Posts Tagged human rights

26 June is here: Join us in fighting impunity


The 26 June UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is here. Organisations and human rights defenders across the globe are standing united right now to end impunity, the theme of this year’s 26 June campaign – and you can join them with your voice today.

Social media:

Throughout the day World Without Torture’s Facebook and Twitter pages will be updated with the latest information on what groups across the globe are doing to mark this important day. Don’t forget to use the hashtags #26June and #NoMoreImpunity wherever you can.

Global map of events:

You can see on our global map to find out exactly what IRCT centres are holding today – and in the coming weeks – to help create a world without torture.

IRCT Global Reading for 26 June:Poster5-150

Every day crimes of torture are committed across the globe and, in many of these cases, justice is never served – the perpetrators are still free and the victims are denied any access to rehabilitation.

But there is hope and organisations across the world are attempting to create a world without torture. You can read and share the full global reading here (also in French and Spanish) to get an idea of how the work we do is having a positive impact on the world, even if at times the fight against torture seems lengthy.

26 June campaign kit:

If you want to use any of our campaign materials still then please do so by clicking this link.

Here you will find all the posters, factsheets and statements relating to the 26 June.

What is happening right now?

Already organisations around the world have begun hosting their events: ASeTTS in Australia have hosted their panel meeting on how to fight impunity; Fora Penal in Venezuela are holding a forum on impunity; BCHRD in Bangladesh are standing united to promote the rights of torture victims; and APT have created an excellent video explaining what impunity is. These are just some of the hundreds of organisations who will mark the fight against impunity and torture today.

Those who tortured you to speak now want you silent.
Join us in the fight against impunity #NoMoreImpunity.


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‘The Act of Killing’ to feature in IRCT’s 26 June campaign

This year the 26 June Global Campaign has teamed up with the team behind Oscar-nominated documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ to distribute free film screenings to mark the day of fighting impunity.

A shot from critically-acclaimed The Act of Killing

A shot from critically-acclaimed The Act of Killing

The film, from Joshua Oppenheimer, portrays a society shaped by extreme violence, where past atrocities are yet to be reconciled and painful memories are yet to be incorporated into public discourse. By reflecting on the condition of impunity, the film raises critical questions related to this year’s campaign theme: fighting impunity.

To mark the day the film team are allowing those hosting 26 June campaigns across the world to host the film for free, for a limited period of time.

So far 15 centres have received permission from the filmmakers to host a screening with four screenings planned in the next few weeks by BCHRD  in Bangladesh,  RCTV Memoria in Moldova, HRO in Sri Lanka, Ethel AMSA in the Phillipinnes, and CVT in Kenya.

Now you can join too.

How to host a screening

To host a screening all you need to do is write our friend Elinor from ( and let her know you wish to screen the film as part of your 26 June campaign. She will send you an agreement for a one-time screening and you will receive the film in a suitable format, depending on your needs.

Also if you wish to invite the director for a post-screening discussion via Skype, you can do that too. Just let Elinor know and she will check on availability.

It is an exciting development for this year’s campaign, which promises to be the biggest yet.

For all the relevant material for the campaign this year, click this link.

Those who tortured you to speak now want you silent.
Join us in fighting impunity on 26 June.


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Improving torture documentation in Germany

As the number of conflicts around the world rises, so do the numbers of people seeking asylum. One particular region aimed for by many asylum seekers is Europe, with Germany accepting the most asylum seekers in 2013.

Yet simply accepting asylum seekers and refugees is not enough – their health condition must be documented, as well as any traumatic experiences, so these refugees are not abandoned in their new home. In this context the right skills to document torture become paramount, and two IRCT members in Germany are offering training courses to improve the documentation of torture in Germany.

logogermanyAccording to a survey of the United Nations, Germany was, with 109,600 new asylum applications in 2013, “the largest single recipient of new asylum claims among the group of industrialized countries”.

In 2013, the Federal Bureau for Migration and Refugees presided over 80,978 asylum cases. Only 1.1 % of the applicants were granted full asylum; 12.3 % received refugee status; and 11.4 % received other residence permits. A total of 38.5 % were denied asylum and for another 36.7 % “formal decisions” were made.

