Posts Tagged UN
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.
For a full calendar of talks and for ticket information, please click this link.
Despite being the shortest month of our calendar, February has been packed with important news stories, statements and developments across the anti-torture movement.
We summarise some of our most popular blogs, social media content and news releases below. Simply click the relevant links and pictures to read the full stories.
Ever wondered what can be achieved through rehabilitation? Ever wanted to know exactly what can be done to help victims of torture overcome their past? Or have you simply questioned how many centres across the globe offer torture rehabilitation services?
This month we collected the top ten questions asked by our readers about anti-torture work and answered them with links to our work. Just click the picture or this link to read more.
Another popular story this month came from the IRCT whose President, Suzanne Jabbour, has been awarded the prestigious North-South Prize from the Council of Europe in recognition of her lifelong commitment to preventing torture.
The award, which will be presented this Spring in Lisbon, Portugal, has a long list of famous previous winners including Kofi Annan and Bob Geldof.
Suzanne is overjoyed with her victory and we want to thank everyone who joined us in congratulating Suzanne on this award. Read the full story here.
A prison guard takes a detainee from his or her cell, escorts them to a roulette-style wheel listing different methods of torture, and spins the wheel to determine just how much pain should be inflicted on the prisoner.
This ‘Wheel of Torture’, which uses torture as a game, came to light in the world media this month following an inspection of prisons in the Philippines and shocked human rights groups worldwide.
The practice not only showed us how torture is still being reinvented and adapted in sadistic ways, but also showed just how little is being done in the Philippines to stop torture. You can read our full blog on this, and the statement from human rights defenders in the country, by clicking this link.
A story we shared on Facebook this month garnered much attention – the vivid, hard-hitting documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ achieved must deserved recognition from the British Academy of Film, Television and Arts (BAFTA) this month, receiving the award for Best Documentary at the latest awards ceremony.
Click our status below to watch an interview with the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer following the award.
We caught up with IRCT member the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims in Iraq this month to see what they are doing to help survivors of torture in the region.
The newest member of the IRCT movement, the Kirkuk Centre have extensive links across the north of the country to aid victims of torture from all backgrounds, from those affected by the war in Iraq, to the recent influx of Syrian refugees in the region.
It comes as part of our ‘On the Forefront’ series, which you can see all the entries for by clicking this link.
Incredible news from Tunisia this month, who passed a new constitution promoting equal rights for women, freedom of religious expression, and freedom from torture – all ratified just three years after revolution.
We joined world leaders in congratulating Tunisia on this move which will hopefully push other contries to follow the lead.
However in Bahrain, which also experienced uprisings against the government three years ago, the situation of ill-treatment of protestors and limits to freedom of expression has not changed.
Protests continue on a daily basis, and the three-year anniversary since the beginning of the protests was tragically marked itself by further protests and excessive crackdowns from the authorities.
Bahrain needs to change now. It simply cannot wait any longer. Read the full story by clicking the picture or clicking this link.
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Despite a strong government crackdown on protestors, over 300,000 people took to the streets of Bahrain’s capital Manama on 14 February to mark the three-year anniversary of the Bahraini protests.
And despite three-years of torture, imprisonment, and even deaths of protestors, the demonstrations against the government do not seem to be slowing down.
But also what is not slowing down is the government’s resistance to relinquishing power to the people. On the anniversary march alone, over 50 people were injured by rubber pellets and tear gas fired by police.
The last three years have seen the Bahraini government, the House of Al Khalifa, use extreme force over protestors whom are campaigning for respect for human rights. In every protest, the government has repelled the protestors with the use of force. The result over three years is shocking: according to data from The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), 93 people have died; more than 2,200 political prisoners remain in detention; and torture and enforced disappearances remain widespread on a daily basis.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has tracked the uprising since day one and Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President of the BCHR following the arrest of President Nabeel Rajab, knows in detail the harm the government can cause.
Her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has been imprisoned since April 2011 for allegedly plotting a coup during the pro-democracy protests. Maryam’s sister Zainab – who was recently released from detention – still faces a string of ‘anti-government’ charges. They are just two cases out of thousands who have been silenced by the government.
“People seem to assume that somehow the Bahrain revolution failed but I do not think it is fair to assess the revolution as ‘failed’,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja in a piece to World Without Torture. “It is just an inconvenient revolution – a revolution which is happening in a country which is solidly linked to the interests of the West in terms of oil, trading and so on that it would prove problematic to recognise as an active, powerful movement.”
Three years on, her assessment certainly still seems accurate. Aside from the occasional news report online, the world seems oblivious to Bahrain: the country is still portrayed as a safe haven for foreign investment and tourism; and large-scale international events, such as the Formula One Grand Prix, still continue to uphold the myth that Bahrain is free from unrest.
Yet the sheer numbers of protestors marking the importance of the ‘revolution’ tell a different story about the realities of Bahrain: its people want a democratic change from the 230-year-old Al Khalifa rule.
