Archive for category Voices

2014 in review

With 2014 coming to an end, we at World Without Torture reflect on a selection of the stories which we have covered over the past year.

We have published a lot of blogs this year so the list is by no means exhaustive, but please feel free to add your additions in the comments.

As the stories show, the past year has encountered tragedies and challenges as well as celebrations and milestone achievements across the globe. Through all of this, your support and participation in the fight to ensure human rights is something that we appreciate and value tremendously.

We look forward to seeing you in 2015 and wish you a very happy New Year.

Staff at CVT

10 questions (and answers) about torture rehabilitation

How do victims overcome the trauma from torture? Or the physical sequelae left by brutal methods of torture? In this blog we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about torture rehabilitation and its effects on torture victims.

‘Wheel of Torture’ shows just how prevalent torture is in the Philippines

The game of the ‘Wheel of Torture’ is simple: a prison guard takes a detainee from his or her cell, escorts them to a roulette-style wheel listing different methods of torture, and spins the wheel to determine just how much pain should be inflicted on the prisoner. Read the full story here.

Psychosocial Support – survivor story

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we focused on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself. In the days leading up to 10 December, we published four stories from survivors of torture who all had received psychosocial support in their fight for justice. This is the story about Randy from the Phillipines.

Doctors who do harm. What will happen to those who designed the torture methods?

This story is more relevant than ever after a US Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogations revealed that two psychologists were heavily involved with the now notorious interrogation program. Not only were the two men the chief architects of the torture techniques used by CIA staff — one of them even admitted that he waterboarded terrorism suspects.
Read the full blog here.

One Rwandan Genocide survivor tells how rehabilitation helped her overcome her torture

As part of our campaign to mark 20 years since the Rwandan genocide came to an end, we shared the testimonies of ten brave women. You can find extracts of all the stories on our blog or you can click on this link to read more about how Germaine overcame torture.

Fighting torture and impunity on the dental chair

Increasingly sophisticated methods and unusual practices join the fight against torture and impunity. In this blog we looked at the dentists who specialised in forensic dentistry, putting their expertise at the use of legal enforcement, and, in some cases, in the fight against torture and impunity. Read more about their work here.

Staging a resistance to the act of torture

An Italian organisation is using theatre to help refugees and torture survivors overcome their experiences, build their self-esteem and teach them valuable new skills. The event was one of the many in this year’s 26 June campaign. Read more about their event here.

The Sound of Torture

Listening to music is often aligned with positivity, healing and relaxation. But what if the music plays to ears who do not want to listen? What if the repetition, the volume, or the content of the music is too much for the listener? Can music be used as a method of control or coercion?

War did not prepare Vaja for torture in a Georgian prison

While Vaja’s psychological trauma was obvious, physical torture was not apparent throughout the war or its aftermath. Four-and-a-half years in a Georgian prison changed that. Read more about Vaja here.

What the bones remember: Doctors from IRCT partner PCATI share their experiences of documenting torture

Detecting signs of torture, often years after they have been caused, can be a tough task. However, due to advancing techniques in medical documentation of torture, physicians are able to establish the injuries inflicted by torture and the best methods of rehabilitation. Three physicians from IRCT partner Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) share their experiences.

On the Forefront: The journey of CVT from local US campaigning to a global movement

Since founding in 1985, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) has rehabilitated over 24,000 torture survivors, provided healing programmes for people affected by torture and violent conflict, implemented community building projects in the aftermath of some of the world’s deadliest wars, and pioneered research into torture rehabilitation and prevention. Read more about the centre here.

IRCT marks 40 years of anti-torture movement with a special event in Copenhagen

With poetry readings, musical sessions, creative writing performances from two brave torture survivors, and the presentation of the Inge Genefke Award, the IRCT’s 8 April event in Copenhagen was certainly a colourful celebration of the 40 years of the anti-torture movement initiated by Danish doctor and human rights defender Inge Genefke. You can read the full story here.

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Human Rights Day 2014: Psychosocial Support in Focus

Today people and organisations around the world come together to celebrate one of the most important days in the human rights calendar, the international Human Rights Day.

Commemorating the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this is an occasion to shine a light on pressing human rights issues.

To mark this year’s Human Rights Day, the IRCT has decided to highlight a key area within torture rehabilitation — psychosocial support in legal proceedings — by launching the report ‘In Pursuit of Justice’.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation.

Sadly, for various reasons many of them never make it to the courtroom.