Figures show that the majority of these asylum seekers come from regions where there is ongoing war, crisis, or political, religious or ethnical persecution. Such countries include Syria, the Russian Federation (mainly Chechnya), Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Eritrea. Also many Roma from Serbia and others from Bosnia and Herzegovina seek asylum.

Between thirty and forty percent of these refugees and asylum seekers in Germany are severely traumatized. Many have, either in their home countries or on their journey to Europe, suffered torture and other severe human rights violations. Survivors of torture often show serious psychological and psychosomatic symptoms and also sometimes physical consequences of torture, and are therefore in urgent need of help.

However, according to a report of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), 72% of the centres for the treatment and rehabilitation of traumatized refugees and torture victims, questioned in Europe and beyond, state that there is no special “procedure in place to identify victims of torture within the national asylum procedure”.

Helping maintain standards

Recognised standards for the examination and documentation of alleged torture cases – such as the Istanbul Protocol and an analogue model and curriculum for Germany “Standards for the examination of psychologically traumatized persons (available in German only)”  – have existed since 2001. Since then trainings under both standards have been realised in Germany by the Chamber of Doctors and Psychologists, together with IRCT members Center for Treatment of Torture Victims (bzfo) in Berlin and the Medical Care Service for Refugees Bochum (MFH).

Also in Germany, in Hamburg, protestors call for greater rights for refugees (courtesy of Refugee Welcome Centre, used under creative commons licence)

Also in Germany, in Hamburg, protestors call for greater rights for refugees (courtesy of Refugee Welcome Centre, used under creative commons licence)

There is a lack of trained experts on the forensic documentation of torture and when, though rarely, courts call for expert opinions on asylum processes, any health professional can be called. However, not every health professional specialises in the effects of torture, thereby rendering a great number of reports and medical certificates insufficient in these matters.

It is crucial for the therapeutic success as well as for the asylum procedure to identify victims of torture and other severe human rights violations at an early stage. Otherwise, time will already have passed before torture survivors go through any examinations, leading to the consequence that their trauma may become chronic.

Psychological consequences of torture

Not every torture survivor shows psychological or physical disorders, nevertheless the absence of physical or psychological consequences of torture does in no way proof that torture has not taken place. Those victims which have undergone a psychiatric-psychological examination though predominantly show severe symptoms, the most common being post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Besides an adequate therapeutic treatment, it is further necessary that the refugees concerned benefit from the full range of possibilities offered by rehabilitation and the acknowledgement, socially as well as legally, of the injustice that has been done to them. The denial of acknowledgment and justice can have severe negative effects on the therapeutic process of victims of torture. To tackle this, in 2011 the Medical Care Service for Refugees Bochum (MFH) has established a work area called “Justice heals” which deals with the predominant problem of impunity of perpetrators all over the world.

In order to close the gap between needed knowledge and lack of training possibilities in Germany concerning the preparation of medico-legal reports, the Professorship for Medical Ethics of the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) and the Center for Treatment of Torture Victims (bzfo) in Berlin – together with the Medical Care Service for Refugees Bochum (MFH) – are offering interdisciplinary seminars on the examination and documentation of torture.

These seminars are addressed in particular to physicians of all fields as well as psychologists, jurists and other professionals which potentially having to deal with survivors of torture. The seminars provide insight into the main features of legal, psychological and somatic aspects of the documentation of torture, complemented by workshops for the respective topics. The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) has taken over patronage for the seminars.

Seminar Locations

Berlin: 28. – 29. June 2014
Haus der Demokratie und Menschenrechte
Greifswalder Straße 4

Düsseldorf: 5. – 6. July 2014
Ärztekammer Nordrhein | Tersteegenstraße 9

Munich: 26. – 27. July 2014
EineWeltHaus | Schwanthalerstr. 80

For further information please visit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Call to close Guantánamo Bay is marked around the globe

Adapted from a piece written by Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign

For 12 years, 154 men facing terrorism charges have been held in a prison camp where conditions are inhumane and where torture has been documented. Still these men await any trial in this illegal prison.

The poster for 23 May campaign

The poster for 23 May campaign

It sounds unrealistic, but this is the situation in US-run prison camp Guantánamo Bay – one of the most potent symbols of torture and injustice in the world today. But despite this injustice being known among many, political inaction and lack of mainstream media attention has meant the issue of closing Guantánamo has slipped from the radar.

