Posts Tagged human rights
Amidst the Copenhagen bustle sits 26-year-old Bahraini human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja who, on the face of it, appears to be oblivious to her anxieties. These are perhaps the only two minutes to relax from her work at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
Maryam has just been discussing her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been imprisoned since April 2011 for participating in the pro-democracy protests which swept the nation of Bahrain.
Tortured ever since – including beatings so severe he underwent urgent surgery to reconstruct his jaw in 2011 – Abdulhadi’s case looks increasingly desperate. But Maryam manages to distance herself from this well.
“It is another case indicative of the repression exercised by the rulers of Bahrain,” she says flippantly. “In 2011, I wrote a report about a man who had been beaten to the point that no one recognised him.
“I was told at the end of the report that the man who had been tortured was my father. My initial reaction was not to break down but to finish the report. There are so many other torture cases and personalising them does not help my work. You need to normalise it. In my head, most of the time my father is not even in prison.”
But the fact is that along with thousands of other pro-democracy protestors, Maryam’s father, and sister Zainab, wallow in the horrifying conditions of Bahraini prison with little chance of a fair trial or basic human rights.
“There is torture in the prisons,” says Maryam. “The international community focus so much on improving conditions for prisoners when, in reality, these political prisoners should not be detained in the first place. Their release should be called on and they should have assured prison qualities until that point.”
The ‘failed’ revolution?
Yet pressure on the ruling family of Bahrain to accept their shameful human rights record is something which Maryam cynically believes will not be applied by the international community. “People seem to assume that somehow the Bahrain revolution failed but I do not think it is fair to assess the revolution of Bahrain as a ‘failed’ revolution,” she says. “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.”
We’re talking with each other in the same week that Syria has dominated the news – a humanitarian crisis which has seen millions of people seek refuge in nearby countries.
In this field of vision, Bahrain has become lost. The revolutionary protests which screened all over the world almost three years ago in early 2011 seem long forgotten.
“Bahrain is such a controlled country that now the protests are rarely seen. People are fearful that if they go to the wrong street, or even to the shops in their area, they will be arrested, tear gassed, tortured and so on. They therefore do not have the safety, inclination or room to go into the streets and protest like you would perhaps see elsewhere. And that’s one reason why it does not get coverage. The ruling family of Bahrain know this.”
The Bahraini royal family, the House of Al Khalifa, assumed power approximately 230 years ago and have yet to relinquish it. Indeed half of the current Parliament in Bahrain are aligned to the family and the country’s only unelected Prime Minister, who has been in his position for 43 years, is related to the family also, being the uncle to the current self-declared king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
It is this monopolised rule which led to the protests in April 2011 – protests which have, in fact, been occurring regularly since the 1920s’ and before.
In the 1950s’ a group called Intifadat al-Haya’a, led by the religious leaders of both the Sunni and Shia communities, started an uprising for civil rights. At this time Bahrain was still a British protectorate so with the help of the British the Bahraini regime crushed this opposition and arrested all of the leading figures..
“The Al Khalifa family knew that if the Sunni and Shia communities stayed united it could spell the end of their rule,” explains Maryam. “So since the 1950s’ the family has been focusing their attention on marginalizing the majority of the country, the Shia community, thereby sidelining their biggest threat. They created this ‘us and them’ fashion through labeling the Shia community more and more, to make it impossible for them to integrate with the Sunni community and, as such, crush any uprising. This is not saying that Sunnis benefit entirely from the Bahrain rulers, because they do not. But it is just one move into the ruling party’s idea to change the demographic of the country so it is majority Sunni rather than Shia.”
This sectarianism is, according to Maryam, just another tool of gaining control by the royal family.
“The family see everyone as an enemy yet portray to Western media that there is a sectarian problem, not a problem between the rulers and the people,” she says.
“It is simply not true. Bahrain is not a sectarian problem. It’s a human rights problem. People, no matter who they are, have no room for freedom of expression, right to safety and so on. People are beaten, tortured and detained on a mass scale – and why? All because they want to exercise their human rights.”
