Archive for category Pacific

On the Forefront: Restoring justice in Bangladesh

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Even following the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture in 1998, alarming estimates predict as many as 220,000 people are tortured in Bangladesh every year.

It seems implausible but, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission, it is something quite possible while torture in Bangladesh is not punishable as a crime, due to domestic laws which do not meet the definition of torture according to the Convention Against Torture.

The team at BCHRD recently campaigning for women's rights

The team at BCHRD recently campaigning for women’s rights

The result is a society with little faith in the judicial system when it comes to reparation for the crimes of torture – a state-of-mind which has bred mass impunity due to widespread beliefs that claims of torture will simply not be taken seriously.

Tackling this impunity is the Bangladesh Centre for Human Rights and Development (BCHRD) which, since 1994, has stayed true to its one objective: to provide immediate assistance and rehabilitation for victims of trauma, particularly children and women.

According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, torture is routinely practiced across the 629 police stations of Bangladesh as investigators see torture as an acceptable and effective means of gathering evidence.

Countering this, the BCHRD works closely with victims of torture in detention to report their stories, to collect their data, and to reintegrate them into society. Approaches to rehabilitation are both administered after the torture and preventatively to stop the cycle of torture in the country.

The main multidisciplinary approach of BCHRD is one known as the integrated rehabilitation approach (IRA) which involves professionals including physicians, physiotherapists, psychologists, counsellors, lawyers and social workers who met frequently to form a united workforce which can target and assist victims of torture in every field necessary.

The benefit of this approach is not only that torture survivors are assisted, but it promotes cross-training and sharing of information among Bangladesh’s most important groups in the protection of human rights.

To find out more about BCHRD, please click this link.

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Creating a world without torture: February in review

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.

STTARS Survivors of Torture & Trauma Assistance & Rehabilitation Service, Australia

STTARS Survivors of Torture & Trauma Assistance & Rehabilitation Service, Australia

10 questions and answers about torture rehabilitation

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.
 

IRCT President awarded Council of Europe prize

IRCT President Suzanne Jabbour

IRCT President Suzanne Jabbour

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.
 

‘Wheel of Torture’ shows more must be done to stop torture in the Philippines

Detainees can be subjected to torture such as “20 seconds Manny Pacman”  which means 20 seconds of nonstop punches. (Courtesy of the Commission on Human Rights)

Detainees can be subjected to torture such as “20 seconds Manny Pacman” which means 20 seconds of nonstop punches. (Courtesy of the Commission on Human Rights)

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.
 

‘Act of Killing’ BAFTA victory is important for anti-torture movement

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.

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The challenges facing torture rehabilitation in northern Iraq

The logo for the new centre

The logo for the new centre

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.
 

Tunisia passes new constitution

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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.

Click here or the picture for more information.
 
 
 
 

Change in Bahrain is needed now, not in another three years

Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

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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‘Wheel of Torture’ shows just how prevalent torture is in the Philippines

Detainees can be subjected to torture such as “20 seconds Manny Pacman”  which means 20 seconds of nonstop punches. (Courtesy of the Commission on Human Rights)

Detainees can be subjected to torture such as “20 seconds Manny Pacman” which means 20 seconds of nonstop punches. (Courtesy of the Commission on Human Rights)

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.”

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On the forefront: meet the organisations behind the torture rehabilitation movement

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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.

 

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It seems Australia is stopping the boats, but at the expense of human rights

Thousands join a pro-asylum rally in Melbourne, Australia (courtesy of Ali Martin - used under Creative Commons Licence, Flickr)

Thousands join a pro-asylum rally in Melbourne, Australia (courtesy of Ali Martin – used under Creative Commons Licence, Flickr)

“This government will not give an inch when it comes to protecting our borders,” says Australian Immigration minister Scott Morrison in a rather definitive sound-bite.  

But the lack of negotiation is not a hard-line response to a threat. The position of the government is not to tackle an impending disaster. Instead the anti-asylum stance – which particularly targets refugees fleeing Indonesia by perilous, horrifying makeshift boat trips across the Pacific – is one promoted to ensure political success, even at the possible expense of thousands of lives of asylum seekers who are simply holding regard for their own life.

In October 2013, this blog covered the story of Operation Sovereign Borders – a seemingly militaristic operation, led by decorated Major General Angus Campbell, under the coalition government of Australia, which aims to halt the arrival of asylum seekers by sea.

The rhetoric is clear, the message direct: stopping the boats is the number one priority.

It’s an aim which some commentators have already hailed as a victory, allowing Australia to move past its days of “lost sovereignty and lawless migration”.

Currently all unauthorized migrants – or ‘illegals’ as the State shorthand seems to suggest – are detained. The detention exists as an intermediary phase whereby assessments can be carried out to determine the legality of a person’s stay. The alternative method to deal with arriving immigrants is to send them back to their homeland.

The detention, while in theory short-term, often transforms into long-term detention, causing great psychological harm to asylum seekers, who remain estranged from humanity with many detention centres constructed away from the mainland. Reports of depression and anxiety are unsurprising and, unfortunately, these symptoms are similar to those experienced under torture – the frightening reality which may have triggered the risky boat journey to Australia in the first place.