And that is why the Global Day of Action to Close Guantánamo, on 23 May, was such an important international event. Marking a year since President Obama pledged to shut the camp – following a mass hunger strike by prisoners against abuse from guards – the day saw over 30 human rights organisations across the world calling for the end of the prison.

Highlights from across the globe

In London, the London Guantánamo Campaign organised a lunchtime demonstration in Trafalgar Square involving 70 activists, some wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods, holding placards reading: “Not Another Day in Guantánamo”.

As well as calling for the closure of Guantánamo, activists used a larger-than-life inflatable model of British resident Shaker Aamer to call for the return of this prisoner, who has long been cleared for release, to his family in London. The silent protest drew a lot of positive interest from the public, many of whom were unaware of the situation due to the lack of media coverage.


Protestors march through the streets of Krakow

In Krakow, Poland, a handful of protesters held a peaceful demonstration outside the US consulate.

Leaflets were distributed which summarised the situation in Guantánamo Bay and also drew attention to the secret CIA ‘black site’ – used to torture and interrogate suspect Al-Qaeda members – which Poland established in return for an alleged 15 million dollars.


GermanyIn Munich, Germany, around a dozen people gathered at the Odeonsplatz in the evening.

Some of the protesters wore orange jumpsuits and all held up placards calling for the closure of Guantánamo as well as welcoming Moroccan prisoner Younous Chekkouri who has been asked by the US for Germany to accept him as Chekkouri has family in Germany. The two-hour protest travelled to various well-known sites around the city.


In Toronto, Canada, a handful of protesters dressed in orange jumpsuits gathered in Dundas Square at lunchtime to demand the closure of Guantánamo and raise awareness about Omar Khadr, the former Guantánamo child prisoner who is the only person to have been tried and convicted as an adult since World War II for alleged war crimes committed as a minor. Khadr is currently serving out the remainder of his sentence in Canada, where the government and the media continue to vilify him.

In Mexico City, a handful of people held a protest outside the US Embassy, and in Sydney, Australia, the 23 May was used for a social media campaign with a public meeting held the next day. The crowded meeting, attended by dozens of people, included a screening of the film The Road to Guantánamo, and was followed by talks by human rights activists and former prisoner David Hicks.

In the US, hundreds of people took part in over 40 actions across the country, ranging from over one hundred protesters in New York’s Times Square to a protest outside the White House. Lawyers for the prisoners and activists spoke at the larger events and, in an attempt to send a clear message to the government, tourist sites and government buildings were also targeted for rallies.

Raising awareness

In many cases, passers-by seemed oblivious to the protest, or even that Guantánamo was still in operation. Nonetheless, the very public and visual actions helped to raise a large amount of awareness about the torture and inhuman treatment inmates are still subjected to inside the facilities. All of the activists and organisations involved are committed to holding the US president to his promise and will continue to bring pressure when they can wherever they are until the closure of Guantánamo is no longer the subject of political speeches but of history classes.

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On the Forefront: Providing safety for refugees in Italy

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Bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, the country of Eritrea lies in a geographic location where cross-border political, religious, economic and social problems have caused conflict, poverty, and extensive human rights abuses.

A former Italian colony, Eritrea is a place many want to escape – each year thousands of citizens attempt to flee persecution and ill-treatment enforced by the one-party state.

A boat of migrants arrives on the island of Lampedusa. Picture courtesy of No Borders Network, used under Flickr Creative Commons licence.

A boat of migrants arrives on the island of Lampedusa. Picture courtesy of No Borders Network, used under Flickr Creative Commons licence.

One way to flee is to reach the Libyan coast where travel to Europe is possible by sea. It is a practice that was unnoticed by many in Europe, one which only hit the headlines in October 2013 when a boat 20-metres in length, carrying 518 people, sank near the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Italy. Of the passengers in the Lampedusa tragedy, who each paid almost £1,000 to make the trip, 366 died.

It was clear in this tragedy, and many more which have followed, that there is a pressing problem in Eritrea, but also one largely unspoken of regarding the difficulty in seeking refuge overseas.

To allow refugees a safer passage into Europe, IRCT member Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati (CIR, Italian Council for Refugees) has launched a new campaign focusing on the concept of ‘refuge’.

