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Treating refugees: How NGOs are supporting refugees in Serbia

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan have already passed through Serbia as they continue on their trek to EU countries such as Germany, Austria and Norway. Despite the fact that weather conditions are rapidly deteriorating, the numbers are not decreasing. We spoke to Bojana Trivuncic, a psychologist and project manager at the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims’ (IRCT) Serbian member centre International Aid Network (IAN), which has been providing medical first aid and psychosocial support to refugees through a Mobile Team Unit in parks and shelters in Belgrade and at the Croatian border.

“I have an image in my head of a 16-year-old Afghan boy, who is travelling alone. He was beaten by ISIS on the border of Iran and Pakistan. He has just 26 euro and a ruined pair of shoes. I keep thinking about that boy. How is he going to pass through two or three more countries without money?”

Bojana has many similar stories that have stayed with her. She has been working as a psychologist with IAN’s Mobile Team Unit, along with a medical doctor, nurse and field manager since July, dealing with some of the many refugees that pass through Serbia in less than 24 hours.

Refugees in Belgrade (Courtesy of International Aid Network)

Refugees in Principovac (Courtesy of International Aid Network)

As there are now just a small number of refugees in Belgrade, the Mobile Team Unit makes the four-hour round trip to the border each day.

“At the moment we are working with refugees at the Berkasovo-Babska border crossing. At the beginning we worked in a park in Belgrade, which was the biggest informal gathering place of refugees, and in Principovac, a refugee shelter near the Croatian border.”

While many organisations provide medical and legal aid to refugees, IAN is the only one providing psychological support. Bojana explains that the time the unit spends with each person depends on whether the border is open or not.

“If the border is open they are in the hurry to cross it. Refugees don’t have time to talk. But if they are waiting for the border to open or are settled in a shelter, the situation is completely different. They have a great need to share their story and are very thankful for understanding and sympathy.”

More than 218,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in October, according to the UNHCR. This almost equalled the number of crossings for all of 2014. Many of the refugees passing through Serbia have taken a boat from Turkey to Greece and travelled through Macedonia.

“They have to pay 1,200 euro per person to get on the boat. Very often the boats are overcrowded and sink, and sometimes they are in the sea for hours before they are rescued. Many smugglers throw their belongings in the sea, because the boat is too heavy. Some of them told me, ‘You look death in the eyes’, says Bojana.

The most common alternative path for refugees is through Bulgaria, especially for those fleeing Afghanistan. This has proven to be a dangerous route as many of the people Bojana has spoken to allege they have been put in prison for crossing the border illegally and the police have beaten them and stolen their money and phones. Unsurprisingly, many also allege they are victims of torture.

Refugees awaiting registration in Presevo, Serbia (Courtesy of Johannes Grunert used via Flickr creative commons license)

Refugees awaiting registration in Presevo, Serbia (Courtesy of Johannes Grunert used via Flickr creative commons license)

“Some of them were tortured in the country of origin and during their transit in Iran and Bulgaria. In Syria for example, many refugees were tortured in some kind of prison by members of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The methods are brutal. Many of them told me that they were tortured with electro shocks. In Afghanistan, many refugees were tortured by ISIS or the Taliban,” explains Bojana.

It is clear that these refugees need rehabilitation services, but for the time being their focus is on getting to safety and on starting a new life, particularly as winter starts to close in.
“They are helpless, looking for a better life, frightened that they are going to be returned (Afghans) or that Germany is going to close the border. They have only one wish, to continue with their journey and to reach an EU country,” says Bojana.

“When basic needs are not satisfied, like food, clothes and shelter, a person cannot deal with emotions or trauma. For me it is ok to be there for them, to help them with their basic needs, and of course to be there for them if they want to talk, to share their problems and traumatic experiences, and to calm them if they are fearful.”

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Europe’s Narrow Lead on Prosecuting CIA Torture

In her latest blog, guest blogger Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign writes about the few, but encouraging efforts in Europe to prosecute those believed to have been complicit in the notorious CIA rendition programme.

