Posts Tagged torture

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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Creating a world without torture: August in review

We round-up our blogs from August 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.

The US and torture: Ignorance, arrogance and denial

Over the past month many blogs have focused on the continuing involvement, direct or indirect, of the US in torture across the world.

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of  Isabel Esterman)

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of Isabel Esterman)

As continued pressure grows on the US to release in full the CIA torture report, which highlights the extent of torture perpetrated by the CIA against terror suspects post-9/11, we reminded critics of the CIA to also remember that the torture methods and devices were designed by doctors – doctors who have a duty to heal, not harm. While the CIA role cannot be understated, the role of medical personnel in designing torture must be accounted for also.

Overseas, we joined hundreds of human rights organisations in calling for the US military to be held accountable for the deaths and torture of Afghani civilians and for better practices to ensure that families of the dead are made aware of the circumstances of death immediately. Currently many families simply do not know the true fate of their loved ones. This blindness prevent them not only knowing the truth, but also accessing justice and rehabilitation. This has to end.

 

New rehabilitation modes taking torture and culture seriously

Still in the US, but a more positive note, we looked at one program from the Harvard Program in Refugee Torture which is helping Cambodian survivors of torture overcome the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.

torture journalToday Cambodians still come to terms with the Khmer Rouge regime, one which is still being brought to justice, most recently with the life sentences of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, two figureheads of the regime.

For the survivors, justice only does so much. For many their families are destroyed and those who tortured them have already escaped punishment throughout the majority of their lives.

The article, which you can read here, is set to feature in the new edition of Torture Journal also.

 

Underground torture in Lebanon

Several floors under the busy Adlieh intersection in east Beirut, hundreds of people suffer harsh interrogation and torture in a makeshift detention centre.

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

It is a place unknown to many – thousands of commuters pass over the site every day. But it is a place very much present in the minds of refugees in the city, some of whom have spent time in this underground chamber.

It is this clandestine chamber that IRCT member centre Nassim for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture at the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) exposed and campaigned against on this year’s 26 June — the latest call of many to end torture and impunity in Lebanon.

You can read more on CLDH’s campaign to end the detention centre by clicking this link.

 

Australia can no longer deny that its treatment of asylum seekers does not constitute torture

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Criticism of the Australian policy on detaining and deporting asylum seekers with little consideration for their wellbeing quietened over August. That was until Dr Peter Young, former director of IHMS mental health services, the company responsible for healthcare in all of Australia’s detention centres, boldly confronted what many have suspected for a long time: treatment in Australia’s asylum seeker detention centres is akin to torture.

We congratulated Dr Young for his honesty. Read more about it here.

 

Two different but effective rehabilitation programmes from two IRCT members

The 143 IRCT members across the world are working tirelessly every day to ensure survivors of torture are rehabilitated, given access to reparations and justice and that torture is prevented within their contexts.

This month we focused on two centres in particular who are using art forms to rehabilitate torture survivors.

The first was the Accoglenza e Cura Vittime di Tortura (Vi.To.) project, funded via the European Union’s EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) for IRCT member the Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati (CIR) (Italian Council for Refugees). Staff at the centre use theatre to help refugees and torture survivors overcome their experiences, build their self-esteem and teach them valuable new skills.

You can read more about the project and see all the pictures here.

Secondly we focused on Freedom from Torture in the UK and their “Write to Life” project. A creative writing group the “Write to Life” project is one of the most powerful therapy programmes on offer. It has been meeting continuously every two-weeks for 12 years, has produced a formidable body of writing, and the participating torture survivors have reported that the group has aidedtheir rehabilitation – not bad for an initiative initially dismissed by some medical experts. You can read more about it here.

 

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Fighting human rights abuses in Lebanon

WWT - Members series

Several floors under the busy Adlieh intersection in east Beirut, hundreds of people suffer harsh interrogation and torture in a makeshift detention centre.

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

It is a place unknown to many – thousands of commuters pass over the site every day. But it is a place very much present in the minds of refugees in the city, some of whom have spent time in this underground chamber.

It is this clandestine chamber that IRCT member centre Nassim for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture at the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) exposed and campaigned against on this year’s 26 June — the latest call of many to end torture and impunity in Lebanon.

Migrants and refugees remain the main targets of torture and arbitrary detention in Lebanon, and those are the main groups CLDH supports since their establishment in 2006.