Fear of reprisals and re-traumatisation, no belief in the justice system and fear of stigmatisation from community or family members are some of the factors dissuading victims of torture from participating in legal proceedings against their perpetrators.

Yet, for those who do have their case heard, a trial is often an emotionally painful process during which victims re-visit traumatic memories. Many of them still suffer from the impact of torture even years after the event, needing constant support from health and legal professionals to prevent re-traumatisation.

The report on psychosocial support has been launched

The report on psychosocial support has been launched

By offering victims of torture specialised psychosocial support and access to justice programmes, centres can help them overcome the psychological burden of a trial while enhancing the therapeutic impact of justice on the individual’s rehabilitation.

Psychosocial support can also strengthen the overall quality and effectiveness of the legal process. A traumatised torture victim who testifies at trial without support runs a greater risk of providing a poorly prepared testimony that may impact negatively on their case by providing the court with unclear or contradictory information.

The consequences can be devastating. The victim may never see the perpetrator brought to justice and impunity is likely to encourage perpetrators to continue their violations.

With this in mind, it is hard to argue against the importance of psychosocial support in legal proceedings and it is easy to assume that this kind of support is offered to victims of torture.

Unfortunately, that is far from the case. Lack of psychosocial support in legal proceedings remains a problem – a problem that currently receives little attention.

With the launch of the report, the IRCT hopes to raise awareness about psychosocial support in legal proceedings and there is no better time to do this than on the international Human Rights Day.

We hope you will join us in voicing our support for the victims of torture and their pursuit of justice. Any torture victim deserves to find justice and psychosocial support in legal proceeding can help them achieve this.

The report is now available for download at www.irct.org.

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In pursuit of justice – Catherine from The Democratic Republic of Congo

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

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Catherine’s experience with the police derailed her intentions to prosecute. 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

In our fourth and final survivor story, we meet Catherine from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Catherine thought she could depend on the police to investigate the rape of her daughter in March 2014. Instead, Catherine was beaten, threatened and witnessed the arrest of her husband as punishment for her complaints. The rapist was, as it transpired, a policeman himself. Yet psychosocial support helped her overcome her initial dissuasion and she decided to seek justice.

However, Catherine’s experience with the police derailed her intentions to prosecute. The reprisals, which is commonly a dissuasive factor preventing torture victims pursuing justice, halted the case. As a result, the accused police officer was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

The security concerns Catherine faced were not the only factors dissuading her. Her husband spent two months in prison and lost his job as a result. These traumatic factors made it harder for Catherine to mount a case again. Coupled with the fears of re-traumatisation, Catherine no longer has faith in the police. Frustration with the justice system and fear of facing the perpetrator are reported as two common factors dissuading torture victims from seeking justice.

Catherine expected compensation from the perpetrator of her daughter’s rape and a criminal conviction for the rapist, common expectations motivating torture victims to pursue justice.

Due to the lack of security, neither of these outcomes were achieved. Yet the psychosocial support offered by SAVE CONGO, an IRCT member in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gave Catherine the strength to go through the trial in the first instance and to come to terms with the trauma she, her daughter and her husband face following their torture.

“I took comfort in the support of psychologists from SAVE CONGO,” says Catherine. “I’m not satisfied at the moment because I have not received any compensation from the perpetrator.

“As an impoverished torture survivor, the cost of private medical care and trial are prohibitive factors which could have stopped me seeking rehabilitation and justice,” Catherine explains, echoing that one of the main reasons torture survivors are dissuaded from going to court is the financial burden it places upon them.

“With SAVE CONGO I’ve been treated by medical doctors, psychologists have visited me and my family to help me overcome my experience and to prepare me for court, and I have been able to participate at a group therapy session at their rehabilitation centre,” Catherine explains.

“I’m grateful for their support, especially as they have limited resources to treat victims of torture.”

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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In pursuit of justice – Christopher from Moldova

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

Christopher spent 20 days in two different police detention settings, being violently beaten. 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

In the third story we meet Christopher from Moldova.

In 2009, Christopher was arrested (together with his friend) while at college. He was taken to the police station by two policemen dressed in civilian clothes, who did not produce any identification.

At the police station, the two were separated. Christopher heard his colleague screaming. After some time, Christopher was taken into the yard, where he was beaten.

Christopher then spent 20 days in two different police detention settings, being violently beaten with rigid objects, fists and feet, over the whole body and over the head including blows to the ears.

He was strangulated for about 2 minutes, was forced to stay in the same position for several hours (at the wall with his hands up and forced not to move; any movement was punished with beatings). He was forced to hold a police shield in his hands while the perpetrators kicked the shield with their feet, causing him pain and humiliation.