The December 2014 publication of the redacted findings and conclusions of the US Senate Select Committee investigation into the CIA’s use of torture shed further light on and confirmed some of the worst practices of the extraordinary rendition programme, leading to calls for prosecution of those involved.

Eight months on, little has changed. On 24 June, a coalition of over 100 groups worldwide sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council calling for accountability, prosecution and reparations for CIA torture.

Throughout the CIA’s long history of ‘coercive forms of interrogation’, prosecutions have been few. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, however, there have been some encouraging moves against those believed to have been involved in the rendition programme.

On 23 June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) heard a case brought against Italy by an Egyptian national for its collusion in his abduction and ‘rendition’ to Egypt in 2003 where he was detained illegally and tortured for several months. Italy denies the claims and the judgment is pending, but it is a unique case as in 2012, in domestic proceedings, the Italian Supreme Court’s final judgment in the related criminal case saw 23 US citizens convicted in absentia for his kidnapping; prison sentences and fines were imposed.

This is the first and only successful prosecution against the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme anywhere. The ramifications of this hit home a year later, in 2013, when convicted former CIA operative Robert Seldon Lady was arrested, as he transited through Panama, pending extradition to Italy to serve his eight-year sentence, although he was released the next day. He has admitted his role in the operation and that it was illegal.

This is the third such case to be heard before the ECtHR; previous cases heard against Macedonia and Poland have found both states guilty of breaches of the absolute prohibition on torture under the European Convention on Human Rights, with both ordered to pay compensation. Further cases are pending against Romania and Lithuania.


Aside from one other case recently reopened before the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, following new revelations against Djibouti, this is as far as international legal efforts to prosecute extraordinary rendition have gotten. Although neither court has jurisdiction over the US, these cases reveal the global extent of the extraordinary rendition programme, which would have been impossible without the collusion of so many states.

The Torture Report findings have also led the European Parliament to announce the reopening of its investigation into member state complicity in rendition in February 2015 and urging states to investigate and prosecute allegations.

Domestic efforts are still underway in some parts of Europe. As part of an ongoing criminal investigation into at least six alleged torture flights through Scottish airspace, police in Scotland are seeking access to a full non-redacted copy of the Torture Report.

In Spain, an ongoing criminal investigation brought by a number of former Guantánamo prisoners under universal jurisdiction laws was recently closed following restrictive changes to the law, but a number of NGOs have appealed this decision.

There is still much work to be done. Elsewhere, political pressure and state secrecy have seen prosecutions end prematurely or shut down. Denial remains a popular option and impunity reigns.

While the focus is on the US, the involvement of its allies must not be ignored. Investigation, prosecution and accountability matter, not just to draw a line under the crimes of the past, but to ensure they are not still occurring or will again in future.

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Three months on: Torture rehabilitation centres helping earthquake victims in Nepal

Three months after a series of devastating earthquakes shook Nepal to its core, the country is still scrambling to rebuild. According to Red Cross, one in four Nepalese have been affected, many of whom are suffering from the trauma that arises from experiencing a natural disaster this size. Along with other organisations, two IRCT members are on the ground, working tirelessly to support victims of the earthquake with psychological first aid.

April’s earthquakes took the lives of more than 8,000 Nepalese and left hundreds of thousands injured and homeless.

“Many people lost their life when their houses collapsed,” Jamuna Poudyal from Kathmandu based organisation Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT) told us back in April, trying to comprehend the sheer scale of the disaster.

“People in the Kathmandu Valley still feel that their life is in danger because of the many aftershocks,” she explained.

Three months on and people are still suffering from psychological problems, while trying to rebuild their lives.

Responding to the need for Psychological First Aid (PFA), CVICT and another local torture rehabilitation centre Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal (TPO Nepal) are on the ground, supporting thousands of earthquake victims.

With staff working across the major affected districts, the two centres have helped thousands of victims, by offering various services such as PFA, clinical support and psychosocial counselling.