The campaign examines what is meant by the term refuge and how the definition differs depending on your circumstances. To some, seeking refuge means a quiet break in the countryside, or perhaps a holiday away from daily stresses. But to the victims in the Lampedusa tragedy, refuge ultimately meant their lives.

At the core of the campaign is a 30 second video with a slideshow of the images in quick succession, ending with the photograph of the coffins from Lampedusa and the question: “Italian Refuge?”

The poster advertising the campaign

The poster advertising the campaign

The campaign aims to inform Italians about how overwhelmingly difficult it is for refugees to come to Europe without risking their lives, and the Italian Council for Refugees hopes it can also raise funds for their ongoing work with asylum seekers and refugees.

Founded in 1990 with support of UNHCR, CIR is one of the most important humanitarian organisations in Italy. CIR’s mission is to defend the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, to establish an integrated and efficient system to manage the phases of resettlement, and to highlight the human rights obligations enshrined by the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and by more recently enforced through a range of European regulations.

Since their inception, CIR has helped 100,000 persons with the challenges of resettlement, and with treatment for a range of pre-existing conditions and traumatic experiences exhibited by asylum seekers.

Part of their work is to ensure victims of torture and ill-treatment, who have often fled conflict in their homeland, are treated equally in their new society. For this to become a reality, it is of paramount importance that these asylum seekers – who are also victims of torture in some cases – are rehabilitated.

Politically independent, CIR’s activities focus on restoring dignity, regardless of the background of the individual. The only occasion where CIR’s work is politically aimed is through campaigns like this – campaigns which seek to improve the conditions for those forced to flee their home.

Watch the Youtube video promoting the campaign below and let us know what you think.

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Amnesty campaign reveals two-faced approach to torture across the globe

“Governments around the world are two-faced on torture – prohibiting it in law, but facilitating it in practice” says Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, speaking at the launch of their new ‘Stop Torture’ campaign.

Unfortunately, he’s not far wrong.

Since 1984, 155 states have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), one of the most important human rights documents in ridding the world of torture. Yet today, 30 years after its creation, more than half of the states party to the convention are still practising torture.

Over the last five years, Amnesty International has documented on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in at least 141 countries. (Picture courtesy of ©Amnesty International)

Over the last five years, Amnesty International has documented on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in at least 141 countries. (Picture courtesy of ©Amnesty International)

According to a new global survey from Amnesty International, 79 signatories of the UNCAT are still torturing. And despite a global legal ban on torture, those 40 UN states who have not adopted the convention are torturing too.

To stop this, Amnesty’s ‘Stop Torture’ campaign uses stories from survivors of torture and data collected from their global survey to call for the end of torture.

Amnesty’s survey found nearly half (44%) of respondents – from 21 countries across every continent – fear they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country.

But conversely, the survey also revealed that attitudes towards torture must change to allow concrete changes to ill-treatment practices. The vast majority of respondent (82%) believe there should be clear laws against torture, however more than a third (36%) still thought torture could be justified in certain circumstances.

“Torture is not just alive and well – it is flourishing in many parts of the world,” Mr Shetty continues. “As more governments seek to justify torture in the name of national security, the steady progress made in this field over the last thirty years is being eroded.”

Since its inception the IRCT has worked across the globe to prevent torture and to provide rehabilitation and redress for the survivors of torture. As Amnesty International’s research shows, there is still a long way to go to completely stop torture. For the change to happen, states need to provide protective mechanisms to prevent and punish torture.

Amnesty International’s global work against torture will continue, but will focus in particular on five countries where torture is rife: Mexico; Philippines; Morocco and Western Sahara; Nigeria; and Uzbekistan.

Over the coming months Amnesty will publish reports with specific recommendations for each country to form the spine of the campaign.

For more information on the Stop Torture campaign, click this link.


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On the forefront: Pioneering mental health care in Gaza

WWT - Members series

“A Palestinian society that respects human rights and in which people live in dignity, free of oppression, and feel that their well-being is promoted.” It is a bold mission in present day Palestine and the Gaza Strip, but it is one which the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) has been dedicated to since 1990.

