Archive for October, 2011

Release Rafah Nached

Syrian police arrested and detained 66-year-old psychoanalyst Rafah Nached. Below is our statement:

The IRCT calls for the immediate release of Syrian psychoanalyst Rafah Nached, who was arrested last month at Damascus Airport and has since been held in solitary confinement.

We are highly concerned about this arbitrary arrest, and more urgently, her condition in detention in Syria. Nached, a well-known psychoanalyst who treats victims of trauma, is in her 60s and has a heart condition that requires constant monitoring and medications. Reports have indicated that her condition has worsened significantly while in detention.

Yesterday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for Nached’s immediate release. As her health and well-being are surely at risk from solitary confinement and detention in her condition, we call for the immediate implementation of this act.

Read our whole statement here.


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Khaled Said’s killers sentenced for manslaughter; we echo disappointment of his family on this charge

The judge in the Khaled Said case sentenced the two policemen to seven years in prison for manslaughter. We have a statement expressing our dismay at the ruling of manslaughter over murder charges, echoing statements from the family of Said that this is an affront to the right to justice  of victims of torture:

The sentencing of police officers for manslaughter, rather than murder, in the case of Khaled Said is a mockery of the victims of torture and their right to justice. The IRCT echoes the disappointment of the Said family and Egyptian human rights defenders in saying that this verdict does not reflect the crime of torture and murder.

In an Alexandria court yesterday, the judge sentenced the two policemen to seven years for manslaughter, immediately sparking outcries from the families and activists in the court.

“Justice has not been done to Khaled Said, and we will not budge,” Said’s uncle Ali Qasse told Reuters news agency.

Read our full statement here, which includes information on the forensic report we coordinated on the case.

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Wednesday News Updates

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we will post updates on ongoing cases of torture, new opinion pieces in the media, or news stories or issues that emerge.

Stories and reports from Syria continue to testify to an unending regime of torture. Most recently, Amnesty International reports that several state-run hospitals have been used to torture patients, seeking to inflict ill-treatment on those protesting against the Assad regime. Amnesty writes:

“It is deeply alarming that the Syrian authorities seem to have given the security forces a free rein in hospitals and that in many cases hospital staff appear to have taken part in torture and ill treatment of the very people they are supposed to care for.

“Given the scale and seriousness of the injuries being sustained by people across the country, it is disturbing to find that many consider it safer to risk not having major wounds treated rather than going to proper medical facilities.” 

Go read the whole report (PDF).

Another rights group, Human Rights First, is organizing a petition campaign to release Bahraini teacher Jaleela Al-Salman, who, just two weeks ago, was detained by security forces. This is the second time she has been detained, and on the first occasion, she reported being tortured.

IRCT member centre El Nadeem in Egypt has issued a report documenting cases of sexual abuse and torture of prisoners detained after the violent clashes on 9 October.

According to the report, published on the Centre’s Facebook page, three detainees were sexually assaulted by military police while being transported to a Cairo courtroom on Monday.

Two stories from Burma emerged in recent days from former detainees who have since been released. Their separate tales recount torture within the repressive regime’s prison system.

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This torture cannot continue

Detained, tortured and forced to flee for his life: A Syrian human rights defender recounts his experience, and calls for action from the international community to end the violence and ill-treatment against the Syrian people.

By Giorgio

Protesters in England point to an overwhelming silence of the international community on the violence and torture in Syria. Photo by Tim . Simpson from Flickr under Creative Commons

Torture and violence in Syria is reaching unprecedented and gruesome levels. Since the beginning of the popular uprising in March more than 200 people held in custody have lost their lives from torture and severe ill-treatment.

Abdul Karim Rehawi, the head of the Syrian Human Rights League, has survived President Assad’s repression. I spoke with him about his experiences in Syria and his demands for immediate support of the international community to stop the massacre and to claim justice and freedom for all Syrian citizens. We met outside Syria as he was forced to flee with his family due to direct death threats to himself and his immediate relatives.

Mr. Rehawi has campaigned for human rights and supported victims of torture in Syria since the establishment of President Assad’s regime. But during the last decades, he said he has never witnessed such widespread use of torture as he has seen since the beginning of the uprising in March.

In May Mr. Rehawi was arrested and brutally tortured by the men of the Assad’s regime. He was brought to an unknown place of detention in Damascus, blindfolded and handcuffed by iron wire; afterwards he was electrocuted and severely beaten on his hands. He was then hanged by his hands for 10 to 11 hours and beaten and kicked all over his body, during which he lost consciousness three times.

His tortures accused him of talking to the international media about “Syrian affairs”.