But what can be done to bring change in Bahrain and, in the first instance, call the human rights record of the Al Khalifa family to attention?
“You do not need military feet on the ground,” states Maryam. “What you need is pressure on the Bahraini government to accept the evidence we already have, in relation to sanctions against individuals like visa rejections, torture documentation and so on. What you need is for the countries who claim that they promote human rights and democracy to uphold these values – not among their enemies, but among their friends. Bahrain is a friend which is not upholding basic human values, but that would be an embarrassing thing to admit.
“At least in Egypt there is a sphere to go out on the streets and protest. But in Bahrain, public space is controlled in a suffocating manner . In that sense it is not really similar to other protests in the Middle East and is actually more similar to Rwanda – not that there will be a genocide, but there will come a time when something which as been silently bubbling will explode into the open. There is absolutely no room for expression, for freedom of speech or to manoeuvre.”
Fittingly, in the same way I misinterpreted the calmness in Maryam at the coffee shop, it seems Bahrain has a hidden undercurrent of turmoil.
“Everything seems alright and as if changes have been made. But there is always something happening underneath [in Bahrain],” says Maryam. “Distancing ourselves from this turmoil only makes it worse. The time is now for the international community to apply pressure on Bahrain and bring the human rights abuses to light.”
Written by Ashley Scrace, Communications Officer at the IRCT
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two blogs on the Latin American Regional Seminar, which took place in Quito, Ecuador a few weeks ago. Read the first one here. Here, IRCT member Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial (EATIP) of Argentina speaks about the work – and the challenges — of rehabilitating indigenous victims of torture in Latin America.
We want to share our views on torture rehabilitation in the multicultural environment in Argentina, as discussed at the 16th Regional Meeting of the Latin American network of institutions working against torture.
Argentina has a hegemonic culture related to the flood of European migrants from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. This culture often does not include the perspectives of the native populations, aggravated by political and administrative centralism. Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial (EATIP) gives priority to social class factors, including also ethnic and gender factors.
The Latin America regional network is giving more attention to violation of indigenous people rights, especially related to the protection of their territories due to exploitation of natural resources (mining, oil, etc.), cultivation of soya, etc., in which important corporative interests are at the stake. Other characteristics of this problematic situation are the social polarization and confrontation between groups and members in the communities due to co-optation by governments.
For interventions with these groups, we used community-based approaches. For psychosocial interventions in those cases, specific training of professionals is needed. At the present, the economic difficulties that EATIP and other centres in the region are facing impede the continuity of these activities. EATIP has assisted migrant groups from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, who live in slums called “Villas Miserias”; and African youths and political refugees.
In the 16th Regional Meeting of the Latin American members of IRCT and allied organisations, our centres identified that the inter-cultural factors have strong significance that enrich our work.
By Dr Mariana Lagos and Mr Ely Stacco, Clinical and Psychosocial Area, EATIP, Argentina
Editor’s Note: The following blog post comes from José Utrera, Regional Coordinator for Latin America. As a holistic approach to rehabilitation of torture survivors must take into consideration the various cultural contexts and methods of collecting data and reporting as well as healing and treatment, Jose addresses the issue of intercultural approaches in the Latin American context. This is the first of two blog posts from IRCT’s annual Latin America meeting of torture rehabilitation centres.
The 16th meeting of the Latin American network of health institutions working against torture and other violations of human rights took place in the last week of September, in the Andean city of Quito, Ecuador. Twenty-seven representatives of 16 organizations, almost all them IRCT members, from 13 Latin American countries met to exchange experiences and discuss strategic issues related to their work.
One of the issues discussed in the meeting was the intercultural approaches to prevention, rehabilitation and access to justice related to victims of torture. This is an important matter because in several countries indigenous people and others as Afro-descendants are significant proportion of the population. Latin American centres are using different methodologies and strategies to face this issue.
