Archive for category Prevention
“You are here to speak about the theme of torture?”
The question comes loud and clear from the receptionist at the receiving desk of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights in Lima, where I just handed in the passports of our delegation and explained that we have a meeting with the Vice-Minister of Human Rights in Peru. I am positively puzzled by the frankness.
I am in Lima for the IRCT to support member centre Centro de Atención Psicosocial (CAPS) in following up on the implementation of the recommendations on rehabilitating torture survivors issued by the Committee against Torture (CAT) to the PeruvianState in November 2012. Following-up in this case essentially means discussing with the Peruvian government how they have received the recommendations and which steps they intend to take to implement them.
For this purpose, we had asked rehabilitation expert and researcher Dr Nora Sveaass to accompany us. Dr Sveaass is a well-known personality within the anti-torture movement. Her expertise is crucial in meetings like these.
Some days earlier I had met with Dr Nora Sveaass and Dr Carlos Jibaja, Director of CAPS. After a lot of coordination by email before the trip, we were finally able to sit down all three of us in CAPS’ yellow office building in Lima. The following week we would be meeting with the Vice-Ministry for Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health and the Ombudsman. All four are key players in respect to the implementation of the CAT recommendations and the broader objective of ending torture in Peru. We discussed the strategy for the meetings as well as the current political climate in Peru.
Back at the Ministry, sitting in a spacious meeting room with the Vice-Minister for Human Rights and four of his colleagues, we experience one of the sacred moments in the work against torture — a door of political will is opened. The Vice-Minister and his staff were very forthcoming, the discussion was constructive and a clear interest to cooperate was expressed. Although it is only words at this stage, these are the kind of moments you recall and repeat to yourself when things are stuck and human rights feels like a lost cause to the world.
If words are followed by action, the work in Peru might be a milestone in the realisation of the right to rehabilitation for torture survivors, which can be replicated by governments across the globe.
The past year the IRCT, in close collaboration with member centre CAPS, has been working specifically towards ensuring the availability and accessibility of rehabilitation services for torture survivors in Peru. About a year ago, in May 2012, we wrote about reporting to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) to demonstrate how torture is a direct violation of the right to health.
In November 2012, the IRCT and CAPS submitted another alternative report on Peru, this time to the Committee against Torture (CAT). In this report, we again assessed the rehabilitation services for torture victims provided by the Peruvian government and offered recommendations as to how the system can be improved to benefit all victims of torture in the country. To present the report before the Committee and to stress the importance of its content, a colleague from CAPS travelled to Geneva. The presence of our members in Geneva often has a powerful effect because this gives the opportunity for them to personally meet with the Committee members and give more detailed and concrete explanations about the situation in their countries. In doing so, we managed to bring to the Committee’s attention some of the shortfalls and the lack of access to specialised rehabilitation services in Peru.
In the end, CAT issued four concrete recommendations to the Peruvian government on rehabilitation access. This provided an important international expert validation of our work in pushing for torture survivors’ access to proper rehabilitation services at the national level in Peru. The meetings we had with officials of the Peruvian government provided for yet another step in the right direction.
With the adoption of General Comment No. 3 on Article 14 of the United Nations Convention against Torture, which clearly stipulates the obligations of states in respect to providing rehabilitation services for torture survivors, and with concrete recommendations on rehabilitation given to the Peruvian State, we have come a long way.
While all still remains on paper and in diplomatic words, opening doors for cooperation in the political sphere are crucial for creating change on the ground. Let’s see what 2013 brings in terms of implementing the talk.
The infamous case of Khaled Said would have ended with the official autopsy claiming death by asphyxiation due to the swallowing of a plastic bag with narcotics. But the truth is that the 28-year old Egyptian was brutally tortured and killed at the hands of two Alexandria policemen in early 2010, and ended up influencing the history of modern Egypt. Between one scenario and the other was an alternative report by two international forensic experts exposing the weaknesses of the official medical reports. The two policemen were convicted and Khaled’s case spurred the demonstrations and uprising that ultimately led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak.