CLDH was created by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily), which has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human rights violations.

CLDH monitors the human rights situation in Lebanon and through regular press conferences, workshops and advocacy activities, continually reminds the state of their international human rights obligations. The centre also documents cases of torture and human rights violations.

One of the overarching aims of the CLDH team on the ground is to determine exactly what happens to all arrested and missing persons in Lebanon, from the time of arrest to sometimes, unfortunately, their death. By working with the IRCT, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, these cases are actively monitored and reported.

CLDH’s torture rehabilitation centre opened in 2007, providing multi-disciplinary professional support and case management for victims of torture and their families.

Whether working in clandestine chambers under the ground in east Beirut or on the 7th floor of Bakhos Building, where their office is located, CLDH is an important institution in Beirut and an key element of the fight against torture and human rights abuses in Lebanon.

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Combatting chronic impunity in Colombia

Based in Bogotá, Colombia, the Centre for Psychological Assistance (CAPS) treats around 300 clients per year and focuses primarily on the psychological treatment of torture victims – something much needed in a country where thousands of forced disappearances during decades of internal conflict impacted on families for generations.

Police controlling unrest in Bogota (used courtesy of  Antena Mutante under Flickr creative commons licence)

Police controlling unrest in Bogota (used courtesy of Antena Mutante under Flickr creative commons licence)

Today the effects are still being felt, effects running parallel to continued claims of torture at the hands of the police. Currently over 5,000 political prisoners are detained across the country and torture is still widespread, despite Colombia signing the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Alongside this is a culture of impunity as Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law fails to provide full justice and peace. Despite the dissolution of paramilitary groups, affecting 30,000 paramilitaries, initial ideas included granting benefits to paramilitaries who admitted their crimes, meaning they would escape punishment. Thankfully this was only proposed and never enacted, however many demobilised fighters were still eligible for, and granted, amnesty under the law.

Yet impunity thrives as victims of the paramilitary groups – and the torture they perpetrated over years of fighting – are scared of coming forward as they continue to live in areas where paramilitary groups have yet to be fully dissolved.

This fear also prevent many victims seeking rehabilitation. It is therefore a tough mission facing CAPS, one where fear has to be overcome to allow progress.

In an effort to tackle this, CAPS offer a range of tailored psychological programmes to help families and victims of torture overcome their past.

CAPS also uses creative expression as a means of rehabilitation, something reflected in their 26 June campaign this year. In Bogotá, theatre and musical performances involving centre staff, supporters and survivors of torture peppered the day, alongside musical performances, exhibitions and screening of films at the ‘Parque de los Periodistas de Bogotá’ on 26 June.

In a country deeply affected by conflict and where torture is still a systematic practice, CAPS offers a service in high demand — holistic treatment to countless victims of torture and their families. And by doing so, is making an undeniably positive contribution to the fight against torture in Colombia.

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

Amidst the CIA taking the central role as the perpetrator for the torture committed under the ‘War on Terror’, one particular question has been forgotten: what will happen to the people who actually designed the torture methods?

CIA emblem

CIA emblem

Recent spin and simplification lumps the CIA as the overwhelming perpetrator of all the torture against terror suspects. Without understating CIA’s role in this — CIA operatives mercilessly implemented the torture techniques documented today in the upcoming CIA torture report and through the continued allegations emerging from those victims who survived CIA ‘black sites’ in particular — it must be remembered that the network involved in the torture of suspects is far-reaching.

Behind the torture is a methodology, a design to break even the most resilient individual. Behind the design is calculated thought, professionally planned actions that inflict the maximum level of pain and suffering while minimising identifiable scars and traces.

And behind this thinking are doctors.

It has long been documented by a range of media outlets that US military doctors were complicit in the design of torture methods, clearly violating their ethical, medical and legal codes as health practitioners.

A report from the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in November 2013 states that after 9/11, health professionals aligned with the military and intelligences authorities participated in the production and implementation of “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees”.

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of  Isabel Esterman)

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of Isabel Esterman)

Yet many of these doctors will simply never face trial. Regardless of whether doctors were coerced or tricked into the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ processes, justice still needs to be served.

It’s a concern echoed by Vincent Iacopino, Senior Medical Advisor for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and member of IRCT’s Independent Forensic Expert Group, in a recent letter to the Editor of the New York Times.

