Posts Tagged torture

Rwanda: 20 years after the genocide, one woman explains how she overcame the horrors of her past


Over the course of 100 days, over 800,000 people were killed for being part of a different ethnic community. To date, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 remains the largest of modern times.

Twenty-years later, the effects are still being felt across the country, and to understand the effects we are publishing 10 stories from female victims of sexual violence who are still overcoming the effects of this genocide.

In our third story, we hear from 40-year-old Hildegarde Nyampinga who vividly recalls the beginning of the genocide, the murder of her parents, and the horrifying ordeal she endured afterwards as gangs of men raped her.

It took years for Hildegarde to come to terms with what she had experienced but, slowly, she began to move on. And although today Hildegarde still suffers from the rape and torture she suffered – her battle against HIV is notable in particular – therapy has helped her to forgive.

You can read an extract of her story “I died and was resurrected” below. To read her full story, click this link. And to read the stories of the other brave women featured in our campaign, click this link.

Hildegarde’s story

I was born in 1974 in the Southern Province of Rwanda, where I grew up with my ten siblings. I moved after the genocide.

Illustration courtesy of Danish artist Yildiz Arslan

Illustration courtesy of Danish artist Yildiz Arslan

Today, I live in Bugesera District, in the Eastern Province. My parents were killed during the 1994 genocide. Before they died, I had a very good life. The affection I was given by my aunt is the most pleasant thing I can remember from my life before the genocide. Since my aunt was also killed during the genocide, I cannot enjoy getting her affection anymore.

Even though I was sometimes tortured by the secretary of our commune, who used to tell me that once the war started they would violate me with a piece of tree in my vagina, I never thought a genocide would happen. It was in 1992 that I saw Tutsis being killed for the first time. Before the soldiers killed them, they made them dig the holes into which they would be thrown.

Once, on the way to visit my relatives who were refugees at the Catholic Church of Nyamata, I was taken out of the bus and almost raped by soldiers. Another Tutsi passenger was killed in front of my eyes. I went home very scared, but still it did not enter my mind that genocide could happen in my home area.

I experienced the genocide in the South where I grew up. One day, my sister’s domestic worker, who was married to a Hutu, came  and told us that we should not go to sleep because the plane of the president had crashed. That raised ethnic tensions and immediately touched off heaving fighting around the presidential palace and a frenzy of killing of Tutsis. That same night, I observed houses being burnt down. We slept outside of our house. After three days, the killings in our area started.

Perpetrators came to our house asking for me. I was with my parents. With a big abscess on his buttocks, my father could not run. On the fourth day, while I was discussing with my father about whether to carry him on my back in order to search for a place to hide, a crowd of Interahamwe and Burundian refugees caught us at our place. I saw the Interahamwe cutting off my father’s neck with a machete, after they had hit him with a hoe on the head. They threw him into our old latrine. I cannot say what went through my mind while they were cutting him.

Afterwards, they also killed my mother and threw her into the same latrine as my father. Then they decided to rape me.

To read Hildegarde’s full story, click this link (opens as PDF)

To view the full list of stories, which will be updated every two weeks from April until July, please click this link.

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What the bones remember: Doctors from IRCT partner PCATI share their experiences of documenting torture

Left to right: Dr. David Senesh, Dr. Bettina Birmanns, and Dr. Revital Arbel.

Left to right: Dr. David Senesh, Dr. Bettina Birmanns, and Dr. Revital Arbel.

Detecting signs of torture, often years after they have been caused, can be a tough task. However, due to advancing techniques in medical documentation of torture, physicians are able to establish the injuries inflicted by torture and the best methods of rehabilitation. Three physicians from IRCT partner Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) share their experiences.

(Article adapted from ‘The Hottest Place in Hell’ by Einat Fishbain, first published in Hebrew (here) and summarised in English by +972 magazine.)

For Dr Revital Arbel, torture was not something she had witnessed when her work with PCATI first begun. “Although I have been working in the field for years, particularly with victims of sexual assault, I will always remember a case following the pregnancy of an Eritrean refugee who was raped in Sinai,” she says.

