Posts Tagged human rights

World’s largest collection of documents on torture still a well-kept secret

Only 15 minutes from Copenhagen’s city centre lies a library that, despite a collection that makes others pale in comparison, remains a well-kept secret.

The Documentation Centre and Library holds the world's most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects.

The DIGNITY Library holds the world’s most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects.

The DIGNITY Library holds the world’s most extensive collection of published documents on torture and related subjects. In fact, the library boasts more than 40,000 items, ranging from books and articles to journals and images.

“We probably receive around one hundred new items each month,” says the library’s documentalist, Ion Iacos. “On top of that, we also monitor around 300 bibliographical sources on a regular basis so there is plenty of material for our visitors.”

The DIGNITY Library is open to the public and visitors are very welcome to use its modern facilities.

“We have study areas, media rooms and user terminals that are all free to use,” explains Mr Iacos.

While most visitors are researchers, PhD students or people with a special interest in the anti-torture movement, schoolchildren also stop by to learn about specific areas within human rights and work on assignments.

“We have had 13-year old schoolchildren doing research on child soldiers in Africa. It was great to see how passionate they were about this topic and even better to be able to help them with their research,” says Mr Iacos.

There is no doubt that Mr Iacos himself feels strongly about human rights and that he sees the library as an important resource and knowledge hub for those wanting to do research or simply just learn more about the anti-torture movement.

Having worked there for 15 years, he still enjoys helping visitors find the right material and he hopes to receive even more publications from researchers and authors around the world. After all, as he says, “libraries are all about centralising knowledge and it is a place for you to have your voice heard.”

To find out more about the DIGNITY Library or to book an appointment go to: http://www.reindex.org/RCT/rss/Portal.php

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Ruling indicates denial of human rights obligations in Thailand

Despite suffering arrest, beatings and forced push-ups on the burning hot concrete of a Thai military camp, Hasan Useng is not entitled to remedies and reparations for this torture.

That’s the ruling made by a Provincial Court in Thailand on 7 October 2014, one which received condemnation from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Thai policemen stand guard during a demonstration by an anti-coup protester at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 22, 2014. © AFP/Getty Images

Thai policemen stand guard during a demonstration by an anti-coup protester at a shopping mall in Bangkok on June 22, 2014.
© AFP/Getty Images

Reporting on the case, Amnesty International explain the ruling was made to prevent remedy to Hasan Useng because the military coup in May 2014 annuls Thailand’s Constitution, specifically Article 32 which assures reparations for victims of torture.

It is not the allegations which are necessarily disputed. It has been well-documented that Hasan Useng was arrested at his house in Narathiwat province. He was taken to the Inkhayuthaborihan Military Camp in Pattani province where “military personnel allegedly kicked him and ordered him to do several hundred push-ups and jumping jacks on the hot concrete in his bare feet,” according to Amnesty International.

What Hasan is being denied is rehabilitation and redress due to a pointless, inconsistent technicality.

Despite the ruling from the Thai courts, the government still has obligations under international law – specifically the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) – to provide redress and rehabilitation to victims of torture, even in a time of martial law.

What this ruling indicates is that Thailand is exploiting the military coup as a way to ignore ongoing torture allegations.

“The Hasan Useng decision highlights the concrete damage to human rights protections in Thailand resulting from the military coup, and the fact that it is now virtually impossible to hold security forces legally accountable for their actions,” said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, reporting to Amnesty International.

As already expressed by Amnesty and other human rights organisations Thailand should take immediate measures to ensure all persons alleging torture and ill-treatment should have an opportunity for prompt and effective investigation into their claims, as well as full access to rehabilitation and legal routes in their case.

To read the full article on Amnesty International’s site, click this link.

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The tough journey for DIGNITY

WWT - Members series

Nobel Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once said: “Humanity needs organizations like DIGNITY that decade after decade carry out risky, uphill, and often unrecognized work towards a world free from torture.”

More than three decades since its foundation, the arduous journey has made DIGNITY a prominent force in the global fight against torture.

2013-03-27_1722The history of DIGNITY and the IRCT are intimately related — in fact, the two organisations were one at the inception. It was only in 1997 that the two organisations went separate ways, responding to a growing need for global support in the rehabilitation of torture victims.

Today, DIGNITY is famed for its extensive research on torture and its effects. DIGNITY also holds the world’s largest collection of documents on torture and related subjects, with more than 30,000 items. These credentials make DIGNITY “the most famous torture rehabilitation center in the world”, according to former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak.