A rehabilitation centre in Colombia presented on their experiences of immersion and continuous adaptation of their methodologies and ways of intervention with indigenous communities of Cauca. Before starting the process of collecting and assessing information on the traumatic experiences the communities suffered, staff agree with the population on the purposes and uses the information. Thereafter, the staff live within the communities for some weeks, taking part in their social and religious activities to gain the confidence of people, especially the women, to share their experiences and to understand it as much as possible those experiences and the ways they cope with it. As the team’s comprehension of the resources that communities have to cope with the traumatic experiences— such as, religious rituals, medicinal plants, etc. — and the expectations of the victims and the concrete political context increase, the methodologies for data collection and assessment of individual and collective damage and the approach to rehabilitation are adapted.
The representative of an allied organisation in Guatemala presented their experience on data collection and reporting about the traumatic experiences of indigenous people victims of genocide. They emphasised not only the need to accurately know the language, but also the ways indigenous people express the personal significance and feelings during and after torture, which frequently is difficult to translate in Spanish as it reflects an own worldview (cosmovisión). She also pointed out the need to accompany the victims, especially the women, not only to prepare their testimonies, but also during and after they attest.
The lessons from the regional seminar show the importance of adapting treatment methods to the particular cultural context of victims, one of the fundamentals of holistic rehabilitation.
Different centres presented their experiences, sharing the following issues:
- the methodologies for immersion to gain confidence of indigenous people to share their traumatic experiences and understanding of those experiences;
- aspects related to language, particularly the ways indigenous people express the significance and feelings during and after torture;
- regular adaptation of intervention strategies according to emerging insights of the traumatic experiences and the way persons and communities want to deal with it;
- methodologies to assess the individual and collective damage, including the adaptation and validation of instruments for investigation and reporting;
- adaptation of rehabilitation approaches according to their own resources (traditional medicine, social mechanisms, rituals), their values and the political contexts in which these take place;
- training of professionals to recognise these cultural factors in the processes of assessment and rehabilitation of torture cases.
During the discussion of those experiences, the participants stated that the assessment and reporting of torture cases in the multicultural societies of Latin America aims to a) administer justice, and b) to recognize each person citizen’s rights no matter what his/her culture.
By José Utrera , Regional Coordinator for Latin America and Caribbean
It’s called Operation Sovereign Borders. “It will steadily be put into effect and I am confident we can stop the boats,” says Major General Angus Campbell, who will be running the new operation. Recently promoted to a three-star general, the military leader had previously served in Australia’s forces in the Middle East and East Timor.
It sounds like a dangerous military operation. They’re trying to “stop the boats,” like an impending invasion. But it’s not. Full of military language and coded with imagery of the shores of Australia being overwhelmed, Operation Sovereign Borders is the new Coalition government’s plan to divert boats of migrants and asylum seekers from ever stepping foot on Australian soil.
“If the government is successful in doing this, then conceivably there will eventually be no asylum seekers in the Australian mainland, and the mainland detention facilities will close, and we won’t provide counselling to asylum seekers,” says Bowen Summerton, Asylum Seeker Services Coordinator at Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS). ASeTTS, an IRCT member in Perth, Western Australia, currently has access to provide counselling and other mental health services for asylum seekers in detention in the region. However, with a different government and policy, this may change – an extremely worrying situation for torture survivors who seek asylum in Australia.
Asylum seekers and refugees are clearly a fraught issue in Australia. So much so that many have claimed the recent election of opposition leader Tony Abbott, whose campaign slogans echoed the “stop the boats” rhetoric, was as much about tax and political infighting as it was a referendum on the current immigration policies. More than 17,000 people arrived by boat in 2012, the majority from Iran, Afghanistan, India and Sri Lanka. This was up from around 4,500 the previous year.
Currently, all people who are unauthorized to be in Australia – whether arriving by plane, overstaying visas or coming by boat – are detained. Previously, there were some exceptions, namely the health of asylum seekers.
“Long term detention is significantly correlated with poor mental health outcomes regardless of a background history of torture and trauma,” says Bowen. ASeTTS has access to the three immigration detention centres in the Western Cape, of the total of eight in the Australian mainland, and alternative and community detention in the region. For those victims of torture in detention, they can provide counselling and, depending on needs, access to a psychiatrist.