Since its establishment the GCMHP, based in the Gaza Strip, has given special consideration to Palestinian victims of human rights violations, particularly those who have experienced torture during detention and still feel the effects of their experience both physically and psychologically.gaza1

The GCMHP was also one of the main platforms of work for global mental health pioneer Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, who died, aged 70, in December 2013.

El-Sarraj founded the GCMHP in 1990 and continued to work with the team to provide rehabilitation for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, especially women and children.

Speaking with Al Jazeera following El-Sarraj’s death, Husam El-Nounou, who worked alongside him at the GCMHP for 22 years, said the GCMHP has helped some 35,000 Palestinians since its creation.


Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj

“Dr. Sarraj paved the way for a discipline that was not well-known, a discipline that was stigmatized not only for the patients, but also for the workers. He lit a candle and he founded an enlightened movement for Gaza and for Palestine,” El-Nounou told Al Jazeera at the time.

To alleviate the impact of torture and organized violence in the Gaza Strip, the GCMHP helps victims coping with traumatic experiences and builds the capacity of professionals working with the effects of imprisonment and torture in the region.

Through prison visits, therapy sessions, education and campaigning, GCMHP hope that past human rights violations can be overcome, and that future human rights violations can be prevented.

To find out more about GCMHP, click this link.

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Syrian snapshots: Another Spring in Ma’arrat al-Numan

In our latest blog we hear from Ida Harriet Rump, a photographer and student in Middle Eastern studies at Lund University, Sweden, who has regularly travelled through Syria since 2006.

Ida spent around one year in Damascus and, after the conflict began in 2011, Ida has twice visited north-western city Idlib with grassroots solidarity network Witness Syria – an initiative connecting activists inside and outside of the country.

Throughout her travels, Ida has seen the damage of the conflict, the pain it causes families and refugees, and has heard stories of torture along the way. In her first blog for World Without Torture, Ida uses a series of pictures to capture the fear, hope and everyday life in the city of Ma’arrat al-Numan.

One of the main streets in Ma'arra

One of the main streets in Ma’arra

Ma’arrat al-Numan is a city in the Idlib region, 200km south of the Turkish border. Before the Syrian revolution, the city was known for it’s historical mosque, the 10th century philosopher Abdul al-Ma’arri, and a small museum presenting parts of the long local history.


Immediately after Ma’arrat al-Numan was freed in the fall 2012, the heavy shelling of the city began. Today Ma’arrat al-Numan is infamous for having more than 60% of its houses and buildings destroyed by a campaign of continuous heavy shelling. More than 90% of the inhabitants have fled the area.


3 Returned street life of Ma'arra

Despite the deaths of more than 1,000 people from the city, economic hardship, trauma, and a lack of all basic necessities such as water, electricity and heating, the citizens of Ma’arrat al-Numan struggle to build a new and better life.


For many citizens in the liberated areas, they voluntarily engage in society and participate to improve and build projects for the common good. In particular, many women volunteer in primary schools to respond the problem that many children have lost several years of schooling due to the situation.


Basmat Amal, a local relief group, is one of city’s prime promoters of sustainable projects to address some of the difficulties that citizens encounter in their everyday life. They have built a soap factory to secure independence of foreign imports, a bread oven, and a non-profit shop that sells all the daily commodities 15-50% cheaper than the general regional prices. All self-sustainable projects aim to counter the fast growing inflation that triggers growing poverty among Syrians.


9 Traces from one the regime airplanes

Not a day goes by in Ma’arrat al-Numan where you do not hear the threatening sounds of the regime airplanes or helicopters, or the exchange of fire from the frontline of Wadi al-Deif just at the eastern border of the city.

Each time the regime airplanes approach, distant bursts of the gunfire echo through the air. Before the planes deliver their bombs, they have to dive closer to their targets, and warning shots are fired from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades to warn the airplanes not to get anywhere near their fire range. Most Syrians are against foreign interventions but request that the FSA are equipped with rockets that can keep the airplanes away from the civilian areas.


10 A regime helicopter hang in the air

Each time the planes are in the air, citizens look to the sky and  run to their houses if the planes get too close. As one citizen sardonically noted while watching a regime helicopter in the sky: “The Syrian people have developed chronic neck problems from looking to the sky.”


11 A group of Ma'arra al-Numan's streadfast women

A group of Ma’arra al-Numan’s streadfast women

The most common way Syrians describe their everyday handling of the conflict is that “it has become normal”.

