Archive for category Rehabilitation
Recently, the IRCT and two of its Danish member centres spoke with Copenhagen-based monthly newspaper The Murmur about their work with torture victims in Denmark.
Torture is something that most of us assume only affects those in developing nations, where civil wars still rage, governments are heavily corrupt and poverty plagues the masses. But while it is more prevalent in these nations, Amnesty International found evidence of torture in 79 countries, all of which had ratified the UN Convention Against Torture.
The IRCT is a leading organisation that helps rehabilitate these individuals, with 144 rehabilitation centres providing holistic treatment to torture victims in 76 countries.
Asylum seekers arriving in Denmark often bring with them scars from their encounters with torturers. In Copenhagen, the Oasis rehabilitation centre has just 15 staff members tending to approximately 130 victims, mostly hailing from Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Somalia. Its sister organisation, Rehabiliteringscenter for Torturofre (RCT) in Jutland, treats many people from the Balkans, Chechnya, Syria, and the Post-Soviet Republics.
Both organisations treat the victims using a range of services and personnel, including social workers, psychologists, physical therapists and psychiatrists.
“We treat many civilians who have been victims of, or have witnessed organised violence against others, either during armed conflicts or under terror regimes, but we also treat perpetrators, as many from the Balkans were forced into military service against their will,” explains Mikkel Auning-Hansen, an RCT psychologist.
“Chechen refugees are damaged in many ways. Some were hunted, interrogated or tortured by paramilitary groups. Most of them have family members missing, hiding away from home or hunted for their political views. Some still feel that they are being hunted in Denmark.”
Ruth Lauge, the Director of Oasis, says soldiers are often the perpetrators. “We’ve treated a number of people who were kidnapped by the Taliban. For example, young children who were beaten and forced to put on suicide vests and being psychologically prepared to die, before they escaped,” she explains, adding that many victims have been living in Denmark for years, even decades, before they seek treatment.
“Many people come from being on the run and they just want a normal and safe life, with a home, family and work – just like anyone else,” Auning-Hansen says.
“Most cope for a limited time, but eventually, stress at work, problems in the family, loss of job or other unforeseen stresses tip the load and that’s when people reach out for help.”
Read the full article in the latest issue of The Murmur or click on this link.
A circus is a show featuring colourful, entertaining and often daring acts. A circus aims to amuse, to entertain and to joke. And a circus is also a method of rehabilitation.
Despite the fun factor, circus acts and similar physical activities are used by IRCT members to encourage confidence, creativity and cooperation among torture survivors.
One particular example of this is the ‘Body Movement Reconnect’ programme, a joint initiative between Australian member STTARS and the group Uniting Care Wesley Bowden.
With the assistance of trainers at the South Australian Circus Company, this six-month program from February 2014 helped female survivors of torture body awareness, develop social connections, improve fitness and build self-esteem to reduce the impact of chronic pain.
For Katie, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, the STTARS programme restored happiness and a sense of belonging, missing after years of fear during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, her subsequent move to Iran and her experience of rape as a child.
“When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan [in 1979], I was 11 years old. At this time, the Soviet soldiers were catching girls and disappearing with them. They would also come after the young boys taking them in the name of military service,” Katie explains.
“At the time, I didn’t feel that affected because I was young. But I remember many girls disappeared. If you left the house then you could be taken. So we did not leave the house.”
In 1980, Katie and her mother, four sisters, three brothers and grandmother fled to Iran. Her father stayed in Afghanistan to fight. He was killed.
“In Iran, I didn’t go to school. Half of the children did not go to school because of the expense, the rent of the house, and living in a country illegally,” says Katie.
“It was only after we moved that I began to recall trauma I suffered in Afghanistan. I had been lying to people to stop them finding out.”
While bringing a meal to her brother-in-law, Katie was imprisoned in his home and raped.
“I didn’t know anything about being a woman,” Katie says. “I did not know what had happened to me as I passed out. I felt ashamed and embarrassed.”
“It was hard to forget the memories when I was 11 years, but my husband was a good man. We had a beautiful son together, but when my son was five-years-old, he became sick and died. That was the saddest time of my life.”