Research strongly suggests that detention of asylum seekers greatly worsens health, particularly mental health, with many reporting systems of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. These are common psychological effects of torture, which are also greatly exacerbated in detention settings.
“Assisting recovery from torture and trauma is generally more difficult in detention, regardless of the length of time, because of the environment, which can counteract attempts to restore safety, meaning and dignity,” he says.
However, despite the risks of trauma and the health needs of asylum seekers, the new government has promised to end the exceptions. All unauthorized immigrants will be detained, many of them in the off-shore detention and processing facilities in Christmas Island, a territory of Australia, Nauru, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, or Papua New Guinea.
It’s far too politically easy to say simply “stop the boats,” backed by military might. Rather than quick slogans and three-star generals, Australia needs to assume the more difficult responsibility to international human rights obligations. As the Australian Human Rights Commission describes, “The Australian Government has obligations under various international treaties to ensure that their human rights are respected and protected… These rights include the right not to be arbitrarily detained.”
Asylum seekers need to be screened for traumas, such as previous cases of torture, to ensure that they are both, not detained, but importantly, given access to appropriate care and treatment as soon as possible.
By Tessa, Communications Officer at IRCT
There have been approximately 800 cases of alleged torture brought before Israel’s Attorney General. Not one has resulted in an investigation.
“The government fears that people will say that they were authorised to commit torture,” Dr Ishai Menuchin, executive director of Public Committee against Torture (PCATI). “That is why they are not allowing the investigations”
Yet there clearly is torture committed in Israel, which is both antidemocratic and a violation of international law, explains Louis Frankenthaler, Development & International Outreach Director at PCATI.
I sat with Louis and Ishai recently and asked them to explain, well, simply what they do. I already knew that PCATI coordinates a project in which the IRCT provides training on how to conduct proper forensic examination in cases alleging torture. However, I was unfamiliar with other aspects of their work
PCATI is a legal and advocacy organisation that has put forth the majority of the 800 torture claims against the state. In addition to their direct legal claims against Israel, they have pursued social change through both traditional and vanguard means, explains Louis.
“The vast majority of victims of torture are Palestinians under occupation,” says Frankenthaler.
To bring about social change, they try to build the critical skills in Israeli youth by working with high school education programmes and teachers. Further, they produce research publications and reports to disseminate to the public and media, such as Doctoring the Evidence in 2011, which chronicled medical practitioners involvement in torture and ill-treatment.
Then there are the more “vanguard approaches,” as Louis describes, to force the public to confront the reality that individuals are being tortured in Israeli detention facilities.
For example, at a recent public film screening event in Jerusalem, PCATI asked around 10 youth volunteers to be handcuffed and “interrogated” in the street near the entrance.
“People just want to drink some wine and watch a Woody Allen film, and then they saw this scene on the street,” Ishai says. “We asked them, ‘How does it feel to know that just 100 meters away, people are being tortured?’ They don’t want to know what we are doing. They don’t like to think that this is their society.”
The tactics are useful to get a dialogue going, to confront the pervasive attitudes in Israel that torture is only used again “terrorists”.
“People other the victims,” says Louis. “They think of them as terrorists because that is how the authorities define them… as suspects, as ‘wanted’ as….”
Recent changes to the appeals system have the chance to push this dialogue further – to bring about a full, formal and transparent investigation into a case of alleged torture. While the chances of that have historically been rather grim, Ishai says, he remains cynical, yet optimistic. Just last year, the Attorney General changed the complaints investigations system. Rather than led by a member of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), also known as Shin Bet, a civilian investigator will lead the appeals process. Ishai adds, “Yet we are waiting for this to become fully operative”.
But how do you uncover a policy that authorizes torture of others? Louis and Ishai agree that the goal now is to create such a depth of evidence and material presented to the appeals process, such as forensic documentation of torture, that the courts will have to pursue an investigation. And PCATI continues to bring forth cases – 35 new cases thus far,; 22 appeals cases in just one month.
“If just one case goes through, we expect that officials will say they were authorised to torture,” says Ishai. “We just need one case in a formal and open investigation.”