“When she came in to deliver the baby she was accompanied by an interpreter for the first time, and they told me the story. Slowly the things she had been through in Sinai began to sink in. Like other refugee women imprisoned in Saharonim, she had not been able to undergo a termination of pregnancy at an early stage.”

Just as Dr Arbel realized realised the suffering, she received an invitation to participate in the first-ever training program in Israel for physicians and psychologists teaching ways to locate and diagnose torture victims.

The training, an ongoing project organised by PCATI and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), provides training in the forensic aspects of torture. The knowledge is used to identify victims and to provide evidence in court or in other formal examinations, such as applications to the United Nations to receive refugee status.

Arbel now knows much more about torture in Israel and around the world than she thought possible. “Torture leaves marks,” she says, “and these remain in the body many years after the event. The interrogators may be careful not to leave blue bruises, but today we can also identify what’s under the skin – what the bones remember.”

A personal relationship with torture

For clinical psychologist Dr David Senesh, he understands torture all too well. Captured and imprisoned in an Egyptian jail for 40 days during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Dr Senesh has a personal relationship with torture which enhances his professional, medical understanding of its effects.

“I’m post-traumatic,” he says openly. “The guys who were held prisoner with me can’t figure out what I’m doing; how what we went through brought me to identify with the experience of occupation and treat Palestinians who have undergone torture. But from my perspective it’s a logical continuation.”

Neurologist Dr Bettina Birmanns, who works in the same hospital as the other physicians in Jerusalem, attempts to explain why she found herself repeatedly dealing with the topic of torture. “I’m increasingly convinced that when a state permits torture, it damages the fabric of the state and destroys trust between citizens the authorities. Even if ‘regular’ citizens do not believe that they will be affected, the fact that someone in an official position is allowed to use serious violence and deliberately cause someone else pain and suffering, damaging their inner kernel and soul – and we know that this happens – that destroys society. I cannot accept that.”

The three doctors admit that they paid a heavy emotional price for their participation in the series of workshops. Alongside theoretical sessions discussing methods of torture around the world, trainee participants also diagnosed actual cases, engaged in role-playing exercises, and confronted professional and personal dilemmas.

“There’s a reason why the training program attracted relatively long-serving physicians,” Arbel suggests. “I think this work demands maturity, and I’m glad that I didn’t suggest that any of our interns join it. Maturity is important in order to act properly and cope with the difficult exposure to the people involved and their stories. You also require moderation – you cannot be too extreme in either direction, but need a mature view of life.”

‘You just can’t ignore torture anymore’

But they feel that with trainings such as these – and with the sharing of knowledge and mechanisms to ensure states comply with their anti-torture obligations – torture can be stopped across the globe.

“You reach a point where you just can’t ignore [torture] anymore,” says Dr Birmanns. “You hear the traumatic stories, and you see the victims after they were tortured – what they experienced has an impact on their health, their psychological condition, and their relations with their wives, children, and with society at large.”

“People undergo personality changes. They’ll never be the same as they were before they were tortured. They were all imprisoned afterwards and didn’t receive treatment. So first they are tortured during interrogation, which results with various kinds of problems. And then their imprisonment kind of freezes the situation, and when they are released all kinds of issues and experiences erupt and those around them don’t know how to cope with it. People are happy to see them out of jail, but they are not really the same people who went into jail, partly because of the torture.

“I still believe that a law-abiding state should not deliberately cause pain and suffering and ruin someone’s life. There should be a border that remains uncrossed, beyond any discussion.”

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IRCT marks 40 years of anti-torture movement with a special event in Copenhagen

With poetry readings, musical sessions, creative writing performances from two brave torture survivors, and the presentation of the Inge Genefke Award, the IRCT’s 8 April event in Copenhagen was certainly a colourful celebration of the 40 years of the anti-torture movement initiated by Danish doctor and human rights defender Inge Genefke.

Audience at the event

The event marks 40 years since human rights defender, Dr Inge Genefke, placed an advertisement requesting help from doctors willing to investigate torture in Chile, an advert which encouraged the development of the first medical group for the rehabilitation of torture victims in Denmark.

