Posts Tagged UN
Whether targeting a Boko Haram suspect, an alleged criminal, a sex worker, or simply part of a minority group, a new Amnesty International report highlights how torture is endemic in Nigeria as the police and military routinely use it to extract confessions, extort money and to break the will of detainees.
The report, entitled ‘Welcome to Hell Fire’, claims torture has become widespread in the police and military hunt for members of Boko Haram – a militant Islamic group, branded as a terrorist organisation by the US, responsible for a string of attacks and death since 2009 including the Chibok Kidnapping on 276 schoolgirls in April 2014.
The report shows that the pursuit of Boko Haram has led to the torture of many suspects who have no ties to the group at all. Because of this campaign, torture has become routine. The report claims that, as a minimum, 5,000 people have been detained since 2009 when military operations began against Boko Haram. While the level of torture victims from this group cannot be fully determined, Amnesty spoke to 500 detainees, their relatives and human rights defenders, all confirming either they had been tortured or they know a detainee who has.
Consequently detainees and ordinary criminal suspects experience torture “as the main interrogation tactic… despite assurances from the Nigerian government to prevent the use of torture.” Torture practices include beatings, rape and other sexual violence, shooting to legs and arms and periods of time laid on beds of nails.
Torture in Nigeria has long been known by the IRCT, the effects of which continue to be addressed by Nigerian IRCT member Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).
To illustrate the prevalence of torture, the effects of torture and the journey through rehabilitation necessary in just one case, we turn to the story of Leo – a 27-year-old concert-goer who, after happening to stumble across the scene of an earlier robbery in the city of Nsukka, experienced four-months of suffering as the police tortured him repeatedly for a crime which he was not even part of.
Leo’s story: “I do not know now why I was tortured”
Leo, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was travelling to the city of Nsukka, in south-eastern Nigeria, hoping for a relaxing evening with friends at a music event.
On his way to the venue, Leo was approached by four security officials who claimed to recognise him from a robbery that occurred just prior to Leo’s arrival.
“The security forces were looking for a group of hoodlums who had just fled the scene next to the concert venue, and I was accused of being part of the gang,” says Leo. “I tried to explain that I had only just arrived in town, but the explanations fell on deaf ears.
“It was then that the four security guards turned on me and began to beat me,” explains Leo, who still has painful memories of his torture.
Leo’s beating escalated from punches and kicks to being hit with sticks, a shovel and even an iron. The torture continued over a period of a few hours.
“They beat me with whatever they could find nearby,” says Leo. “I had injuries all over my body. I was cut, bleeding and bruised. The pain was unbearable. I could not walk for days afterwards.”
After the beating, an unconscious Leo was taken to the local police station where he was detained, charged with robbery offences and transferred to nearby Nsukka prison, where he spent four months awaiting trial.
Leo does not recall torture while in detention and was released in May 2012 after police could not establish enough evidence against him.
“I do not know now why I was tortured,” says Leo. “I was not part of the crime scene at all and still feel shocked about the attack now, even though it was so brief.”
While in custody, Leo was approached by the team from IRCT member PRAWA, who offered counselling as a way for Leo to talk about the attack.
“The people from PRAWA helped me talk about my experience while I was in prison,” says Leo. “They understood what had happened and encouraged me to talk. They also helped to treat me for my injuries while I was in prison and offered me counselling during my time in prison and when I was released.
“My attackers are wicked people, but counselling has helped come to terms with the attack. I still see the PRAWA psychologist today to talk about any issues I have related to the attack. The attack left me feeling confused, hurt and scared. PRAWA have helped to restore my pride, and my trust in others.”
Now a labourer on a building site, Leo is thankful for his rehabilitation.
“I still feel some pains in my legs due to my injuries and my sexual life has not been the same since due to the injuries I received in the beating,” says Leo.
“But I would say that I am much better than before I met the team at PRAWA. It is good that centres like this exist, and that some people care about helping those who have been tortured regain their lives. I only hope more groups exist to fight torture in society and to provide treatments for victims like me.”
To read the stories of survivors from a range of countries on the IRCT website, click this link.
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.
After 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.
Over the past month many blogs have focused on the continuing involvement, direct or indirect, of the US in torture across the world.
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.
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.
Today 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.
Several floors under the busy Adlieh intersection in east Beirut, hundreds of people suffer harsh interrogation and torture in a makeshift detention centre.
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.
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.
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.
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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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?
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”.
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.
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: email@example.com
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.