TPO Nepal Training of Trainers and Supervisors in Kathmandu. Courtesy of TPO Nepal

TPO Nepal Training of Trainers and Supervisors in Kathmandu. Courtesy of TPO Nepal

“We train mental health and psychosocial support frontline workers in Psychological First Aid that includes basic psychosocial support, listening skills and referrals,” explains TPO Nepal’s Executive Manager Suraj Koirala, “they then train non-mental health experts, such as volunteers, NGO staff, teachers, health workers and social workers in psychological first aid and other mental health and psychosocial care.”

By including training in its earthquake response, TPO Nepal is able to address the urgent and short-term psychological needs of those affected. At this point, the centre has already reached out to more than 10,000 people.

TPO Nepal is also operating a toll free helpline for victims of the earthquake. Managed by psychosocial counsellors, the helpline offers support to people in need.

“We encourage people to call the number if they experience emotional distress or grief; feel weak or have a lot of body pains; or if they are struggling with thoughts about hurting themselves; or if there are psychosocial problems in the family,” explains Suraj.

While the world’s attention is no longer on Nepal, organisations like CVICT and TPO Nepal continue to help people whose lives were shattered by the earthquakes.

“The demand for mental health and psychosocial services continues to be high. These people have experienced death and destruction and now they are trying to rebuild their lives. But without mental health and psychosocial support they may not overcome their trauma,” notes Suraj.

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From Cameroon to Pakistan – Empowering female victims of torture and rape

Every day and across the globe, women and girls are tortured and ill-treated. For some, rape is part of their ordeal and their rehabilitation path is often solitary, while governments, communities and families struggle to respond to their needs. With the support of a generous donor, 16 IRCT rehabilitation centres in 14 countries are helping thousands of these women and girls to take control of their lives through a range of activities.

Can design and sewing workshops contribute to the rehabilitation and empowerment of female victims of torture and sexual violence? If you ask two torture rehabilitation centres in Cameroon and Pakistan, the answer is yes.

For the past year, the centres have organised self-help workshops and activities with focus on how to generate income aimed at women who have been subjected to various human rights violations. The idea is to empower them to become economically independent and take control of their lives – something that also has a positive effect on their self-esteem.

The training and support provided by the programmes in Cameroon and Pakistan have proven very popular. Last year, more than 1,600 women and girls participated in an array of activities that fit with the needs of their community, including IT training, music lessons, beautician courses and small-business management.

(Courtesy of David Stanley used via Flickr creative commons license)

Women and girls are still among the most vulnerable in society (Courtesy of David Stanley used via Flickr creative commons license)

The two centres are not the only IRCT members to run these types of events. Across the world, another 14 rehabilitation centres have implemented similar projects.

Centres in India, Iraq, Lebanon and South Africa have organised workshops led by doctors and social workers to discuss prevention and the consequences of sexual violence on women’s health, while a centre in Sierra Leone is practicing healing ceremonies to alleviate the traumatic memories of the victims and promote peace and reconciliation within the community.

As a survivor who is part of the program in Iraq, explained: “When I arrived at the centre I felt that my family and I were drowning in the sea. The centre has been like a ship that has led us to the beach where we could start a new life.”

At another centre, a woman described how she “was completely demoralised and overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts” when she came to the centre. “I thought my life was worthless after facing the stigma of having been raped twice. However, the workers at the centre helped me get my life back,” she told.

Women and girls’ empowerment is crucial to creating better and prosperous societies, but gender equality is far from a reality in many places. Women’s rights continue to be neglected with the United Nations estimating that as many as 35% of women worldwide have experienced some form of violence.

Empowerment is widely considered a very effective approach to treat and support victims of violence. Whether it is training activities and seminars to help women become economically independent or treatment and healing to help them recover from their trauma, there is a great need to support female victims of torture and ill-treatment. With so many women worldwide having experienced some form of violence, this response must equal the size of this global problem.

So far the 16 IRCT members have treated more than 3,000 women and 1,200 children subjected to torture and sexual violence. We are still to see how many small business owners or beauticians the events and seminars have fostered, but for many in Cameroon and Pakistan things are looking brighter.