From this beginning on 8 April 1974, the first medical group under Amnesty International was created, and from this blossomed the evolution of the anti-torture movement, including the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).

Beginning the commemoration was IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz and IRCT President Suzanne Jabbour, who were the hosts throughout the programme. Following their lead were poetry readings from Dr Inge Genefke and author Thomas Kennedy, a touching performance from musical duo Michala Petri and Hannibal, and presentations from torture survivors Jade Amoli-Jackson from Uganda, and Yamikani NDovi from Zimbabwe.

With the help of UK torture rehabilitation group Freedom From Torture’s Sheila Hayman, Jade and Yamikani participate in the ‘Write to Life’ project – a writing groups administered by Freedom From Torture which meets twice a month to allow survivors of torture to formulate their experiences into creative texts.

The evening culminated in the presentation of the Inge Genefke Award, a prize given biennially which this year was awarded to Dr Lilla Hardi, from Hungary, for her commitment to the rehabilitation of torture victims in Hungary.

Dr Hardi began working in the field of refugee mental health and clinical treatment of torture victims in 1993, and became clinical director of IRCT member Cordelia Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in Budapest, Hungary, in 1996. Since then, Dr Hardi has personally examined and treated several hundred torture victims.

To read more about the event, click this link. To see pictures from the night, simply see below and click each image for more information.

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Rwanda: 20 years after the genocide

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

The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 remains the largest of modern times.

Twenty-years later, the effects are still being felt across the country. But perhaps those who suffered the most are women, many of whom were victims of sexual violence and torture.

Every 10 days, over the next 100 days – which marks the period of the genocide – we shall be publishing a story of survival from one of the many female victims of the conflict. Their stories are among some of the most detailed and horrifying, but also among the most hopeful as they describe how they overcame the effects of rape through rehabilitation.

To mark the beginning of the campaign, we have published three stories relating to the genocide. The first comes from Rwandan IRCT member Uyisenga N’Manzi, who are working with orphans from the genocide to help them rebuild their lives.

The other two stories are the first of the collection from female survivors of torture. You can read the introduction to these stories below, or click here for the full list of stories.

Illuminée’s story

Picture courtesy Yildiz Arslan

My name is Illuminée Munyabugingo. The 1994 genocide against Tutsis happened when I was thirty-four years old. I was born in Kigali in a camp for internally displaced persons. My family had moved there from Eastern Province because of the 1959 massacres of Tutsis. We were a family with sixteen children. During the 1959 massacres, the house of my family was not destroyed as it was during the 1994 genocide. People still had kindness when I was younger.

My mother died a few years later when I was fourteen years old. In 1979 I married a man from a prosperous family. I lived with my husband in Bugesera until the genocide started in 1994. We had a good life and together had seven children. The 1994 genocide took my beloved husband, two of my children and thirteen of my siblings.

The genocide was in many ways different from the previous wars of 1959, 1963, 1967 and 1973. In those wars, a person could hide in the house of a neighbour. In 1994 no one was willing to rescue another person. I had never realised before that someone can kill his or her neighbour, slay an innocent child or even kill his own sibling. What I experienced then brought me far in my thoughts, it traumatized me deeply, up to a point that I thought God had forgotten me.

To read Illuminee’s full story, click this link (opens pdf)

Charline’s story

Picture courtesy Yildiz Arslan

I am Charline Musaniwabo. I was born in 1976. My parents were farmers. I lived with them up to April 1994. My life completely changed during the genocide, having been married forcibly and losing many of my family members. I was born into a family of nine children, four boys and five girls. Five siblings and both my parents died during the genocide. Four of us escaped. I did not get a chance to marry a man I loved, because I was taken by force in 1994 by a neighbour who raped and married me. I live with the three children I conceived with this man.

In 1992, genocide took place in Bugesera. In Murama and Kanzenze, people were killed. Hutus burnt Tutsi houses, but in our area nobody was killed. They only ate cows belonging to Tutsi people. Despite all of this, when the 1994 genocide started I still
did not think that as many people would be killed as were indeed killed. The genocide mayhem spread everywhere.

