Posts Tagged UN
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
What the bones remember: Doctors from IRCT partner PCATI share their experiences of documenting torture
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“He’s missing a piece of his chest and I can see his heart beating,” says one unidentified US Army Officer recalling a heavy firefight in Afghanistan. But for the victim, a 15-year-old Omar Khadr, the injuries were only the start of his pain.
Held in Guantanamo Bay for 10 years, and now detained in a Canadian jail, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is just one tragic example of human rights abuses under the watch of a country often deemed to champion human rights.
Following the bombardment on his compound in 2002, Omar was held prisoner and tortured in Bagram, Afghanistan, by the US military, suspected of killing Sergeant Christopher Speer in the battle. It is a charge human rights groups have contested ever since, particularly amidst reports the US military doctored their accounts of the battle to mask Speer’s death from friendly fire as murder by an Afghani insurgent.
And despite being a child soldier at the time of the alleged killing – by definition of the UN Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict – Omar was controversially charged as an adult for war crimes in 2012.
Fighting for his freedom ever since is Dennis Edney QC, who is assisting Omar in overturning his sentence from his prison cell in Canada.
To highlight the case, and to illuminate the human rights abuses, the London Guantanamo Campaign has arranged a series of talks with Mr Edney from 12 March.
Held at various locations across London, and one talk in York, Mr Edney’s tour culminates with an appearance at Amnesty International on 18 March.
The talks, which are free admission, will no doubt provide a unique insight not only into the human rights abuses and torture in the case of Omar, but also the ill-treatment that exists worldwide, and the failings of governments often considered to uphold a decent standard of human rights.