Toilet facilities were restricted; with no water for more than 24 hours and food for three days. He was repeatedly transferred (on at least seven occasions) to different police stations in the city centre and surrounding districts, without any explanation. As a result of this ill-treatment, his health significantly worsened and he was eventually hospitalised.

Christopher’s case was referred to RCTV Memoria for medical assistance, documentation of the physical and psychological injuries from the torture and legal review by the centre’s legal advisor.

RCTV offered legal and psychological support to Christopher during the criminal procedure. Throughout the investigation Christopher and his lawyer collaborated with RCTV Memoria’s legal advisor. After the first court hearing, and because of pressure and aggressive behaviour shown by the defendants and their lawyers, the prosecutor investigating the case requested that representatives from RCTV Memoria be present during the trial.

Thanks to RCTV Memoria’s intervention, the trial was monitored by NGOs (RCTV Memoria and the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights) and by journalists. Taking into account the complexity of the case and the inappropriate behaviour shown by the defendants and their lawyers, the case was examined by a panel of three judges. RCTV Memoria’s legal advisor attended three hearings, while RCTV Memoria’s psychotherapist attended four court sessions. The psychotherapist was called as an expert and also monitored Christopher’s health and mental state during the proceedings.

The defence team tried to delay the proceedings and hearings were frequently postponed. Unfortunately, since 2012 this case is still waiting to be heard by the Appeal Court in Chisinau, where only thirteen cases have been heard in the past two years. Meanwhile, the perpetrators are free and still working in the police force.

Christopher’s disappointment at the delays to the Court hearings and lack of justice affect his health, which continues to worsen. He and his family also feel intimidated by the perpetrators. During the last two years, Christopher has continued to receive psychological assistance, because of depression and other trauma consequences.

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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In pursuit of justice – Veli from Turkey

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

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Veli: “I looked through the hole, and I saw a bulldozer outside, breaking the wall. I shouted to him to stop the attack, to stop this treatment of prisoners. And then my right arm was just ripped off.” 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

In our second survivor story we meet torture victim, Veli Saçilik whose case progressed into a complex back-and-forth case eventually reaching the European Court of Human Rights.

Veli always hoped for a positive outcome in his case – after all, with his right arm missing, the physical scars are obvious.

It was July 2000 when Veli’s story began. One of 60 prisoners in Burdur Prison, south-west Turkey, Veli tried to defend himself against an onslaught of 415 Turkish state forces who, responding to calls from the Prison Governor, fired tear gas and destroyed the prison with bulldozers to prevent what was portrayed as an internal uprising.

As Veli tried to defend himself, a bulldozer crushed the wall behind him.

“I looked through the hole, and I saw a bulldozer outside, breaking the wall. I shouted to him to stop the attack, to stop this treatment of prisoners. And then my right arm was just ripped off,” says Veli.

Veli was then held by the security forces where he was beaten and forced to remain without food and water. Hours after the incident, he was transferred to hospital where he received treatment, but his arm was missing and could not be saved.

Veli accessed the services provided by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) where the expert team explained what rights Veli had and the processes he would need to go through.

Undeterred by the lengthy legal process ahead, Veli and the other prisoners lodged a criminal case against the members of the security forces. Veli also lodged a claim for compensation against the government for the loss of his arm.

None of the Turkish authorities were ever charged for causing injury in the attack. However, Veli and the other prisoners’ fight for justice continued and they lodged a case before the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that the actions of the security forces amounted to ill-treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention and that the Turkish authorities had failed to adequately examine their allegations.

Then in March 2005, in relation to Veli’s claim for compensation, a Turkish court ruled that the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior should award Veli 140,000 Euros in compensation.

Receiving monetary compensation is one of the expectations of torture victims when going to court. For Veli, receiving compensation was particularly important to prove the state’s culpability.

“But then the Ministries launched a campaign against the ruling,” Veli explains. Although the compensation awarded by the lower court was paid to Veli, the Ministries lodged an appeal eventually leading to a decision of the higher court in 2008 to quash the compensation payment, thereby condemning Veli to pay back the compensation.

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights gave its ruling in July 2011 in relation to the case brought against the Turkish authorities, noting that Turkish authorities used “systematic, disproportionate and unjustified violence” towards the inmates – in a prison which had seen “no problems or uprisings” – and had therefore violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Support from HRFT has been paramount through this legal wrangling. Veli says: “It has taken a lot of work since the attack to feel right again. This case is still ongoing and reminds me of the events.”