“In addition to providing hundreds of torture survivors from all world regions with medical, psychological, social and other forms of rehabilitation, DIGNITY is a leading research and documentation center on the methods of torture and its effects on human beings,” he said.

DIGNITY’s main client base are refugees in Denmark who have survived torture. Although potential patients need a residence permit in Denmark and a referral from a physician, the centre offers rehabilitation to people who have been exposed to torture, organised violence or other severely traumatising events such as war and political persecution.

These patients often suffer from flashbacks, sleep disorders and nightmares, isolation, concentration and memory difficulties, among others, making their integration into Danish society much harder.

But, since its foundation 32 years ago by Dr Inge Genefke, DIGNITY’s mission spread far beyond Denmark and the clinical services needed in Copenhagen. The centre works in places such as South Africa, India, Tunisia and Jordan aiming at reducing the effects of torture or preventing the use of torture and organised violence.

With its dedicated group of over 80 experts – and its roots deep in the movement – DIGNITY will go much further.

If you want to learn more about DIGNITY join them on 30 October in Copenhagen’s main square Rådhuspladsen. Outlandish and several other music bands will be performing on the ‘DIGNITY DAY’ to mark the organisation’s 32nd anniversary. DIGNITY will also present their yearly prize to a person who has made a remarkable contribution to the fight against torture.

 

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Finding the truth about Algeria’s disappeared

Today, much the same as 15 years ago, demonstrators in Algiers, Algeria, still campaign for the whereabouts of their loved ones.

A bloody civil war in the 1990s, culminating in a military coup in 1992 stopping Islamists from taking power, killed over 100,000 people.

 Ambarek Hamdani holds up a sign picturing his son, Djamel, who disappeared during Algeria’s civil war. © 2014 Eric Goldstein/Human Rights Watch


Ambarek Hamdani holds up a sign picturing his son, Djamel, who disappeared during Algeria’s civil war.
© 2014 Eric Goldstein/Human Rights Watch

Amidst this, families fell apart as relatives simply disappeared. Many were murdered. Others were captured.

As a recent Human Rights Watch report notes, since the end of the war there is still widespread impunity and trauma among many Algerians. Reporting in Human Rights Watch’s ‘Dispatches’ series, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division Eric Goldstein reports on his first entry to Algeria for almost a decade. He paints a bleak picture of a country refusing to approach its past.

“I find the families of those disappeared during the war still holding regular demonstrations, chanting ‘Give us back our sons’ on a sidewalk in downtown Algiers,” Eric says.

“The demonstrators have aged. Every several months since my last visit, an email arrives announcing that a parent of one of those disappeared has passed away, without having learned the fate of his or her child.”

In 2006, Algeria’s Law on Peace and National Reconciliation helped 7,000 families receive compensation for the trauma caused by the disappearances. However, the law also provided amnesty to the perpetrators of torture and forced disappearances.

Because of this, there is no justice for the victims. The truth has therefore never surfaced.

“There are those who reject compensation as long as the state does not disclose the fate of their children,” Eric says.

“For many, the truth means much more than learning if, and how, their children died, and at whose hands.”

Adapted from Dispatches: Algeria’s ‘Disappeared’ as published by Eric Goldstein of Human Rights Watch. To read the original report, click this link.

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Creating a world without torture: September in review

We round-up our blogs from September and don’t forget to keep checking the blog in the coming weeks for more. Click here to visit our Facebook page, and here to visit our Twitter feed.

War did not prepare Vaja for torture in a Georgian prison

Lying on the eastern Black Sea coast, lying north-west of Georgia and the Caucasus mountains and south-west of Russia, there is an area which does not exist as a country to many except to most of those who live there.

Vaja today

On 27 September 1993, 21 years ago this month, a Russia-backed campaign began to displace and kill Georgian settlers in the Abkhazia region following the takeover of the now-capital city of Sukhumi. Approximately 250,000 Georgians were displaced and 30,000 were killed in the ethnic cleansing campaign across the region.

To mark the occasion and to remember the atrocities that took place, the IRCT published a story on Vaja – a former soldier in the war whose trauma led to drug abuse which, in turn, led to imprisonment and torture.

Read his harrowing ordeal here.

