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.