Archive for December, 2011

Happy holidays

Wishing you a peaceful and prosperous new year from everyone at World Without Torture


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In Bahrain, Protests and Police Action

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist at the New York Times, reports in this video from Bahrain, where he speaks with human rights defenders Nabeel RajabZainab al-Khawaja, and a state spokesman from the royal family.

Read our previous post on Bahrain here, featuring a discussion with Zainab’s sister, Maryam and Nabeel in Copenhagen.

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Forensic evidence confirms torture of Iraqis after handover from Danish troops

Although we had this posted to our website over the weekend, we haven’t yet included this news on our blog.

The results of forensic examinations of Iraqi citizens detained by Danish troops and transferred to Iraqi security forces have revealed that they were tortured.

The forensic examinations were performed in Jordan earlier this month by three clinical experts coordinated by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).

Five Iraqi citizens – all detained and released without charge in late 2004 – had alleged torture following their transfer by Danish troops to Iraqi forces following random arrest. The preliminary findings indicate that all five had been subjected to ill-treatment amounting to torture.

Through our FEAT project (Forensic Evidence against Torture), Jørgen Lange Thomsen, a medical examiner and head of the forensic department at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense (you can also hear more about Dr. Thomsen’s work in our short film) , examined two Iraqis last week while accompanied by journalists from Danish newspaper Politiken (you can read the English version of their story here).

Following random arrest by Danish soldiers during the occupation in Iraq, approximately 30 detainees were handed over to Iraqi police, who abused and tortured them, the evidence confirms. Five of the Iraqis plan to sue the Danish government.

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Facing a history of torture

Brita Sydhoff, IRCT Secretary-General, receives the Emilio Mignone Prize, a human rights award, on behalf of the 140 member network of rehabilitation centres around the world. Sydhoff (second from left) stands with (from left to right) Isabel Mignone, Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs Héctor Timerman, and Mignone colleague, human rights activist and writer Horacio Verbitsky. Photo by Josefina Nacif Casado

Looking at the massive memorial Parque de la Memoria – Monumento a las Víctimas del Terrorismo de Estado, I noticed a familiar name etched in the dark grey stone. It was the name of a young man from Sweden– my home country – the son of a vicar my father knew who was in Argentina during the junta period and was also among the ‘disappeared’. I remembered the horrific disappearance from the Swedish newspapers at the time.

The memorial stands starkly in a park, facing the waters of Río de la Plata, where many of the victims of the regime are believed to have been killed. Estimates range from 12,000 to 30,000 disappeared – the victims who were taken by military police and never seen or heard from again.  The memorial holds the names of 8,000 men, women, and children with space for up to 30,000 names in total upon the certification of further deaths.

I was in Argentina for about a week to receive the Emilio Mignone Human Rights Award on behalf of the IRCT and the 150 centres that comprise our membership and provide rehabilitation and support for victims of torture worldwide. Bestowed by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, part of the prize is to visit with government, civil society, and human rights organisations  in Argentina in the week leading up to the award ceremony.

The Parque de la Memoria was among numerous visits to places of memory that filled me with both solemnity and humbleness. The torture and disappearances that took place during the military regime had left deep scars in Argentina and the people here; but places like the Parque and the living museum at the Naval Engineering College– more commonly known as the torture centre at ESMA – were testament to a country facing its past.

My first stop was to our member centre, the vastly impressive EATIP (in English, the Argentine Team of Psychosocial Work and Research). The group of psychologists, psychiatrists, medical doctors, among others – an entirely volunteer group – provides much-needed work in documentation of torture, support to victims and witnesses during trials, and, most significantly, their specialisation in psycho-social rehabilitation and support for survivors of torture and the families of victims. They have just finished a book, the most recent of several they have published, which will be translated into English as part of the IRCT project to collaborate and share knowledge across regions.

At their offices, I was introduced to a survivor of torture. Now an active member of an organisation documenting torture, he had spent two and a half horrendous years in the torture centre ESMA.

He was among only 400 estimated survivors of ESMA, the former naval engineering school where 5,000 people were tortured during the junta. I visited there during this week as it has now become a place of memory of its past horrors.

I was taken to Building 23, where many of the officials at ESMA lived. In the basement was a torture apparatus and centre; in the attic were so-called ‘dog houses’, 1 meter by 1 meter boxes where victims were hooded and detained. Many victims were sedated at ESMA only to be flown over the river and pushed out of airplanes. The complex also had a maternity ward, where pregnant detained women gave birth before they were killed. Many of these stolen babies were given to military families, raised without knowledge of their origins, and only now a few are being reunited with their aging grandparents.

It’s undoubtedly a shocking place. But now has become a place of education, part of a memorial to the victims of torture, disappearance, secret detention, and murder. Nothing, of course, can ease the pain and suffering of these crimes, but it seems that Argentina, through living museums like ESMA and places of memory has begun to address its past.