Torture victims are victims of 9/11 too

An otherwise calm New York view as the World Trade Centre towers burn in the background following the impact of two hijacked commercial airliners (courtesy of  Sean Donohue, used via Flickr creative commons licence)

An otherwise calm New York view as the World Trade Centre towers burn in the background following the impact of two hijacked commercial airliners (courtesy of Sean Donohue, used via Flickr creative commons licence)

At the start of September, we reflected on how much of a trigger for the War on Terror the events on September 11th 2001 were, and how the prevailing treatment of terror suspects must not be forgotten even amidst the sadness of the memorial day.

While not direct victims, thousands of complaints, pictures, stories and court cases regarding torture have been seen and heard since 9/11 as the US continues to fight terrorism.

So while 9/11 is rightly marked by remembrance for the dead and the profound impact it had on America, we took time to also remember those who suffered, and are still suffering, from torture perpetrated under the guise of national security.

 

IRCT launches 26 June Global Report

DropshadowhigherqualityFollowing a successful 2014 campaign, the IRCT is launching the 26 June Global Report, providing a summary of this year’s commemorations and an insight into the many events and activities organised by torture rehabilitation centres and other organisations around the world.

A total of 110 organisations from 63 countries joined the campaign, making it the biggest 26 June campaign yet. Five years ago, that number stood at 45. The report includes an event summary from each organisation as well as colourful photographs throughout, giving the reader a chance to visualise some of the 26 June activities.

This year’s theme “Fighting Impunity” was emphasised through peaceful demonstrations, press conferences, concerts, radio shows, panel discussions and many other events. Reaching thousands of people across the globe, the IRCT and the participating organisations sent a message of support to survivors of torture and a clear call to end impunity.

Read more and the report itself here.

European IRCT members meet to discuss regional policy

Second story from the IRCT focuses on the upcoming European Regional Meeting in Zagreb, Croatia.

The topics under discussion in the meeting will include Croatia’s obligations on providing rehabilitation for torture survivors and the regional priorities for the delivery of rehabilitation services in the region. The definition of holistic rehabilitation that underpins General Comment 3 to the UN Convention against Torture, will be debated, as will the question of survivors’ involvement in the rehabilitation process.

Read more here.

Story from a Nigerian survivor of torture only reaffirms claims in Amnesty’s new torture report

NigeriaPoliceTortureRESIZED

Nigerian police unit

Whether targeting a Boko Haram suspect, an alleged criminal, a sex worker, or simply part of a minority group, a new Amnesty International report highlights how torture is endemic in Nigeria as the police and military routinely use it to extract confessions, extort money and to break the will of detainees.

To illustrate the prevalence of torture, the effects of torture and the journey through rehabilitation necessary in just one case, we turn to the story of Leo – a 27-year-old concert-goer who, after happening to stumble across the scene of an earlier robbery in the city of Nsukka, experienced four-months of suffering as the police tortured him repeatedly for a crime which he was not even part of.

The invisible crime of torture in Colombia

5We welcomed guest blogger Hannah Matthews to the team this month who provided an unflinching account of the state of torture in Colombia in the present day.

To read her observations on the topic just click this link.

 

 

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War did not prepare Vaja for torture in a Georgian prison

Lying on the eastern Black Sea coast, lying north-west of Georgia and the Caucasus mountains and south-west of Russia, there is an area which does not exist as a country to many except to most of those who live there.

Abkhazia and its state of recognition is a key issue in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. Formed out of the dissolution of the Soviet Union through the 1980s and into the nineties, Abkhazia is recognised as an independent state only by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, the partially recognised state of South Ossetia, and the similarly unrecognised Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh regions.

To the United Nations Abkhazia is part of Georgia – a part which Georgia has no control over despite the government of Abkhazia operating, in exile, in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

This conflict over recognition, and the geographic area as a whole, is now decades old. The War in Abkhazia, which began in 1992 and ended in military defeat of the Georgian army in 1993, granted independence of Abkhazia but also paved the way for the mass ethnic cleansing of Georgians living in Abkhazia.

On 27 September 1993, 21 years ago this week, a Russia-backed campaign began to displace and kill Georgian settlers in the Abkhazia region following the takeover of the now-capital city of Sukhumi. Approximately 250,000 Georgians were displaced and 30,000 were killed in the ethnic cleansing campaign across the region.

