Archive for category Sharing Knowledge – Project Work
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our previous blog here).
Last year, SPIRASI helped 600 survivors of torture from 75 different countries. Approximately 90% of those people referred to the centre from physicians and attorneys nationally in Ireland are seeking protection. SPIRASI offers a wide range of rehabilitative interventions including medical assessments, therapeutic treatment, social supports, education and assistance with integration.
SPIRASI decided to get involved in the Peer Support project because we all know that the stress and the very subject that we are dealing with — torture — can and does have a real impact on how we perform in our work, in rehabilitating survivors of torture. It seems that as a result we are mostly in a state of disorder and hyper-sensitivity. In the NGO sector, that is a very difficult admission to make. NGOs are under immense pressure to exude professionalism and success. Donors and other supporters expect very high standards and we compete against a myriad of other organisations for support for our cause.
Last December we gathered with our colleagues from across Europe in Barcelona to look at the outcome of visits we received by the Peer Support Project leaders to examine the impact of stress and to begin to put together strategies for coping.
I found the meeting exceptionally helpful. I was immediately struck by the fact that we were not alone in grappling with the effects of stress and trauma and that we all had remarkably similar problems to deal with and exceptionally busy schedules. The input from ANTARES, a foundation based in the Netherlands who work with international humanitarian organisations to help them address such issues, was excellent. They shared with us a model and tools to help with the development of policies and processes. The model provides a life cycle approach to managing stress with staff, with suggestions at each phase, from screening to post-exit supports. We are hoping to adopt many of the good practice guidelines suggested in this model.
I was also taken with a problem solving model that has been championed by bzfo, a center in Berlin, called Intervision. This model helps people with problems through a process that involves empathising with the problem holder, drawing out salient points and providing solutions.
Already the tools and mechanisms that we are acquiring through the project are helping us to become more effective in our work. For example, since the start of the project, we have begun a re-structuring process in our service provision to draw our therapeutic staff more into the centre of our organisation. This we hope will build greater cohesiveness and aid in better communication. In addition, in light of the discussion on stress, we have looked at decision making in the organisation and have made some important changes by giving more input into decisions to the coordination team and changing our meeting structure.
We are looking forward to the coming follow-up visits and to working more with the Peer Support project team and our European partners.
By Greg Straton, Director SPIRASI
It’s probably safe to say that all jobs are stressful at one point or another. But, as one of the missions of the IRCT is to improve the quality of holistic rehabilitation for torture victims around the world, stress is decidedly a factor that can get in the way.
Stress, ‘burn-out’, or even trauma, is a great risk when one works in this field. Like many professions, staff can be overworked; but in torture rehabilitation, working everyday with those who may be deeply traumatised by an experience of torture means there is a great risk of trauma transferring to the professional helping them. It’s understandably difficult to distress after a hard day, especially when the needs are great and ever-growing.
Additionally, trauma centres have often come from a grassroots need, rather than traditional healthcare structures, says Prof Dr Christian Pross, a member of the UN Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture, in a 2011 manual on the issue [PDF]. While filled with zeal and purpose, trauma centres sometimes suffered from a lack of proper organisational structure, causing additional stress, friction and confusion.
Thus, enter the Peer Support Project. Based in Europe, the project aims to train and provide other forms of support to torture rehabilitation centres. To provide the best possible holistic rehabilitation for the victims of torture, it is simply necessary to ensure that those who carry out this work on the ground – the medical doctors, psychotherapists, administrators, secretaries, among others – that they have the stress management tools and needed organisational structures around them to get the job done best.
At the moment, the Peer Support Project is halfway through its course. The project kicked off in July 2012. As a first step, the needs of each of the participating centers were assessed. Representatives from the three partners that designed the project – the IRCT, ANTARES Foundation of the Netherlands, and bzfo of Germany – visited each centre and spoke to staff on the ground over the course of three days. What, simply, were the difficulties that the organisation and their staff were experiencing? As a result of the assessments, the partners of the project directly engaged with local staff (both management and therapists) in helping them to create supportive organisational structures, introducing new tools such as stress management techniques and intervision (this concept refers to have, within a team, inter-collegial consultation without an external supervisor) and assisting them in the ongoing process of implementing these tools.