When it began, my whole family left our house in order to look for a place to hide. I took my things and gave them to a friend of mine who was a Hutu girl so that she could keep them for me. After giving her my stuff, my sister-in-law and I went to hide at the home of our Hutu neighbour, who was a Pentecostal Church member. We stayed in his house for two days and on the third day we went to a nearby primary school, thinking that it would be a safer place. We spent two days in the school while the war violence increased. Men who were with us advised us to look for another place to hide because things were getting worse. Since we had nowhere else to go, we took refuge in a nearby swamp where, after four days, a club of Interahamwe found us hiding there.

To read Charline’s full story, click this link (opens pdf)

To view the full list of stories, which will be updated every two weeks from April until July, please click this link.

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On the Forefront: Assuring safety for refugees in Sweden

WWT - Members series

Sweden has a good record when it comes to human rights and torture prevention and rehabilitation. But problems of excessive police force, and alleged mistreatment of refugees, still echo through the country each year.

A member of staff at the centre in Malmö treating one of their many clients

A member of staff at the centre in Malmö treating one of their many clients

Providing support in these instances is the The Swedish Red Cross Center for Victims of Torture and War in Malmö. Primarily aimed at refugees and their families in Skåne, southern Sweden, the main mission of this Swedish IRCT member is to give support to refugees who have experienced war, imprisonment, torture and mistreatment while in exile to Sweden or in their home country.

Thanks to a wide range of knowledge and experience from the team of psychologists, doctors, therapists, physicians, social workers, secretaries, administrators and interpreters, the team is able to provide targeted holistic rehabilitation programmes to heal psychological, physical and social wounds.

Activities are also adapted to serve the families of the asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and refugees.

According to Amnesty International, enforced deportations of refugees to their home country – despite a risk of torture existing there – still occur in Sweden, as exemplified by the recent case ruled by the ECHR involving three Russian nationals and their deportation (I vs. Sweden).Thankfully the Swedish move to deport the refugees was blocked as it infringed Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects people from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It is only through the help of human rights defenders and networks such as the Red Cross in Malmö that authorities are being held to account, made aware of their obligations under international law, and refugees are being granted the safety they seek.

For more information on the Red Cross in Sweden, click this link.

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On the Forefront: Restoring justice in Bangladesh

WWT - Members series
Even following the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture in 1998, alarming estimates predict as many as 220,000 people are tortured in Bangladesh every year.

It seems implausible but, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission, it is something quite possible while torture in Bangladesh is not punishable as a crime, due to domestic laws which do not meet the definition of torture according to the Convention Against Torture.

The team at BCHRD recently campaigning for women's rights

The team at BCHRD recently campaigning for women’s rights

The result is a society with little faith in the judicial system when it comes to reparation for the crimes of torture – a state-of-mind which has bred mass impunity due to widespread beliefs that claims of torture will simply not be taken seriously.

Tackling this impunity is the Bangladesh Centre for Human Rights and Development (BCHRD) which, since 1994, has stayed true to its one objective: to provide immediate assistance and rehabilitation for victims of trauma, particularly children and women.

According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, torture is routinely practiced across the 629 police stations of Bangladesh as investigators see torture as an acceptable and effective means of gathering evidence.

Countering this, the BCHRD works closely with victims of torture in detention to report their stories, to collect their data, and to reintegrate them into society. Approaches to rehabilitation are both administered after the torture and preventatively to stop the cycle of torture in the country.

The main multidisciplinary approach of BCHRD is one known as the integrated rehabilitation approach (IRA) which involves professionals including physicians, physiotherapists, psychologists, counsellors, lawyers and social workers who met frequently to form a united workforce which can target and assist victims of torture in every field necessary.

The benefit of this approach is not only that torture survivors are assisted, but it promotes cross-training and sharing of information among Bangladesh’s most important groups in the protection of human rights.

To find out more about BCHRD, please click this link.