Vaja today

Vaja today

“The war was horrifying,” says Vaja today in a story published by the IRCT. “I saw so many people die, and so many of my friends were hurt. Two of my friends died in my arms during the time I served. The trauma made me unstable and became too much for me, so I turned to drugs. This landed me with a prison sentence in 2005.”

Despite efforts for peace in 1994, the situation remains tense and no resolve has been found. There is still damage from the war and from the genocide which has caused chronic trauma in the minds of many. For Vaja it is not just challenging to overcome wartime trauma but also the trauma which evolved from post-war torture.

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.

“I was beaten several times. I was beaten so hard, even in my first week in the cell, that my forehead was crushed,” Vaja decribes.

“The crushing sound of my forehead cracking was so loud. All I remember was blood pouring from my skull. I had been in war – I had seen fights, conflict, pain and death. But I had not seen anyone enjoy taking pleasure in causing pain. It was frightening to witness.”

Released in 2013, some 2,800 days after his original alleged four-year sentence, Vaja is still struggling with his wartime flashbacks and his torture.

“To this day I have flashbacks and nightmares, not just about my time in the war, but about my time in the prison during that period,” Vaja explains.

“But my experiences still trouble me. It will live with me my whole life.”

Today Vaja overcomes his trauma of war and torture thanks to assistance from IRCT member the Georgian Center for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of torture Victims (GRCT). Their help has aided him in owning a café and becoming a leader for archaeological expeditions.

“The journey to overcome torture is tough, but you can learn to live life to the fullest and move past your experiences,” Vaja concludes.

You can read Vaja’s full story here.

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The invisible crime of torture in Colombia

Despite great progress in the security over the past decades in Colombia, the use of torture is still systematic in the country.

In this blog, journalist and guest blogger Hannah Matthews, who lives in the Colombian capital Bogota, gives her view on the prevalence of torture and what attention needs to be given to the situation now to stop torture.

An almost invisible crime in the country, masked by the prevalence of extrajudicial killings and forced displacement, the issue of torture in Colombia deserves immediate international scrutiny.

It’s been one year since I moved to Bogota and, despite not witnessing torture first hand, I have encountered many human rights defenders who have spent time in prison under false charges of criminal or dissident activity.

A street in Bogota

A street in Bogota

Beyond the human rights field, social protest is criminalised at any available opportunity. Despite the peaceful nature of protests, tear gas canisters are frequently fired into the crowd and riot police adopt aggressive stances, igniting an otherwise peaceful demonstration.

Unfortunately my observations only support those made by the Colombian Coalition Against Torture, who outline how torture is used as a means of political persecution with the purpose of forcefully obtaining confessions or information, an discriminatory instrument of repression against social protest, or simply as a way to plant fear within Colombian society to prevent dissent against the authorities.

But the Colombian context is infinitely more complex than that. With so many different state and non-state actors in the mix, all torturing with different aims and purpose, complicated dynamics further convolute victims’ access to justice. The simple dichotomy between government and guerrilla groups, right and left, good and bad, that the international community continues to propagate is too simple and runs the risk of masking important issues and human rights violations that occur across the spectrum.

Due to the widespread fear and high risk associated with denouncing cases of torture, impunity reigns with very few cases ever being fully investigated or tried. Human rights defenders and other entities who speak out against the government are under constant threat of persecution and mistreatment, as are those who express their dissent through peaceful protest. The most recent and shocking examples of this could be seen in the police treatment of farmers and students marching in the agrarian strikes of this year and 2013. In 2013 at least 800 protesters were badly injured by the public security forces and 15 people were killed. Last year over 3,000 people were arrested during social protests.

2Despite the ratification of the various human rights treaties, including the Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, rights to freedom of expression and freedom from torture are not respected, protected or fulfilled in Colombia. Colombia has still not ratified or applied the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).

“Torture continues to be generalised and systematic in Colombia. It is perpetrated by the Public Force, by the paramilitaries and by the guerrillas, but the party principally responsible for these acts is the state,” said Isabelle Heyer, a member of the Colombian Jurists Commission.

This coalition has recorded instances of torture over the years in Colombia and has concluded that while the majority of cases continue to be committed by security forces, right wing militias and demobilized paramilitary groups are also at the heart of many incidences. Over 90% of the incidences of torture the coalition recorded between 2001 and 2009 were attributed to Colombian state forces, with less than 10% attributed to rebel guerrilla forces.