This culmination of sadness from fleeing Afghanistan and her rape began to takes its toll on Katie.
“My life during those times was coloured with sadness. I came to Australia with hopes for a better life. I was very scared in the beginning. Everybody spoke a foreign language and everything was unknown,” Katie says.
“When I came to STTARS three years ago, I met ladies from my country, it was here that I began to feel safe.”
Katie soon joined the Body Movement Reconnect programme, participating in a range of circus activities accompanied by therapy and group counselling.
After six-months of support from STTARS, Katie feels reinvented.
“For me it was like being with my sisters again, there were women laughing, having fun, exercising. We shared lunch and talked about our countries and background. It always felt like a safe space and I knew the women there understood me and I understood them. I am a strong Afghani woman, and that makes me feel proud.”
Eating, showering and getting dressed. Most of us do these basic activities every day. Many of us also use a phone or some other form of technology on a daily basis and housework and grocery shopping are part of our weekly chores. Performing these and other daily activities come natural to the majority of us, yet for some, even a simple task like brushing your teeth is a daily struggle.
A recent study in Denmark has established a link between exposure to torture, trauma and post-migration stress in newly arrived asylum seekers and a decreased ability to perform activities of daily living. The researchers behind the report Activity of Daily Living Performance amongst Danish Asylum Seekers: A cross-sectional study used a number of different measures to first determine the health of 43 asylum seekers and then look at their ability to perform basic everyday tasks. The result showed an overwhelming 62% struggled with completing some of their daily tasks.
Across the world, health professionals often refer to activities of daily living (ADLs) when measuring the functional status of a person. While there is much information on how well individual groups such as the elderly or people with disabilities perform ADLs, no larger studies have addressed ADL issues encountered by traumatised asylum seekers and refugees. Although relatively small, the Danish study is a good indicator of what to expect from future studies addressing this issue.
When it comes to measuring a person’s ability to perform ADLs, it is impossible to ignore their health and well-being. Pain in particular, is an important factor when discussing ADL ability, as it is well documented that persistent pain interferes with a person’s ADL performance and social participation.
In the Danish study, which involved asylum seekers from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, a staggering 72% of the participants reported that they suffered from a pain problem. Alarmingly, most of them had been exposed to torture and many of them showed signs of stress and depression, both of which can contribute to a low ADL score.
Most people arriving in a new country after fleeing war and mass conflict need urgent treatment and rehabilitation to help tackle the trauma and other physical and mental after-effects. Yet, unlike other groups in Denmark that struggle with completing everyday tasks, asylum seekers, tortured or not, do not instantly have access to treatment or rehabilitation.
Many of the specialised rehabilitation centres simply do not offer rehabilitation before the asylum seeker has been granted asylum just as health care and social subsidies remain a privilege for the resident population. Until their pending case is decided and they receive refugee status, asylum seekers only have access to acute medical needs, unless they apply to the Danish Immigration Service for further medical attention.
As the study points out, the right to rehabilitation should in principle be regarded as an obligation to rehabilitate those who are in need. Failing to do so can have far-reaching consequences for traumatised asylum seekers, including social isolation, dependency on others and deteriorating health.
According to the Danish researchers, one way of preventing further loss of ADL ability among traumatised asylum seekers is to provide them with the appropriate rehabilitation upon arrival, and not wait until they have been granted asylum. An argument that is difficult to disagree with when reality is that most asylum seekers have complex health and social care needs that require our immediate attention.
In other words, health impediments that reduce someone’s quality of life must be addressed as soon as possible. After all, something as simple as brushing your teeth should not be a struggle for anyone.
To read the latest issue of Torture Journal click here.
Despite suffering arrest, beatings and forced push-ups on the burning hot concrete of a Thai military camp, Hasan Useng is not entitled to remedies and reparations for this torture.
That’s the ruling made by a Provincial Court in Thailand on 7 October 2014, one which received condemnation from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Reporting on the case, Amnesty International explain the ruling was made to prevent remedy to Hasan Useng because the military coup in May 2014 annuls Thailand’s Constitution, specifically Article 32 which assures reparations for victims of torture.