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On the Forefront: The journey of CVT from local US campaigning to a global movement

WWT - Members series

Since founding in 1985, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) has rehabilitated over 24,000 torture survivors, provided healing programmes for people affected by torture and violent conflict, implemented community building projects in the aftermath of some of the world’s deadliest wars, and pioneered research into torture rehabilitation and prevention.

That’s a pretty impressive resume for a centre which essentially began as a conversation between a human rights campaigner and his father, the then Governor of Minnesota.

Staff at CVT

Staff and friends of CVT

Following a visit to Denmark and the Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims – now the Danish IRCT member, DIGNITY – Governor Perpich returned to Minnesota to establish CVT as an independent non-governmental organisation aimed at healing torture survivors.

But CVT did not just remain influential in the US and, by the early 1990s, their operations had expanded with work in Bosnia and Croatia. In 1995, CVT began working with medical professionals in Turkey to train them in the documentation of torture survivors.

Today CVT is truly a large international movement, offering direct care for torture victims and refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, refugees of the Somali war in the Dadaab camps in northern Kenya, urban refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan and Eritrean refugees in northern Ethiopia.

But as well as expanding and developing their projects across the globe, CVT is working on shaping public opinions at home. Through a newly established blog, the team at CVT aims at adding personality to the movement, to give people an understanding of the work of CVT staff and the experiences they encounter through their anti-torture work.

CVT staff in Dabaab, Kenya

CVT staff in Dabaab, Kenya

It is yet another initiative of CVT’s ever-expanding tapestry to prevent torture and improve the lives of torture survivors.

“Torture has profound long-term effects. Physical reminders include headaches, chronic pain, respiratory problems and a host of other symptoms. The psychological damage is often worse,” says Brad Robideau from CVT.

“But healing is possible. We help survivors rebuild their lives so torture is in their past and not something they re-live every day.”

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Europe Act Now: Campaign update

Over the past week, we donated the World Without Torture Twitter account to two Syrian refugees who have been telling their story of escaping the conflict in Syria, as part of a campaign to raise awareness of Syrian refugees in Europe. We look at what we have learnt about their experience.

As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, there is no avoiding that the conflict has created one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history. According to recent statistics from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR), nine-million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict, over two-million of which have fled to neighbouring countries.

The refugees available to talk through the Europe Act Now campaign

The refugees available to talk through the Europe Act Now campaign

But to date, only 80,000 refugees have fled to Europe – a number which the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) believes is low due to tough restrictions on refugees entering the continent.

ECRE’s campaign – “Europe Act Now” – utilises social media to promote the stories of Syrian refugees who are in need of a safe passage to Europe, in an attempt to pressure European decision-makers to safeguard the rights of refugees.

Telling their story of the conflict through the World Without Torture Twitter were husband and wife Osama, 32, and Zaina, 26. From Aleppo, Osama and Zaina never anticipated the conflict would displace them and their two children. To escape, they aimed for Sweden, but instead found asylum in Greece.

Yet now, the couple are facing hardship still after being beaten and robbed in Greece.

Telling their story on Twitter, Osama and Zaina miss Syria but know they cannot return there now.

“Our daughter couldn’t sleep. She used to cover her ears to block out the sound of gunshots. Just leaving the house to buy bread was dangerous. We had to pass checkpoints to get to the bakery,” they said on Twitter.

Zaina and Osama telling their story on Twitter

Zaina and Osama telling their story on Twitter

“Getting my family from Turkey to safety in Scandinavia would cost €40,000. We didn’t have that money. European countries could take Syrian refugees who are in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq or in the camps.”

The reality of refugees is further complicated when we consider that health professionals and researchers commonly estimate that between 4-35% of refugees worldwide have been subjected to torture. These figures demonstrate that this is not a marginal problem of a marginal community, but a substantial problem that must be urgently addressed.

Join us in pushing for better policy and practice related to the identification and protection of refugee torture survivors and to safeguard the rights of refugees.

So far nearly 300,000 people on Twitter have been reached by the campaign, which continues until World Refugees Day on 20 June.