After being hanged, he was brought to the floor, where new beatings began and his body dragged, as a floor-wipe, all around the torture chamber. Then his torturers forced their shoes into his mouth, and he lost consciousness again.

During this period no questions were raised to Mr. Rehawi; his torture was only aimed at providing a form of punishment and intimidation.

After less than 48 hours, Mr. Rehawi was brought to a different place of detention in Damascus where more beating began, but this time he was questioned over his human rights work. Eventually he was brought to a detention centre.

Mr. Rehawi’s accounts of the treatment reserved to prisoners are no less violent than the torture he suffered. It is estimated that since March the total number of detainees has gone up from 4,000 to an astonishing 70,000; places of detention are now exploding with people.

Mr. Rehawi was confined in a room of about 22 square metres where, at some point, another 42 detainees were kept with him; the room had little light and no direct access to fresh air. In these conditions, the guards imposed harsh treatments on the detainees, who were forced to stand and face the wall during sudden inspections that were repeated several times during the day and night. Detainees were forced to access the toilettes only if stripped of their clothes and by crawling on the floor; on their way they were beaten. Some prisoners decided to stop or reduce their eating and drinking to avoid the need for toilettes.

Mr. Rehawi shared other stories of protesters being killed after brutal tortures. The corpse of one protester was returned to his family with a stick inserted from his anus and forced out of his body from the shoulder. Another corpse was returned to his family with parts of his body sawed together, as after a surgical intervention, which raised additional fears of organs extracted for trade. One protester was killed by crucifixion.

These are horrific tales. Torture and other horrific stories of ill-treatment continue unabated under the Assad regime, and the international community must take action now.

The international community of states and civil society must denounce the repression led by President Assad. Permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, China and Russia, need to revise taken action. The League of Arab States must underline that the current regime has forfeited its legitimacy and suspend Syria’s membership.

Giorgio supports the IRCT’s programmes in the Middle East North Africa and Asia, including working with the region’s member centres and other institutions to promote a culture for prohibition of torture.

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Collaboration across Europe

By Nicolas

The regional meetings – from the Middle East to Latin America– often provide our member centres a chance to meet their peers in rehabilitation of torture survivors, compare problems and challenges, and learn from each other on the best ways forward.

Last week, the IRCT organised a meeting for its European members in Brussels. The meeting lasted two days and facilitated the exchange of ideas on rehabilitation and current challenges between representatives of 32 rehabilitation centres based in Europe.

Despite the deep challenges – from funding to documenting torture cases in asylum hearings – the sense of optimism, good humour and passion about the future of work with survivors of torture emanated from the 44 participants of predominantly doctors, legal advisors, and psychologists.

We, at the IRCT Brussels Office, were in charge of organising the meeting, attended by our European members and other regional centres. Hélène (head of the IRCT Brussels Office) explained how the Brussels office could help and assist all member centres, especially when it comes to coordination, funding opportunities and lobbying of EU institutions. The meeting was then divided into workshops on various topics such as the use of medico-legal reports or sharing of experiences concerning stress management in rehabilitation centres. We also made sure that enough free time was given for participants to meet each other and to exchange ideas and experiences on the daily work of their centres.

From the first feedback and comments we received from participants, we can say that, all in all, this IRCT European Alliance meeting was a big success – participants enjoyed the topics covered and the networking opportunities. Torture in Europe remains an important challenge today, and I am very happy to see that doctors and psychologists working in rehabilitation centres from Ireland to Armenia and from Finland to Turkey are ready to gather, learn, and to face this challenge together.

Nicholas works at the IRCT Brussels Office and has a background in politics and EU affairs, particularly in regards to immigration and asylum policies. The regional seminar was supported by the European Commission.

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“Are children being tortured?”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part mini-series on our work in coordination with member centres in the Philippines. Look back to Thursday for Tessa’s post on the Balay Rehabilitation Centre on monitoring torture in detention.

By Line

“Are children being tortured?”

This is a question I have been asked many times when explaining IRCT‘s current project on children and torture.

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The next question is usually an (understandable) staggering, “Why?”

On a recent IRCT mission to the Philippines, the aim was to investigate this question in the context of the Philippines together with IRCT’s Quezon City-based member centre BALAY Rehabilitation Centre.

Globally, the issue of tortured children is rarely highlighted. Often reference is made to child abuse and violence against children, but torture against children is rarely included as a specific category. The objective behind the children’s project is to document cases of tortured children in the Asian region, and not least to find out why and how it is happening in order to develop measures for prevention and rehabilitation.

In Manila and its surrounding cities, it is especially street children, children living in poverty and children coming from broken families who are at risk of being tortured; either as a punishment for having committed a crime, or as a means of making them confess to a crime they might never have committed. Why this is happening is a complex matter, but the root causes include poverty, corruption, lack of awareness and lack of preventative measures.