“Before lawyers wrote memos distorting the definition of torture, psychologists worked in concert with interrogators to develop methods intended to exploit the vulnerabilities of detainees and to inflict physical and mental pain,” says Mr Iacopino in the letter.

He continues: “As detainees suffered — and in some cases, died — health professionals routinely failed to report, document or stop the abuse.”

In doing so, they betrayed the core ethical principle of health professionals: do no harm. They also did not question their role. Apathy is apparent in the instance of US psychologist James Mitchell, who was instrumental in designing the torture techniques. Speaking in April 2014 he said the following:

“I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.” (quoted in Russia Today)

It is the Milgrim experiment CIA-style: the infamous study which showed people are far more likely to inflict pain on another human being if someone in perceived higher authority delivers the orders.

This is wrong and shocking. The doctors who are meant to heal contributed to the harm.

When the truth about the CIA torture methods comes to light, hopefully perpetrators will be brought to justice. Those who inflicted the pain must be punished for their crimes and victims, who are still alive, should be directed to the appropriate channels of rehabilitation and redress.

Yet punishment needs to extend beyond those ordering the torture and those following the orders. Behind the programme against human rights are doctors who designed the methods. These people are perpetrators too.

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The power of the pen

While writing has often been appreciated as a mode of expression and creativity, as well as reporting and everyday communication, never before had creative writing been directly associated with torture rehabilitation.

The “Write to Life” project changes this. A creative writing group of Freedom From Torture (FFT) – an IRCT member centre and the UK’s only national charity dedicated to the holistic rehabilitation of survivors of torture from around the world – the “Write to Life” project is one of the most powerful therapy programmes on offer. It has been meeting continuously every two-weeks for 12 years, has produced a formidable body of writing, and the participating torture survivors have reported that the group has aidedtheir rehabilitation – not bad for an initiative initially dismissed by some medical experts.

Write to Life’s coordinator Sheila Hayman speaking at the IRCT's 40yrs event

Write to Life’s coordinator Sheila Hayman speaking at the IRCT’s 40yrs event

“The positive effects have been pronounced and clear on those who work with the group,” says Write to Life’s coordinator Sheila Hayman. “With the combination of therapy through a key worker, who initially refers the survivor to the group, it allows many people who are sidelined in society to voice their opinions, to be creative, and to couple this with targeted therapy.

“I remember one of our group members said he preferred the writing therapy to face-to-face counselling, partly because the level of control rests entirely with the individual rather than a clinician. Each person writes what they want to write and in the style they want, and this means they can deal with their past and counsel themselves on their own terms.”

The positives are certainly echoed by two members of the group, Jade Amoli-Jackson and Yamikani Tracy Ndovi. Impressed by their stories and poems, Jade and Yamikani were invited to present their work at the IRCT’s 8 April event in Copenhagen to mark 40-years since the beginning of the international anti-torture movement.

Jade and Yamikani standing alongside IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz and Write to Life's Sheila Hayman

Jade and Yamikani standing alongside IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz and Write to Life’s Sheila Hayman

Jade, from Uganda, worked as a sports reporter following her journalism training through school. But in 2001, Jade was forced to flee her homeland due to unrest that year caused by corrupt elections and crackdowns on society by the state.

“I was initially frightened when I started seeing doctors, therapists and so on through Freedom From Torture because it was something completely different to anything I had done,” Jade explains.

“But then I joined the ‘Write to Life’ group and began talking to others who had suffered, and I realised I was not alone. I began making friends. Being an asylum seeker is tough, and you are not trained to be on your own in a new country.

“It was a struggle to come to the UK,” says Jade, “but the writing group helped me make things better. It has helped me appreciate how far I have come. It has helped me appreciate myself again. It has allowed me to say what is on my mind.”

Jade’s friend and fellow group member, Yamikani, was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she studied electrical engineering. Her parents, who ran a flower farm which shipped flowers to the Netherlands and Canada, were assassinated in 2001 for allegedly collaborating with white Zimbabweans, a crime under the rule of Robert Mugabe.

Yamikani speaking at the IRCT 40yrs event

Yamikani speaking at the IRCT 40yrs event

Yamikani was imprisoned and only released at the point of near-death. Following an escape from the country, Yamikani made it to the UK before being deported to South Africa, then to Ireland, then to the Netherlands, and then eventually back to the UK. Only after five years in the UK was Yamikani finally reunited with her daughter, who now lives with her.