As torture often takes place in secret and with methods designed to be as painful as possible without leaving physical marks, proving torture is becoming increasingly hard.
One of the major challenges in proving torture, and thus fighting impunity, is to obtain sufficient evidence. If there is no proof, there will be impunity. In such a climate, perpetrators can continue to torture without risking arrest, prosecution or punishment.
However, through the use of documentation, torture can be proven. Specialised health professionals can, through careful and thorough physical and psychological examination of torture victims, establish crucial medical findings and evidence that can be communicated to the judiciary and other appropriate bodies.
A key purpose of documentation is thus to make it impossible for perpetrators to deny their crimes.
The two forensic experts behind the alternative report in Khaled Said’s case are part of the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG), a group of more than 35 eminent forensic experts from 20 countries. This group was established in 2009 by the IRCT in collaboration with the Forensic Department of the University of Copenhagen to provide support in examining torture victims in cases brought to justice systems at the international, regional or national level.
International law obliges states to properly investigate all allegations of torture and to punish those responsible. States also need to provide reparations for victims of torture, including fair and adequate compensation, restitution and rehabilitation to the fullest extent possible.
Where documentation is carried out, it puts pressure on states to fulfill their obligations under international law to fully, promptly, impartially and thoroughly investigate allegations of torture and provide reparation to victims.
However, often the required forensic expertise is not available to produce medico-legal reports of sufficient quality or the reports are not taken into account in legal proceedings due to flawed regulations or practice.
Other constraints relate to limited awareness among relevant stakeholders, especially at the national level, on the important role that medical documentation can play in establishing evidence. Intimidation and harassment of victims and professionals involved in trials against alleged perpetrators is also common. Such was the case of Dr. Germán Antonio Ramírez Herrera, an Ecuadorian forensic expert trained on the use of the Istanbul Protocol, who was killed under mysterious circumstances following the presentation of a number of cases he had documented.
For this reason, the IRCT has, for a number of years, worked to promote the value and use of medical documentation of torture according to the international standards contained in the Istanbul Protocol, the common name for The Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The report now being published shows how, in addition to the case of Khaled Said, the forensic group has provided support to more than 70 forensic examinations in torture investigation cases since its inception four years ago. It also shows the positive results of having hundreds of lawyers, doctors and immigration officials, among others, trained to use of the Istanbul Protocol to produce high standard medico-legal documentation of torture for judicial and administrative use.
As Mostafa Hussein, from the El Nadeem Center for Psychological Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, an IRCT member based in Egypt, says, “What [survivors of torture] say is not only incredibly powerful, but is what torturers would like to never hear.”
Although a global problem, torture takes shape in different ways in different contexts. Tackling it is also a local challenge, with human rights defenders asking, how does torture happen here?
PRAWA, or Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, is a Nigerian rehabilitation and advocacy organisation and member of the IRCT. They have developed a methodology and series of programmes to prevent torture from happening in the first place, one that is nearly so obvious and simple.
In Nigeria, torture happens in prisons. It happens when people come in contact with police and prison authorities. It happens through the horrific and inhumane conditions of prisons.
There is a vast problem of crime in Nigeria, says Godwin Ugbor, a psychologist at PRAWA based in their Enugu headquarters. This is mostly related to dire poverty and hunger. While the country itself is rich from oil – one of the largest oil producers in the world – this wealth has not been distributed widely. It’s the 49th most unequal country, meaning any wealth is only held by a few.
“There is just so much hunger,” Godwin says. The result of that poverty and inequality, he explains, is rampant crime.
Furthermore, the high rate of crime in Nigeria means there is increased pressure on police services to function well and arrest perpetrators – but they suffer from the same poverty and lack of proper funding and training as the rest of the country.
“Because they don’t have the skills, they resort to torture,” he says.
So, one of PRAWA’s approaches to preventing torture – keep people out of the judicial system. Although people are sometimes implicated and tortured for crimes they never committed, the best method of prevention is to ensure that the young don’t become involved in criminal activity. Additionally, they work with the police and justice system apparatuses to bring about a human rights ethic to their work. And for those in prison, PRAWA provides psychological rehabilitation during their sentences and through the transition to public life. If most torture occurs in prisons and police lock-ups, then PRAWA rehabilitates prisoners.