By Tessa, IRCT Communications
”Enforced disappearances are becoming a major human rights concern in Asia,” read the news radio announcer. “Estimated tens of thousands have been disappeared.”
The structure of that last sentenced grated on the inner copy-editor in me. “…Have been disappeared,” is markedly passive. “By whom?” I want to ask, but the uncertainty of the subject is part of the nature of enforced disappearances. The answer is: we don’t often know.
If someone is enforced, or involuntarily, disappeared, they are just that – they are gone, but no one knows to where. It is likely that they have been killed, but no one knows when or where they are buried. It is possible that they have been tortured, but no one knows if they are OK.
In countries around the world, state officials, such as police, military or other security officials, arrest and detain individuals without their families’ knowledge of their whereabouts or well-being. They are outside of the arms of the law, often tortured, often killed, and rarely found again. They simply disappear, and their families are always left to wonder what happened to their loved one.
According to a 2012 report from the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, 53,778 cases have been reported since 1980. Over 42,000 of these cases, in 82 states, remain unsolved. When a person is secretly abducted, detained or killed by a state agent, this constitutes the human rights violation of enforced disappearance. Like torture, The victims are often tortured while secretly detained.
Such practices were common during the dictatorships in Latin America around the 1970s and 1980s. In Argentina, an estimated 30,000 disappeared, and only recently, with the help of forensic NGOs, have families received the remains of those missing for more than three decades.
Enforced disappearances — like torture — happen in secrecy, between four walls. As Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, wrote in the 2012 Global Reading, “Prison walls have a double function: to lock people in and the public out.” Not only are family members kept from the knowledge of their loved ones whereabouts, but justice cannot find the disappeared. Not seeing and not knowing means there is little recourse for justice and impunity remains.
With no record of the disappeared, how can you label the crime? Was the person tortured? Were they killed? Who is responsible? Without evidence, it is difficult to find and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. In countries such as Mexico, Bolivia, Pakistan, Morocco, Thailand, China, and the US, few have been held to account for the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance.
Bringing these crimes to light and ensuring the public remains aware when someone is disappeared is our role, but everyone can help. Our voice is one of the strongest weapons against these crimes and a strong challenge to the reign of impunity.
When the heart attack came on 3 December 2006, Augusto Pinochet probably feared the worst. At 91-years-old he must have known this was the end of a controversial, turbulent life.
But what were his last thoughts as he lay in on his deathbed: regret, remorse, sorrow?
One hopes something was felt for the thousands of helpless Chileans who suffered from Pinochet’s brutal 17-year rule of the country.
Yet the fact still remains that the truth surrounding Pinochet and his rule was never discovered.
He died on the 10 December 2006 with over 300 crimes still against him, ranging from human rights abuses to embezzlement and tax violations.
Rather than celebrating his death or the passing of the oppressive regime, the Chilean people instead commemorate the 11 September each year – the date which, in 1973, saw Pinochet come to power via the violent military coup.
This year marks 40 years since the coup and is a special reminder about how far Chile has come as a nation and, perhaps, how far is still left to go.
A great divide
The rule of Pinochet is a topic which still splits some Chileans. The opposition to Pinochet use the 11 September anniversary to reflect upon the torture and inhumane treatment of up to 40,000 Chileans, and use the day as an opportunity to establish the truth from Pinochet’s dark regime.
According to former President and running presidential candidate for this years’ elections, Michelle Bachelet, the point of the 11 September anniversary to reopen the “painful wounds” of Chiles’ past, not to victimise people or governments, but “to get to know the truth.”
On the other hand there are people who, while agreeing with others in the denouncement of Pinochet’s reign, were once supporters of Pinochet and feel that the military coup was inevitable and any human rights violations were merely expansions upon the crimes committed by Pinochet’s predecessor, the left-wing President Salvador Allende – the world’s first democratically elected Marxist leader.
Whatever the political standing, everyone can acknowledge at least one truth – the human rights violations, which saw 3,000 Chileans simply disappear off the face of the earth and tens of thousands tortured, was one of the darkest periods of Chilean history.