“When we applied for the PEER SUPPORT project, we thought it a wonderful opportunity to address something that is at the hub of our organisation but which often goes unspoken.
When I received notification that we had been selected for the project, it dawned on me that perhaps this was not such a great idea, and then when I learned that it was going to potentially add a lot more work to an already over-loaded agenda I wasn’t sure if it had been a good idea at all.
The first day of the assessment visit by Winnifred Simon (ANTARES), Nora Balke (bzfo) and Helene de Rengervé (IRCT) left us feeling justified in the decision that we took. At the end of the three days I was left with hope that this project will serve us very well to not only become a healthier work environment but a healthier organisation. We are looking forward to the training and to furthering the work of this worthwhile initiative in the coming year”
- Greg Straton, SPIRASI, Ireland
SPIRASI, based in Ireland, is one of the six participating centres in the project. The others are Assistance Center for Torture Survivors (ACET) – Bulgaria; Freedom From Torture (FFT) – United Kingdom; HEMAYAT – Austria; Medical Rehabilitation Center of Torture Craiova Romania (MRCT) – Romania; and Parcours d’exil – France.
The assessment was just the first step. In December 2012, each centre sent staff to a full week of training in Barcelona. “Working together in Barcelona was very inspiring for us,” said Kristina Golona of ACET. “The exchange of the management practices helped us to consider how to improve the situation of ACET’s staff, even without financial resources”. Furthermore, a system of monitoring on quality management and intervision through video-conferencing is already on-going and will last throughout the project.
“We were looking forward to exchanging experiences and opinions with other centres,” said Cecelia Heis of HEMAYAT. “It was interesting to learn how they organise themselves, under which conditions they work, and which difficulties they are confronted with.”
And many other activities are in the works: a flexible network of organisational counsellors and supervisors, familiar with the special needs of centres working with traumatised victims of torture and refugees; further training for therapists on ‘intervision facilitation’, who shall then in turn train the staff from their own centres; and a final conference in November 2013 to conclude the project.
The Peer Support project intends to improve the well-being of the staff, just as much as the sustainability of the organisations involved. From now on, staff members of one of the participating centers will regularly share their experiences through this process. The aim of these blog posts is to inform others working in trauma and torture rehabilitation on the process and outcomes of the project and to make them aware of the importance of stress and quality management policies. The ultimate goal is, as always, improved care and treatment for the victims of torture. So, stay tuned for these contributions.
In the meantime, interested centers or individuals are very welcome to contact the PEER SUPPORT project coordinators for more information: Helene de Rengervé (email@example.com) or Marnix de Witte (firstname.lastname@example.org) IRCT, tel: +32 2 230 15 04
Editor’s Note: Tessa writes from the IRCT’s Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Seminar taking place in Yaounde, Cameroon.
As we’ve mentioned before, work in nongovernmental organisations (NGO – another acronym we use with ease within this little world) can use a particular language and methods that don’t really reflect to the outside world their true meaning and impact. We speak of meetings and projects with an air of great importance, but often struggle to explain why? Why is a meeting, of all things, so important and why do we focus so much on them?
This has been one of the goals of this blog – to shed some light underneath the veil of NGO-ese and the NGO methods to explain clearly, what is the impact of our work.
One the IRCT’s projects, Non-State Actors (NSA) is one such project riddled with this problem of communicating why meetings are so important.
I am writing right now from one of these meetings. I’m in Cameroon at the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Seminar, co-hosted by the IRCT and our member Trauma Centre Cameroon (TCC). This is my first time to attend one of these meetings, and I firstly feel so privileged to be here and meet so many people within the torture rehabilitation movement; but I also feel like I’m only now beginning to understand the impact of these seminars and meetings.