Godwin has only been a psychologist for a year and a half, but he’s jumped into this work quickly, almost ‘overwhelmingly’, he says. It’s never-ending work, with prisoners and other clients calling at all hours.
“Your personal life is lost.”
Godwin started working with prisoners during an internship, one of four he had during his studies to become a psychologist.
“The system is so flawed and the conditions in prison so terrible, you develop a great deal of sympathy. It is a large group of people that really need help.”
Terrible may be an understatement. “Say they built a prison for 100, maybe 400 people will be living there. It’s extremely overcrowded. A cell for five, may have 20 people. There are bad sanitary conditions. Not good personnel working there. And really horrible food.”
Godwin says for those living under these conditions – often in long sentences or remaining there for months or years after they should be released due to flawed judicial processes – can develop chronic mental illnesses. Many prisons now have asylum cells for the mentally ill. He gets calls from them sometimes as late as 10pm, desperate for help and someone to talk to.
However, Godwin’s work has taken a turn recently to focus more on prevention – ensuring that the youth of Nigeria don’t get caught up in crime and risk arrest, becoming entangled with the judicial system and thus tortured.
The Illegal Migration Awareness Project (IMAP) trains youth and peer educators on the issues of illegal migration, a particularly relevant issue in Nigeria, Godwin says.
“Many youth want to leave the country and live without violence,” he says. But the impact of illegal migration can bring dire consequences. Many try to migrate across the desert, some dying during the journey. Others steal money, purchasing fake visas and passports and can be caught by officials. Those who make it abroad may have to resort to crime and theft to make ends meet.”
The education to peer leaders includes understanding alternatives to violence – training youth on how to handle certain situations without resorting to violence and aggression. Finally, career guidance programmes on vocational training and entrepreneurship assist youth in earning money, building a career, attending university and supporting themselves rather than turning to crime and theft.
“When I was in university, I would make shirts, shirts like this,” Godwin says while tugging at the fabric of his blue button-down. “That meant I was able to make enough money to support myself and attend school.”
It is methods like PRAWA’s that demonstrate the multi-faceted problem of torture – how problems of poverty increase one’s vulnerability to torture. And stopping torture means tackling it from all sides.
Meeting new people outside IRCT or outside the circles of human rights work, we’ve found people have a number of questions about what the IRCT does and, more simply, about the issue of torture around the world. “Is there still torture?” they ask, often astounded that there is. For many, the term ‘torture’ invokes ideas of medieval torture chambers and the rack or the Iron Maiden.
Ten of the most common questions we get are the following:
Sadly, yes, torture continues as a phenomenon today. In fact, torture takes place in the majority of countries in the world – as many as 90% of countries, estimates former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak. Furthermore, Nowak estimates that in as many as half of those countries, torture is a rampant and systematic problem.
2. Where does torture occur?
Torture most often takes place in places of detention – whether in the initial police lock-up, interrogation rooms, prison systems or other places where people are deprived of their liberty. This allows torture to remain a “secret” or “hidden” problem in the world [PDF]; places of detention are often well outside the realm of the public view and therefore escape public condemnation.
The United Nations defines torture in the UN Convention Against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment as:
“… ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
4. How are people tortured today?
While such techniques from the Middle Ages are no longer used on a large scale, the techniques of torture are still just as cruel, inhuman and painful to the victim. Furthermore, modern torture techniques are often designed to leave as few marks as possible to avoid possible future prosecution for the crimes. The Istanbul Protocol, the international guidelines for documenting torture, discusses torture methods under the following categories: beatings and other blunt traumas, beating of the feet (falanga), suspension, other positional tortures (such as being detained in a small cage or box, being forced to stand while arms are stretched high), electrical shocks, tooth torture, asphyxiation, rape and sexual torture. Other practices, such as hooding, humiliation, being stripped naked, threats to oneself or family, mock executions, simulated drowning (waterboarding) and sleep deprivation are also common torture methods that leave no external marks behind.