Current President Juan Manuel Santos has promised this year will see the signing of a historic peace agreement between the government and the most notorious guerrilla group, the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces). There is hope that this will establish a reconciliation process, but the country waits with baited breath. This process, if established, will be the tip of a huge iceberg in terms of restoring true justice and human rights principles, something very much needed for this war-torn country.

According to the Colombian Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science, 1,913 people presented signs of mistreatment between 2010 and 2014, 345 of which were women. Torture and inhuman and degrading treatment remain most common amongst the Colombian prison population.

Sexual violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive modes of torture, with Ms. Heyer from the Colombian Jurists Commission calling it “an habitual, systematic and invisible practice, which enjoys impunity in the majority of cases and whose principal perpetrators are soldiers and police.”

Among the prison population, organisations have expressed their concern about the high levels of psychological torture within prisons, with some inmates experiencing a serious lack of access to fresh running water, sufficient hygiene facilities and medical attention, as well as being subjected to verbal abuse and mistreatment from the prison guards.

All of this torture and ill-treatment though is no recent phenomena. Forty years of internal conflict, coupled with the state’s misuse of power and crackdowns on social and political opposition, means torture in Colombia remains a pertinent issue indeed. Improvements are scarce and unprogressive and any real access to justice or rehabilitation has not been assured.

Yet much of the world goes on regardless. Perhaps Colombia is too far removed from the lives of others, or simply too unknown. But it cannot go on like this forever. More needs to be done to end torture in the country. Today.

To find out more about what the IRCT is doing in Colombia through member CAPS, click this link.

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Story from a Nigerian survivor of torture only reaffirms claims in Amnesty’s new torture report

Whether targeting a Boko Haram suspect, an alleged criminal, a sex worker, or simply part of a minority group, a new Amnesty International report highlights how torture is endemic in Nigeria as the police and military routinely use it to extract confessions, extort money and to break the will of detainees.

NigeriaPoliceTortureRESIZED

Nigerian police sitting atop a police van. Picture courtesy of the Open Society Institute (OSI) ”Criminal Force Torture, Abuse, and Extrajudicial Killings by the Nigeria Police Force” report, May 2010.

The report, entitled ‘Welcome to Hell Fire’, claims torture has become widespread in the police and military hunt for members of Boko Haram – a militant Islamic group, branded as a terrorist organisation by the US, responsible for a string of attacks and death since 2009 including the Chibok Kidnapping on 276 schoolgirls in April 2014.

The report shows that the pursuit of Boko Haram has led to the torture of many suspects who have no ties to the group at all. Because of this campaign, torture has become routine. The report claims that, as a minimum, 5,000 people have been detained since 2009 when military operations began against Boko Haram. While the level of torture victims from this group cannot be fully determined, Amnesty spoke to 500 detainees, their relatives and human rights defenders, all confirming either they had been tortured or they know a detainee who has.

Consequently detainees and ordinary criminal suspects experience torture “as the main interrogation tactic… despite assurances from the Nigerian government to prevent the use of torture.” Torture practices include beatings, rape and other sexual violence, shooting to legs and arms and periods of time laid on beds of nails.

Torture in Nigeria has long been known by the IRCT, the effects of which continue to be addressed by Nigerian IRCT member Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).

To illustrate the prevalence of torture, the effects of torture and the journey through rehabilitation necessary in just one case, we turn to the story of Leo – a 27-year-old concert-goer who, after happening to stumble across the scene of an earlier robbery in the city of Nsukka, experienced four-months of suffering as the police tortured him repeatedly for a crime which he was not even part of.

Leo’s story: “I do not know now why I was tortured”

Leo, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was travelling to the city of Nsukka, in south-eastern Nigeria, hoping for a relaxing evening with friends at a music event.

Nigerian police training in 2013. Photo: INUSMA/Marco Dormino, used courtesy under Flickr creative commons licence.

Nigerian police training in 2013. Photo: INUSMA/Marco Dormino, used courtesy under Flickr creative commons licence.

On his way to the venue, Leo was approached by four security officials who claimed to recognise him from a robbery that occurred just prior to Leo’s arrival.

“The security forces were looking for a group of hoodlums who had just fled the scene next to the concert venue, and I was accused of being part of the gang,” says Leo. “I tried to explain that I had only just arrived in town, but the explanations fell on deaf ears.

“It was then that the four security guards turned on me and began to beat me,” explains Leo, who still has painful memories of his torture.

