Posts Tagged human rights

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 have described the highly controversial practice that is used to determine a woman’s virginity.

In the past few months, Indonesia has made headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons. Late last year, the country unwittingly found itself in the spotlight when it emerged that the national government subjected female applicants for Indonesia’s National Police to “discriminatory and degrading virginity tests.”

When a few months later a local Indonesian MP proposed that all girls should be subjected to virginity tests in order to graduate from school, it sparked an outcry. Shortly after, the deputy head of the district announced that the proposal had been scrapped.

Sadly, Indonesia is far from the only place where forced virginity testing is still happening despite the practice being illegal in many states.

Recent cases in Egypt and Afghanistan reaffirm that this gruesome practice is flourishing in many countries around the world.

School girls no longer need to worry about virginity testing. (Courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal , via Flickr Creative Commons)

Indonesian school girls. (Courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal, via Flickr Creative Commons)

For those unfamiliar with the practice it may seem like a simple intervention, but according to the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) – a group of more than 30 of the world’s leading forensic experts – forcibly conducted virginity testing is likely to cause severe and lasting psychological symptoms and disabilities that remain over time.

“The practice can cause women to feel intense humiliation, self-disgust, and worthlessness, especially since examinations are likely to involve other forms of abuse such as unconsented touching or groping, as well as threats, coercion or force,” the group said in a recent statement.

The IFEG also pointed that the practice has zero scientific value and at is worst it constitutes torture and rape.

“Health professionals have no medical foundation for conducting virginity examinations,” it said.

The IFEG is not the only group of experts condemning forced virginity testing. In December last year, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) joined the growing opposition against the tests, calling on states to end the ‘degrading, discriminatory, and unscientific “virginity testing” of women and girls.’

So why do states continue to carry out these tests?

Most experts agree that the larger issue at stake here is the perception of and the treatment of women in these countries. In some instances forced virginity testing has the effect or purpose of controlling women and denying them their rights.

“Prejudice and negative stereotypes against women and girls are passed off as medical science by many doctors who wrongly believe they can determine a woman’s virginity,” explained women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, Liesl Gerntholtz.

While there is a growing focus on what we know as sexual violence against women, forced virginity testing is still just one issue on a long list of overlooked violations against women and girls.

There is hope, however, that the highly publicised cases in Indonesia and Egypt will change this.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), Victor Madrigal-Borloz has reminded doctors of their responsibility to respect human rights.

“As a movement made of health professionals, we are in a key position to condemn forced virginity testing, often carried out by health professionals in a clear violation of professional ethics and international human rights.”

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On the Forefront: Helping torture survivors in San Diego

WWT - Members series

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.

Staff at SURVIVORS treat many refugees and asylum seekers who have limited or no financial resources and support network. Getting to the centre is a big challenge for those who do not live nearby, especially because public transportation in Southern California is restrictive and challenging to navigate, even for those who speak the language and are familiar with the city.

Then there are the exorbitant costs of public transportation. One thing is to work out how to get there, another thing is to pay for the tickets.

Staff at SURVIVORS

Staff at SURVIVORS

Until now, SURVIVORS has been able to offer bus tickets or other help with transportation to any client in need, but a reduction in funding has forced the centre to make some tough decisions.

Sadly, SURVIVORS’ story is far from unique. Across the world, rehabilitation centres have seen a decrease in funding from donors focusing on immediate results over holistic rehabilitation.

Despite these challenges, the San Diego centre will continue to treat the same number of clients as before, but now the centre staff can no longer offer some of its most desperate clients help with transportation.

Demonstrating a medical examination.

Demonstrating a medical examination.

“While our financial situation won’t affect the number of clients that we’re treating, it will however impact many of our clients who are asylum seekers with little or no financial support. These clients rely on public transport to get to the actual center, but with less funds, SURVIVORS won’t be able to help pay for their bus tickets, as we used to,” says Executive Director of SURVIVORS, Kathi Anderson.