5. Why do people torture?
“The main aim of torture is to destroy the self-esteem of the person. The torturer tries to destroy the personal integrity by methods that cause maximum physical and mental pain and ensure gravest humiliation.”
While this is the main aim of torture, as described in Atlas of Torture, the goal of such pain and humiliation may vary. Police may torture a person to extract a confession for a crime or implicate others in a crime, as is a common practice in many countries, such as the Philippines; people may be tortured for information, as was the excuse used by the U.S. for the CIA torture programme in the so-called ‘war against terror’; armed forces may use rape and sexual torture to destroy the social fabric of communities. Or, state officials may employ torture as punishment for acts that person or a third person is believed to have committed.
6. Who commits torture?
For a case to be described as torture, the crime must be committed by a public official or a person acting in an official capacity, such as a state authority like police officers, soldiers, armed militia, among others. This also may include teachers, healthcare workers, paramilitary groups or prison guards.
The victims of torture can be anyone – any person simply in the wrong place at the wrong time can become a victim of torture. However, there is no doubt that some groups are at particular risk of torture, for example, the poor. As the IRCT stated in The London Declaration on Poverty and Torture, poverty is one of the major factors that keep people particularly vulnerable to torture and other ill-treatment. “Most of the victims and survivors of torture belong to the poorest and most disadvantaged sectors of society,” Nowak said in the 2011 Global Reading for 26 June.
This is, generally speaking, because poverty makes people vulnerable to abuses and leaves them without the ways and means of defending their rights. Other factors can marginalise people, leaving them vulnerable to torture; this includes groups such as women, children, the elderly, religious, ethnic or sexual minorities and political opposition groups, among others.
8. What are the effects of torture?
There has been a growing body of scientific research on the physical, emotional, and mental effects of torture. The physical effects of torture depend greatly on the method of torture used. Certain types of torture are related to specific symptoms and signs. For example, for survivors of falanga, a type of torture where the soles of the feat are beaten, effects may include smashed and broken heels, later causing slow and painful walking for only limited distances.
The psychological consequences are frequently persistent and invalidating. The prevailing manifestations include anxiety, depression, irritability, emotional instability, cognitive memory and attention problems, personality changes, behavioural disturbances, neurovegetative symptoms such as lack of energy, insomnia, nightmares, sexual dysfunction, and “survivor’s guilt”.
In other words, torture represents an extreme life stressor and exposure to torture increases the risk of developing psychiatric symptoms and subsequent dysfunction, social problems, marginalisation and poverty. We know that not everyone exposed develops psychiatric manifestations but that a number of genetic factors, including vulnerability to stress, proneness to anxiety, developmental deficits, previous psychiatric history, incapacitating physical consequences, quality of social environment and individual coping efforts, all play important roles. Furthermore, the more prolonged, repeated, and unpredictable the experience of torture is, the more traumatic it is and more serious the psychiatric consequences are likely to be.
9. What is rehabilitation?
We believe that all torture survivors and their families have a right to rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is simply ameliorating the effects of torture – it is to empower the torture victim to resume as full a life as possible.
Torture rehabilitation can take a variety of forms. In approaching it through a holistic approach, rehabilitation can include medical treatment for physical ailments resulting from torture; psychosocial counselling or trauma therapy; legal aid to pursue justice for the crimes; or programmes and activities to encourage economic viability, among others.
10. What can I do to help?
There are many ways in which supporters can help. The first and most direct help is of course donations to the IRCT for our work.
Another way in which supporters can help is to simply share the stories of torture survivors or human rights defenders. International support from the World Without Torture community can create unending pressure on authorities to live up to their human rights obligations, such as stopping torture, ending harassment of human rights defenders, or bringing perpetrators to justice, among others. Your tweets, Facebook updates, letters to state leaders: these are all ways in which we can together create unceasing pressure on authorities to stop torture.
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an editorial in the newest issue of TORTURE, a multidisciplinary academic journal focusing on rehabilitation of torture victims and the prevention of torture. Find the newest edition here and all the archives.