But in the trustful setting of the home, women often expresses the problematic side effects of the shelling. The women may not be more affected by the shelling, just more honest towards their feelings when they put in words how they have to deal with trauma. Yet the fact remains they tackle chronic headaches, overwhelming fear, planes and bombings on a daily basis.

They talk about the side effects that are not related to the destruction of buildings or killings of people – they talk of how they are struggling with stress and anxiety, and how this causes involuntary abortions. One woman told how her daughter hides under tables in the house each time she hears the sounds of the planes, and how she and her children strongly wish to leave the country but at the same time are proud about their steadfastness. After all, leaving would cause other problems and worries for their family.

In her next blog, Ida shall recount the stories of torture she has heard while travelling through Syria.

To find out more about the Witness Syria programme email:



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Hungary’s torturous past: Inside the House of Terror

Following a recent trip to Budapest, Hungary, IRCT Communications Officer Ashley Scrace recounts his visit to the House of Terror – a part-museum, part-memorial recounting the torture in the city.

The torture chamber (picture courtesy of Rajmund Fekete, House of Terror museum)

The torture chamber at the House of Terror (picture courtesy of Rajmund Fekete, House of Terror museum)

To tourists and locals, Andrássy út in Budapest is renowned as one of the grandest roads through the sprawling eastern Pest side of the city. But Budapest’s beautiful boulevard has a dark past, one punctuated by torture, terror, and death.

Based in the former headquarters for the secret police of both the Nazi and Communist governments, the House of Terror at number 60 Andrássy út is a museum-memorial reflecting on the terrifying decades of Nazi and Communist repression across Hungary.

Much of the museum features exhibits relating to the torture during the regimes, with particular focus on the extermination of the Jewish population across Budapest by the Nazis and the Communists.

Towards the end of World War II, Budapest was overpowered by the Nazi-affiliated Arrow Cross Movement – a movement which did its best to continue the will of the Nazis and exterminate all of Budapest’s Jewish population. From one-by-one shootings in the streets, to hangings and group executions into the freezing River Danube, they executed hundreds of Jews from across the city.

Another place for executions, extensive torture, and interrogation, was the basement of  60 Andrássy út, where the House of Terror stands today. When the communists moved into Hungary in the late-1940s’, they took over the same building used by the Arrow Cross movement as the headquarters of their secret police (the ÁVO, later renamed ÁVH).

By the time the transition to Stalinist rule was complete in 1949, the headquarters were already feared and known as a place of torture used to silence not only the Jewish population, but to silence any civilians whose views differed to those of the state.

It was in the basement where, until the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, ‘enemies of the state’ were tortured an imprisoned. In order to remember this today, the museum carefully recreates the torture chambers and prison cells used by the secret police, complete with some original torture devices.

Another torture chamber (picture courtesy of Rajmund Fekete, House of Terror museum)

Another torture chamber (picture courtesy of Rajmund Fekete, House of Terror museum)

It’s an eerie experience to walk around these chambers, knowing you are treading on a past hub of torture. The prisoners in these cells had no hope, and while not all of them were killed under interrogation, the torture ruined their lives and the lives of their families for years to come.

The historical context of both the Nazi and Communist regimes are summarised across a series of information boards, pictures and video clips which becoming increasingly chilling as the journey through the museum unravels. And the entrance hall, which features pictures of all victims of torture in the building, haunts you as you enter and exit the museum.

It is harrowing to think that some of the elderly locals who visit the museum perhaps have personal ties to some of the victims, and perpetrators, listed in the museum. The dark history of Hungary is, after all, not that far in the past.

Thankfully the life of 60 Andrássy út transformed following the 1956 revolution – it became a local Communist youth club. But the traumatic, horrifying atmosphere of the building remains, even with renovation. The walls of the building do contain stories, stories which are perhaps too dark or distressing to ever fully be told.

But the House of Terror does a good job of telling these stories. While criticisms exist regarding the narrow focus of the exhibits – which specifically omit some Hungarian sympathies which existed at the time towards the extermination of the Jews – the museum overall paints an insightful, disturbing picture of the past, reminding visitors just how incapacitating torture is and why it is torture, not communities, which should be eradicated.

For more information on the museum, please click this link.

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