Kathi Anderson explains how one of the centre’s clients is a woman who is 6 month pregnant. Alone in a new country and without any support network, this small token has made a huge difference to her. Kathi Anderson is worried that if they do not continue to help her pay her bus tickets, she is not able to turn up for her treatment.

Since it opened in 1997, SURVIVORS has helped thousands of survivors of torture to recover from their traumas by offering them a range of services, including medical, dental, psychiatric, psychological, and social care.

Clients often prefer telling their stories in the kitchen.

Clients often prefer telling their stories in the kitchen.

The staff has seen first-hand how the number of refugees and asylum seekers in need of treatment is increasing. The many armed conflicts and humanitarian crises worldwide means that for the first time since the Second World War, the number of refugees and asylum seekers on a global basis has exceeded 50 million. This development has put enormous pressure on rehabilitation centres like SURVIVORS.

Exacerbating the situation for SURVIVORS is the news that a nearby government-run detention centre for immigrants is moving to a new facility, doubling its size. Being the only rehabilitation centre in the area, the centre fears that it will be forced to turn away immigrants with nowhere else to go.

When asked if there are any alternatives nearby for those torture victims they will not be able to help, Kathi Anderson replies:

“The nearest rehabilitation centre is in Los Angeles which is a 3 hour and 76$ train ride each way. I can’t imagine that there are too many refugees who can afford this or have the mental strength to get on that train.”

To find out more about SURVIVORS, visit their website www.notorture.org.

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Four women in the fight against torture

Today is of great importance to women around the world. Since 1975, 8 March has been the official International Women’s Day, giving us a chance to remember women’s past and current struggles and celebrate their achievements.

Women’s rights are at the core of human rights. Whether it is to do with women’s lack of education or political participation, wage inequality or gender based violence, these are all human rights issues that are high on the agenda.

Sadly, another pressing issue is torture of and sexual violence against women and girls.

Torture is a global endemic that destroys the lives of millions of people. Every day and in all corners of the world, women are being subjected to torture and other forms of abuse, often for no other reason than being a woman.

Some of the most prominent people in the fight against torture are women. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we look at four inspirational women who have seen or experienced the horrors of torture as an advocate, a caregiver and a victim.

The advocate: Inge Genefke

Inge Genefke

Courtesy of the IRCT

Inge Genefke is a prize-winning campaigner and medical doctor who has devoted her career specifically to the treatment and rehabilitation of victims of torture. As one of the pioneers of the anti-torture movement, she began her career in this field in 1973 when Amnesty International started a campaign to diagnose and heal torture victims in Chile.

Inge Genefke started as co-founder of the Danish Medical Group of Amnesty International in 1974. At that time, no knowledge existed about the destructive influence of torture on the victim’s physical and psychological health. The work of Genefke’s group resulted in the establishment of more medical groups the world over.

In 1982, Genefke established the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT) in Denmark and three years later the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims was founded as the global umbrella organisation for torture rehabilitation centres.

Now 77 years old, Inge Genefke still campaigns and makes the news when perpetrators make it to Denmark on official visits.

The caregiver: Yadira Narvaez

Yadira Narvaez (1)

Courtesy of the IRCT

During her medicine studies in Ecuador in the late 1980s, Yadira Narvaez worked at the medical department of a male prison. The experience became one of the most transformative events in her life. Seeing first-hand the lack of respect for human rights in prisons made Dr Narvaez realise that she needed to do something to try to protect prisoners and to assist torture survivors.

Determined to give torture victims in prison access to rehabilitation services, she went on to also work in the treatment of female detainees at another penal institution.

In 1997, Dr Narvaez helped found the Foundation for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (PRIVA). PRIVA focuses on the prevention and eradication of torture in Ecuador and the care of torture victims and their families.

Today, Dr Narvaez continues to be a strong voice in the anti-torture movement in Ecuador, despite the personal risks involved.

“The security situation for forensic doctors in Ecuador is concerning, especially for those who document cases of torture, but people have to raise their voices to speak about what is happening in this country”, said Dr Narvaez. “As an independent professional, I am also a voice for the torture victims and, hopefully, can contribute to ending impunity for those who torture”.