During the mission to the Philippines, a round-table discussion on the issue of children and torture in the Philippines was held. The round-table brought together representatives from national and international NGOs working with children, agencies of the Philippine government working on child-related matters, prison management staff, social workers, lawyers and health professionals.

The purpose of round-table discussions is exactly that – bringing together different perspectives and disciplines in order to highlight an issue. At this round-table the presence of so many different perspectives proved crucial for understanding why torture against children is happening in the Philippines and what can be done about it.

For example, representatives from the prison management showed that they are receiving children from the police, although the police know or should know that the children are to be referred to youth homes according to a 2006 law on juvenile justice. At least one of the reasons as to why the police continue to refer the children to the prison authorities is the insufficient number of youth homes available in the Philippines and the incapability of the existing ones to accommodate and rehabilitate the children due to a lack of funding and support.

One of the representatives of the prison management explained yet another reason when discussing torture of children by the police at the round-table:

“The police still turn over children to us saying they are not minors because of their behavior. For the police, what the children have done is not something children can do, so to them they are not children any longer.”

As an answer to the recommendations given at the round-table she continued:

“What we can do is recommend a policy of hiring, which demands of a person to have understanding of care for children. Even uniform people are also humans they can be made to respond to children. If you strip off their uniform, they are still humans.”

On a practical level the round-table provided for a possibility to raise the awareness of and need for documentation on cases of tortured children. On an idealistic level, the round-table became a reminder that dialogue with all people involved – NGOs, the government, child advocates, prison officials, and police – including the ones you disagree with or do not expect to know or understand the issue, is crucial to address torture of children in the Philippines.


About a week after the recent our mission to the Philippines, we received a mail from BALAY saying they had been asked for input to the Philippine National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC) 2011-2016 and that the input could concern children and torture in the Philippines.

The NPAC forms part of the Philippine’s response to signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is based on the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. The main purpose of the NPAC is to set out five year plans and goals for improving the welfare and well-being of children in the Philippines. Since the knowledge of the issue of tortured children is low even among organizations working with children in the Philippines, the possibility of providing input to the national planning on this matter is of immense importance.

The draft NPAC we received did not include any programming or information on tortured children. Instead, they focused on issues related to children and violence and child abuse. This reflected the information we had been able to gather during the mission that made it clear that torture of children has failed to reach the national agenda and attention in the Philippines, although it is a concerning and highly prevalent practice.

In cooperation with BALAY we were able to add comments on torture and children in the NPAC policy. This is the first time children and torture is mentioned in a national policy document on children in the Philippines. By the 10th December we will know whether our comments were accepted – for now we are crossing our fingers.

 Line is a sociologist and researcher at the IRCT, where she currently heads the project on children and torture in Asia.

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IRCT wins key international human rights award

Press release from our website:

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) has been awarded the 2011 Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize, by the government of Argentina.

“This prize belongs to the entire movement of 150 IRCT member centres globally who work tirelessly for the rehabilitation of torture survivors, access to justice and the prevention of torture”, said IRCT Secretary-General Brita Sydhoff.

“We are immensely grateful for the recognition, especially from Argentina – a country that has worked so hard to overcome its own history of torture – which in providing international visibility to our work will aid the protection of so many of our colleagues working under inhospitable conditions around the world,” concluded Sydhoff.

Established in 2007, the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize grants recognition to foreign organisations or individuals fighting impunity against systemic violations of human rights. The prize is the first human rights distinction to be awarded by a developing country.

We are truly humbled by this selection. Read the full statement here.

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Lobbying at the UN: IRCT’s Geneva office and Uganda member centre team up

By Asger

One of the main activities of the IRCT Geneva Office is to support our members to influence the work of UN human rights monitoring mechanisms. As part of this work, I had the pleasure of hosting Josephine Akiru from our member centre in Uganda, African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV), for three days of intense lobbying in connection with the UPR review of Uganda. The UPR is a political review of a country’s overall human rights compliance, which is applied to all UN member States every four and half years.

The main focus of our lobby activities was to ensure that the State representatives were aware of the gravity of the torture situation in Uganda and that they would make relevant and targeted recommendations that ACTV can use in their future advocacy activities. The main issues in focus were the need for adoption of an anti-torture law; improvements to condition of detention and independent monitoring; access to rehabilitation for torture survivors; and timely payment of compensations to torture survivors awarded by the Uganda Human Rights Commission. It is important to note that these issues were selected based on a combination of importance and likelihood of being addressed in the UPR.