This seminar has brought together 31 representatives – psychologists, counsellors, directors of centres, and social workers – from torture rehabilitation centres from all over sub-Saharan Africa. There are people here from Chad, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and of course, our gracious hosts and ridiculously hard-working staff of TCC, among others.
The title of this five-day seminar is “Learning from each other.” Our goal in being here is to do just that – learn from each other’s respective experiences in rehabilitating torture survivors, gaining access to justice and preventing torture from happening in the first place.
But our first task was simply to make sure we were all OK. Working for a world without torture in sub-Saharan Africa can be a phenomenally difficult task, as one can imagine from the media. Torture here is undeniably prevalent, whether during military uprisings, former dictatorships, ongoing torture from police officers, or in post-conflict settings. And working for the rehabilitation of torture survivors can be both personally taxing for the individual and intimidating, as we have seen from the threats to human rights defenders around the world.
So, in bringing these 31 individuals together, we tried to address these issues. Presenters from various centres explained their strategies for safety as human rights defenders. Fidelis Mudimu, from Counselling Services Unit (CSU) in Zimbabwe, was among three staff members arbitrarily arrested and detained. He spoke about strategies to assess risks. For example, the greater impact of a centre’s work – bringing forth more perpetrators to account for their crimes, documenting that torture has taken place, empowering victims through rehabilitation – can of course increase the risks that human rights defenders face because they challenge the impunity of perpetrators. Knowing the impact of one’s work can keep that defender aware of when they might provoke a threat.
Taiga Wanyanja, coordinator of Mateso – Mwatikho Torture Survivors Organization in Kenya, spoke about ways in which human rights defenders can mitigate against risks. Keep abreast of not only the context in which one is working, but how it changes. Is there political unrest or upcoming elections, such as the situation in Kenya in 2008 that resulted in many incidents of torture? Make sure the office itself is safe – in a well-lit area and not isolated and easily attacked.
But human rights defenders need to be mentally safe in addition to physically safe. When working in the fight against torture, it is both understandable and a considerable risk that human rights defenders may become traumatised, burned-out or facing other mental health challenges because of the nature of their work. Secondary trauma – trauma that comes from hearing and witnessing the stories of torture and violence all day, everyday – is a problem among those in human rights work, perhaps particularly in anti-torture organisations.
So, back to meetings. What is the purposing of bringing forth all these people from all over the continent to learn these things? Because, as Fidelis said, “We are a chain. And we are only as strong as our weakest link.” It is critically important for the safety – both physical and mental safety – that everyone learns from each other. This is learning from both successes and failures, knowing what works and what doesn’t, in fighting torture within each country, context and community.
How IRCT Pakistan member is confronting the country’s problems
Upon meeting Khalida Salimi, she almost immediately thanked me for being among the ‘young people’ entering into the field of anti-torture work.
“We need more young people to eventually take over for us,” she explains. Salimi views the anti-torture movement as just that – a movement of human rights defenders worldwide, where new, young people must take up the cause and move forward the great strides the elder generation has started.
Salimi herself started working in this field around 20 years ago. She founded the Pakistani centre SACH Struggle for Change in 1994 as part of the growing movement for human rights in her country. She is a trained sociologist, which explains her commitment to a multi-disciplinary approach to the rehabilitation of torture survivors in a field largely dominated by doctors and lawyers. A multi-faceted view, she says, is highly necessary when working in a country beset by large-scale and ongoing poverty, armed conflict while acting as a recipient of a massive population of Afghan refugees from the long history of conflict in the neighbouring country.
Among those various views on how to tackle the problem of torture, Salimi has dedicated herself to continued engagement with all levels of both civil society and government. “A holistic approach,” she explains, “means we need to address and reach the police, the judiciary, the prison systems and then of course the medical professionals and lawyers.”