The powerful victim: Dilma Rousseff

Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff. (Courtesy of Blog do Planalto, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

(Courtesy of Blog do Planalto, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Late last year, an emotional Brazilian president presented a 2000-page report by the National Truth Commission. The report, which was the result of almost three years of investigation into human rights abuses during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military rule, contains harrowing details of torture carried out by the dictatorship.

Detailing serious human rights violations such as beatings, electric shocks and sexual violations, the report brought back Dilma Rousseff’s memories of being tortured.

As a student in the 1960s and 70s, she was part of a Marxist guerrilla group, opposing the government. In 1970, aged 22, she was arrested and held in prison for almost 3 years. There, she was subjected to torture, including electric shocks to her breasts, feet and ears.

Of the thousands of people believed to have been tortured during the dictatorship, Dilma Rousseff is one of the most prominent torture victims. After her release, she successfully rebuilt her life. She gave birth to her daughter in 1976, studied economics, entered politics in the 1980s, and was sworn in as Brazil’s first female president in 2010.

When she unveiled the Truth Commission report, she broke down in tears saying ‘new generations deserve truths.’

“The work of this commission increases the possibility for Brazil to have a fully democratic future, free of authoritarian threats.”

The unknown victim: Illuminée Munyabugingo

Picture courtesy Yildiz Arslan, from Visavis (Denmark)

Courtesy Yildiz Arslan, from Visavis (Denmark)

Over the course of 100 days, more than 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda for being part of a different ethnic community. Behind the numbers, people lost loved ones, their homes, and their lives to the hands of the military, the police, neighbours, and even friends.

More than 20 years after the Rwandan Genocide, the effects are still being felt across the country. Those who perhaps suffered the most are women, many of whom are unknown victims of sexual violence and torture.

Illuminée Munyabugingo was 34 years old when the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis happened in Rwanda. At the time, she was part of a family with 16 children. The genocide took her husband, two of her children and 13 of her siblings.

“During the genocide I lost my relatives as others lost theirs, I became a widow like other women. But what destroyed my heart in particular was having been raped in front of my children. It deprived me of my dignity and my value. Every time I think about the rape I can still smell the odour of the sweat of my rapists.”

Today, Illuminée shares her story in the hope of helping countless other women who like her suffered atrocities for being a woman.

“I advise other women who experienced rape to build good relationships with people who live around them and to be courageous in whatever they do. I encourage them to talk about their problems to people close to them, because that will help them to recover. These women have to respect themselves instead of being taken over by their problems. They have to fight against being colonised by the consequences of their bad experiences. For those who are less experienced, I advise them to approach those who are more qualified and learn from them.”

There are so many incredible and strong women in the human rights movement. Who would you like to celebrate, honour or remember?

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400 days behind bars: Peter Greste and Egypt’s broken justice system

The release of Australian journalist Peter Greste, and a new report by Human Rights Watch has once again turned the world’s attention to Egypt’s poor human rights record. This time focus is on the country’s prisons and its inhumane treatment of political prisoners.

After 400 days in prison charged with supporting a “terrorist organisation”, a farcical trial and an international outcry, Peter Greste from Al-Jazeera was finally released from Egypt’s Tora prison this month. Despite the relief of being free again, Greste called for the release of his two colleagues, his producer Mohamed Fahmy, and cameraman Bahar Mohamed, both of whom remain behind bars.

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Mural tribute to Peter Greste (Courtesy of JAM Project, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

 

Like Peter Greste, the two were given heavy sentences for disseminating “false news” and purportedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which won Egypt’s first democratic elections.

Sadly, their story is not at all unique. News outlets report of tens of thousands of political prisoners detained in Egyptian prisons. As most of these prisoners cannot claim dual citizenship, their future is one of much uncertainty and despair.

Torture and Abuse

The staggering number of political prisoners is just one side of Egypt’s problem. Despite the constitution banning torture and abuse of detainees, the practice is widespread in Egyptian prisons.