It is not the allegations which are necessarily disputed. It has been well-documented that Hasan Useng was arrested at his house in Narathiwat province. He was taken to the Inkhayuthaborihan Military Camp in Pattani province where “military personnel allegedly kicked him and ordered him to do several hundred push-ups and jumping jacks on the hot concrete in his bare feet,” according to Amnesty International.
What Hasan is being denied is rehabilitation and redress due to a pointless, inconsistent technicality.
Despite the ruling from the Thai courts, the government still has obligations under international law – specifically the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) – to provide redress and rehabilitation to victims of torture, even in a time of martial law.
What this ruling indicates is that Thailand is exploiting the military coup as a way to ignore ongoing torture allegations.
“The Hasan Useng decision highlights the concrete damage to human rights protections in Thailand resulting from the military coup, and the fact that it is now virtually impossible to hold security forces legally accountable for their actions,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, reporting to Amnesty International.
As already expressed by Amnesty and other human rights organisations Thailand should take immediate measures to ensure all persons alleging torture and ill-treatment should have an opportunity for prompt and effective investigation into their claims, as well as full access to rehabilitation and legal routes in their case.
To read the full article on Amnesty International’s site, click this link.
Nobel Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once said: “Humanity needs organizations like DIGNITY that decade after decade carry out risky, uphill, and often unrecognized work towards a world free from torture.”
More than three decades since its foundation, the arduous journey has made DIGNITY a prominent force in the global fight against torture.
The history of DIGNITY and the IRCT are intimately related — in fact, the two organisations were one at the inception. It was only in 1997 that the two organisations went separate ways, responding to a growing need for global support in the rehabilitation of torture victims.
Today, DIGNITY is famed for its extensive research on torture and its effects. DIGNITY also holds the world’s largest collection of documents on torture and related subjects, with more than 30,000 items. These credentials make DIGNITY “the most famous torture rehabilitation center in the world”, according to former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak.
“In addition to providing hundreds of torture survivors from all world regions with medical, psychological, social and other forms of rehabilitation, DIGNITY is a leading research and documentation center on the methods of torture and its effects on human beings,” he said.
DIGNITY’s main client base are refugees in Denmark who have survived torture. Although potential patients need a residence permit in Denmark and a referral from a physician, the centre offers rehabilitation to people who have been exposed to torture, organised violence or other severely traumatising events such as war and political persecution.
These patients often suffer from flashbacks, sleep disorders and nightmares, isolation, concentration and memory difficulties, among others, making their integration into Danish society much harder.
But, since its foundation 32 years ago by Dr Inge Genefke, DIGNITY’s mission spread far beyond Denmark and the clinical services needed in Copenhagen. The centre works in places such as South Africa, India, Tunisia and Jordan aiming at reducing the effects of torture or preventing the use of torture and organised violence.
With its dedicated group of over 80 experts – and its roots deep in the movement – DIGNITY will go much further.
If you want to learn more about DIGNITY join them on 30 October in Copenhagen’s main square Rådhuspladsen. Outlandish and several other music bands will be performing on the ‘DIGNITY DAY’ to mark the organisation’s 32nd anniversary. DIGNITY will also present their yearly prize to a person who has made a remarkable contribution to the fight against torture.
Four years was all Cambodian dictator Pol Pot and his regime needed to murder 1.5 million people. From 1975 to 1979, starvation, torture, disease and overwork mainly contributed to the deaths that affected the well-being of the entire country.
Today Cambodians still come to terms with the Khmer Rouge regime, one which is still being brought to justice, most recently with the life sentences of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, two figureheads of the regime.
For the survivors, justice only does so much. For many their families are destroyed and those who tortured them have already escaped punishment throughout the majority of their lives.
Now, ahead of the upcoming edition of Torture Journal, we hear from a different project in the USA which is helping Cambodian torture survivors there overcome their past through rehabilitation.
The Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma’s Cambodian Health Promotion Program uses health professionals from psychiatry, nutrition, mental health and biomedicine fields to implement group sessions with 126 survivors of torture to help them move on from their past.
The torture survivors themselves are instrumental to their own recovery with much of the onus on each survivor equipping themselves with power and knowledge to resume their lives, under the facilitation of the health professionals and other group members.