Reaching the police in particular has been a long—term process, one most recently partially supported by the Non-State Actors (NSA) project from the IRCT, of which SACH is a member. Initially, SACH had to reach out to the police authorities to offer them training on sensitisation of human rights and the law. Now, she reports, the relevant government authorities are reaching out to SACH and requesting further training from the NGO.
“They (police authorities) have moved from denial to acceptance that torture exists and it is a problem.”
The project has assisted Salimi’s organisation in producing manuals for police training to continue the ongoing process of ingraining a culture of human rights. “At the very least, we should ensure a baseline – that the police understand that there is a right to life, a right to dignity.” Now, several police stations in Islamabad have posters with the definition of torture, translated into Urdu, hanging on their walls, thanks to the work of SACH. And in February of this year, the organisation held a training session for nearly 50 prison staff from 8 prisons in the Faisalabad region on the definition of torture, the effects of torture and on improved prison management techniques.
And this is indeed a long and ongoing process, she emphasises, especially in a country that has fundamental challenges in its capacity to address several problems. Take the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), for example. SACH was fundamental in convincing the Pakistani government to sign and ratify the treaty, a process that took many years. Part of that challenge, Salimi says, was convincing the relevant government authorities that Pakistan could indeed comply with the Convention.
The UNCAT, among the fundamental international treaties that prohibits the use of torture, obligates the states that have ratified it to report on certain requirements. Has that country criminalised torture in their domestic laws? Have they neglected to investigate claims of torture? Has the country rendered individuals to a third country where they could have been tortured? The monitoring of the UNCAT obligations requires that countries report on these issues regularly.
The government authorities in Pakistan, she says, attributed their reluctance to sign and ratify the UNCAT because they worried about having the ability to respond to these reporting requirements. But they did it in the end: on 23 June 2010, Pakistan ratified the treaty. One year later to the day, SACH, in coordination with several other civil society organisations, held a workshop with several government ministers to facilitate their reporting to the United Nations on the Convention.
However, SACH’s engagement isn’t limited to the government and preventing torture, but also working with the victims of torture around the country. One aspect of holistic rehabilitation to which they are committed is engagement with torture victims and their families through livelihood training.
“We don’t want to simply give people fish; we need to teach them to fish.”
Many of the survivors they work with have been given a small subsistence allowance through the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Through technical and financial cooperation with the IRCT, they have worked with dozens of survivors to improve their skills to create viable small enterprises.
“These are small-scale enterprises, such as vegetable carts in the markets. But we meet with the survivors and analyse their skills. Then we provide a basic adult education, such as understanding the finances of pricing items.”
Overall, it is the potential for the global movement that most excites Salimi. Through the NSA project the IRCT is facilitating capacity development for centres through exchanges and sharing knowledge with other centres around the world.
The torturers can always come up with new ways to torture people, she says, so the networks of torture rehabilitation centres around the world can help the caregivers make sure they stay ahead.
“The perpetrators are powerful, while the care providers may not have the resources, power and time. But by building our networks and becoming connected, the caregivers are united against torture.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a week-long series from Lars Døssing Rosenmeier, who is writing from the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) Regional Seminar in Amman, Jordan. The seminar is part of the European Commission-supported project, Non-State Actors, which you can read more about here. Read here for the first post.
The very initial moments of treating a torture survivor – the first interviews and basic data questions – can have greater importance than one expects.
The family in the short video had been arrested and tortured by Israeli armed forces after two members of their family were killed in a demonstration against the seizure of their land. The two phases shown in the film – the initial stages of intervention, and after they had received primary rehabilitation services – testify to the power of rehabilitation.
The family shown had received care at the Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (TRC), based in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank.
The video was one presented by TRC at the IRCT Middle East-North Africa (MENA) Regional Seminar, which they are currently co-hosting with the IRCT Secretariat in Amman, Jordan this week. The meeting has brought together 20 health and human rights professionals from across this region to discuss some fundamental practices of their respective rehabilitation clinics.
