Archive for category Europe
Over the past week, we donated the World Without Torture Twitter account to two Syrian refugees who have been telling their story of escaping the conflict in Syria, as part of a campaign to raise awareness of Syrian refugees in Europe. We look at what we have learnt about their experience.
As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, there is no avoiding that the conflict has created one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history. According to recent statistics from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR), nine-million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict, over two-million of which have fled to neighbouring countries.
But to date, only 80,000 refugees have fled to Europe – a number which the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) believes is low due to tough restrictions on refugees entering the continent.
ECRE’s campaign – “Europe Act Now” – utilises social media to promote the stories of Syrian refugees who are in need of a safe passage to Europe, in an attempt to pressure European decision-makers to safeguard the rights of refugees.
Telling their story of the conflict through the World Without Torture Twitter were husband and wife Osama, 32, and Zaina, 26. From Aleppo, Osama and Zaina never anticipated the conflict would displace them and their two children. To escape, they aimed for Sweden, but instead found asylum in Greece.
Yet now, the couple are facing hardship still after being beaten and robbed in Greece.
Telling their story on Twitter, Osama and Zaina miss Syria but know they cannot return there now.
“Our daughter couldn’t sleep. She used to cover her ears to block out the sound of gunshots. Just leaving the house to buy bread was dangerous. We had to pass checkpoints to get to the bakery,” they said on Twitter.
“Getting my family from Turkey to safety in Scandinavia would cost €40,000. We didn’t have that money. European countries could take Syrian refugees who are in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq or in the camps.”
The reality of refugees is further complicated when we consider that health professionals and researchers commonly estimate that between 4-35% of refugees worldwide have been subjected to torture. These figures demonstrate that this is not a marginal problem of a marginal community, but a substantial problem that must be urgently addressed.
Join us in pushing for better policy and practice related to the identification and protection of refugee torture survivors and to safeguard the rights of refugees.
So far nearly 300,000 people on Twitter have been reached by the campaign, which continues until World Refugees Day on 20 June.
To read the full selection of tweets on our Twitter, please click this link.
And to find out more about the campaign, click here.
“He’s missing a piece of his chest and I can see his heart beating,” says one unidentified US Army Officer recalling a heavy firefight in Afghanistan. But for the victim, a 15-year-old Omar Khadr, the injuries were only the start of his pain.
Held in Guantanamo Bay for 10 years, and now detained in a Canadian jail, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is just one tragic example of human rights abuses under the watch of a country often deemed to champion human rights.
Following the bombardment on his compound in 2002, Omar was held prisoner and tortured in Bagram, Afghanistan, by the US military, suspected of killing Sergeant Christopher Speer in the battle. It is a charge human rights groups have contested ever since, particularly amidst reports the US military doctored their accounts of the battle to mask Speer’s death from friendly fire as murder by an Afghani insurgent.
And despite being a child soldier at the time of the alleged killing – by definition of the UN Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict – Omar was controversially charged as an adult for war crimes in 2012.
Fighting for his freedom ever since is Dennis Edney QC, who is assisting Omar in overturning his sentence from his prison cell in Canada.
To highlight the case, and to illuminate the human rights abuses, the London Guantanamo Campaign has arranged a series of talks with Mr Edney from 12 March.
Held at various locations across London, and one talk in York, Mr Edney’s tour culminates with an appearance at Amnesty International on 18 March.
The talks, which are free admission, will no doubt provide a unique insight not only into the human rights abuses and torture in the case of Omar, but also the ill-treatment that exists worldwide, and the failings of governments often considered to uphold a decent standard of human rights.
For a full calendar of talks and for ticket information, please click this link.
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.
For further information from World Without Torture, do not forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Click here to visit our Facebook page, and here to visit our Twitter feed.
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.
Torture rehabilitation in the Western Balkans – stories, challenges and the importance of working together
As part of his work as IRCT Regional Coordinator for Europe, we hear from Mushegh Yekmalyan as he travelled to the small town of Petrovac, Montenegro, to discuss anti-torture work from three torture rehabilitation centres and around 20 other human rights organisations in the Western Balkans.
Meeting new people is always an exciting experience, especially when you get the chance to hear from fellow human rights defenders and how the work we are all part of has aided rehabilitation, recovery and revival among people and communities.
The three-day roundtable meeting, organised by the International Aid Network (IAN), an IRCT member, was the final event of a three-year torture prevention project in the Western Balkans.
Torture survivors were present at the meeting. It was particularly moving to hear the problems of de-humanisation in their stories, the help provided by rehabilitation centres to mend the damage torture causes to families and communities, and who should be providing the rehabilitative services in the region.
The problem of de-humanisation
In many legislations, mentally disabled people have no right of appealing an assessment of their mental disability – an assessment often made by doctors who may have even not seen them and have come to a conclusion on the basis of some paperwork that was done by others.
The same is also true about the justice system where judges often do not see the person alleged to be mentally disabled, so just base their judgements on an opinion of a doctor.