“With the help of the centre, I am being given a space to talk. I expect access to rehabilitation and I am being given that too,” says Veli, recounting two expectations which are incredibly important to victims seeking justice.

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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In pursuit of justice — Randy from the Philippines

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day on 10 December, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

Randy: “There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished." 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

Randy: “There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished.” 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

We start with the testimony of Randy (not his real name) who was arrested, blindfolded, beaten and stabbed. Now twenty-seven years old he is still overcoming his torture for allegedly joining a communist militia in the Philippines. With guidance and support Randy overcame his anger and vengeance. Today, he still seeks legal punishment of the perpetrators.

“I want to get justice. Support through the legal process has helped me locate the people who tortured me. I hope they will one day be punished.”

Randy’s drive to ensure punishment of those who tortured him is not unique. In fact, research conducted across IRCT’s members indicates that seeing punishment for the perpetrator is the top expectation of torture victims, when taking their case to court.

Randy is still overcoming the torture he experienced in April 2010. A suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the military arrested Randy while he prayed at his home in the northern part of the Philippines.

Two soldiers escorted Randy outside and beat him. Then, in sight of Randy’s family, they stabbed him in the hip with a bayonet. Afterwards Randy was blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van. The journey in the van ended at a military camp. There Randy was detained, doused in water and electrocuted.

“I cannot explain the pain I felt,” says Randy. “It felt like my body would explode. I kept pleading for them to stop but they did not listen.

“Instead of being killed, I was tortured and then transferred to a police station. There I was forced to sign a confession that I was a member of the NPA,” says Randy.

It was during this time that IRCT’s member centres – BALAY and the Medical Action Group (MAG) – visited him to show how the State had infringed his rights. Initially Randy did not want to pursue justice. According to IRCT’s members in this report, a lack of knowledge of their rights and legal processes, and fear of reprisals, are some of the most frequent reasons why victims often do not pursue justice.

“Initially I wanted revenge,” says Randy. “I even considered actually joining the New People’s Army to find my torturers and to punish them for what they had done.”

With guidance from BALAY and MAG, Randy’s vengeance subsided and he was encouraged to mount a case, so long as he was in a secure location. Randy’s bail was paid and he was moved to a secure location in Manila.

“The experts who visited me in prison helped me understand how legal proceedings can have positive effects for me and for other torture survivors,” Randy explains. “Filing a case against the soldiers who tortured me was a vital step in my recovery process. I felt the need to file a case not only for me but also for other victims.”

Legal processes can entail trauma – not only must the torture survivor relive their experience in a different setting, but many torture victims find the court’s attitudes regarding care towards the victim is often negative. It is something Randy noticed throughout his court proceedings. “The events are still fresh in my mind. I cannot forget it and I can recall all of the details,” he says.

In 2011, the prosecutor found probable cause in the torture case filed by Randy and released warrants of arrest against the two soldiers. However, by the time the warrants of arrest were released, the two soldiers had been transferred to a different unit. There were several attempts to locate the soldiers to no avail.

Then in 2012 the criminal case filed against Randy came to a resolution. He was sentenced to be imprisoned for three and a half years. The court favoured the soldiers’ testimonies and considered that he had been arrested as part of a legitimate operation. Randy and his relatives’ testimonies were given less credibility and considered inconsistent.

Randy’s lawyer immediately filed a motion to appeal his criminal conviction with the Court of Appeal; the appeal is still pending.

However, the case filed by Randy against the military is currently at a standstill. Although the court sent out warrants of arrest against the two soldiers in 2011, they are still at large.

“There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished,” Randy explains. “I am not satisfied. Developments and updates about the case have been limited and the process is very slow. ”

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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“The government needs to stop rape as a form of torture in the Congo”: IRCT member Freedom from Torture speaks out

In our latest blog we hear from Kolbassia Houssaou, coordinator of Freedom from Torture’s Survivors Speak OUT! Network – a group of torture survivors who draw on their experience of torture to influence decision-makers and raise public awareness of the challenges facing survivors.

Kolbassia talks about the challenges survivors face, and their role in the publication of Freedom from Torture’s latest report into rape and torture in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

fftlogoTorture is intended to silence its victims so it is therefore vital that people like me and the rest of the Survivors Speak OUT! Network at Freedom from Torture, have their voices heard. It is this that will ensure we are no longer seen as stigmatised victims but are instead recognised as having a vital role in finding durable solutions to end this practice.