Intake proceedings and documentation were the focus of the regional seminar this week: where health professionals gathered together to learn their respective procedures and processes to work towards determining a standardised form for data sharing. While collecting data and information, such as name, gender, birth date, and employment status, may seem like a simple function of a rehabilitation clinic, identifying the information that is already collected and can therefore most easily be shared across all treatment centres within the MENA region is very important for the fight against torture.
As Wisam Sehweil of TRC said, referring to the set of simple data that can now be shared; “I have been in many trainings, but this is the first time that a consensus is sought and reached in this way”.
It’s important because doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and psycho-social counsellors are also human rights advocates when working in torture rehabilitation. They are fighting for the right to health and rehabilitation for the torture survivors they meet with every week. International human rights treaties, such as the UN Convention Against Torture, the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, oblige states to provide protection from torture and proper rehabilitation for torture victims.
So what can health professionals do? In addition to treating and rehabilitating torture survivors, health professionals have the knowledge and experience on the ground to advocate for states to live up to these obligations. That’s why creating standardised procedures, such as basic data collection, is important in the fight against torture: health professionals, as human rights advocates, can bring this information to the United Nations and inform the UN monitors about the unmet needs of torture survivors in their country.
So this week in Jordan, 20 participants, from 10 different torture rehabilitation centres in 7 countries, are addressing these questions and in the processing reframing the way we think of health care professionals. Lest we forget: doctors, psychologists and counsellors are among those on the forefront of the fight against torture.
Lars assists the membership team, focusing on management of the NSA project. The NSA project is supported by the European Commission.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a week-long series from Lars Døssing Rosenmeier, who is writing from the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) Regional Seminar in Amman, Jordan. The seminar is part of the European Commission-supported project, Non-State Actors, which you can read more about here.
Dr Fatima Hajji was one of 48 Bahraini doctors who were arrested and tortured during the Arab Spring uprising in spring of 2011. Now wanting to work to help other victims of torture, Dr Hajji is, together with the rest of the newly founded BRAVO organisation, working to establish a rehabilitation centre for torture victims in Bahrain.
Dr Haji, who has only recently had her travel ban lifted, joined more than a dozen other professionals this week at the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) Regional Seminar in Amman, Jordan. The seminar, hosted by IRCT together with project partner Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (TRC), brings together 19 professionals from 9 centres in 7 MENA countries.
Most of the MENA centres are strongly involved in the prevention of torture. Thus, in addition to focusing on how rehabilitation centres receive torture survivors and collect and use data on their cases, the seminar will cover the role of the medical professional and the rehabilitation centres as human rights advocates. Moreover, the arrest and torture of at least 48 doctors in Bahrain in the early spring of 2011 has highlighted the need for better protection of medical professionals in many countries.
During Sunday afternoon, four of the participating centres presented their specific intake procedures and the data collected during this procedure. The presentations and in-depth discussions will continue today and throughout the week.
“The timing of the workshop is perfect for BRAVO, because we just started structuring torture rehabilitation,” Dr Haji said. “This workshop helps us in getting it right from the beginning — using the best available tools for assessment and monitoring torture victims’ needs and standardised formats for better communication with international rehabilitation bodies rather than doing it later, which would be more difficult to redo it.”
As I started working at NGOs, a phrase kept popping up that, honestly, I didn’t quite understand at the time.
“Capacity development” or “building capacity” was among the new NGO-ese I had yet to become acquainted with. In this field – as any other – there is a whole new language to learn. This included “concept note”, “actors”, “stakeholders”, “facilitators”, “good governance”, among many others. However, as I started working at the IRCT, I heard this particular phrase a lot, and most often in context with our Non-State Actors project.
“Non-state actors” is also not a very helpful term, and it doesn’t get any better with the longer version: developing the capacity of IRCT member centres to deliver holistic torture rehabilitation services through south-south and south-north peer supervision and support.