The shocking reality that only the legal guardian has a right to appeal such decisions constitutes the very fact of de-humanisation as the person has no right to protect himself/herself when the rest of the world seems against you.
This situation was abused thousands of times in authoritarian regimes to de-humanise political opponents and dissidents, who were not just imprisoned but were simply sent to the psychiatric wards where nobody could see them and hear from them. Unfortunately this loop hole still exists in modern times and there is always a risk of having a person locked up in a psychiatric ward because of human error or abuse.
Addressing the far-reaching effects of torture
The crime of torture can not only traumatise the direct victims, but also their families and communities. In general, after years of repression, conflict and war, regular support networks and structures have often been broken or destroyed.
Providing support to survivors of torture and trauma can help reconstruct broken societies. Rehabilitation centres therefore play a key role in promoting democracy, co-existence and respect for human rights. They provide support and hope, and are a talisman against terror and torture.
It was fascinating to hear how the IRCT members in the region are engaging with communities damaged by conflict and torture in the Balkans. Much of the work focuses on remote villages where social workers, accompanied by doctors, are frequent visitors to families affected by torture in an attempt to make the survivors of torture feel integrated into their community. This work is often supported by UN agencies and other donors, and much work is being accomplished thanks to these close ties.
The war-torn Balkans have numerous stories from torture survivors who were former prisoners of war, or civilians caught in the crossfire. The victims not only suffered from the violence of conflict, but also humiliation from their communities because of their victim status.
The responsibility to provide rehabilitation
But who should offer support and provide rehabilitation? In many contexts where the survivors of torture are still within the same country and even often within the same municipality where the torture happened, a need of proper protection of the survivor and the caregiver must be guaranteed. However, in many contexts where the state has a blind eye to the problems of torture – and perhaps even supports the punitive actions of police force and paramilitary – the support must come from human rights organisations and networks working outside the state structure. This is why the rehabilitation centres not only in the Balkans but also across the globe are so important – they provide help where it seems like there is no room for hope.
Many IRCT member centres are on frontline and often are overwhelmed by horror stories of war, violence, torture and ongoing brutalities. But collective understanding of the importance of the work they do at meetings like this help them to carry on and help those in need.
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.
Editor’s Note: This is the final blog in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our introduction blog here). See other previous posts in this series here.
I was discussing our work recently with the CEO of a company who are redesigning our website, and he exclaimed: “I don’t know how you deal with all of that on daily basis. I just don’t know”.
As of this month I have been working with SPIRASI for ten years, and I can’t count how many times I have been asked this question, both professionally and personally. It’s a question that I know others who work with asylum seekers grapple with; but it’s also something that over my ten years of being at SPIRASI we have tried, sometimes with limited success, to deal with.
It’s an important distinction, in this work with victims of torture, for me to state that I’m not a clinician. I’m neither a psychologist nor doctor, although I have been asked a good few times if I’m a priest given that we’ve been founded by a religious order called the Spiritans (I’m not). Being a non-clinician does mean that I don’t meet with clients to conduct assessments or therapy sessions. Although I do interact with some of the clients of our centre, it’s often unscheduled and normally from a distance. This distinction in our work is important because it can determine not only the impact of the work, but how the response to that impact is often formulated and how readily you can identify the impact.
I think it’s only natural that on the scale of need in the centre for support that I and other administrative staff are often the lowest on that scale – especially when you are aware of the depth of suffering and despair of our clients and what confronts our clinical team. Before the Peer Support Project, we only really thought of the need to support staff in terms of that front line clinical team and along traditional lines, such as individual supervision for therapists. There is an undeniable and demonstrable need to ensure that therapists, social workers and physicians receive regular supervision and support, but the Peer Support Project has shifted this assumption in our organisation. We now accept the need to provide support to those on that lower and less visible end of the spectrum.
Non-clinical team members are impacted by the work. This impact is often through high levels of stress and some vicarious traumatisation and these needs cannot be ignored by rehabilitation centres. Through the use of the Stress Management Cycle (SMC) that was shared by the Antares Foundation, we now have the ability to approach the stress related to the work in a much more systematic and considered way.
As a result of working daily with victims of torture, it becomes a challenge to see beyond the individual needs of victims and focus on self, team and organisation. The SMC gives us the tools to look at what needs to be in place on a policy level and to ensure that through the time of an employee/intern/volunteer within our organisation, from selection and induction through to post employment support, that we have appropriate mechanisms to support staff, both clinical and non-clinical.
The work is stressful and difficult, and I now readily admit to people like the CEO of our web-design company that it is. But I also make the point to him that it is one of the most rewarding and inspiring jobs that I could have ever wished for and that it’s an honour to work for victims of torture.
By Greg Straton, Director of SPIRASI, Ireland
The fight to find safety away from persecution and torture is tough enough – every year war and conflict, together with ethnic, religious and cultural persecution, force millions of people to flee their home country to lands often unknown other than in name. Fleeing the homeland is not so much a choice but a necessity for survival.