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Documentary delves into relationship between survivors and those who offer them treatment

Refuge (2)“More than one million refugees have come to the US, fleeing torture and political violence,” begins Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture, an outstanding new documentary from the Refuge Media Project.

The vast numbers are staggering, but what makes a greater impression in this stand-out documentary are the small, individual stories from survivors and those who offer them care and support as they resettle in the US.

Ben Achtenberg, project director at the Refuge Media Project and producer/director of Refuge, says the film – seven years in the making – came about as his general interest in healthcare and mental health issues drew him to organisations and healthcare providers that offer support to survivors in the US. Previously, he was nominated for an Oscar for the film Code Gray: Ethical Dilemmas in Nursing, which he produced and served as cinematographer. Mr Achtenberg also won the 2009 IRCT Film Competition for his 30-second public service announcement.

“During the same period, I had started contributing to organizations that work with survivors and, in particular, was receiving the newsletters of Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis and similar groups around the country, about their work with survivors. At some point, it clicked that this was the film I should focus on.”

The stories presented in the approximately one-hour film are diverse, from a physician from Guatemala to an older man from Liberia who wishes to move his daughter to the US. They have different stories of torture, different stories of migration to the US, but they have all sought refuge and have found their way to the various featured torture treatment programmes, many of which are IRCT members. (A full list of organisations featured in the film can be found on their website)

Through the stories of survivors, both devastating and inspiring, we take home still another call to action – that healthcare professionals will, in fact, see a survivor of torture during their work, and they need to know what to look for and how to approach it so that the person can receive appropriate care.

“People who have survived torture are living everywhere in our communities, though you may not know who they are,” says Mr Achtenberg. “If you’re in or going into a healthcare or human services profession, you will encounter torture survivors in your client population. How you deal with them can have an impact on their ability to thrive in their new communities.”

It’s a delicate and caring relationship between the health professionals – doctors, therapists, social workers – and the survivors of torture they treat. “It’s a doctor that can listen to you and make you feel like you’re a human being,” says one survivor in the film. Another describes a mural painted by survivors at a centre in Boston: “We come from our countries, swimming across and arrive here naked, but you pick us up and give us back what we have lost.”

This wonderful film offers a unique perspective into the world of torture survivors, their experiences and reservations opening up, and into the world of the care-givers, as they approach the formidable task of helping them recover their dignity and life.

For more information on the film, please visit To order a DVD of the documentary, email Ben at to inquire about pricing.

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Digging for truth – Journalist Ian Cobain speaks about reporting on torture

Ian Cobain (photo provided free of charge)

Ian Cobain

If you define Britain by its oft lauded stereotypes, one may assume a peaceful, upstanding nation which obeys rules, regulations and notions of fair play. Yet for 30 years Ian Cobain has dedicated his life to exposing the secrets, the lies, the inconvenient truths often buried deep beneath a British façade.

An investigative journalist with the Guardian newspaper, his reports into the UK’s counter-terrorism practices since 9/11 have won a number of major awards including the Martha Gellhorn Prize and the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism, as well as a range of Amnesty International awards.

In 2012 Ian published his first book, Cruel Britannia, which analysed how the British government has repeatedly and systematically resorted to torture, through years of British colonial rule, to World War Two and to the War on Terror.

And while we may not like to think of it, torture is something which Ian believes is still practiced by the UK and other Western countries often perceived to be upholding human rights.

“I’m still shocked by some of the matters I discover. But I’m no longer surprised,” says Ian.

“After 9/11, I knew by January 2002 that the US was mistreating its prisoners. Photographs showing shackled men, in gloves, ear defenders and blacked-out goggles, being dragged across the ground at Guantanamo, were published by the US military. That was a pretty good clue [that torture of prisoners was happening].

“The same month, while I was in Kabul, Red Cross officials told me that prisoners were being tortured at Kandahar. I was terribly shocked. The British government and its intelligence agencies claim they didn’t discover this for years. What nonsense.”