But this is my attempt to explain this project, and why building capacity is so vital for the future of the global anti-torture movement.
We are a membership organisation comprised of more than 140 rehabilitation centres all over the world. We have members in Sudan and Peru, Australia and Nepal, Egypt and, most recently, Namibia – more than 70 countries. And as one might surmise, not all the centres have the same resources or expertise.
EATIP in Argentina has a lot of experience in supporting torture victims – medically, psychologically, and financially – through justice proceedings. They have done so with several victims who are providing witness testimony in cases from the former dictatorial regime. African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in Uganda has been at the forefront at developing livelihood programmes – training women how to sew or weave, for example – as part of their rehabilitative care for female victims of sexual violence and torture. Other centres are stars at fundraising and understanding how to apply for grants from the European Union or philanthropic foundations.
These are all skills that are not evenly distributed across the 140 centres. Building capacity is simply trying to improve all the rehabilitation centres by having the centres teach each other. Our project is to facilitate that through exchanges, seminars and organising training. A doctor in Sri Lanka travels to an Indian centre to learn a new psycho-social treatment method. A partner in Cameroon meets with other Sub-Saharan African treatment centres to discuss fundraising options – to work together rather than in competition. A forensic specialist from Colombia might visit a centre in Mexico to explain the most up-to-date information on documenting torture in the proper fashion (according to the Istanbul Protocol), so that the information can be used to prosecute the perpetrators or apply for asylum cases.
Capacity development – despite the esoteric wording – is simply making organisations better through training, sharing information and expertise, and cooperating, so that all members of the IRCT benefit from the incredible wealth of knowledge in each of the rehabilitation centres that comprise that membership. Improving the centres means improving their ability to treat victims of torture, aid survivors in accessing justice, and prevent torture from happening in the first place.
In Palestine and Israel despite tough conditions, skilled and hardworking organisations are working to combat torture
By Lars Døssing Rosenmeier
Just before the end of 2011, I visited the IRCT member centre the Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (TRC) in Ramallah, Palestine. The visit was technically a “monitoring and coordination mission” under the European Commission-supported NSA project. TRC is a partner to this project that has now progressed into the third and final year.
What we call the ‘NSA’ is a project to improve the skills of 11 rehabilitation centres through exchange of knowledge between them and other IRCT member centres. If one centre excels, for example, in psycho-social rehabilitation or UN advocacy, they can share their knowledge and skills through seminars or other trainings.
As I had heard from other Secretariat staff before going to TRC (and can now personally confirm), TRC has a great management team leading a group of well trained psychotherapists. Therefore, TRC has not only taken part in NSA project activities aimed at building their own staff capacity, but has also been able to act as peer supervisors and trainers visiting other centres to share their experiences, knowledge and best practices on treatment and rehabilitation of torture survivors. The main objective of my visit was to discuss the project activities of the last two years and plan for the current.
When we visit our members, we also always try to visit current and potential donors as well as other international or local partners to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. As the NSA project, of which I am the deputy manager, is mainly supported by the European Commission, it was only natural that I had a longer meeting at The Office of the European Union Representative to the West Bank and Gaza Strip to discuss both the work of TRC and the progress of the NSA project. I also met briefly with representatives of OHCHR and of the Dutch Foreign Ministry and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation as I was lucky enough to attend and even deliver a short speech at TRC’s celebration of the UN Human Rights Day. During this event, Palestinian Authority Minister of Justice Dr. Ali Khashan promised to facilitate better cooperation with local human rights organisations both in general and on specific cases. This was in dialogue with Samih Muhsen, of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, who in his speech had stated that Palestinian security personnel widely (to some extent even systematically) practice torture with impunity.