In 1948, humanity marked an important milestone with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of its 30 articles (Article 5) stipulates that no one shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Since then, there have been a number of other international regulations that have reinforced the legal obligation of states to prevent, prohibit, criminalize and investigate alleged cases of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (CIDT), as well as the obligation to ensure that all perpetrators are forced to answer for their actions and that victims receive appropriate reparation.
However, some 65 years later, there continues to be a marked discrepancy between the law and reality. Torture, illtreatment and detention in terrible conditions continue to occur all over the world, including in countries that are generally considered to be paragons of virtue in the sphere of human rights. The public scandals that erupted in 2004 as a result of the abuse and ill-treatment in the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are a case in point. Who can remain indifferent to the terrible images broadcast about the world of the atrocities perpetrated in those places?
This lamentable situation reinforces the need for a more thorough and systematic investigation of these practices in all countries. Such an investigation is essential if we are to eradicate ongoing abuses and prevent new cases and even possible deaths. Because thorough investigation is necessary to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice, that victims receive proper reparation (compensation, rehabilitation and other forms of redress to which they are entitled), and that official bodies and the general public are made aware of such practices in order to prohibit them completely and encourage reform.
The investigation of torture and CIDT or punishment is not, however, an easy task. Such practices usually occur behind closed doors where there are no witnesses and are systematically denied by states and authorities. The methods used are becoming increasingly sophisticated, designed to leave no physical marks. Victims are kept in isolation, without access to lawyers, doctors or family members (at least while the physical signs of ill-treatment remain visible). Fear of reprisals against themselves or their families often leads them to deny or hide this reality. Even to assess detention conditions (that often amount to a form of CIDT or punishment) may be a complex matter, given the restricted access to them.
However, today we have valuable guidelines about how to proceed in the investigation and documentation of such situations. The Istanbul Protocol in one of the examples, obtaining growing international recognition day by day for the important role that it can play in this process. There has been increased investment in the training of professionals able to investigate and document torture and other forms of CIDT or punishment. There have been more (and better) studies of this phenomenon published in scientific journals. National and international scientific associations are now giving more attention to the question.
Thus, the panorama with regard to the investigation and documentation of such cases has changed radically in recent decades, with considerable advances made. And there have been many valuable initiatives promoted by diverse organizations: for example, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture (IRCT) has, in recent years, promoted an important project for the use of Forensic Evidence Against Torture (FEAT), and this project has clearly played an important role in providing forensic opinions, leading to the formation of the International Forensic Expert Group (IFEG), currently involving 33 forensic health experts from 18 countries.
This has indeed been a remarkable achievement. Today, no one questions then role of the forensic medical expert, who has specific training in this domain, to assess possible injuries and signs of abuse, even in the absence of specific denunciations or accusations; to document the signs (physical and psychological) of a possible physical or psychological abuse; to interpret the proofs obtained and deduce their possible causes; to pronounce upon the extent to which medical proofs correlate with specific allegations made by the victim; to make effective use of the information obtained in order to document and publicise such practices and ensure that the legal and government authorities, at local, national and international level, are fully informed of the physical and psychological consequences of the type (or types) of torture used.
However, the mission of medical experts in the sphere of torture is far from easy. It often involves contact with people who carry within themselves the traumas of a life branded with misfortune and misery. All of us that work in this domain have heard the voices of the victims and their families, their mute cries of desperation and anguish, pain and rage. But we try every day to help them, to not give up on this world. And I am sure that everyone that works in this area has, during the course of their professional life, come into contact with situations that provide us with great spiritual nourishment. This is an area that binds us to others, and which involves seeking answers to some of the large (and small) questions of life. And it also involves adding to the real, reinventing the world that we have inherited.
By Duarte Nuno Vieira
A recent European Court of Human Rights case finds that the excessive use of tear gas, especially when people are detained or deprived of their liberty, can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment
The use of tear gas by law enforcement officials against demonstrators and detainees is widely documented as a method of crowd control. However, examples of its excessive use are occurring with alarming frequency, for example recently in Bahrain, the West Bank, Turkey and Honduras where the use of tear gas has lead to civilian deaths.