A report on the condition of detainees in 2012, ten years after Ian learned of torture in Kandahar, still lists the southern city in Afghanistan as one of the areas where detained individuals are routinely mistreated by officials.

“At the time it was difficult to comprehend that the British government would draw up policies that resulted in the torture, but that’s what happened,” Ian explains.

“It took me a while longer to understand the level of UK support and participation in the rendition programme. More time made me realise that the UK was complicit in kidnappings and torture during operations in which the US barely played any part.”

For Ian, the ill-treatment by the UK of those in detention, particularly in situations of conflict, is nothing new.

“British military processed and mistreated their prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1971 in precisely the same way that another generation of the British military was doing it in Basra in 2003,” says Ian.

“Authorities use it to intimidate, to coerce, to humiliate, to extract information, or to obtain so-called confessions. But it also creates reservoirs of hatred that don’t run dry for generations. And nobody can quite predict what will flow from those reservoirs.”

Hostility though is something that Ian has felt from authoritative figures, many of whom try to deter his work and the work of human rights defenders across the globe.

“Some people are hostile, but I don’t really care. I’ve been threatened once or twice, by people in ‘authority’, but I’m not in any danger,” he says.

Documenting and exposing torture is a sensitive issue for everyone involved. While the journalist or human rights activist exposing a case of torture might be in danger of reprisals, the survivor risks that and risks re-traumatisation by retelling the experience. However, documentation enables victims to prove the veracity of their allegations and thus increases the pressure on perpetrators to fulfill their obligations under international law. Torture is hardly a positive representation of a group or a country, particularly one like the UK.

Rehabilitating victims of torture, helping them recover from the trauma and become advocates for justice and truth, is one pivotal way to change views on torture in everyone’s minds.

“A few prosecutions of people in powerful positions might concentrate the minds of the next generation,” Ian adds.

Click the links in the text to some of Ian’s articles. For more information on Ian and his work click the link here or follow Ian on Twitter (@IanCobain).

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Say no to torture – in Portuguese

While working on the 26 June Global Report, in particular on the list of States which have and have not ratified the UN Convention against Torture, I noticed something peculiar.

From the short list of States which have not ratified the Convention — of which many are microstates — three of them are members of the Portuguese-speaking community of countries, namely Angola, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe.

I am Portuguese and I am from a generation of young people who want to completely break away from the hostilities that marked this group of countries in the 60s and 70s.

This generation dreams of a true community of Lusophone countries that uses the shared heritage as a tool to advance human development and cultural enrichment.

Disregard for basic human rights does not and cannot be part of this new Lusophone community, the home of nearly 250 million people, where more than a million people already exchanged their country for another in the community.

That is why I decided to write an open letter to the leaders of the CPLP (in Portuguese only), the Lusophone equivalent to the Commonwealth or the Francophonie, calling for concerted efforts towards the ratification of the Convention by the three remaining countries, so that the whole community can adhere together to the cause for a world without torture.

Join the call. Sign the petition.


Fabio is a Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal at IRCT.

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Voices from Latin America – strategies for safety

Editor’s Note: In her first piece Line explained some of the challenges facing the torture rehabilitation movement in Latin America that she heard about at the IRCT Regional Seminar.  Here she explains how the regional gathering helped those staff address the issues.

So how can a meeting help ameliorate the growing security concerns for human rights defenders in Latin America?

Through presentations, workshops and discussions, the professionals at the IRCT Regional Seminar in Mexico City were able to share their knowledge, experiences and challenges. Through this, they — the doctors, psychosocial counsellors, and lawyers in the fight against torture — learned from each other, discussed the challenges to their work and, thus, developed new strategies to avoid risk.

As such, a specific goal of one workshop was to develop security plans at national and regional levels.

One strategy discussed was to improve the communication amongst the rehabilitation centres in the region to quickly enable mobilisation and reaction in response to urgent security developments.