IRCT member Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS) in Perth, Western Australia, provides counselling and mental health services for asylum seekers in the region who are currently in detention. But with the government seemingly succeeding in their clampdown on the “boat people”, ASeTTS may no longer have access to asylum seekers via state detention centres, purely because asylum seekers will not arrive at all. In fact state detention centres could closedown altogether, meaning there will be no support for asylum seekers, many of whom need vital help to move on from experiences of torture in their past.

And perhaps this is exactly what some political figures want – a complete end to the boats, an end to asylum seeking, and an end to the apparent ‘threat’. But what this narrow, vote-pursuing policy also ends is fair human rights treatment. So while the policy is claimed to be a success, it all comes at the cost of the Australian human rights record.

As signatories of various international human rights conventions upholding rights for asylum seekers – particularly the 1951 Refugee Convention – Australia’s government should give fair and proper consideration, screening and treatment to anyone seeking asylum, to identify potential trauma and suffering which forced them to take the decision to leave their country. But even more basic than that, to assure basic protection of human rights, correct and fair treatment of asylum seekers is a must.

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Stop fighting the boats: Australia needs to focus on human rights protections

Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia, which holds, according to the Department of Immigration, "single adult males who arrived as irregular maritime arrivals." Photo by Department of Immigration and Border Security, available on Flickr through Creative Commons license.

Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia, which holds, according to the Department of Immigration, “single adult males who arrived as irregular maritime arrivals.” Photo by Department of Immigration and Border Security, available on Flickr through Creative Commons license.

It’s called Operation Sovereign Borders. “It will steadily be put into effect and I am confident we can stop the boats,” says Major General Angus Campbell, who will be running the new operation. Recently promoted to a three-star general, the military leader had previously served in Australia’s forces in the Middle East and East Timor.

It sounds like a dangerous military operation. They’re trying to “stop the boats,” like an impending invasion. But it’s not. Full of military language and coded with imagery of the shores of Australia being overwhelmed, Operation Sovereign Borders is the new Coalition government’s plan to divert boats of migrants and asylum seekers from ever stepping foot on Australian soil.

“If the government is successful in doing this, then conceivably there will eventually be no asylum seekers in the Australian mainland, and the mainland detention facilities will close, and we won’t provide counselling to asylum seekers,” says Bowen Summerton, Asylum Seeker Services Coordinator at Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS). ASeTTS, an IRCT member in Perth, Western Australia, currently has access to provide counselling and other mental health services for asylum seekers in detention in the region. However, with a different government and policy, this may change – an extremely worrying situation for torture survivors who seek asylum in Australia.

Detention centres in Australia

Detention centres in Australia

Asylum seekers and refugees are clearly a fraught issue in Australia. So much so that many have claimed the recent election of opposition leader Tony Abbott, whose campaign slogans echoed the “stop the boats” rhetoric, was as much about tax and political infighting as it was a referendum on the current immigration policies. More than 17,000 people arrived by boat in 2012, the majority from Iran, Afghanistan, India and Sri Lanka. This was up from around 4,500 the previous year.

Currently, all people who are unauthorized to be in Australia – whether arriving by plane, overstaying visas or coming by boat – are detained. Previously, there were some exceptions, namely the health of asylum seekers.

“Long term detention is significantly correlated with poor mental health outcomes regardless of a background history of torture and trauma,” says Bowen. ASeTTS has access to the three immigration detention centres in the Western Cape, of the total of eight in the Australian mainland, and alternative and community detention in the region. For those victims of torture in detention, they can provide counselling and, depending on needs, access to a psychiatrist.

Research strongly suggests that detention of asylum seekers greatly worsens health, particularly mental health, with many reporting systems of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. These are common psychological effects of torture, which are also greatly exacerbated in detention settings.

“Assisting recovery from torture and trauma is generally more difficult in detention, regardless of the length of time, because of the environment, which can counteract attempts to restore safety, meaning and dignity,” he says.

However, despite the risks of trauma and the health needs of asylum seekers, the new government has promised to end the exceptions. All unauthorized immigrants will be detained, many of them in the off-shore detention and processing facilities in Christmas Island, a territory of Australia, Nauru, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, or Papua New Guinea.

It’s far too politically easy to say simply “stop the boats,” backed by military might. Rather than quick slogans and three-star generals, Australia needs to assume the more difficult responsibility to international human rights obligations. As the Australian Human Rights Commission describes, “The Australian Government has obligations under various international treaties to ensure that their human rights are respected and protected… These rights include the right not to be arbitrarily detained.”

Asylum seekers need to be screened for traumas, such as previous cases of torture, to ensure that they are both, not detained, but importantly, given access to appropriate care and treatment as soon as possible.

 

By Tessa, Communications Officer at IRCT

 

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Chile: Marking 40 years since Pinochet coup

A photographer approaching police during one of the many protests against Pinochet's regime (courtesy of everystockphoto.com)

One of the many protests against Pinochet’s regime
(courtesy of everystockphoto.com)

When the heart attack came on 3 December 2006, Augusto Pinochet probably feared the worst. At 91-years-old he must have known this was the end of a controversial, turbulent life.