The Survivor’s Speak OUT network is proud to add its voice in the international call for change in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over twenty years armed conflict has fuelled sexual violence against women and a widespread culture of impunity for the perpetrators.

Although there is war in the eastern part of the country, it would be wrong to say that sexual violence in the DRC is limited to the war zone. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are happening even where there is “peace” and those suffering have, until now, been unjustly overlooked.

In fact most of the women featured in the report were based in Kinshasa, far away from the conflict zones, where sexual violence was used predominately as a form of torture in detention centres, not the battlefield.

By publishing this report, we hope to dispel the myth that rape is solely a by-product of war zones but instead to show that in fact there are increasing levels of persecutory rape among women who challenge the government in the DRC. Many of the women who feature in this report were arrested as a result of their political involvement or support for government opposition or their affiliation with women’s rights groups.

A woman who was raped by a government soldier recovers at the Heal Africa hospital in Goma. Picture courtesy of Freedom from Torture.

A woman who was raped by a government soldier recovers at the Heal Africa hospital in Goma. Picture courtesy of Freedom from Torture.

But regardless of where it is committed, the impact of rape and other forms of sexual violence are the same. Women across the DRC continue to suffer. The absence of facilities means they have nowhere to turn for advice, counselling or any kind of support.

Right now the infrastructure in place is failing to help these women and a distinct lack of implementation and insufficient resources mean that well-meaning initiatives are not bringing about practical change. The DRC’s adoption of the 2006 law against sexual violence and the promulgation of the law criminalising torture in 2011, while welcome, are simply not enough. The government needs to do much more to tackle these crimes.

The sexual violence documented in the report is based on doctor’s examinations of women raped and violated in the DRC. These acts constitute torture and must be considered as such.

If these crimes are to be prevented the perpetrators must be brought to justice, the judiciary must be strengthened, survivors must be fully supported, and the population must be educated about sexual violence.

We cannot just raise awareness of the victim’s rights: there must also be legal enforcement to support this.

All the members of the Survivors Speak OUT! Network hope this report will shine a light on the suffering of women in the DRC and bring about change.

We hope the DRC government will take measures to support and protect women throughout the country. We hope the government will improve the conditions of detention centres and allow regular visits by international monitoring bodies. We hope the UN will help end the conflict in the east of the country which gives the DRC government an excuse to hide behind.
We welcome the UK’s leadership of the initiative to stop sexual violence in conflict and hope this report proves how vital it is that in the DRC this effort is expanded beyond the conflict zone and throughout the whole country.

There is no quick fix to the issues women face in the DRC but this report shows the alternative – a country where women continue to suffer sexual torture in silence, without access to rehabilitation, legal recourse, and where abusers continue to act without consequence.

To read more about the DRC report from Freedom from Torture, click this link.

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The UK has still not learned its lesson that torture is wrong

Back in January 2014, upon the presentation of a 250-page report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) detailing the role of British troops in torturing Iraqi citizens, the British Ministry of Defence strongly disputed evidence that soldiers had any role in torture during the war on terror.

“We reject the suggestion the UK’s Armed Forces – who operate in line with domestic and international law – have systematically tortured detainees,” said a spokesperson at the time.

But following the recent report that the ICC will investigate Iraq war crimes claims – and the recent news from the Independent newspaper where a British resident, Ahmed Diini, alleges torture in Egypt by MI5 – it seems the involvement of Britain’s security forces in torture could be becoming harder to deny.

And for a nation assumed to be a good example of human rights defence, the increased reports linking Britain to torture paints a troubling picture where human rights are second-best to assuring national security.

Let’s turn our attention to perhaps the biggest case: that of Baha Mousa, a case which in 2007 led to the prosecution and imprisonment of British soldier Donald Payne who was found guilty of war crimes. A 26-year-old Iraqi receptionist, Baha died in custody in Basra in 2003 following hours of torture – some of which was filmed by the torturers and their colleagues.

The full extent of Baha’s injuries – which included broken ribs, damaged kidneys, a broken nose, and clear signs of being held in stress positions for over a day – were only finally reported in 2011 following a public inquiry. By this time the guilty soldier Mr Payne, the main torturer in the case, had been out of prison for three-years, having served his one-year sentence.

At this time the Defence Ministry vowed to stop these instances of torture. And in 2013 the commitment to ending torture was echoed by the head of MI5 Andrew Parker, who told MPs that the security services “do not participate, incite, encourage or condone mistreatment or torture and that is absolute.” The recent claims though dispute this commitment to end torture once more.