Beyond the numbers
To date only 262 people have been sentenced for their part in the human rights violations of Pinochet’s regime. Over 1,000 judicial cases of human rights violations remain open today.
It has taken a lot of courage, honesty and investigation to even get to this point of human rights prosecutions. Many procedural changes from the state and justice systems have ensured that families affected by the torture have found justice.
But there is still a long road ahead.
While official figures state almost there were 40,000 victims of torture, detention and human rights abuses during Pinochet’s reign, experts believe that unofficially the number is much higher.
It takes continuous bravery for a torture survivor and their family or community to pursue justice. The crimes they know of may be too much to talk about – the details and sadness may just be too strong.
But survivors of torture, and their families, do talk. Thanks to limited positive cooperation from the Chilean judicial system, progress has been made with the transfer of some proceedings against human rights violators from private military courts to the civilian courts which apply greater transparency and independence.
However, jurisdiction surrounding military crimes still applies to human rights violations committed by the state. The result is that justice is still needlessly difficult to achieve for many affected by torture and, if justice is pursued, it is often in private.
The 40th anniversary gives Chileans an opportunity to show the world their progress post-Pinochet, to show every person who was perhaps skeptical of the country that Chile has evolved in ways once thought to be unimaginable.
More needs to be done to fully establish the truth surrounding Pinochet’s rule. For the past few months, Amnesty International has collected more than 25,000 signatures through an online petition calling for more open and accessible justice systems for torture victims, and for greater enforcement of human rights law in Chile.
It is a reminder that while the past is gone, dealing with this past properly is the only way to shape the future.
The reign of Pinochet is something which will not, unlike the victims of his regime, disappear any time soon.
On the 17 November the Chilean people will be reminded of the horrors of Pinochet once more, as they vote for their next President – the two candidates, Ms Bachelet and Ms Matthei, are daughters of two generals who suffered different fates under Pinochet’s rule.
As the BBC reports, Gen Alberto Bachelet was arrested, tortured and died in detention. Gen Fernando Matthei became a part of Gen Pinochet’s regime.
Pinochet may be gone but, for better or worse, he is certainly not forgotten.
Editor’s note: Ashley Scrace is a Communications Officer with the IRCT and writes from their office in Copenhagen, Denmark. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter by going to @Ashleyscrace
Editor’s Note: The IRCT is welcoming a new staff member to their Communications Team, who will be regularly blogging for World Without Torture. In this article Ashley Scrace explains his role in the team, how his experience has led him here and the challenges he faces in the role of Communications Officer.
Other than small holidays trips abroad, I had never left the UK for any extended period of time beyond a few weeks. Suddenly moving from a stable life in my home country to my home in Sweden – where I reside and commute to Copenhagen every day, across the famous Øresund Bridge – came as a bit of a shock to the system. I had a job in Denmark with the IRCT set up, a home in Sweden guaranteed, but satisfaction is one thing which is rarely certain.
But despite only working with the IRCT for a couple of weeks now, I am certain I will be very satisfied here and, I hope, those interested in the IRCT and its work with rehabilitation, justice and prevention of torture will be equally satisfied with my work.
I have been involved with journalism, particularly newspaper and radio journalism, since my mid-teens. From work experience placements on local newspapers and radio I soon developed an active interest in the media and communications. It was during my time at the University of Sheffield that I learned one valuable element which, until this point, had never really been emphasised: focus on the human interest.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has feelings, opinions, views and emotions to contribute to those stories. But bringing that out can be tough, and that is where my skills lie – develop information, bringing out the truth, and conveying it in concise, colourful, coherent stories.
Joining the IRCT
Joining the IRCT after years of news journalism therefore seemed natural. Quite often in journalism you forget about the people behind the stories. You focus on angles, values, ethics and so on, and it becomes rather distant from your subjects.
The IRCT changes that. It is my role to discover the stories of survivors of torture, to listen to them with empathy, to recognise their messages and feelings, and to digest the stories so a global audience can recognise the realities of torture, the effects of torture on a person, and just what can be done to rehabilitate survivors.
