial Intelligence in Biñan, Laguna province, has seen 44 detainees complain to the prison authorities. However, unofficially, the number of victims of this cruel practice could be much higher.
The officers involved in the case will be dismissed, but this is not enough to redress the victims, or to stop a similar situation of torture developing in the future.
There needs to be full investigations into this incident which sees offending officers disciplined for their actions, to ensure justice for the victims. There needs to be routes to rehabilitation for the victims also so, no matter what their experience, they can overcome their experience of torture. And there needs to be comprehensive reviews of the current state of policing in the Philippines, particularly in detention facilities, to prevent this torture happening.
It is an argument echoed by through the statement from the human rights defenders: “There needs to be more diligent implementation of the Anti-Torture Law. Currently the policy of “zero tolerance” is just to draw away the attention of the public and international community of the government’s failure to eliminate torture in the country.”
Through more than 140 rehabilitation centres across the globe, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) is the largest international network against torture, providing rehabilitation, justice and hope to victims of torture all over the world.
Although under the same umbrella, each of these organisations is unique and operates in a variety of contexts. There are centres working around the clock to deal with humanitarian crises – such as Restart in Lebanon, or the Institute for Family Health in Jordan, which are currently struggling to respond to the challenging influx of Syrian refugees, many of them victims of torture, and groups working with the victims of long past dictatorships, such as those of Latin America in in 1970s.
There are also centres focused on healing entire communities through group therapy and counselling in places where armed conflict created deep societal wounds, and centres who are working with victims of terrible, and often covered-up, state torture, in countries usually assumed democratic and free from torture.
The range of focus areas is vast and, to counter this, so are the different methods of rehabilitation: there are traditional methods of rehabilitation, from psychotherapy and counselling, to group projects focused on rebuilding a community; there are innovative programmes such as yoga sessions which offer physical solutions to long-term pain; storytelling classes and artistic events across centres allow survivors of torture to express their pain in a personal and enlightening way; and projects such as the natural growth project, run by Freedom From Torture, which allow survivors of torture to find their place in the world by reconnecting them with nature and society.
Despite the differences, these organisations share an aim: to create a world without torture.
Over the coming weeks we will be focusing on particular torture rehabilitation centres from across the globe, giving an insight into how they operate and the work they complete on a daily basis.
Every week we shall turn our attention to a different centre and showcase how the centres and programmes work within varying national and local contexts, with different target groups, and use a range of methods to address the effects of torture on individuals, families and communities.
Torture has far-reaching consequences. Rehabilitation too has a far-reaching impact, one which can assist a person, a family, a community, and even a region, in moving on from their past and into a pain-free life once more.
Join us from next week as we go behind-the-scenes of the centres.
A Buddhist nun is beaten for her belief in securing Tibetan human rights. A 20-year-old soldier is captured and tortured for supporting the wrong side of a war in eastern Europe.
Two different locations, two different voices, but both linked by the experience of torture.
As part of a thematic issue on torture, its effects, and the rehabilitative services on offer around the globe, Al Jazeera digital worked with the IRCT and other human rights defenders to bring to light the prevalence of torture in the world today.
The issue – entitled ‘The Colony’ for its main feature on a secret torture chamber run under Chile’s Pinochet regime – included stories from survivors of torture, a feature on the history of torture, and included a study analyzing the hunt for Nazi war criminals responsible for torture and death.
As part of this torture-themed issue, the iPad magazine featured two stories from survivors of torture who have both received treatment from IRCT members.
Former nun Damchoe was arrested for peacefully protesting against Chinese government crackdowns on the rights of Tibetan citizens. In the summer of 1995, Damchoe joined thousands of others calling for recognition of human rights in Tibet in the nation’s capital, Lhasa.
She was caught by Chinese police, sentenced to six-years in detention, and was forced to accept her beliefs were wrong through regular beatings and ‘re-education’. Now 34 years old, Damchoe utilized the help of IRCT member Tibetan Torture Survivors Program (TTSP) and, today, feels rehabilitated enough to share her story (read her full story on the IRCT website).
The second story focuses on ‘AK’, who was only 20 years old when he was captured and tortured for his part in supporting the side of Armenia during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994. Held in detention for over one year, AK was subject to beatings, threats of death, and humiliating rituals which involved eating raw eggshells. (Read his story on the IRCT website.)
AK – not his real name – has now moved on from his torture, but it took years of therapy from IRCT member FAVL to get him to a point where he felt like the past was finished with.
“I am such a proud father now,” said AK. “My eldest daughter is fascinated with language she is such a smart young girl who I am sure will be a linguist of some description. My youngest daughter is really into dancing and wants to be a famous dancer when she grows up. Both of them are full of such energy and excitement. It makes me glad I survived my experience.”
The issues covered in the magazine are pertinent in the world today but too often unknown by most. Thanks to the work of Al Jazeera and, of course, torture rehabilitation centres like FAVL and TTSP, , the voices of torture victims can reach the biggest audiences possible. Only that way we can fight for a world without torture.