It therefore seems that Britain is not learning the lesson that torture is never justified. While assuring national security is important, ensuring safety cannot be done via torture.

The ‘ticking timebomb’ scenario – where torturing someone who has hidden a hypothetical bomb yields results – does not happen in reality. Torture, simply, is not the right way to investigate or to prove anything.

And whether or not all of these emerging claims of torture prove to be true, it is clear the issue of torture, and the steps that need to be taken to prevent it, are not being taken seriously among many in a country which often applauds its own human rights record.

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World Without Torture joins new campaign to tell the stories of Syrian refugees

A shot of the ECRE campaign website

A shot of the ECRE campaign website

To date, just 81,000 Syrians have sought protection in the EU, Norway and Switzerland; representing only 3% of the total number of people who have fled.

With a death toll of 130,000, and refugee numbers expected to escalate to 4 million by the end of 2014, the Syrian conflict is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.

To call on European leaders to protect refugees, and to alert the public to the sheer numbers of Syrians suffering from conflict, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is launching today a new campaign entitled “Europe Act Now”  which utilises social media to spread the voices of Syrian refugees throughout the globe.

Some of the refugees who will be tweeting throughout the campaign

Some of the refugees who will be tweeting throughout the campaign

The unique campaign sees human rights groups, celebrities, politicians, and anyone else who wants to help, donating their Twitter accounts to ECRE for a week. ECRE will in turn give tweeting access to a Syrian refugee who will tell his/her story over a particular number of days, determined by the person who donates the Twitter account.

We at World Without Torture are joining the campaign on 10 and 11 March 2014 from 0900hrs, so remember to check our Twitter account (available here) to read an unique insight into the life of a Syrian refugee.

ECRE hopes the campaign, which will last for four-months until World Refugee Day on 20 June, will raise awareness of the barriers that refugees face when entering Europe and what can be done to reunite families affected by the conflict.

To follow our Twitter feed simply click this link, where we shall be handing over our Twitter to hear the stories of Syrian refugees on Monday 10th and Tuesday 11th March.

And for more information on ECRE and the “Europe Act Now” campaign, click this link.

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Change in Bahrain is needed now, not in another three years

Despite a strong government crackdown on protestors, over 300,000 people took to the streets of Bahrain’s capital Manama on 14 February to mark the three-year anniversary of the Bahraini protests.

And despite three-years of torture, imprisonment, and even deaths of protestors, the demonstrations against the government do not seem to be slowing down.

Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

The scene at the Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

But also what is not slowing down is the government’s resistance to relinquishing power to the people. On the anniversary march alone, over 50 people were injured by rubber pellets and tear gas fired by police.

The last three years have seen the Bahraini government, the House of Al Khalifa, use extreme force over protestors whom are campaigning for respect for human rights. In every protest, the government has repelled the protestors with the use of force. The result over three years is shocking: according to data from The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), 93 people have died; more than 2,200 political prisoners remain in detention; and torture and enforced disappearances remain widespread on a daily basis.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has tracked the uprising since day one and Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President of the BCHR following the arrest of President Nabeel Rajab, knows in detail the harm the government can cause.

Her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has been imprisoned since April 2011 for allegedly plotting a coup during the pro-democracy protests. Maryam’s sister Zainab – who was recently released from detention – still faces a string of ‘anti-government’ charges. They are just two cases out of thousands who have been silenced by the government.

“People seem to assume that somehow the Bahrain revolution failed but I do not think it is fair to assess the revolution as ‘failed’,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja in a piece to World Without Torture. “It is just an inconvenient revolution – a revolution which is happening in a country which is solidly linked to the interests of the West in terms of oil, trading and so on that it would prove problematic to recognise as an active, powerful movement.”

The homepage image of happiness from Bahrain.com, managed by the Bahrain Economic Development Board

Happiness on Bahrain.com, managed by the Bahrain Economic Development Board

Three years on, her assessment certainly still seems accurate. Aside from the occasional news report online, the world seems oblivious to Bahrain: the country is still portrayed as a safe haven for foreign investment and tourism; and large-scale international events, such as the Formula One Grand Prix, still continue to uphold the myth that Bahrain is free from unrest.

Yet the sheer numbers of protestors marking the importance of the ‘revolution’ tell a different story about the realities of Bahrain: its people want a democratic change from the 230-year-old Al Khalifa rule.

With human rights coming into question on a daily basis, it is a change that is needed – now, not in another three years.

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