As the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) points out, history shows that the Egyptian military and police disregard the rule of law and have systematically used extreme violence and torture in their repressive tactics. IRCT’s human rights partners in the region have for years documented the systematic torture of those detained by military and police forces.

According to Amnesty International, torture is routinely practiced in police stations and unofficial places of detention, with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters particularly targeted.

Amnesty International also reports that there has been a surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions and harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody in the past couple of years.

Last year, British newspaper The Guardian revealed that since July 2013 at least 400 people had been tortured and held outside of judicial oversight in a secret military prison.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch criticising the Egyptian authorities, detailed scores of detainees suffering and even dying while in government custody, but human rights defenders all agree that the number of casualties is likely to be much higher than that.

Fighting impunity

Preventing torture in prisons and other places of detention is not an easy task with so few perpetrators brought to justice. Of all torture complaints in Egypt, only a very few reach the courts due to institutional barriers to justice.

The independent Egyptian human rights law firm United Group released a report in which it described how it had interviewed 465 alleged victims of police torture and that it had filed 163 complaints, of which only seven reached the courts.

Sadly, this hopeless and grim situation is unlikely to change any time soon.

Amid continuous reporting on Peter Greste’s release, an Egyptian court sentenced 183 people to death, 34 of whom were not even present for the trial. If this verdict is anything to go by, Egypt is not reforming its prison and justice system. Instead, it appears determined to continue down this dangerous path, ignoring international human rights law.

Peter Greste’s story offers some relief in an otherwise desperate time. After 400 days in captivity, he is back in Australia. Still behind bars, however, are the tens of thousands of political prisoners. They know about the unjust trials and what police brutality feels like. Now they face the prospect of remaining in prisons for years to come – in a country that took away their freedom and human rights.

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Countries in desperate need of ratifying the UN Convention against Torture

Despite ongoing international efforts to eliminate the practice of torture, it is not a question of whether torture still takes place, but rather where in the world it is still practised and how prevalent it is. Currently, more than 40 states across the globe have failed to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and in many of these countries, human rights defenders are raising the alarm, alerting to the constant flow of cases involving torture and ill treatment.

If anything, the recent report on CIA’s use of torture shows that this crime is more prevalent than most of us probably thought. The US is a signatory to the Convention against Torture, yet its own intelligence agency relied on the practice of torture as an integral part of its interrogation technique.

If a country that has committed to respect the UN Convention still allows for the practice of torture, then what is the status in the 40 something countries that are still to adopt it?

We have looked at three of these countries. Despite facing very different problems, they all have one thing in common: none of them has managed to tackle the problem of torture.

India

As a country with a population of more than a billion, it is not hard to see what an overpowering task it is to eliminate torture. Set on making the country an industrial superpower and creating more jobs, overcoming the enormity of its human rights problems is not an immediate priority – economic reform is.

Nonetheless, it is very worrying that a large number of torture cases in India happen at the hand of the police, and often while the victim is in custody. From 2001 to 2010, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded 14,231 deaths in police and judicial custody in India. The vast majority of these deaths can be ascribed to torture.

Only in recent weeks, newspapers have reported on the city of Chennai, where three police officers are currently being investigated for sexual torture of a 19-year old at the local police station. There is also the police commissioner in Delhi who has had to deny claims that the police has used torture to extract confessions. And in Calcutta, the West Bengal Government faces heat over alleged police torture of a woman.

According to various rights organisations, these stories are just the tip of the iceberg in a country that still has a long way to go despite its commitments to tackle the most prevalent human rights abuses. While the country has taken positive steps by strengthening laws protecting women and children, its reluctance to hold state officials to account for torture and other abuses continues to foster a culture of corruption and impunity.

Fiji

To many, Fiji is the perfect holiday destination. With its white sandy beaches and exotic palm trees, this tropical archipelago in the South Pacific could easily be mistaken as paradise on earth. But even paradise has a dark side and in the case of Fiji this dark side involves a poor human rights record.

In recent years, there have been numerous allegations of the use of torture by state officials.
In March 2013, a video was posted on the internet showing two prisoners being badly beaten and humiliated by state security officials. Failure by the Fijian authorities to investigate the case has raised red flags about a culture of impunity for police and security forces.