But what were his last thoughts as he lay in on his deathbed: regret, remorse, sorrow?

One hopes something was felt for the thousands of helpless Chileans who suffered from Pinochet’s brutal 17-year rule of the country.

Yet the fact still remains that the truth surrounding Pinochet and his rule was never discovered.

He died on the 10 December 2006 with over 300 crimes still against him, ranging from human rights abuses to embezzlement and tax violations.

Rather than celebrating his death or the passing of the oppressive regime, the Chilean people instead commemorate the 11 September each year – the date which, in 1973, saw Pinochet come to power via the violent military coup.

This year marks 40 years since the coup and is a special reminder about how far Chile has come as a nation and, perhaps, how far is still left to go.

A great divide

The rule of Pinochet is a topic which still splits some Chileans. The opposition to Pinochet use the 11 September anniversary to reflect upon the torture and inhumane treatment of up to 40,000 Chileans, and use the day as an opportunity to establish the truth from Pinochet’s dark regime.

According to former President and running presidential candidate for this years’ elections, Michelle Bachelet, the point of the 11 September anniversary to reopen the “painful wounds” of Chiles’ past, not to victimise people or governments, but “to get to know the truth.”

On the other hand there are people who, while agreeing with others in the denouncement of Pinochet’s reign, were once supporters of Pinochet and feel that the military coup was inevitable and any human rights violations were merely expansions upon the crimes committed by Pinochet’s predecessor, the left-wing President Salvador Allende – the world’s first democratically elected Marxist leader.

Whatever the political standing, everyone can acknowledge at least one truth – the human rights violations, which saw 3,000 Chileans simply disappear off the face of the earth and tens of thousands tortured, was one of the darkest periods of Chilean history.


Beyond the numbers

To date only 262 people have been sentenced for their part in the human rights violations of Pinochet’s regime. Over 1,000 judicial cases of human rights violations remain open today.

Pinochet (courtesy of © AFP/Getty Images)

Pinochet (courtesy of © AFP/Getty Images)

It has taken a lot of courage, honesty and investigation to even get to this point of human rights prosecutions. Many procedural changes from the state and justice systems have ensured that families affected by the torture have found justice.

But there is still a long road ahead.

While official figures state almost there were 40,000 victims of torture, detention and human rights abuses during Pinochet’s reign, experts believe that unofficially the number is much higher.

It takes continuous bravery for a torture survivor and their family or community to pursue justice. The crimes they know of may be too much to talk about – the details and sadness may just be too strong.

But survivors of torture, and their families, do talk. Thanks to limited positive cooperation from the Chilean judicial system, progress has been made with the transfer of some proceedings against human rights violators from private military courts to the civilian courts, which apply greater transparency and independence.

However, jurisdiction surrounding military crimes still applies to human rights violations committed by the state. The result is that justice is still needlessly difficult to achieve for many affected by torture and, if justice is pursued, it is often in private.

The future

The 40th anniversary gives Chileans an opportunity to show the world their progress post-Pinochet, to show every person who was perhaps skeptical of the country that Chile has evolved in ways once thought to be unimaginable.

More needs to be done to fully establish the truth surrounding Pinochet’s rule. For the past few months, Amnesty International has collected more than 25,000 signatures through an online petition calling for more open and accessible justice systems for torture victims, and for greater enforcement of human rights law in Chile.

It is a reminder that while the past is gone, dealing with this past properly is the only way to shape the future.

The reign of Pinochet is something which will not, unlike the victims of his regime, disappear any time soon.

On the 17 November the Chilean people will be reminded of the horrors of Pinochet once more, as they vote for their next President – the two candidates, Ms Bachelet and Ms Matthei, are daughters of two generals who suffered different fates under Pinochet’s rule.

As the BBC reports, Gen Alberto Bachelet was arrested, tortured and died in detention. Gen Fernando Matthei became a part of Gen Pinochet’s regime.

Pinochet may be gone but, for better or worse, he is certainly not forgotten.

AshleyEditor’s note: Ashley Scrace is a Communications Officer with the IRCT and writes from their office in Copenhagen, Denmark. He can be reached by email at asc@irct.org. You can also follow him on Twitter by going to @Ashleyscrace

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Coming together to take a stand against torture

Today the IRCT released a report on activities around the world to mark 26th June – the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

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.

> Continue reading

These are some of the photos we got from 26 June events around the world:

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Indonesian military torture Papua civilians

Yesterday, we tweeted a press release from the Asian Human Rights Commission that described the arrest and torture of 15 Papua civilians by the Indonesia military.

Siki Kogoya, a villager who was in his yard at the time, was shocked upon hearing the gunshot, after which he saw the joint team members make their way to him. One of the members pointed his gun at Siki’s mouth, while three others pointed their long barreled rifles at his neck. They then beat him with rifle butts and kicked his head, face, ribs and chest.

Today, we noticed also through Twitter of a Channel 4 (UK) news broadcast on an unrelated case of torture also involving the Indonesian military and Papua civilians. A warning: although a news broadcast, the video below is disturbing and depicts violence and torture.

Here’s a link to support the AHRC Urgent Appeal.

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