So imagine, after all the struggles to ensure security, being deported back to the country where you were tortured. That’s the reality for 11 Congolese refugees who, until last month, were residing in Tees Valley, north-east England, to escape their torturers.
In the ‘Unsafe Return 2’ report, from UK human rights charity Justice First, evidence suggests 11 out of 15 Congolese refugees whom the charity tracked between November 2011 and September 2013 are again facing persecution in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after UK authorities took the decision to deport them.
It is feared that three out of the 11 deportees have been killed following detention and ill-treatment at the hands of the Congolese authorities.
The case is another which highlights the urgent need for greater safeguards for refugees and asylum seekers to prevent torture from reoccurring, assuring safety and security from their perhaps tormented past.
Many refugees want to return to their home yet many cannot. It is the responsibility of nations providing asylum to rehabilitate torture victims and to safeguard them from ever returning to places where they face, as the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines, “a well-founded fear of being persecuted”.
Over the past several years, the IRCT has undertaken interventions in support of victims of torture and trauma among refugee and internally displaced populations. For example, the PROTECT-ABLE project has trained doctors, member centres have offered rehabilitation services to torture survivors in refugee camps and assisted local health professionals to conduct psychosocial needs assessments of internally displaced persons across the world.
However, more needs to be done to highlight the special needs of asylum seekers and refugees, so they can have their full case heard and can receive proper protection and rehabilitation from torture.
Perhaps most worryingly is this, and many other heavy-handed approaches to asylum seekers in the UK, shows how flawed the UK asylum system may be.
Written by Ashley Scrace, Communications Officer at the IRCT in Copenhagen
If you define Britain by its oft lauded stereotypes, one may assume a peaceful, upstanding nation which obeys rules, regulations and notions of fair play. Yet for 30 years Ian Cobain has dedicated his life to exposing the secrets, the lies, the inconvenient truths often buried deep beneath a British façade.
An investigative journalist with the Guardian newspaper, his reports into the UK’s counter-terrorism practices since 9/11 have won a number of major awards including the Martha Gellhorn Prize and the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism, as well as a range of Amnesty International awards.
In 2012 Ian published his first book, Cruel Britannia, which analysed how the British government has repeatedly and systematically resorted to torture, through years of British colonial rule, to World War Two and to the War on Terror.
And while we may not like to think of it, torture is something which Ian believes is still practiced by the UK and other Western countries often perceived to be upholding human rights.
“I’m still shocked by some of the matters I discover. But I’m no longer surprised,” says Ian.
“After 9/11, I knew by January 2002 that the US was mistreating its prisoners. Photographs showing shackled men, in gloves, ear defenders and blacked-out goggles, being dragged across the ground at Guantanamo, were published by the US military. That was a pretty good clue [that torture of prisoners was happening].
“The same month, while I was in Kabul, Red Cross officials told me that prisoners were being tortured at Kandahar. I was terribly shocked. The British government and its intelligence agencies claim they didn’t discover this for years. What nonsense.”
A report on the condition of detainees in 2012, ten years after Ian learned of torture in Kandahar, still lists the southern city in Afghanistan as one of the areas where detained individuals are routinely mistreated by officials.
“At the time it was difficult to comprehend that the British government would draw up policies that resulted in the torture, but that’s what happened,” Ian explains.
“It took me a while longer to understand the level of UK support and participation in the rendition programme. More time made me realise that the UK was complicit in kidnappings and torture during operations in which the US barely played any part.”
For Ian, the ill-treatment by the UK of those in detention, particularly in situations of conflict, is nothing new.
“British military processed and mistreated their prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1971 in precisely the same way that another generation of the British military was doing it in Basra in 2003,” says Ian.
“Authorities use it to intimidate, to coerce, to humiliate, to extract information, or to obtain so-called confessions. But it also creates reservoirs of hatred that don’t run dry for generations. And nobody can quite predict what will flow from those reservoirs.”
Hostility though is something that Ian has felt from authoritative figures, many of whom try to deter his work and the work of human rights defenders across the globe.
“Some people are hostile, but I don’t really care. I’ve been threatened once or twice, by people in ‘authority’, but I’m not in any danger,” he says.
Documenting and exposing torture is a sensitive issue for everyone involved. While the journalist or human rights activist exposing a case of torture might be in danger of reprisals, the survivor risks that and risks re-traumatisation by retelling the experience. However, documentation enables victims to prove the veracity of their allegations and thus increases the pressure on perpetrators to fulfill their obligations under international law. Torture is hardly a positive representation of a group or a country, particularly one like the UK.
Rehabilitating victims of torture, helping them recover from the trauma and become advocates for justice and truth, is one pivotal way to change views on torture in everyone’s minds.
“A few prosecutions of people in powerful positions might concentrate the minds of the next generation,” Ian adds.