A number of IRCT member centres have been campaigning against the use of tear gas in their countries and in particular its use against peaceful demonstrators and people deprived of liberty which many human rights organisations consider amounts to torture or ill treatment.
The Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT) in Honduras has also raised its concerns about the use of tear gas by security forces, particularly in places of detention and against those demonstrating, such as the demonstrations that took place against changes to education in March 2011. . The issue was raised by the CPTRT during the recent visit of the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to Honduras and the SPT confirmed that it would look into the issue. The CPTRT also intends to ask the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for its view on the use of tear gas in prisons and against demonstrators.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has expressed its concerns over the use of such gases in law enforcement. The CPT considers that:
“… [P]epper spray [tear gas] is a potentially dangerous substance and should not be used in confined spaces. Even when used in open spaces the CPT has serious reservations; if exceptionally it needs to be used, there should be clearly defined safeguards in place. For example, persons exposed to pepper spray should be granted immediate access to a medical doctor and be offered an antidote. Pepper spray should never be deployed against a prisoner who has already been brought under control.” (CPT/Inf (2009) 25, paragraph 79)
The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV/HRFT) has vast experience in treating people who have been exposed to tear gas in five of its treatment and rehabilitation centres for torture survivors in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Adana. The HRFT decided to conduct further scientific studies on the physical effects of tear gas as its wide use by security forces during demonstrations; it has caused severe injuries and in some cases deaths from exploding bomb canisters and the inhalation of toxic chemicals used in the gas.
The HRFT (Istanbul Centre) has studied 64 cases of people affected by tear gas and evaluated the early side-effects of these chemical agents in these cases based on age, gender, psychological findings as well as other injuries. The research shows that complaints and physical side effects caused as a result of exposure to the tear gas chemicals were highest during the first three days following exposure.
The HRFT considers that “tear gas is a weapon derived from chemical agents” and that “the use of these agents amounts to torture and ill-treatment when used against people whose liberty has been deprived.”
The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Ali Güneş fully supports the HRFT’s position on this issue.
In the recent case of ALİ GÜNEŞ v. TURKEY (Application no. 9829/07), the ECtHR found for the first time that the use of tear gas against people whose liberty has been restricted can amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court stressed that there can be no justification for the use of tear gas against an individual who has already been taken under the control of the law enforcement authorities. Ali Güneş, a high school teacher and member of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers (Eğitim-Sen), was in one of the thirteen allocated areas where demonstrations were allowed to take place during the 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul. He complained about having been sprayed with tear gas by police officers, even after being arrested. The incident was widely reported in the national press and Mr Güneş was able to produce as evidence a photograph published in the daily newspaper Sabah showing him between two police officers who were holding him by the arms, and one of whom was spraying his nose and mouth with gas at very close range. He also relied on medical reports which showed that his eyes had been affected by the gas.
In its judgment, the Court referred to previous cases in which it had considered the use of tear gas for the purposes of law enforcement, and where it had recognised that its use can produce effects such as respiratory problems, nausea, vomiting, irritation of the respiratory tract, irritation of the tear ducts and eyes, spasms, chest pain, dermatitis and allergies. Given the effects the gases cause and the potential health risks they entail, the Court considered that “the unwarranted spraying of [Mr Güneş’s] face in the circumstances described must have subjected him to intense physical and mental suffering and was such as to arouse in him feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him”. By spraying him in such circumstances the police officers subjected Mr Güneş to inhuman and degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention.
The IRCT welcomes the clear indication from the European Court of Human Rights that tear gas should not under any circumstance be used against persons whose liberty has been restricted and considers that this sends an important signal to countries in the region that the excessive use of tear gas by security forces should not be condoned.