This was never more keenly felt than at the awards ceremony and my time spent with the family of Emilio Mignone. As I learned during my time there, Mignone was a fearless and unceasing advocate of human rights. Together with Horacio Verbitsky, the famous writer and activist, they founded the impressive organisation CELS (in Spanish, Centro de Estudios Legales Y Sociales). I was privileged to meet with the Mignone family, and Isabel Mignone was present at the award ceremony, in addition to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Héctor Timerman, and Mr. Verbitsky. Emilio Mignone’s legacy is so much alive through the work that continues at CELS and the award that bears his name.

However, as I write this, torture continues in Argentina. Many of the organisations and government officials I met with during my week stay discussed the ongoing cases that continue to be filed. While there have been many good intentions – for example, the country has taken seriously the dissemination of reparations to survivors and victims’ families – many have failed to adequately address conditions of detention, reform of the police or continued impunity. One organisation summed it up as, “The slow implementation of good intentions” to tackle continuing torture in Argentina. And sadly, “torture still goes on,” another told me.

Thankfully, organisations like IRCT member EATIP are still there to care for the survivors and to push forward the movement against torture.

 By Brita, IRCT’s Secretary-General

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Human rights organisations condemns repressive and deadly action by Mexican police

From our website:

The IRCT condemns the repressive action by the Mexican police following the recent student demonstrations in southern Guerrero. The action by the police resulted in the death of Alexis Herrera Jorge Pino and Gabriel Echeverria, several severe injuries and numerous detentions.

IRCT member organisation CCTI and other human rights organisationscall on the Mexican authorities to respect the integrity of the students present at the scene, and all those who were arrested, whether students, journalists or others present, for the immediate release of all persons arrested for these acts, and for a prompt and impartial investigation about the circumstances and those responsible for the death of the two students.

An urgent action statement signed by multiple human rights organisations, including our member centre CCTI (Collective against Torture and Impunity) in Mexico is available here (PDF en español)

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Rehabilitating women and girls from sexual violence and torture

Women rally in honour of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign in Lalitpur, Nepal, 2009. Photo credit to Saathi, a Nepalese NGO. Available via Flickr.

In 2003, researchers questioned a random sample of almost 400 Liberian women living in refugee camps in Sierra Leon. About 74% reported they had been sexually abused prior to their displacement. More than half responded that they had been sexually abused during their displacement. (PDF for sources from UNFPA)

While this may seem like an extreme example, it echoes the reality for many women and girls around the world. Rape and sexual abuse have been common weapons of war in the more than 100 armed conflicts that occurred between 1989 and 1997.

And in the aftermath of armed conflict, women are continually targeted, exploited, and abused – from life in refugee camps, the post-war collapse of justice systems, or the absence of healthcare facilitates to adequately treat the survivors of sexual violence.

In coordination with our five-year strategy, the IRCT wishes to focus on particularly ‘hidden’ victims of torture – in this case, the women and girls who have faced sexual violence and torture both during conflict and in peacetime.

With the help from a generous donor, we have been able to provide grants to 22 member centres around the globe. Their geographic diversity is a testament to the widespread problem of sexual violence. However, their range of activities – from holistic psycho-social rehabilitation to livelihood programmes – demonstrated a passionate range of partners that are ready to address variety of needs of women and girls who are victims of sexual violence.

In the coming months, we will update our website and this blog with information on the 22 centres targeting survivors of sexual violence, their activities and programmes, and some stories from their work on the ground. Furthermore, we will continually update this page with news, information, and new reports that address the issue of sexual violence and torture.

Please join us in continuing to highlight this global crime against marginalised women and girls, and highlight the work of our member centres and partners who offer their rehabilitative services.

For more information, please read:
Women’s bodies are the terrain of struggle (The Sunday Independent – South Africa)
Kyrgyzstan: Sexual Violence Amidst Ethnic Conflict  (The Journal of Turkish Weekly)
End the cycle of violence (Amnesty International)
Violence against women in situations of armed conflict and displacement (PDF/World Health Organization)

By Tessa

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Monday News Updates: Human Rights Day Edition

My first job of every day is to scour the news for articles on cases of torture, changes in national or international legislation, or opinion pieces. Monday’s are the longest – from Saturday to Monday, there are a huge number of articles to sort through.

This Monday was exceptional in its volume. International Human Rights Day, 10 December, was Saturday, and I am grateful to see many newspapers, Op-Ed writers, and organisations take the opportunity to focus on the issue of torture. As such, below I will simply provide the links and titles from Human Rights Day 2011.