Plans were also set forth for day-to-day measures to be taken when working in fragile security situations. These included security measures at work, in the home, when travelling, and in the event of detention by state authorities. Among examples of these daily precautions were: changing the hours of arriving and leaving work; not providing sensitive information over the phone; trying to position desktops away from windows and never participating in public demonstrations alone. And, in the event of a threat or attack: making sure to have extra clothes, keys and money in another place; memorising telephone numbers to ask for help from trusted persons; knowing of possible safe spaces to go, such as a church, a public place or a hostel.

Many of the participants have lived through internal armed conflicts and dictatorships; some are torture survivors themselves.  They are not strangers to risk.

In addition to developing security plans, the meeting provided a space for sharing ideas on self-care for trauma and anti-torture professionals, sharing best practices on documenting and treating the effects of torture. Above all, the meeting provided a forum in which support and solidarity were exchanged.

After three intense days, the seminar ended with a final discussion and evaluation; there was much more to talk about and many challenges ahead, but the spirit, the humour and a firm decision to continue the crucial work in the fight against torture seemed intact and strengthened.

Line is a Project Coordinator, focusing on the Latin American partners and the NSA projectThe regional seminar was funded by the European Commission.

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“These stories should never be forgotten.” Forensic documentation in the Khmer Rouge trials

Hanging on the wall in Steen Holger Hansen’s office is a hunk of twisted metal.

“It’s part of a German aeroplane shot down by the Americans during World War Two,” he notes. “It was found in Southern Denmark just ten years ago, although it crashed more than 60 years ago. I wrote the death certificate for the German pilot, and he was finally buried properly.”

Dr Hansen’s office is lined with similar objects; objects that, for him, tell stories. As a forensic pathologist at the University of Copenhagen, he is in some ways a story-teller, and a historian.  His mission to Cambodia last year was of particular historical significance:  he had to find evidence of torture, evidence that victims had been brutalised by state authorities, from more than 30 years ago, during the Khmer Rouge era.

Dr Hansen took part in the forensic investigation mission to Cambodia last year as one of three health and medical experts, which included Marina Staiff of Switzerland and Pierre Duterte of France. Dr Staiff and Dr Duterte were tasked with the psychological assessment of 11 clients of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO); Dr Hansen was there to conduct the physical examination of those clients.

The team included, from left to right: IRCT’s Head of Legal and Advocacy Miriam Reventlow; forensic psychologists Dr Marina Staiff of Switzerland and Dr Pierre Duterte of France; translator Mr Ngoun Ngoeun; and forensic pathologist Dr Steen Holger Hansen of Denmark.

When he traveled last year to Cambodia, he says, he approached the task – that of examining those claiming torture to verify their allegations – through near-endless research. He read all the books he could find on the country’s devastating history, the four years of Khmer Rouge rule from 1974 to 1979, during which half the population was killed in labour camps and through extrajudicial executions and torture.

He also visited the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school turned torture centre during the Khmer Rouge period. There he noted particular leg shackles – metal bars in a D-shape. One part of this story.

Leg shackles displayed at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Photo by Steen Holger Hansen.

He was particularly pessimistic about this task, he says. He read  crushing personal testimonies from that four-year peiriod. But he was in doubt about his possible role in helping them.

“This was more than 30 years ago, and I thought I would probably not be able to do anything. Even with very recent torture, there can be difficulty in finding physical confirmation in an examination.”

Getting the evidence

TPO, an IRCT member, sits in a tall, modern building in the capital Phnom Penh. They offer a vast array of psychosocial services, in particular for victims of sexual and gender-based violence and victims of the genocide of the 1970s. They are providing assistance to victims of the genocide who have come forth as witnesses in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the tribunal that, since 2007, has been tasked with trying former Khmer Rouge officials on crimes against humanity, including war crimes, murder, torture and genocide. There are many thousands of survivors of the genocide who have registered as witnesses in the cases.

The 11 clients that the three doctors examined were among these thousands registered in ‘Case 002’ at the ECCC. The hybrid tribunal brings together the Cambodia judiciary and international experts to assist in the ongoing trials of Khmer Rouge leaders. Only one case – Case 001 – has concluded. The ECCC found Khang Khek Leu, often called ‘Duch’, guilty of crimes against humanity, including murder and torture. During the regime, Leu ran the Tuol Sleng prison.