With human rights coming into question on a daily basis, it is a change that is needed – now, not in another three years.
Many questions come to mind when thinking about torture. What methods are used? Where does it happen? Who does it? Who are the victims? We have answered many of those questions in this blog.
But how do victims overcome the trauma from torture? Or the physical sequelae left by brutal methods of torture? There are probably as many questions and doubts surrounding rehabilitation as there are about torture itself. Here are some of the answers.
1. What is rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation is simply ridding of the effects of torture – it is to empower the torture victim to resume as full a life as possible. Torture rehabilitation can take a variety of forms. In approaching it through a holistic approach, rehabilitation can include medical treatment for physical or psychological ailments resulting from torture; psychosocial counselling or trauma therapy; legal aid to pursue justice for the crimes; or programmes and activities to encourage economic viability, among others.
2. Why do torture victims need special treatment?
In many contexts, torture survivors seeking rehabilitation can only receive regular care and many physicians will not realise they are in the presence of a torture survivor. The risks associated with that are many and much has been written about that particular issue. In brief, not all therapeutic approaches have been described as useful in the treatment of victims of torture. Also, therapeutic procedures can easily recreate the torture experience, putting the torture survivors at risk of re-traumatisation.
The questioning, the testing instruments used, the physical space, the power relationship between the clinician and patient, etc., all have the potential to recreate the torture conditions, thus undermining the positive benefits of therapy. In some of situations, the treatment administered by non-specialized clinicians can even lead to harmful effects to the survivor.
3. What is the right to rehabilitation and is it an enshrined right by law?
In the first instance, the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel or Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment outlines the rights of an individual, outlaws torture, and promotes respect for the human rights of an individual.
Article 14 defines precisely that rehabilitation of a victim is a state responsibility which should be enforced in every complaint of torture. It reads:
“Each State Party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.”
However, while there is a right to rehabilitation defined on paper by the UN, the right is not necessarily granted – even among the 154 state signatories. Also some countries have not ratified the convention into their national legal systems, and other countries have not signed the convention altogether.
4. What are some of the main forms of rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation programmes vary depending on the context in which the support is implemented, the resources available to the organisation issuing the programmes, and the nature of rehabilitation needed by the torture survivor. However some main forms of psychological and physiological support include: counselling; therapy, individually or group; psychotherapy; social reintegration programmes; medical assistance; artistic classes; exercise programmes; yoga; and much more.
5. Do the rehabilitation programmes work?
Yes. Targeted, tailored programmes of rehabilitation do not only allow the torture survivor to overcome their ordeal, but it can also allow their family, friends, or community to rebuild.
You only have to look at some of the stories from survivors of torture to realise that rehabilitation is fundamental is ensuring a victim of torture can live their life as fully as possible. You can read some stories of survivors by clicking this link.
6. Is rehabilitation ensured across the globe?
No. Even among the 154 state parties (across 80 different countries) to the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel or Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment, rehabilitation is not assured – at least not by the state. Across the world, some statistics point to torture being practiced in around 90% of the countries. Many of these do not provide adequate services for redress and rehabilitation through the state, so the responsibility falls onto anti-torture organisations – such as the IRCT members – who must move survivors past their experiences of torture, often with limited resources and under the watch of authoritarian regimes.
7. What is the IRCT, and what is its role in torture rehabilitation?
The IRCT is the largest membership-based civil society organisation to work in the field of torture rehabilitation and prevention. It is their mission to ensure there is access to rehabilitation services and justice for victims, and to contribute to torture prevention. Currently, the IRCT consists of 144 members across 74 countries.
8. How many people have been treated by the IRCT?
With members spread across more than 70 countries and the risks associated with the safety of torture survivors, accurate data collection is a significant challenge for the IRCT. However, figures gathered in the past suggested that more than 100,000 torture victims have been helped by IRCT member organisations across the globe on a single year.
9. Who can rehabilitation benefit?
The physical and mental after-effects of torture are far reaching but so are the benefits of rehabilitation. The victims but also their families, friends and sometimes their entire communities. There may be different approaches necessary in the rehabilitation programmes, and there may be different obstacles to rehabilitation, but the benefits can be felt by any victim of torture. To be as inclusive as possible, members of the IRCT network therefore tailor their programmes to best suit the contexts in which they operate.
10. Through rehabilitation, prevention and justice, can there be a world without torture?
Yes. The world can be rid of torture just like it was rid of slavery. Undoubtedly, the journey is long and full of obstacles, but with the right mix of rehabilitation, justice and prevention, the vision of a world without torture can be realised.
With New Year approaching, we at World Without Torture reflect on a selection of the stories which we have covered over the past year.
The last year has seen many tragedies, obstacles and difficulties in the human rights field. But coupled with this has come tremendous success, concrete change, and real participation in the fight to ensure human rights are respected across the globe.
Click any picture in the gallery below for more information and links to some of the most memorable stories this year. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to add your additions in the comments. We look forward to seeing you in 2014 and wish you a very happy New Year.