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As we reach the end of 2015, we at World Without Torture look back at some of the stories we covered in the last year.
It has been a busy year where we have blogged about a diverse mix of topics so if some of your favourites are missing, please feel free to mention them in the comments.
2015 was a year of tragedies and triumphs, where we witnessed ongoing human suffering but also how defiant and determined people can be in the face of adversity. Through all of this, your support and participation in the fight to ensure human rights is something that we continue to appreciate enormously.
We look forward to seeing you in 2016 and wish you a very Happy New Year!
7 myths about torture
The use of torture is a contentious topic that has caused a myriad of heated arguments between those who believe the practice can be justified and those who say that it is a serious human rights violation that can never be tolerated. In this blog we debunked seven of the most common myths about torture.
Taking a creative approach to 26 June
Just as we had seen in previous years, creativity played a big role in marking the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June. Thousands of people across the globe joined the torture rehabilitation movement in showcasing both the resilience and creativity of survivors and caregivers alike. We shared some images from the day, check them out here.
Forced virginity testing still a problem
Forced virginity testing is a serious human rights violation and at its worst it constitutes rape and torture. This is how a group of experts described the highly controversial practice that is used to determine a woman’s virginity, when at the start of 2015, Indonesia made headlines around the world when it emerged that the national government subjected female applicants for Indonesia’s National Police to “discriminatory and degrading virginity tests.” Read the full story here.
On the Forefront: Helping torture survivors in San Diego
At IRCT member centre, Survivors of Torture International (SURVIVORS) it is the little things that matter. Something as small as a bus ticket can mean the difference between treatment and no treatment for torture victims. In a year where funding cuts threatened to close and did close many rehabilitation centres, we spoke to SURVIVORS staff to find out how these cuts affect both services and clients. Read the full blog here.
From Cameroon to Pakistan – Empowering female victims of torture and rape
Every day 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. In this blog we looked at how, 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.
26 June Campaign: How two survivors of Rwandan Genocide overcame the scars of the past
As part of the 26 June Campaign we decided it was time to put a face to torture victims and reclaim their need for and right to rehabilitation – a right guaranteed under the UN Convention against Torture. This blog is about Bernard and Emmanuel, two men who have worked with rehabilitation centres to rebuild their lives following the torture and trauma they endured during the Rwandan Genocide.
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. We spoke to Bojana Trivuncic, a psychologist and project manager at Serbian 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. Read more about IAN’s work here.
Four women in the fight against torture
To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we remembered the struggles women have endured around the world and celebrated their achievements by focusing on four inspirational women. These four women have seen or experienced the horrors of torture as an advocate, a caregiver and a victim. Read the full blog here.
An alternative way to treat victims of torture
“I am tired of it, tired of my body. Tired of my soul. I can only see that it’s getting more and more sick as time goes by.” A lot of research has been done on the link between physical exercise and mental health. Yet the focus has largely been on how an active lifestyle may help alleviate symptoms such as depression and chronic pain. In this blog we learned how a group of Danish researchers have gone in a different direction, introducing traumatised refugees to the relatively unknown Basic Body Awareness Therapy (BBAT).
Fighting Torture: Q&A
Towards the end of the year we kicked off our Fighting Torture Q&A series, with an interview with Asger Kjærum from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) about his work as a human rights advocate, how dinner conversations at home shaped his interest in the health and human rights sectors and how torture is still prevalent in too many countries around the world. Read the full blog here.
Voices from Nepal: Life amid the rubble and the ruins
In April 2015 a devastating earthquake ripped through Nepal, leaving a trail of death and destruction. With a death toll in the thousands and more casualties to come, the impoverished kingdom struggled to provide shelter and relief to the survivors. Our blog at the time shared the belief of IRCT member centre, Centre for Victims of Torture (CVICT) that Nepal’s need for help extended far beyond the immediate aid efforts. Read more here.
Europe’s Narrow Lead on Prosecuting CIA Torture
In August, regular guest blogger Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign wrote about the few, but encouraging efforts in Europe to prosecute those believed to have been complicit in the notorious CIA rendition programme. Find out more here.
“During the ceremony I laughed again, and I became aware of my desire to teach everybody [about human rights].”
Encouraging and supporting torture survivors in telling their stories has long been recognised as an important element of rehabilitation. However, a new study on the effectiveness of testimonial therapy (TT) on the social participation and wellbeing of Indian survivors of torture and organised violence has found that the process can also bring communities together and lead to participants becoming human rights activists.
TT is a human rights-based psychosocial intervention, which can be used by non-professional counsellors. This means it can be especially useful in countries where there are not many trained psychotherapists or social workers.
The survivors tell their story, which is recorded and jointly edited by a counsellor, a note taker and the survivors themselves. The story is then presented to the survivors in a testimony ceremony, where they are honoured in front of their community.
If the survivors feel comfortable with it, their story will then be used as part of awareness-raising and advocacy activities.
“After [receiving] testimonial therapy I became a human rights activist. I now work in the village to promote human rights awareness by encouraging the villagers to report any incidence of ill-treatment or other problems,” explained one participant.
The study, which was carried out by researchers affiliated with DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture, the Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) and the University of Copenhagen focuses on a type of TT adapted to the Indian context, which has a strong community celebration approach.
The ceremony in the community marks the the turning point in the healing process, where the person makes the transition from the role of torture victim, to an empowered and recognised survivor of torture.
Community workers and human rights activists working with PVCHR chose 474 Indian survivors of torture and ill treatment from the regions of Uttar, Pradesh and Jharkhand for the study, and they received TT from 2010 to 2012.
The study found that the participants showed huge improvements in social and psychological wellbeing. The proportion of participants with a high risk of depression decreased from 89.6% initially to 30.8% one to two months after the last session.
By sharing their trauma story, survivors could overcome their distress and become more self-confident. They were also better able to take on more responsibility in their family and community.
“Before testimony [therapy] victims feel lonely and they do not tell their pain to anybody… But after testimony therapy I [put] outside my pain and share my story to encourage others. It is [a] very good process to give honor in front of [the] community and I feel that I have [got] my own dignity.”
While the study found that TT is indeed an effect method of rehabilitation, it also recommends that going forward more research needs to be done on how to build on its potential to empower and mobilise entire communities.
To read the latest issue of Torture Journal, click here.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Fabio is a Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal at IRCT.
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 project. The regional seminar was funded by the European Commission.