Dr Hansen tells me that Tuol Sleng, now a museum, provided much of the research he conducted alongside the examination of the 11 clients. There, he says, an estimated 20,000 people were detained during those four years of whom there are only seven known survivors . The rest were killed, either through devastating incarceration, torture, and murder or labour camps. But it was in Tuol Sleng that Hansen saw the D-shaped leg shackles. These particular shackles were also depicted in the art work of Vann Nath, one of the handfuls of survivors of Toul Sleng.

At right, the image shows the scars that are consistent with the allegations of leg shackles. At left is a painting by the Cambodian artist Vann Nath depicting the degrading conditions of Tuol Sleng and the particular leg shackles used. Photo by Steen Holger Hansen

On all of the clients that claimed they were shackled during their torture were small scars along their ankles. They were extremely faint. But they were there.

“These marks were consistent with their testimonies. We say that findings are consistent with claims of torture. We do not directly say, ‘Yes, these people were tortured.’ That is the job of the judiciary. But yes, all the shackle scars were highly consistent with the allegations.”

Further clients had marks of burns caused by metal rods. Others had marks from arms binds around their elbows. The physical scars of torture, nearly 30 years after they occurred, still testify to their agonizing experiences at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Old scars can still tell stories.

Forensic evidence at the ECCC

It is not known yet if this forensic evidence will be used in the ECCC in Case 002. Three top Khmer Rouge leaders are one trial: Ieng Sary, former foreign minister; Nuon Chea, the regime’s second in command; and Khieu Samphan, a former head of state. A fourth, Ieng Thirith, who was the social affairs minister, was found unfit to stand trial, reportedly because she has Alzheimer’s, and was dismissed from the case. All four are more than 80 years old.

Although it remains a possibility, Dr Hansen is doubtful over whether he will be called to testify to the tribunal. The use of forensic documentation is still not well-enough understood throughout the world, even among the judiciary, and with a witness list numbering well over a thousand, there is still much evidence to go through. The process allowed anyone with an allegation to come forth, provide testimony and register as a witness; it included allegations of war crimes, genocide, murder, rape, other sexual violence, forced marriage, forced labour, and massive accounts of neglect resulting in starvation and death from untreated medical needs.

However, regardless of whether or not he testifies, Dr Hansen remains extremely positive about the experience. “We now know that you can confirm torture allegations that are nearly 30 years old. We know that we should not discount the possibility of finding forensic evidence even from such old cases. People often ask me, ‘How can you read about these cases?’ People say, ‘It’s just so terrible to read this.’ It is terrible. But we should read and learn, and then you can help. What I’m saying is just that these stories should never be forgotten.’

Tessa, a US citizen living in Denmark, is Communications Officer at the IRCT.

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Staff run to highlight IRCT at Copenhagen relay race

We may not be the biggest fans of Spandex, but the IRCT staff can certainly get out and run.

Ten staff members (and many supporters) from the IRCT’s Secretariat office participated at the annual Copenhagen DHL Relay Race last week, joining more than 125,000 other runners in the city’s Fælledpark.

Each day, 5,000 teams of five people donned their running shorts and company shirt to race five kilometres through the park. Two teams from IRCT joined this year, racing against teams from the Royal Danish Post Office and Telia Mobile. Both groups from IRCT managed to finish in less than 2 hours 40 minutes!

Check out photos below of our teams:

The two teams of runners from the IRCT. From left to right, Fabio, Lars, Dan, Tessa, Joost, Gitte, Annette and Inge. Not pictured are Signe and Jamal, who had already started the relay race.

Administrative Assistant Gitte, at left, and Head of Administration and Finance Annette watch the first runners start.

Miriam, Head of Legal and Advocacy, was out to support the runners, with Dan, a Health Team Intern, who ran the final leg of 5 km.

Fabio, Communications Officer, waits to run, the second leg for his team.

Lovely sunset over Fælledparken during the final few kilometers.


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