“Settling somewhere was so hard, and every time I found somewhere it was not the permanent solution – it was only the beginning of the nightmare,” she explains.

“I could never set foot in simple places, even like Heathrow Airport. I could not trust anyone. When I joined the writing group, sometimes I really did not want to go, and I would not like it. But now I like the group as it motivated me. Sometimes the pain is still in the back of my mind, but I do not show it. Instead I use it in my writing and to help others.”

The group has also helped Yamikani overcome her asylum fears: “You are not allowed to do everything that others can, and you are always aware that being an asylum seeker means that your rights could be taken away from you at any point,” she explains.

Jade speaking at the IRCT event in April 2014

Jade speaking at the IRCT event in April 2014

“When I got the letters from the Home Office, it made me relive my experiences all the time – it made me feel unwelcome. But when I came to this group, it helped me come to terms with what I was thinking.”

The group’s writing has had success beyond those who write with the group, and collaborations with the Tate Gallery, Sinfini Music and Carmen Electra Opera, and with Tamasha and Ice & Fire theatre companies, have been well received.

“It is hard to get status, and I appreciate the difficulty of it,” Jade adds. “All the people in the group have some guilt because they have found safety. But the writing has helped me come to terms with my past. We feel like ordinary, respected humans.”

 

Click here to read more about the Write to Life project

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The US must be held accountable for civilian torture and deaths in Afghanistan

The United States military is not properly investigating civilian torture and deaths in Afghanistan leading to the human cost of the conflict being “compounded by injustice”, a damning Amnesty International report claims.

U.S. Army Soldiers of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment move into position to support the Afghan National Police who are moving to apprehend a suspect during a cordon and search in Pana, Afghanistan (courtesy of the U.S. Army, used under Flickr creative commons licence)

U.S. Army Soldiers of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment move into position to support the Afghan National Police who are moving to apprehend a suspect during a cordon and search in Pana, Afghanistan (courtesy of the U.S. Army, used under Flickr creative commons licence)

The report, entitled ‘Left in the Dark’, highlights 10 case studies alongside statistics and investigative pieces showing the full extent to which Afghan families are being “left in the dark about the full circumstances and legality of their relatives’ deaths.”

The 10 cases covered in the report from 2009 to 2013 saw the deaths of 140 civilians through US military operations. Amnesty claim the majority of family members interviewed said they had not been debriefed on the deaths by US military investigators.

Two of the cases – one involving a special operations forces raid on a house in Khataba village, Paktia province, in 2010, and another involving enforced disappearances, torture, and killings in Wardak province from November 2012 to February 2013 – provide “compelling evidence of war crimes,” the report says.

Last November Rolling Stone published a feature analysing the torture and subsequent deaths of civilians in Wardak Province, perpetrated by a special forces group dubbed ‘The A-Team’ who tortured civilians with beatings, strangulation, solitary confinement and even torture designed to restrict urination.

According to the Amnesty report, torture was inflicted on detainees and civilians were threatened with torture in order to intimidate them. The methods used are similar to those used in CIA ‘Black Sites’.

While the report notes there have been improvements in the transparency of civilians deaths, most incidents involve airstrikes and night raids, two tactics openly criticised in he past.

The report concludes deaths and torture were not properly investigated, giving families false information regarding the fate of their loved ones, and that current investigations into human rights abuses are slow and ineffective.

It is another blow to the US whose human rights record is being intensively scrutinised not just for allegations of torture in Afghanistan, but also the conduct of the CIA interrogation officials and potential involvement of US forces alongside the UK military in alleged torture in Iraq.

What Amnesty’s report shows is that, once again, the US apathy to the torture carried out amidst its ranks is systematic and seemingly unrelenting. It is not just the torture that is the problem – the problem is also the impunity generated by the ineffectiveness, or sheer lack of, investigations and justice processes.

The US often preaches assurance and respect of human rights obligations by other nations, yet rarely does its analysis turn itself inwards. Yet with all of these recent controversies, the pressure is now truly on the US to reconsider its position and implementation of human rights.

And quite rightly so.

You can read the full Amnesty International report here

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Staging a resistance to the act of torture

Survivors of torture carry wounds which only targeted, specialised rehabilitation can heal. Often torture destroys not only the life of the victim but their life at home, their relationships with their family and friends, and their place in their community.