UPR advocacy is all about timing: you can’t be too early because then no one will remember what you said; if you are too late the recommendations are already prepared; and you want to find a time where the State representatives have a bit of time to sit down and listen to you. We had decided on the week between the main vacation period and the Human Rights Council Session. While many State representatives confirmed this choice we still ended rescheduling meetings at an average of 2-3 times per meeting. While this can be quite stressful, it also creates a certain feeling of satisfaction when all meetings are done and you have managed to meet about 12 States in two effective working days.

All in all it was a very positive experience and most of the States we talked to were very positive about including ACTV’s priority issues in their UPR recommendations to Uganda. In the end 23 States made 28 recommendations to Uganda pertaining to the four priority issues – all of the States that we met except one made relevant recommendation. Unfortunately, no recommendations were made in relation to the right to rehabilitation, which indicates that we need to be better at explaining this issue to diplomats.

While this exercise must be characterised as a great success, it was unfortunate that the Government of Uganda decided to keep recommendations pertaining to adoption of an anti-torture law and adequate and timely payment of compensations for torture under review until the March 2012 session of the Human Rights Council. This leaves the Ugandan NGO, with support from IRCT, with more work in convincing the Government that it should accept and implement these recommendations.

Asger serves as a legal officer at the IRCT, working in Geneva on UN human rights mechanisms.

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Monday News Updates

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we will post updates on ongoing cases of torture, new opinion pieces in the media, or news stories or issues that emerge.

Libyan demonstrators in Seoul, South Korea called on Gaddafi to step down earlier this year. Several countries have now recognized the National Transitional Council as the new Libyan government. By lmjleft via Flickr, Creative Commons license.

Following the capture and death of Gaddafi, several states, the UN human rights commission, and human rights groups have called for an investigation or condemned the killing of the former regime leader and consider whether it constituted a war crime. Some believe that for the future of Libya, it would have been preferable for the former dictator to face a trial for his crimes. More horrible torture stories have also emerged from Libya.

In a case we mentioned last week, Pakistan police in Lahore will not investigate the torture death of a 70-year-old man who died after a night in police custody. This is a horrible betrayal of justice, yet again.

A retrial began for the tortured Bahrain doctors who previously were convicted in a military trial after they treated injured protesters during demonstrations earlier this year.

Human rights defenders in Zimbabwe are ‘naming and shaming‘ those who torture, and South West Radio Africa have continued naming the alleged locations where such crimes take place.

Keep a look out on this blog and our website today for an exciting announcement.

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Moving the rehabilitation debate along

By Leanne 

I have been doing human rights work for over two decades now and have been engaged in many debates at various UN forums. Along with this turf comes a pretty hefty amount of cynicism. However, this past week left plenty of room for optimism.

On Tuesday, we co-hosted a UN event on the right to rehabilitation – that torture survivors and their families have, among their fundamental human rights, a right to holistic rehabilitative services, including, but not limited to, medical and psycho-social services and access to justice mechanisms.

The line up at the IRCT and Danish government-sponsored event was impressive. Key actors such as Special Rapporteurs, Committee against Torture and Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture leadership, and a representative of torture survivors – a survivor himself – setting out what they thought about this right. The right to rehabilitation has never been debated in any meaningful way in this sort of forum before. So – with some caution – I think that this week marked a turning point in getting the message out about the need for States and civil society to get busy and to define what the right to rehabilitation means so that torture survivors will get the rehabilitation they need and are due.

There was a sense of a willingness to get to work on the issue of the rehabilitation of torture survivors and maybe even a sense of urgency given the vast unmet need of victims and their families who get no assistance at all having survived torture.

We should be proud of the great strides made in the past couple of decades in defining torture, how to prevent it, and how to hold those who torture to account. But, comparatively little emphasis has been placed by those in the human rights sector to the issue of rehabilitation, and it is now time for robust debate and action.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of action on defining the right to rehabilitation but it is clear that it needs to be defined in a way that States can meaningfully be held accountable to and that takes into account the interdisciplinary nature of rehabilitation. And, torture survivors must be meaningfully engaged in determining what is needed for survivors to rehabilitate.

There will be great resistance to this necessary step forward in a context where States are powerfully motivated to deny that they torture. But, torture survivors voices are emerging along with the voices of those who have quietly sought to assist them through rehabilitation centres around the globe. There is a growing movement that is gathering its evidence and building its ability to make clear claims about what is needed to assist those victims of torture to rehabilitate as part of what is a just outcome to a most serious human rights violation.

Leanne came to the IRCT in July 2011 as Head of Policy and Fundraising

For more information, please see the IRCT’s submission (PDF) to the UN Committee against Torture on survivor’s Right to Rehabilitation.

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