Following last year’s elections, Fiji had its second review by the UN Human Rights Council which, among other things, urged the state to amend repressive decrees that put severe restrictions on freedom of expression, promote women’s rights and ratify the UNCAT.

Despite these recommendations and similar calls from various human rights organisations, the government is still to take action.

In the meantime, cases of police violence and torture involving state officials continue to emerge.

Central African Republic

For more than two years, a violent, sectarian civil war has left Central African Republic (CAR) paralysed, prompting rights organisations to warn of a human rights crisis spiralling out of control.

In the past 12 months alone, at least 5,000 people have been killed and there are reports of torture, including sexual violence, and other human rights abuses.

In January 2015, UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, reported that crimes against humanity have been widely committed by all parties to the ongoing conflict. The Commission strongly recommended that accountability mechanisms be put in place to tackle the ‘cycle of impunity’ in the CAR.

However, recognising that the CAR Government simply does not have the resources nor the political incentive to bring the perpetrators to justice, the Commission has urged the international community to step up and fund a tribunal to prosecute those who have committed crimes against humanity.

These recommendations illustrate how vital it is for CAR to ratify the UNCAT. Until this happens, violence and torture continue to be rampant in the war-torn country.

Source: The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)

Source: The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)

What difference can the UN Convention against Torture make?

In the first instance, the UNCAT is one of the most important international human rights
instruments in the work against torture which outlines the rights of an individual, outlaws torture, and promotes respect for the human rights of an individual.

When a UN member state has become a party to the Convention, the government of that
country is accountable under international law to take action to prevent torture and to support the victims when torture takes place.

According to the Association for the Prevention of Torture, “the Convention against Torture requires that all States, and each of us, remain vigilant to the risks of torture. This is what makes it so relevant in 2014, thirty years after its adoption.”

You can read more about the countries that have ratified the UNCAT by clicking on this link. For comprehensive profiles on each UN member state, the United Nations website provides a full country list.

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Terror, Torture and Trial in the North Caucasus

Guest blogger, Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign takes us through the longest-running criminal trial in modern Russian history and describes how the use of torture to extract confessions remains widespread.

More than 30 years since the UN Convention against Torture entered into force, torture remains a regular practice in many states, with impunity. A recently concluded trial in the Russian Federation shows how prevalent reliance on torture evidence remains in some regions.

On 13 October 2005, groups of armed men carried out attacks on public institutions in Nalchik, the capital city of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) in the volatile North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. In the ensuing violence, which was quelled the following day, more than 150 people died, mainly attackers, and more than 100 were injured. Two militant groups claimed responsibility for the attacks.

It nonetheless took more than nine years to reach a verdict in what became the longest-running criminal trial in modern Russian history, with the largest number of defendants. On 23 December 2014, guilty verdicts were delivered against all 58 defendants in a trial tainted by torture evidence and efforts to obstruct the legal process, resulting in changes to the Russian criminal law; some commentators and human rights NGOs compared it to a show trial worthy of the Stalinist era.

In the days following the attacks, more than 2000 people were arrested; some were forced from their homes by armed police and others handed themselves in for questioning. By the end of the year, 59 remained in detention (one of the defendants died before the case went to trial).

In the week after their arrest, stories and images of their torture at the Nalchik pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) started to emerge. The images quickly circulated in the media causing an outrage which led to official admission that the suspects were tortured but the claims were never investigated. At least one of the defendants has a pending claim at the European Court of Human Rights for the torture he suffered.

Prisoners were tortured to sign confessions. (courtesy of kIM DARam, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

Prisoners were tortured into signing confessions. (Courtesy of kIM DARam, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

The suspects were tortured into signing confessions that were self-incriminating and that incriminated others. In some cases, they did not know the persons they were incriminating. All charged with at least ten offences under the Russian Criminal Code, at trial, many withdrew their confessions, claiming they had been tortured into making them. Those who admitted involvement in the attacks did not plead guilty to all the charges against them. Indeed, many defendants had credible alibis and witnesses to prove it. One defendant was at university in another town at the time, which his teacher and classmates could vouch for; he was nonetheless given a 14-year sentence.