Therapy, medical care and a whole range of physical and psychological support projects help survivors of torture overcome their past. But one of the most important changes to a torture survivor, both on their way to and through rehabilitation, is the building of confidence and self-esteem to tackle their past and face the future.

Through the Accoglenza e Cura Vittime di Tortura (Vi.To.) project, funded via the European Union’s EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, IRCT member the Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati (CIR) (Italian Council for Refugees) is using theatre to help refugees and torture survivors overcome their experiences, build their self-esteem and teach them valuable new skills.

We take a look at one of their most recent shows.

All of the Vi.To. performances feature refugees and torture survivors who have received, or are receiving, treatment from the CIR centre. Many of them have no previous acting experience but the professional team of make up artists and coaches ease them into their roles.

 

At one of their most recent performances, held to mark the International Day in Support of Torture Victims on 26 June, huge set pieces were required for the show, taking a lot of preparation and time. But it is something the staff and performers are used to – the project has been running since 2011 and there was expert guidance from Nube Sandoval and Bernado Rey.

 

The latest performance, a play inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s short story ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World’, features 15 refugees who participated in psycho-social rehabilitation theatre workshop as part of CIR’s Vi.To. project. The play focuses on the reactions of villagers in a seaside town who encounter an unknown dead man washed up on their beach.

 

The story is one of hope, acceptance and commemoration. It shows how the dead stranger is pulled from the sea and welcomed into the identity of the village as if he were one of their own and the realisation of change the villagers would have to make to adapt to accepting the handsome drowned man, a white man in an otherwise African community.

 

Over 400 people attended the performance, all giving positive and encouraging feedback about the performance of the cast, the direction and the messages which were prominent throughout the play. Approximately 1,300 refugees have been involved and rehabilitated since the project began.

 

The finishing dane

The finishing dance

After the performance – which is as nerve-racking as it is exciting – the cast and staff from CIR unite for an evening of dancing, showing their solidarity and support for victims of torture across the globe.

 

If you would like to find out more about CIR in Italy, click this link.

The Vi.To. performance will be featured in the upcoming 26 June Global Report, but if you would like to read more about the project then click this link.

 

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Australia can no longer deny that its treatment of asylum seekers does not constitute torture

Yesterday we focused on the soft use of language by President Obama in relation to the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which are now understood to constitute torture. Today the theme is language still, but of a different kind as we welcome the comments of Dr Peter Young on the conditions asylum seekers face in Australian detention centres.

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Human rights organisations across the world congratulate Dr Young, former director of IHMS mental health services, the company responsible for healthcare in all of Australia’s detention centres, for his boldness and honesty in confronting what many have suspected for a long time: treatment in Australia’s asylum seeker detention centres is akin to torture.

Here is the most important quote from Dr Young:

“If we take the definition of torture to be the deliberate harming of people in order to coerce them into a desired outcome, I think it does fulfil that definition”

We at World Without Torture have written much in he past about Australia’s dreadful treatment of asylum seekers, not just in the detention centres but in the heavy-handed Australian approach of simply turning away all asylum seekers to their country of origin, regardless of the potential human rights abuses the man, woman or child faces in their homeland.

We, and many other organisations, have written extensively on the topic, calling for compassion towards asylum seekers, calling for Australia to uphold the rights or asylum seekers – particularly as a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Australia’s government should give fair and proper consideration, screening and treatment to anyone seeking asylum, to identify potential trauma and suffering which forced them to take the decision to leave their country. But even more basic than that, to assure basic protection of human rights, correct and fair treatment of asylum seekers is a must.

Thousands join a pro-asylum rally in Melbourne, Australia (courtesy of Ali Martin - used under Creative Commons Licence, Flickr)

Thousands join a pro-asylum rally in Melbourne, Australia (courtesy of Ali Martin – used under Creative Commons Licence, Flickr)

Yet no one has ever spoken out that these horrifying conditions exist – politicians have denied there is torture and ill-treatment and much of the calls for prohibition of this treatment have been based on stories from detainees in the centres and observations made from external human rights groups.

But Dr Young’s bold admission – an admission that comes from direct experience in the detention centres – is a damning one, turning the spotlight directly onto Australia’s potential ignorance of its human rights obligations for the first time in this troubling story of continued torture of the most vulnerable people.

Now let’s hope politicians take note, not just of the honesty and openness, but of what must change right now to end this ill-treatment and ensure victims of this torture are able to access rehabilitation.

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