Archive for category Governance
To mark this year’s UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October, UK-based torture rehabilitation charity Freedom From Torture hosted a special one-off online video debate with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Méndez, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona.
Anchored by Kolbassia Haoussou, Co-ordinator of the Survivors Speak OUT network, the debate is the first time the two UN global human rights leaders have ever come together to discuss the issues of poverty and torture.
The debate focused on three questions submitted via Twitter users but one message came out of all the answers – more can be done to break the cycle of torture and poverty.
“First and foremost it is everybody’s responsibility to ensure that rehabilitation services are provided,” says UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona.
“States need to realise their obligations under the convention against torture and various groups and NGOs currently assisting victims of torture need to be allowed by states to complete their work,” she adds.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Méndez, believes more needs to be done by governments and groups to facilitate the needs of torture victims. He says: “The fact is that all torture makes a person poorer. In this situation you are making an already poor person poorer. This should compel us to make even greater efforts to help them.
“Particular people in the poverty bracket are asylum seekers and refugees. Their social standing often means they cannot access the services they need, and this is wrong. Rehabilitation services should be the obligation of any state including those where a torture victim resides, regardless of immigration status.”
The debate saw much involvement from the public and even attracted participation from Jon Snow, news anchor at the UK’s Channel 4 news, who asked the question of whether states are aware of their obligations to ensure human rights and rehabilitation to torture victims.
“I think many states do, but what we’re having to be careful of at the moment is that states are not using financial crisis as excuse to cut support and protection for survivors,” says Ms Carmona.
“Rehabilitation services are not a drain on finances and there are plenty of ways to offer rehabilitation if those services are allowed to function. There are people who simply seem to have no access to these services. Living in poverty is not only about lack of income. It’s really a lack of human capabilities and lack of power.”
The fact remains – people in poverty are seen as easily exploitable and unable to defend seek justice for their treatment. It is a vicious cycle as often the impoverished position which leads a person to torture is also often the result of torture.
But the cycle can be broken says Ms Carmona: “What type of society we want to live in? It is everyone’s responsibility – governments, groups and the public – to ensure states comply with their international legal and ethical obligations.”
You can see World Without Torture’s coverage of the debate by going to our Twitter page: @withouttorture
For more information on poverty and torture you can read Freedom From Torture’s latest report, the ‘Poverty Barrier’, by clicking the link.
‘Sorry’ is such a short word but has so many long and deep meanings attached to it. You can apologise for an argument, a disagreement, an accident perhaps. But when it comes to torture, sorry is not enough – and never should it be accepted as enough.
Only a couple of weeks ago the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, apologised for the decades of unbridled abuse and torture towards black suspects under the watch of Police Commander Jon Burge.
The torture and racism, which was rife for a period of almost 20 years, began in 1972 when celebrated Vietnam veteran Burge was elected as the new tough police commander for the Chicago Police Department.
Almost immediately after his appointment, allegations of torture began to emerge, with many focusing on being tortured to secure confessions. Through the 70s’ and 80s’ further allegations arose, most notably following the killing of a police officer in Chicago in February 1982, where black suspects were rounded up and handcuffed to stationary objects for long periods of time, pets were killed in front of their owners and children were held at gunpoint while questioned.
Allegations of torture under Burge’s rule continued to grow. Today, there have been over 200 registered complaints of torture, many of which are still being compensated. So far $85 million has been paid in compensation but many cases are still awaiting outcome.
Burge was dismissed from the police in 1993 and faced no charges for his allegations. However, in 2011, he was sentenced to four years in prison for lying under questioning when the allegations were brought against him.
In this respect, justice has been served in this case to some extent – the main head of this torturous movement has been made to face the facts. But other than a single change at the top and an apology, changes in this case – and many others – are rarely meaningful and longstanding.
In any case of torture there needs to be processes in place to ensure that the perpetrators face full and open legal inquiries – not just the figurehead of torture, but those who actually delivered the torture in person.
In this vein there need to be routes in place for victims to seek justice in the first instance. Victims and perpetrators need to know that, whatever their story, torture is wrong in every instance. Torture is used to extract information, to prevent the flow of information, to torment, to persuade, to shock, to damage someone’s livelihood, or simply to establish a message. It can happen to anyone in any country regardless of political, religious or social sympathies. Torture is wrong and every victim of torture needs to be granted simple, effective routes to pursue justice, truth and rehabilitation.
Torture victims also need rehabilitation – they need to be notified that services exist to help them develop their lives and they need to be allowed to use these services to ensure they can move forward. No one should suffer at all for any length of time, let alone throughout their life.
Simply apologising for wrongs is not enough. Words only mean so much.
Strong words must be followed up with strong actions. While an expression of sorrow may well be a legitimate feeling, this does not mean the torture is ‘solved’ or forgotten. There are still underlying issues which need addressing which can only be addressed fully through the pursuit of justice and reform.
Working in the Middle East was always an ambition for 24-year-old journalist Tom Rollins. The region is a far cry from home in the north-east of England but that did not deter him from seizing an opportunity to live and work in Cairo.
He braced himself for a considerable change of life, coincidentally at a time when Egypt was on the cusp of even greater change with President Mohamed Morsi gradually becoming ousted after months of intense protests. But since arriving in Egypt, Tom has witnessed injustices, arrests and protests at a rate he could not anticipate.
“I arrived in Cairo around a fortnight before the June 30 protests,” says Tom. “The day before I flew to Cairo I was sat in Hyde Park, London, speaking to an Egyptian-Saudi couple about Egypt, about Tamarod [the grassroots movement founded in opposition to President Morsi] and what might happen.