Pakistan: Human Rights Day: ‘Include a course on human rights in the curriculum’ (The Express Tribune)

Pakistan: Human rights violations: Criminalisation of torture demanded (The Express Tribune)

Maldives: President hopes for investigation of torture against inmates (Miadhu News)

Human Rights Day: Seizing a historic opportunity to end torture in the Middle East and North Africa – Ten steps against torture (World Organisation Against Torture –

Hope and Change: The Arab Spring Dominated the Headlines, But 2011 Saw Other Landmark Human Rights Victories (The Huffington Post)

ASIA: The state of human rights in Asia on International Human Rights Day 2011 (Asian Human Rights Commission)

NEPAL : An Appeal from the Center for Victims of Torture to the government of Nepal on the occasion of the international Human Rights Day (Centre for Victims of Torture – Nepal)

The 16 Days Campaign: Hope, Strength and Power Prevail (Physicians for Human Rights)

Violence against women in post-conflict (Amnesty International – USA)


By Tessa


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Celebrate our rights to a World Without Torture on International Human Rights Day

Please share with friends and family for World Human Rights Day 10 December.

Torture is horrific. Healing is possible. Celebrate 10 December Human Rights Day for the right to a World Without Torture. Please share to spread the message.

Although each year the international community celebrates 10 December as Human Rights Day, this year is different.

In 2011, throughout the Arab Spring and other global demonstrations millions took to the streets to demand their human rights – the right to dignity, the right to life, liberty, and security, and the right to freedom from torture. Such demands can, and did, topple regimes.

For this year’s Human Rights Day, the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, take the opportunity to celebrate the rights of all people to be free of torture, and the rights of the survivors of torture to justice and rehabilitation.

To join in the celebration, to add your voice to the millions of demonstrators in claiming our rights, and to join the global campaign for a World Without Torture, please join us on Human Rights Day:

  • Tweet a message to your followers. A suggestion: On #HumanRights Day #10Dec, let’s #celebraterights for a World Without #Torture @withouttorture
  • Donate your Facebook status with a message celebrating the right to freedom from torture on Human Rights Day. Perhaps:
  • Today is International Human Rights Day (10 December). Let’s remember to celebrate our human rights – the right to dignity, the right to life, liberty, and security, and the right to freedom from torture.
  • Share a picture or our new film for your friends on Facebook
  • Or join in the UN’s global Twitter conversation with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay 9 December 9:30-10:30am (New York time) by using the hashtag #AskRights. Also on Facebook and livestreamed.

Download our Human Rights Day Facebook poster to share Saturday here (JPG, 5.5 KB)


IRCT accepts Mignone Prize for Human Rights

The prize was awarded to IRCT Secretary-General, Brita Sydhoff, by Héctor Timerman, Argentina’s Minister for Foreign Affair. Photo by Presidencia de la República del Ecuador under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Last night, in the Argentine capital, IRCT Secretary-General Ms Brita Sydhoff collected the 2011 Emilio F Mignone International Human Rights Prize on behalf of the IRCT’s membership of some 150 centres around the world working for the rehabilitation of survivors of torture. The prize was awarded by Héctor Timerman, Argentina’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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 regarded as the region’s premier human rights prize.

In bestowing the prize the Minister explained that it was given for “The importance of the IRCT’s work with torture victims, and in the prevention and prohibition of torture in the world, as well as the seriousness with which the IRCT performs its work.”

The Argentine Minister also expressed his wish that in giving the prize to the IRCT, Argentina would “give visibility to the issue of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, at a time when Argentina is attempting to change entrenched practices that could constitute torture.”

Read the full story here (también en español).

We previously wrote about the award when we were notified, and we continue to be honoured and humbled by this award. Brita will return to Copenhagen Friday and will write a blog about her experiences in Argentina (she was able to travel and meet with government officials and NGOs during her time there), so keep a look out next week for that.

For Spanish speakers, there are also two stories in Argentine media about the award.

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World Without Torture: A film by the IRCT

The film is also available with Arabic, French, and Spanish subtitles.

As we approach International Human Rights Day – 10th December – we are very pleased to announce the release of World Without Torture: A film by the IRCT that highlights the importance of documenting torture, as well as providing rehabilitation for torture survivors and working to ensure that torture doesn’t take place to begin with.

The film features the case of Khaled Said. His death at the hands of state police – and the attempt to cover it up through the official autopsy report – sparked massive protests in Egyptin the run-up to the  revolution that led to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s oppressive regime.

Documenting torture, as in the case of Said and numerous others, is among the key priorities of the IRCT.  It can have far reaching results and helps us move towards our ultimate goal: a World Without Torture.

Watch our 15 minute film to see interviews with key activists, human rights defenders, and those on the forefront of anti-torture work and rehabilitation. And celebrate Human Rights Day by sharing this video with friends and family – through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools.

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