Groups discuss their past, their present and, with hope, their future. Heightened healthcare is promoted through Cambodian culture running alongside traditionally western health concepts; depression and sleeping patterns are discussed to analyse the effects these have on the body; the benefits of physical activity in promoting good mental health are explored; and the benefits of good nutrition are outlined also, all within the context of Cambodian cuisine.
What the project attempts to do is to empower victims of torture to improve their own physical and psychological wellbeing without prescribing the correct ways to look at things – at every stage the cultural traditions of Cambodia are synthesised with evidence-based medical developments.
The study documents that survivors of the genocide generally report worse health conditions than those who were not affected by the Khmer Rouge regime. It is estimated that over 50 per-cent of the survivors were tortured, which has led to chronic health conditions.
Across the four-year health promotion group, improvements were reported across the group of survivors in healthcare, health behaviours, sleeping patterns, self-confidence and depression.
Only seven per-cent rated their health-state as poor after the conclusion of the project, down 13 per-cent since the survivors were surveyed at the inception of the project. Incidences of daily nightmares were only reported by three per-cent of the group (down 10%) and self-confidence issues dropped by over 20%.
Projects such as this show the positive impact of rehabilitation. Whether it is in a community setting, a medical setting or otherwise, targeted, tailored rehabilitation has life-changing results.
To read the full report click this link.
We hear from IRCT Asia Regional Coordinator Marion Staunton as she visits CORE-H2H in Manipur, India, to learn about the centre’s activities to tackle torture in the region.
On a clear day under cobalt blue skies, along the shores of a murky canal choking with vegetation, we climbed in to small dugout canoe that would take us on a twenty minute journey to the centre of Loktak Lake in the mountainous Manipur State of the north-eastern region of India.
The lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the region and has an important role in its ecological and economic security. The purpose of our journey was to meet some members of fisher community living on floating huts who are being supported by the Human to Humane Transcultural Centre for Torture and Trauma (H2H) project of the IRCT member the Centre for Organization Research & Education (CORE).
H2H, established in 2009, is the independent health and humanitarian service of the nongovernmental organization CORE which provides direct assistance to survivors of torture within a holistic rehabilitation framework. Support is provided through in-house clinical psychologists, art and expressive therapists, physiotherapists, spiritual and traditional healers. H2H activities are supported by the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
CORE was founded in 1987 in the capital Imphal of Manipur State in response to the extensive human rights abuses taking place. Its main focus is on the documentation of such human rights abuses, including torture, and advocacy for indigenous peoples’ rights. Since 2005, CORE has Special Consultative Relationship with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
In the canoe accompanying me on my journey was one of the founding members of CORE and its current president Dr Laifungbam Roy. Dr Roy, who heads the H2H project, explained how in Manipur people in appearance and culture have more in common with South East Asia than distant New Delhi. Many insurgencies have been fought in this region for autonomy and separation from India, and the Indian government has responded with tough military crackdowns that have resulted in heavy loss to life, property and the development of the state.
In particular, he explained about the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA), a racially discriminatory “state of emergency” martial law that is in place in Manipur that gives soldiers extraordinary powers and legal immunity from prosecution under India’s criminal justice system. Soldiers are shielded from prosecution by this law as they cannot be prosecuted without explicit permission from the central government, which has never been granted. Unsurprisingly, the law has led to decades of impunity, human rights violations and abuses, such as arbitrary killings, rape, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and enforced disappearances. One particular client group that CORE works with and supports is that of indigenous peoples, the majority population of the province.
When we reached our destination we met with the Loktak Fishing Community and the All Loktak Lake Areas Fishermen’s Union Manipur Secretary on their indigenous phumsangs which are traditional floating huts made of bamboo and thatch situated in the middle of lake. Currently the traditional life style and livelihood of the Loktak Fishing Community is severely threatened due to ‘development’ plans to construct a ring-road and embankment around the lake with the authorities using the old and authoritarian Loktak Lake (Protection) Act of 2006 that criminalises traditional fishing and seeks remove the fishing community from the lake.