To read the full selection of tweets on our Twitter, please click this link.

And to find out more about the campaign, click here.

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Explained: The rights of torture survivors

A new video from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) uses compelling interviews with leading professionals in the anti-torture field not only to explain the rights of torture victims, but to highlight existing barriers to torture rehabilitation.

Manfred Nowak speaking in the film

Manfred Nowak speaking in the film

The video, which features Dr. Mechthild Wenk-Ansohn from BZFO, an IRCT member, and IRCT patron and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak, discusses what rights torture survivors have under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

“Torture is one of the most serious human rights violations,” says Manfred Nowak in the piece. “Because of this, torture survivors are in need of whatever support and rehabilitation is available to overcome their experience of torture.

“Yet most of the time, rehabilitation is provided by centres in urgent need of money. There needs to be force on to states to provide full rehabilitation.”

The ECCHR is a human rights group which focuses on providing human rights litigation to hold state and non-state actors accountable for the violations of the rights of the most vulnerable.

It is their hope that with video pieces, such as this, more people will understand just how prevalent torture is around the world and what ore needs to be done to stop it.

You can watch the video below.

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On the Forefront: Tackling torture in Cambodia

WWT - Members series

This week in the ‘On the Forefront’ series we meet the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation in Cambodia, a group committed to providing Cambodians with opportunities and resources to care for themselves in the wake of the Cambodian Genocide which still has effects 40 years later.

In June 2013, the Asian Human Rights Commission declared that torture in Cambodia is “systematic” with 141 documented cases of torture in police custody since 2010. With a population of nearly 15 million, perhaps the 141 figure seems low. However this figure is only officially documented cases – unreported instances of torture could be much higher.

And regardless of the numbers, Cambodia is a country still reeling from the terrible effects of the Khmer Rouge regime which, almost exactly 40 years ago, killed at least two-million people through the Cambodian Genocide.

Some of the team at TPO Cambodia

Some of the team at TPO Cambodia

During the four-year rule of Pol Pot (1975-79) torture, starvation, and political executions were commonplace amidst a rule now hailed by prosecutors in the subsequent war crimes trials as “one of the most heinous regimes history has ever known.”

It is in this historical context of torture that the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation Cambodia (TPO Cambodia) exists, to provide support to those who are unable to care for themselves due to their circumstances.

Established in 1995 as a branch of the Netherlands based NGO “TPO International”, TPO Cambodia was registered as an independent local NGO in 2000 with a vision to allow Cambodian citizens to live with good mental health and a satisfactory quality of life. Their remit is wide and among other medical and psychosocial programmes to benefit anyone in Cambodia, rehabilitating torture survivors is one of their key focus areas.

Dealing with the effects of the Khmer Rouge is a still a priority – it is estimated around 14% of Khmer Rouge survivors, and their descendants, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder today, with even higher rates reported among those testifying in the trials against the regime.

TPOCambodia2TPO Cambodia estimates that state torture is far more prevalent than official statistics depict, with figures from 20-35% of detainees reported to have been tortured in state prisons. Electric shocks and physical beatings remain the most popular form of torture, and poverty among the victims often leaves them without a legal or rehabilitative route to overcome their torture.

And this is where TPO Cambodia excels. By providing medical health checks and mental health assessments as standard, the experts at TPO Cambodia can quickly and effectively assess the damage of torture. From there the IRCT member offers basic legal counselling, financial aid, and testimonial therapy to allow survivors of torture to restore a sense of control over their lives and to restore their reputations among their communities.

With the help of several NGOs and government ministries, TPO Cambodia tirelessly fights for the rights of torture survivors through an extensive list of programmes and initiatives. And with a fully functional website featuring vast libraries of information discussing current projects and services, and collating all their past research and resources, TPO Cambodia is certainly one of the leading anti-torture organisations in south-east Asia.

Even though the horrifying reflections on the past still take prominence in the country, and even though torture is still not a defined criminal offence in Cambodia, the work of TPO Cambodia offers hope and support to illuminate a positive future.

For more information about TPO Cambodia, click here.

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