Leo’s beating escalated from punches and kicks to being hit with sticks, a shovel and even an iron. The torture continued over a period of a few hours.

“They beat me with whatever they could find nearby,” says Leo. “I had injuries all over my body. I was cut, bleeding and bruised. The pain was unbearable. I could not walk for days afterwards.”

After the beating, an unconscious Leo was taken to the local police station where he was detained, charged with robbery offences and transferred to nearby Nsukka prison, where he spent four months awaiting trial.

Leo does not recall torture while in detention and was released in May 2012 after police could not establish enough evidence against him.

“I do not know now why I was tortured,” says Leo. “I was not part of the crime scene at all and still feel shocked about the attack now, even though it was so brief.”

While in custody, Leo was approached by the team from IRCT member PRAWA, who offered counselling as a way for Leo to talk about the attack.

“The people from PRAWA helped me talk about my experience while I was in prison,” says Leo. “They understood what had happened and encouraged me to talk. They also helped to treat me for my injuries while I was in prison and offered me counselling during my time in prison and when I was released.

“My attackers are wicked people, but counselling has helped come to terms with the attack. I still see the PRAWA psychologist today to talk about any issues I have related to the attack. The attack left me feeling confused, hurt and scared. PRAWA have helped to restore my pride, and my trust in others.”

Now a labourer on a building site, Leo is thankful for his rehabilitation.

“I still feel some pains in my legs due to my injuries and my sexual life has not been the same since due to the injuries I received in the beating,” says Leo.

“But I would say that I am much better than before I met the team at PRAWA. It is good that centres like this exist, and that some people care about helping those who have been tortured regain their lives. I only hope more groups exist to fight torture in society and to provide treatments for victims like me.”

To read the stories of survivors from a range of countries on the IRCT website, click this link.

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From Melbourne to Copenhagen to join the IRCT team

We hear from the newest member of the IRCT Communications Team, Marie Dyhr, who discusses her reasons for joining the IRCT, what challenges lie ahead in her role and what she will be doing on the World Without Torture blog in the future.

IMAG0042After residing in Australia for more than four years, I decided it was time to leave my adopted home of Melbourne to pursue new challenges in my home country, Denmark. Those who live in Denmark or are familiar with the Danish weather might question my decision to leave the paradise that is ‘Down Under’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was not the prospect of riding my bike in rainy conditions while fighting the inevitable headwind that convinced me to move back. It was rather the chance to realise my dream of working for a human rights organisation.

Since my university days, I have wanted to combine my interest in human rights with my background in communications and public relations and when I was offered a job with the IRCT communications team in Copenhagen, I knew it was time to pack up my stuff and book a one-way ticket to Scandinavia.

I have only worked with the IRCT for a couple of weeks now, but I have no doubts that I have found the right place and I look forward to providing those interested in the IRCT and its work with rehabilitation, justice and prevention of torture with interesting stories and updates.

As already mentioned, my background is communications and public relations. I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Copenhagen Business School before relocating to the Southern Hemisphere where I earned my Masters in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University in Melbourne. I also spent some time in New York interning at the United Nations Headquarters, which reinforced my interest in human rights.

I then further honed my skills working at a communications and public relations firm in Melbourne where I spent three years working with clients from a wide range of industries and sectors.

Joining the IRCT

I am very excited about being part of an organisation that supports the rehabilitation of torture victims and the prevention of torture worldwide.

In all regions of the world, crimes of torture are committed every day against men, women and children. In most cases, no one is prosecuted and punished for these crimes. To make matters worse, the consequences of torture reach far beyond immediate pain with victims suffering from various conditions such as severe anxiety, insomnia, depression and memory lapses.

Having spent several years in Australia, I am very interested in Australian news and politics. Recently, I witnessed the Government getting tough on asylum seekers arriving by boat. Referring to asylum seekers and alleged victims of torture as ‘Boat people’ and ‘Illegals’, the Australian Government has been accused of breaching human rights by introducing a highly controversial offshore processing policy.
I certainly do not believe that what is happening in Australia is an isolated case. If anything, it goes to show that issues and problems related to torture are not just confined to certain regions or countries.

For that reason alone, it is vital that we give torture victims a voice and share their stories and that we as citizens listen to these stories and take a united stand against torture. It is also our responsibility to remind our leaders of the principle of accountability and transparency, ensuring that they are committed to helping victims of torture. The greatest threat to the fight against torture is apathy: that we silently accept that torture exists.