Their lives, livelihoods and way of life are in danger and in recent times they have endured arson attack, torture and evictions from their homes by the government with nowhere else for them to go. The community are extremely traumatised and distraught following recent arson attacks on them and their homes. According to H2H and CORE they are under continuous stress not knowing when the authorities will return and attempt to evict them and destroy their homes again.
In recent months H2H has provided counselling support to a number of torture victims from this community. But the community say that their uncertainty of what will happen to them, their children and community causes them continued mental anguish and torture.
We summarise some of the biggest news stories, statements, events and news from the World Without Torture blog, Facebook and Twitter pages over the month of March.
For one week in March, we donated our Twitter feed to husband and wife Osama and Zaina, two Syrian refugees who fled Aleppo, Syria, to seek safety in Europe.
However, due to tough restrictions on movement and incredible bad luck, they now find themselves stuck in Greece with no possessions, following a robbery they experienced shortly after arriving in the country.
Their story is just one of many promoted by European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) who are running the ‘Europe Act Now’ Twitter campaign to pressure politicians in Europe to alter the way Syrian refugees are viewed, with the ultimate aim to make their passages to safety in Europe easier.
To read about our role in the campaign just click this link.
The most popular story on our blog this month has been the release of a new video from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
The video, which features Dr. Mechthild Wenk-Ansohn from BZFO, an IRCT member, and IRCT patron and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak, discusses what rights torture survivors have under the United Nations Convention.
To view the video, just click this link.
Each year almost 220,000 citizens in Bangladesh are tortured, mainly by the police.
That’s an incredibly high figure, and one which the Bangladesh Centre for Human Rights and Development (BCHRD) want to lower and, ultimately, eradicate.
The problem lies in the implementation of the UN Convention Against Torture, which Bangladesh became a signatory of in 1998. Despite this commitment, torture is still not punishable as a crime under domestic law, meaning perpetrators simply get away with their crimes.
To read more about what BCHRD are doing to restore justice, faith in the authorities, and equal rights, just click this link.
One story we shared on Facebook this month received a lot of attention, which was particularly pleasing for IRCT member El Nadeem, Cairo, who were quoted in the piece.
The in-depth study from the Washington Post not only assesses the number of Egyptians in detention in recent months, but also looks at their treatment, their rights, and some of the stories of torture heard in recent months.
Click the link or the picture below to read the full story.
In June 2013, the Asian Human Rights Commission declared that torture in Cambodia is “systematic” with 141 documented cases of torture in police custody since 2010. With a population of nearly 15 million, perhaps the 141 figure seems low. However this figure is only officially documented cases – unreported instances of torture could be much higher.
And regardless of the numbers, Cambodia is a country still reeling from the terrible effects of the Khmer Rouge regime which, almost exactly 40 years ago, killed at least two-million people through the Cambodian Genocide.
The Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation Cambodia (TPO Cambodia) hope to end the negative effects from this horrifying regime and assist the people of Cambodia to escape trauma.
You can read more about their work by clicking this link.
Veli’s story is complex, unusual, and powerful. Caught up in a prison siege in Turkey in 2000, Veli lost his arms after armed security forces stormed his prison block with a bulldozer which tore down the wall where Veli was standing, ripping off his right arm.
After years of torture rehabilitation and legal assistance from IRCT member the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Veli was granted a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights which specified his entitlement to compensation.
And so the compensation was paid – until the Turkish authorities overruled the payment. Now they demand that Veli pays the compensation back, at a much higher rate than it was awarded to him.
We joined the Human Rights Foundation Turkey in pressuring the state to end this case and to stop this extended miscarriage of justice by tweeting with the hashtag #JusticeforVeli.
The final ‘On the Forefront’ blog of March focused on Center for Victims of Torture (CVT). Based in the US, this IRCT member has a global reach, assisting victims of torture in the Middle-East, Africa and Asia.
Yet CVT was not always this large and, in fact, grew from only a small conversation with the Governor of Minnesota.
Today CVT is one of the leading networks in torture rehabilitation, prevention, and justice. To read more about the team at CVT and the excellent work they carry out across the globe, simply click this link.
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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 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.