The work of the IRCT is like no other I have experienced. Not only do the numbers of rehabilitated torture survivors show success, but their stories do too. Some of these people have been tortured for having a voice in the past. They have so much to say, but nowhere to say it. Perhaps they have no impetus to say anything more. But with careful rehabilitation, survivors of torture are coming forward with their stories – they are being shown they are entitled to a voice.
It is therefore an honour to be able to work alongside such incredible survivors, and such passionate colleagues.
It has been made apparent to me even in these early days that torture is a reality which is often swept under the carpet. Right now I am reading through some of the most harrowing accounts of human rights abuse I have ever seen. The stories come from a brave group of torture survivors in Rwanda whom – after years of physical, mental, and sexual torture – have decided to speak out about their experiences.
Perhaps rather ignorantly, I did not realise this level of torture still exists, particularly in these sheer numbers. That is perhaps what has shocked me most so far – the numbers of torture cases worldwide are staggering. Truly staggering. Torture is a very real problem and it is only with organisations like the IRCT that the realities of torture can be brought to light.
The biggest challenge I will face is comprehending just what a real problem torture is. At times it may seem preventing it is impossible, but I hope my work with the IRCT can contribute to their fight against torture, and can help survivors seek rehabilitation and justice.
And of course, all of this comes amidst the background of Syria – another area where refugees face conflict and war on a daily basis. At the IRCT we will be working with colleagues across the region to follow the situation in Syria to see how the conflict develops, how neighbouring countries cope with the conflict, and how international governments react.
So do stay tuned for my posts on the World Without Torture blog (which I shall be updating from time to time) to find out exactly what I am doing with the team in this unique, humbling position. It is a pleasure to be here.
There are numerous ways to mark the 26 June, the UN Day in Support of Victims of Torture. And this year, we have been impressed with the diversity of activities, but also the diversity of ways organisations have reached out the public, whether through radio broadcasts or public demonstrations.
To showcase this vast array of events, the IRCT held a contest – the 10 organisations with the best photos will have a full page of our annual 26 June Global Report to show off their activities. Here are the chosen 10.
Congratulations to all those who were selected and a huge thanks to all the organisations that sent us photos. They were all impressive.
IRCT member Freedom from Torture has released an extensive and heartbreaking report on poverty, torture and access to rehabilitation in the UK.
Their report, entitled “The Poverty Barrier: The Right to Rehabilitation for Survivors of Torture in the UK”, sheds new light on the reality that poverty is “both a structural cause and a consequence of torture”, as Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, writes in the foreword. This is also echoed in the London Declaration on Poverty and Torture that the IRCT released in 2011.
This research is especially salient in light of major steps made in advocating for torture victims’ right to rehabilitation services. Just last year, the UN Committee against Torture released General Comment 3 – a document that clarifies the obligations of states that are parties to the UNCAT to provide adequate, accessible and appropriate rehabilitation services to victims of torture.
As Freedom from Torture demonstrates in the UK context in this report, many countries are not living up to their obligations.
“Impoverished living conditions that deprive survivors of torture the safe recovery environment necessary for rehabilitative therapy to be accessible or effective raise serious questions about compliance by state parties,” Mendez writes.
In “The Poverty Barrier”, Freedom from Torture demonstrates clearly how torture survivors – asylum seekers and refugees in the UK context – remain in dire poverty as they move through and beyond the asylum system and how this poverty directly impedes their progress in rehabilitation. A vast majority – 67 of the 85 interviewed – reported they were living in poverty in the UK. This meant, for most, they could not afford sufficient food, clothing or health and hygiene items. Further, for many, poverty impeded their access to the asylum system and rehabilitation services as they could often not afford travel costs, such as bus and train fares, for essential appointments. Their inability to travel or work also contributed to their socially exclusion, with many being unable to visit family and friends or participate in the life of the community, which further impeded their full recovery from their torture and trauma.
The report is filled with examples from survivors of torture, clients of Freedom from Torture, and photos from their homes and daily life that demonstrate the poverty they endure. Visit Freedom from Torture’s website to read the full version of the report.