I feel very honoured to be able to work for an organisation that aims to bring to light the realities of torture. It is deeply humbling to see that so many people in need have received the support and rehabilitation they are entitled to – a testament to the work of the IRCT and its member organisations.

But we can always do more.

As part of the IRCT communications team, it is my role to discover the stories of survivors of torture and to share these stories with as many of you as possible so we can all understand the effects of torture and what can be done to rehabilitate survivors. It is very inspiring to see how committed each IRCT member centre is to helping victims of torture and I look forward to working together with the centres to bring to light important news and issues.

It is a pleasure to be here and I hope my work with the IRCT can contribute to the fight against torture, and can help survivors seek rehabilitation and justice. I also hope that you will visit the World Without Torture blog to read our latest posts and stay up to date with our work.

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Detention, imprisonment and torture: The new life of the Al-Khawajas

When Maryam Al-Khawaja announced her trip to visit Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain last week, following the recommencement of his hunger strike, all seemed well. The trip was to simply see how her father was faring.

Yet her assessment of his condition never came. In the morning of 30 August, Maryam posted a series of tweets on Twitter outlining how she was immediately detained on arrival with security forces claiming she is “not a Bahraini citizen”:

“I’m denied entry. I’m starting a water-only hunger strike. I won’t voluntarily leave. My only demand is to be let into my country.”

Human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja spoke to us about the often unseen torture in Bahrain: http://wp.me/p1FGNE-rJ

Human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja spoke to us about the often unseen torture in Bahrain: http://wp.me/p1FGNE-rJ

Since then Maryam has been posting regular updates on her situation, from her declaration of beginning a water-only hunger strike and the snippets of conversations she hears from guards who wish to deport her.

Now, five days after her detention, her Twitter account has changed. A third-party is writing the tweets for her; news is sparse; and the condition of her father, Abdulhadi, must be deteriorating.

Ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and torture are no distant themes to Maryam, her family and her friends. Maryam and her colleagues – and those associated to those colleagues – have been continual targets for their role in supporting human rights in Bahrain through the criminalised Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

A long friend of the IRCT, Maryam has spoken in the past about the appalling human rights record of Bahrain, what the international community needs to do to recognise the abuses and the situation facing her family and friends on a daily basis.

The year 2011 marked the beginning of the now well-documented struggle for the Al-Khawajas. Following several years of banning from the Bahrain state, head of the BCHR Nabeel Rajab (himself only recently released from prison for his role in the centre) and Maryam began travelling the world to speak out about the situation in Bahrain, the vicious crackdowns on protestors and the torture which exists in the Bahrain prison network. It is a story Maryam knows all too well – her father, on hunger strike now, was arrested in April 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Maryam’s sister Zainab was then targeted and has been subjected to repeated arrest, long-term detention, harassment, and physical abuse, including facing ongoing charges in relation to calling for her father’s freedom. Zainab was released on bail in February 2014, after almost a year’s detention on the oft-cited charges of “insulting the King”, a charge which can lead to seven years imprisonment. Now seven months pregnant, Zainab faces trial again in October. If sentenced she could ultimately give birth inside prison.

Next on the arrest list was Maryam’s long-term friend and colleague Nabeel Rajab. In April 2012, amidst protests to cancel the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, Nabeel was arrested and sentenced to prison for having “insulted” Bahraini authorities via Twitter – a landmark ruling at the time as social media dissent had not been punished quite so harshly.

Thankfully Nabeel was released in May 2014, but his experience inside was harrowing. He was beaten, interrogated, left in solitary confinement with a dead animal and stripped naked on many occasions.

It is this prevalent treatment which worries human rights organisations now. Maryam’s father has already undergone major surgery in the past to treat the torture he received in Bahraini jail. And as Maryam told World Without Torture last year, her sister has been a victim of continued harassment, threats and beatings during her time in jail also.

Right now, according to BCHR, Maryam is facing “charges of assault and battery against on-duty public employees during their performance of official duty,” alleging Maryam attacked a lieutenant and another policewoman and injured them when they asked her to hand over her mobile phone at the airport.

Her lawyer has been denied access to her, as have her family. She has been moved to the Isa Town women prison and placed with two convicted criminals.

There is a high degree of urgency in assuring the safety of Ms Al-Khawaja, particularly considering the abuse which her family has suffered in the past.

Maryam’s release must come now. The world is watching.

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