The torture and abuse did not end there; since 2005, and now pending appeal of their sentences, the defendants have been held at the Nalchik SIZO in cramped, unhygienic conditions which are inadequate for short-term pre-trial detention, let alone almost a decade. In addition, beatings by guards are not infrequent as well as prisoners being placed in solitary confinement as arbitrary punishment. On occasion, the defendants have gone on hunger strike in protest. Denied adequate medical attention, the past decade has taken its toll on the health of many defendants, who were healthy young men when they were jailed. Investigating these further claims of abuse has been hampered by the harassment of lawyers and restricted access to them.

Inside the courtroom, the trial was delayed when the defendants were denied a jury trial; instead, changes were made to the Russian Criminal Code retrospectively to restrict jury trials in such cases, thereby leaving the decision on the admissibility of torture evidence to a panel of three judges who passed the verdict. The dubious nature of the judgment is reflected in the fact that none of the four defendants caught with weapons in their possession were among the five given life sentences. More curiously, in a case hinging on the violent deaths of so many people, the murder charge was dropped against all the defendants, meaning that no one convicted in this case is responsible for the deaths. The implication of a former Guantánamo prisoner who lived just outside Nalchik in the attacks was used to justify the disproportionate response by the Russian authorities.

Amnesty International slammed the verdict as “a textbook case of criminal injustice, where the authorities manifestly refused to investigate allegations of torture, despite overwhelming evidence, and the defendants languished for nine years in pre-trial detention, all in violation of international law”. Human Rights Watch called on the authorities “to finally conduct effective and impartial investigations into the torture, hold those responsible to account, and immediately withdraw as evidence any coerced statements by the defendants.”

Lyudmila Alexeyeva from the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group visited some of the defendants at the SIZO and was told by them, “you would have confessed too, if you had been through what we have had to go through.”

 

For more information on the case in English: https://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/creating-a-state-of-mass-terror-in-the-north-caucasus/

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Why are torture victims not seeking justice?

It is hardly news that for many torture survivors achieving justice is a crucial part of their rehabilitation process. Nor is it surprising that many victims never find justice because of impunity of their perpetrators. But what might come as a surprise is the fact that many survivors of torture choose not to seek justice for reasons other than impunity.

When it comes to overcoming their trauma and piecing their lives back together, many torture survivors place hope in the prospect of finding justice. Unfortunately, impunity often puts an end to this dream and instead of seeing justice done, the victims see their perpetrators walk away free.

But impunity is not the only factor preventing victims from seeking justice. Just like each victim’s situation may vary, so do the reasons for not taking their perpetrator to court.

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Those working with survivors of torture highlight the fear of reprisals, including fear for safety as one of the most common factors for not participating in legal proceedings. Sadly, there are too many tales of victims and their families being threatened for filing a complaint that you easily lose count. Others are harassed and beaten while their families are arrested to punish victims for speaking up.

Perhaps it is not very surprising then that the lack of belief in the justice system is another reason for why torture survivors do not take the matter any further. How can you trust the system to look after you and your family when you have been abused by the authorities or the police?

Even for those who have not experienced any abuse or wrongful arrests, opting for legal proceedings is far from an easy or pleasant choice.

Taking their case to court means reliving some of the most painful and traumatic moments in their life. Naturally, they might ask themselves if the chance of achieving justice and redress is worth all this pain.

Exacerbating the trauma is often the length of the trial or legal process. For those victims whose everyday life is already a constant struggle, taking part in drawn-out and traumatic court proceedings will hardly give them the respite that they need.

It very quickly becomes clear that too often the justice system protects the perpetrator and not the torture victim — something that can have dire consequences when the victim lacks resources and support.

Like a David and Goliath battle, those who have been exposed to torture also tend to be the weakest and poorest in society. To go down the legal path they will need both financial support and help with the often complex court proceedings. The sad reality is that most likely these victims will be on their own unless they are lucky enough to receive help from a rehabilitation centre.