“They said things would become messy again and I should be careful, but that was it, really. It seemed a long way off, I suppose.”
The Egyptian political and social landscape altered almost immediately after Tom’s arrival. July saw the military oust President Morsi and counter-protests from the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi demonstrators. Since the summer, Tom has witnessed protests from all sides and heavy-handed crackdowns on protestors, leading to thousands of deaths and arrests.
“When I arrived, there was a president in power that isn’t there now,” Tom says wryly. “A lot has changed.”
“With Morsi gone, Egypt became more violent, polarised and difficult to work out. There was that period of intense violence with around 2,000 dead – which reached its peak with the dispersals and then Ramses Square and the Fath mosque siege – but even though that’s dissipated more or less, the threat hasn’t gone.
“The protests and arrests have become routine now. I think 2011 [the year of the revolution and when protests in Egypt subsequently rallied against military rule] changed a lot of young people’s view of the world, particularly around what street politics could achieve – in Egypt and everywhere else,” he says.
“But now ‘the Egyptian revolution’ is being largely defined by those in power – army and police officers and government technocrats and ministers, some of them Mubarak-era officials at that. This is problematic.”
What concerns Tom is the level of repression exercised by the army, particularly against those who are critical of their actions, and the lack of transparency surrounding arrests. Without this clarity there can be no safeguards against unlawful detention or torture.
Just one example concerns the case of Haitham Mohamadeen, a labour lawyer and RevSoc activist who works with the IRCT member centre El Nadeem, who was arrested while travelling to Suez to represent clients there. Haitham was seized at an army checkpoint while travelling on a bus. His briefcase was taken and he was held for two days at a nearby police station, with little indication as to what he was being investigated for.
After much confusion, Haitham was released but charged with supposed crimes including “membership of a secret organisation” and carrying out activism “through terrorist means”, both of which have been rejected.
Tom explains: “One of the problems is transparency. We’re told day by day that so many people have been arrested for such and such crimes. But who are these people – Muslim Brotherhood members or Morsi supporters? Or are these just increasingly politicized arrests under the pretext of security and counter-terrorism?
“If someone is arrested at the moment, with that counter-terror narrative in effect, there’s a chance the system is just going to eat them up,” says Tom.
“Another problem is the system of military trials. Civilians (and journalists) are charged with annoying or insulting the army in some way, due process is ignored and justice is not served. We’re seeing that again this time round.”
But what is next for the political and social landscape of Egypt – will detention and violence cool, or will groups escalate?
“Islamists will continue to be marginalised as the government follows its roadmap to the elections next year. It is also particularly worrying that activists are being intimidated, because it suggests rule could become more repressive still.
“But there are excellent independent journalists in Egypt who are chronicling what is happening here. I think it will become more interesting now that Egypt is generally old news internationally. These journalists have a tough time, but they’ll be the ones testing the new regime and holding it to account.”
All pictures used with permission from ©Tom Rollins
In his second month as IRCT Secretary-General Joost Martens writes about his experiences in meeting representatives from the membership and of the importance of continuous development for torture rehabilitation centres.
Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to meet with representatives from across the IRCT’s membership at a meeting of the IRCT Executive Committee (ExCom) here in Copenhagen. There was a lot to be discussed in the two days of meetings, around the challenges the movement is facing, with a special focus on the development of its membership.
The 8 ExCom members and the IRCT President are elected by the 29 members of the IRCT Council who, in turn, are elected by the 146 member centres of the IRCT. They sit at the pinnacle of our democratic structure. This ExCom meeting was in effect their last meeting. A new three-year Council was elected over the summer and will meet in November, to elect the new President and the new ExCom.
As I said in my previous editorial last month, the IRCT exists because of its members; they provide the legitimacy for the Secretariat to speak out and act in representation of the global movement. And, it is at this time of year, during the northern autumn and southern spring, when not only the executive governance bodies of the IRCT meet, but, that the membership gets the opportunity to meet with one another and with staff from the Secretariat, in a series of regional meetings and seminars. The importance of these meetings and the possibilities that they offer for exchanges and learning cannot be overestimated.
In this regard, I was very pleased to hear back from colleagues in the Secretariat who had attended and led workshops at the first of this year’s regional meetings – that for the Middle East and North Africa region held in Jordan. Central to the gathering was a training session on how to better serve torture survivors through standardised data collection, which, while it may sound simple at first mention, is crucial in enabling health professionals to better advocate on behalf of torture survivors. You can read more about this in the blog pieces from Lars, a member of the Secretariat staff who helped organise and facilitate the meeting.
During the last week of September, I am joining our colleagues from the regional network of rehabilitation centres in Latin America for their regional meeting. I look forward on that occasion to seeing more of this exchange and learning in action. This will be an excellent opportunity for me to get to know many of the people working on torture rehabilitation in Latin America. One of the issues we will be talking about is related to the hiring of an IRCT regional coordinator for Latin America. This coordinator will be one of five regional posts that IRCT is in the process of recruiting; their positioning and activities in the different regions are expected to greatly enhance the interaction with the member centres.
I am looking forward to hearing about developments in Latin America, a region that has been working on torture rehabilitation since the start of the movement, and that has a lot to offer to the world in terms of innovation and learning about rehabilitation. In general, there is a wealth of knowledge among our members and the regional meetings and seminars provide good opportunities for this knowledge to be elevated, and subsequently be shared beyond the regions and across cultural and linguistic boundaries.