The outcome of the Turkish case should be of vital interest to other regions, where the oppressive use of tear gas is being used with alarming frequency, such as in Bahrain and Honduras. As the CPT has stated, clearly defined safeguards should be put in place where the use of tear gas is required. In addition, further protection against the excessive use of tear gas should be supported by more scientific research on the long-term effects of exposure to it, in particular to build on previous studies, such as those carried out by the HRFT and the US-based organisation Physicians for Human Rights.
The decision of the European Court in the case against Turkey, supported by an increased understanding of the long-term health effects of tear gas exposure, will give civil society organisations the increased ammunition needed to campaign against the excessive use of tear gas by law enforcement authorities.
Lea aquí (.DOC) la versión española
Rachel is interning at the IRCT with the Advocacy and Legal Team after completing her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation; she is also a Qualified Solicitor.
I’ve just returned from the IRCT 2011 Council Meeting in London, where representatives from across the IRCT’s membership met to discuss issues affecting our global movement and offered regional perspectives on the work against torture going on all over the world. It was an inspiring meeting, and I was planning on writing about it for this blog, however, Andy Branch of our UK member centre and host for our meeting - Freedom from Torture – has beaten me to it on with an excellent piece on their blog!
I think his piece sums up the mood of the event excellently, and highlights the value in so many people from all over the world united in our vision of a world without torture getting together and exchanging knowledge.
Thank you Andy, and thanks to all of the staff at Freedom from Torture for being such gracious hosts to us in London.
Scott is the IRCT’s Head of Communications.
We, the undersigned,
Council Members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), representing health professionals and other relevant professionals who provide multidisciplinary rehabilitation for victims and survivors of torture throughout the world, gathered at the Annual Council Meeting in London, United Kingdom, 9 and 10 November 2011,
are alarmed by the level of violence, including torture, that currently occurs in all regions of the world and specially in situations of conflict and social unrest, and that is often related to poverty, defined as a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other human rights.
Bearing in mind,
that all dimensions of poverty perpetuate an enduring state of marginalisation, diminished rights, and reduced protections that make an individual more vulnerable to torture and ill treatment;
that torture has complex and far reaching consequences on physical, psychological, social and economic well-being of its victims. The debilitating consequences of torture affect the victim’s ability to earn and thus provide for the victim and the family and to further contribute to society;
that in general, official State policies, including development policies and programmes, have thus far failed to adequately address the link between poverty and torture, to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals, and to break the vicious cycle that poverty and torture create; and
that women and men, groups or communities historically subjected to discrimination face compounded violations to their rights when they do not have the financial means to defend their rights or to access the health, justice and employment sectors in conditions of equality.
that poverty is one of the major underlying factors that keeps people perpetually vulnerable to torture, and that torture tends to increase or deepen poverty by stripping victims of the ability to continue their livelihoods;
that poor persons are disproportionately more vulnerable to torture and ill treatment, in particular in situations of detention and lack of legal representation.
Urgently call upon States,
Read the full declaration here.
This is a declaration from the IRCT council members, representatives from all continents, regions, backgrounds.
This is hugely exciting development for the IRCT and for the future of international discussion on root causes, and therefore, also how to address the problem of torture. Simply put, the poor are tortured. Because they are easy targets, because they cannot buy their way out of detention, because their rights have not been respected.
And we call upon States to take steps to take the responsibility to eradicate torture and to effectively ensure the rehabilitation of torture victims.
Our United Nations event with the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the UN was a big success. It was a fascinating discussion on the necessity of rehabilitation of torture victims held at UN headquarters in New York City.
Find a webcast of the event here.
The main points? Rehabilitation serves multiple needs:
- Torture victims have a right to full, holistic rehabilitation
- Holistic rehabilitation allows survivors to live as full life as possible after the crimes, abuse, and damaged caused by torture – both mental and physical
- Rehabilitation prevents torture. Torture continues because those who commit these crimes do not fear persecution; they live in impunity from their crimes. Rehabilitation, which includes access to justice mechanisms, means torturers can no longer hide from their crimes. Treatment centre also provide access for testimonies of torture, documentation (possibly forensic) of the crimes, and access to justice.
For more information, read our two-page description of these main points here (PDF).