This leads to the question: what can we do to change this?

The road to justice is long and winding, and often full of obstacles for victims of torture, but without them and their testimonies, we are nowhere closer to bringing the perpetrators to justice and obtain reparation for the victims. Everyone involved needs to recognise this while acknowledging the many factors that dissuade torture survivors from seeking justice.

By looking at the process from the victim’s perspective, it becomes clearer to health professionals, lawyers, judges, court officials, police and all the other relevant actors why some torture victims choose never to take steps to seek justice and reparation for the torture inflected upon them.

Without the right support, a victim may never take the first step.

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7 Human Rights Days Significant to the Anti-Torture Movement

Are you a human rights activist at heart whose New Year’s resolution is to voice your support for the movement, but never know when to do so? We have put together a list of significant human rights days worth adding to your 2015 calendar.

Throughout the year there are several days promoting human rights, many of which pay tribute to torture victims and those who have sacrificed their life fighting for justice. We have picked seven days that are all important milestones in the anti-torture movement.

(courtesy of Zack Lee, used via Flickr creative commons licence)

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (courtesy of Zack Lee, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

24 March – International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims

In 2010 when the United Nations General Assembly chose 24 March as the day to honour the victims of gross and systematic human rights violations, the assembly had one particular person in mind. El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated on 24 March 1980 after speaking out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. Like so many others, he lost his life defending the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence.

On this day, the world pays tribute to those who have devoted their lives to, and lost their lives in, the struggle to promote and protect human rights for all.

7 April – Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwanda Genocide

On numbers and timescale alone, the 1994 Rwandan genocide remains the largest of modern times. In 100 days, over 800,000 people were killed for being part of a different ethnic community. Hundreds of thousands civilians were also tortured and raped as the largest ethnic group, the Hutus repeatedly and mercilessly attacked the Tutsi population.

The mass killings began on 7 April, which is also the day that has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the Day of Remembrance of the many victims.

The aim with this day is to honour the many victims and to ensure that the world will never let history repeat itself.

4 June – International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression

On 19 August 1982, at its emergency special session on the question of Palestine, the United Nations General Assembly, decided to commemorate 4 June of each year as the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.

The purpose of 4 June is to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.

20 June – World Refugee Day

For the first time since the Second World War, the global refugee figure has passed 50 million, the majority of whom live in developing countries.

Health professionals and researchers commonly estimate that between 4-35% of refugees worldwide have been subjected to torture.

For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own Refugee Days and even Weeks. One of the most widespread is Africa Refugee Day, which is celebrated on 20 June in several countries. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly decided that this day would also be celebrated as World Refugee Day.

26 – June International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Since the first 26 June celebrations in 1998, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture has undoubtedly become the most significant day for the anti-torture movement.

Torture is a crime under international law, but despite freedom from it holding the status as one of the few universally recognised human rights, torture is still widely practised. The consequences reach far beyond immediate pain, destroying the lives of many victims and their families. Yet, too often, the perpetrators are not brought to justice, resulting in more pain and suffering for the victims.

26 June helps us remind the world and ourselves that torture is serious crime and a human rights violation which must be investigated, prosecuted and punished. Every year, the IRCT marks 26 June with a host of events, making it the world’s largest anti-torture campaign.

25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Women’s activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981. This date came from the brutal assassination in 1960 of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

Globally, violence against women remains rampant, with up to 35 per cent of women having experienced some form of violence.

Women are often more vulnerable to violence and discrimination than men and sexual abuse such as rape becomes a weapon of war in armed conflicts. 25 November not only commemorates the Mirabal sisters, but also serves as a reminder to all of us that it is time to end this global pandemic of violence against women.

10 December – Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is celebrated by the international community every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

10 December is a key day for organisations like the IRCT that use the day to cast a light on important human rights issues, including torture, through various events such high-level political conferences and cultural events and exhibitions.

 

Have any day to add to the list? Write us a comment.

 

For a full list of official UN days click on this link.

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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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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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