Most TRC clients are victims of torture or inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment at the hands of the Israeli occupation and the Israeli security forces, who are responsible for an overwhelming amount of severe human rights violations. Another important partner of the IRCT in the area is the Israeli NGO the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI). The IRCT and PCATI work together on cases of torture with IRCT providing (psycho) forensic expertise and documentation, and PCATI’s legal team pursuing cases of torture in the Israeli judicial system to bring perpetrators to justice and advocate for victims.
While meeting with PCATI in Jerusalem, I was fortunate enough to also join the legal team for a case in the Israeli Supreme Court. This case was also included in our FEAT project as part of the IRCT-PCATI collaboration on cases described above.
I sat in the benches as the legal team argued in front of the Supreme Court that a criminal investigation should be opened into the torture case, and that the State Attorney had failed to live up to his responsibility of properly looking into opening an investigation. Disappointingly for us and likely devastating for the victim, the court did not intervene. Instead the State Attorney Office’s decision to refer the assessment of whether or not to open an investigation to the Israel Security Agency (also known as the Shin Bet) internal investigator, rather than to look into the issue itself, was upheld. As a result, the case may only see a closed internal inquiry rather than an actual impartial investigation, which Israel is obliged to ensure under international law and which it has failed to ensure in this and every one of the over 700 other complaints of torture submitted in the last decade.
It is obvious that PCATI is doing very important and very difficult work as they must overcome obstacles placed in front of them by a politically biased judicial system, as is also the experience in many other countries where our centres or collaborating legal organisations pursue cases.
There are some common difficulties that face human rights work in Palestine and around the world that can be mitigated more easily. This includes a profound obstacle currently faced by not only TRC but also many other of our member centres in Europe, North America and around the world: a lack of funding for the provision of their rehabilitation services. It is painful to see that a well functioning centre such as TRC has in the last six months been hit hard by a batch of bad luck, with several key donors cutting down funding at the same time. The IRCT and its member centres are of course extremely grateful for any funding we receive, but we must also stress that the fight against torture and the rehabilitation of torture victims is too important to become a victim of budget cuts. The consequences for TRC as an organization is serious cuts in staffing for at least a large part of 2012, meaning that far less clients can benefit from their crucial services in this period.
I am confident that TRC will in the long term again function at full capacity, but in the meantime the untreated suffering is immense and it is worrying to see the funding difficulties facing well run rehabilitation centres of torture, as human rights work dealing with torture is especially difficult to fundraise for.
The regional meetings – from the Middle East to Latin America– often provide our member centres a chance to meet their peers in rehabilitation of torture survivors, compare problems and challenges, and learn from each other on the best ways forward.
Last week, the IRCT organised a meeting for its European members in Brussels. The meeting lasted two days and facilitated the exchange of ideas on rehabilitation and current challenges between representatives of 32 rehabilitation centres based in Europe.
Despite the deep challenges – from funding to documenting torture cases in asylum hearings – the sense of optimism, good humour and passion about the future of work with survivors of torture emanated from the 44 participants of predominantly doctors, legal advisors, and psychologists.
We, at the IRCT Brussels Office, were in charge of organising the meeting, attended by our European members and other regional centres. Hélène (head of the IRCT Brussels Office) explained how the Brussels office could help and assist all member centres, especially when it comes to coordination, funding opportunities and lobbying of EU institutions. The meeting was then divided into workshops on various topics such as the use of medico-legal reports or sharing of experiences concerning stress management in rehabilitation centres. We also made sure that enough free time was given for participants to meet each other and to exchange ideas and experiences on the daily work of their centres.
From the first feedback and comments we received from participants, we can say that, all in all, this IRCT European Alliance meeting was a big success – participants enjoyed the topics covered and the networking opportunities. Torture in Europe remains an important challenge today, and I am very happy to see that doctors and psychologists working in rehabilitation centres from Ireland to Armenia and from Finland to Turkey are ready to gather, learn, and to face this challenge together.
Nicholas works at the IRCT Brussels Office and has a background in politics and EU affairs, particularly in regards to immigration and asylum policies. The regional seminar was supported by the European Commission.