The right to rehabilitation was adopted by the IRCT as its message for the 2013 International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June. IRCT member centres throughout the world, including Asia, have committed themselves to making this right a reality, to have the right realized on the ground. But what is the reality in Asia, and, in particular, what is the situation in India and how can we move forward?
These were some of the questions the regional meeting sought to address. The theme of this year’s IRCT Asian Regional Meeting held in Kolkata, India was the right to rehabilitation – the ground reality in Asia. Furthermore, the regional meeting was an opportunity for rehabilitation centres to share updates on the implementation of the right to rehabilitation in practical terms in their respective countries. It was co-hosted by the Centre for the Care of Torture Victims (CCTV) of India, which works in Kolkata and West Bengal.
From the nine countries in Asia, in which there are almost 18 IRCT member centres, India is the only country that has not yet acceded to or ratified the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), although it was signatory to the convention almost 15 years ago. Indeed India is the only democracy of South Asia that not yet signed up to UNCAT.
General Comment No. 3, published by the Committee Against Torture at the end of 2012, clarified points of Article 14 of the UNCAT: rehabilitation should be holistic, States have a financial obligation regardless of resources available, rehabilitation must be accessible at the soonest possible point after torture, and that torture victims have a right to choose their provider, be it nongovernmental organisations or the State providing services.
Providing holistic rehabilitation to survivors of torture can help heal the effects of torture and also help towards re-establishing damaged communities. The aim of rehabilitation is to empower the torture survivor to resume as full a life as possible within their families and their communities. However, while international law grants all torture victims a right to rehabilitation, this is not a reality in many countries through the world, including those in Asia.
If India has not ratified the UNCAT, then how do advocates push for the realisation of the right to rehabilitation without this particularly back of an international treaty? Dr Laifungbam Roy, President of the Centre for Organisation Research & Education and Director of Human to Humane Transcultural Centre for Torture & Trauma working in Manipur, provided some analysis of his thoughts during the key-note address at the regional meeting. He started by sharing with the audience some interesting views he had read in a paper presented by Emily Reilly at the Ninth Conference of the European Network of Rehabilitation Centres for Survivors of Torture (2010) that considered how various international laws (other than UNCAT) may ensure that survivors of torture can access specialist rehabilitation services/support they might require.
For example, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was cited as a possibly more effective legal basis for ensuring the right to rehabilitation for torture survivors than UNCAT. The reason given was that CRPD recognises the right to rehabilitation as an independent human right, rather than a part of more general measures of reparation or an aspect of the right to health. In addition, the address went on to elucidate that the right to rehabilitation in CRPD applies to all survivors of torture who can be categorized as persons with certain kinds of disabilities, without exception, unlike the right to rehabilitation in the Convention against Torture, which can be enforced only against a State that caused, consented to or acquiesced in the survivors’s suffering.
Looking at and learning from other existing legal instruments and frameworks is important given, as Dr Roy pointed out, that for many different reasons it is only a very small number of torture survivors who can in reality achieve their right to rehabilitation by legal means today. In summary, the recommendation from the first half of the keynote address was that the right to rehabilitation should not be interpreted solely within the framework of victims of torture only, but rather within a broader perspective of rehabilitation rights for many types of suffering and damage inflicted on individual person (s) or groups that includes victims of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.
So what steps do advocates take in a different context – one where the UNCAT has been ratified, yet torture victims still do not have access to rehabilitation?
Though all of the other countries participated in the meeting have either signed up to or acceded to UNCAT, they also faced certain challenges. A representative from Indonesia stated that the government does not give them permission to conduct programmes in prison. Therefore, it’s very difficult to sensitize and raise awareness amongst police officers and others about the right to rehabilitation. Also the support needed from government officials is not forthcoming.
During the second day of the regional meeting, representatives from two member centres in the Philippines made a presentation on “Realizing the right to rehabilitation in the Philippines: ground realities”. In summary, they stated that in the Philippines what rehabilitation means is generally known, per se. But torture rehabilitation is a new idea for most. They went on to state that it’s difficult to convince the government that torture survivors need rehabilitation.
They also highlighted some dilemmas they encounter, such as the fact that torture survivors are both in the community and in the prison system, therefore requiring a different work approach from support organisations. Also given torture rehabilitation should be multidisciplinary and coordinated, they asked who would take the lead? Is it national or local rehabilitation? In the final part of the presentation they proposed a new avenue for centres/countries to explore, which was to maximize the Convention on the Right to Persons with Disability as a pathway for torture survivors to claim their right to rehabilitation, as mentioned in the keynote address on the first day.
What the examples from the Asia regional meeting demonstrate is the need to deeply consider the country contexts in unearthing best approaches to ensuring victims have access to holistic and appropriate rehabilitation.
By Marion Staunton, Regional Coordinator for Asia
 Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, India