Human rights within the UN system are both interrelated and interdependent
On reporting to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in an effort to demonstrate how torture is a direct infliction of ill-health that negatively impacts on the enjoyment of a range of other social, economic and cultural rights.
Recently, the IRCT and member Centro de Atención Psicosocial (CAPS) in Peru submitted a joint alternative report (PDF) to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). On behalf of CAPS, the IRCT Secretariat presented the report at CESCR’s 48th session in Geneva. Here the Peruvian State was examined by the Committee on its implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on the 2nd and 3rd May 2012.
There are nine core international human rights treaties in the UN system. Each of these treaties has a corresponding treaty body; a committee of independent experts that monitor States’ compliance with the provisions contained in the treaties.
ICESCR and the Convention Against Torture (CAT) form part of the core international human rights treaties. Since CAT is established specifically to eliminate torture, most reports on torture are submitted to them, and the prohibition of torture is categorised as a civil and political right. However, in order to capture the destructive impact that torture has on the life of a person, the practice must also be examined from the perspective of economic, social and cultural rights.
Our report outlined how torture impacts the enjoyment of the right to health (PDF) as well as the importance of establishing immediate access to rehabilitation services for survivors of torture, in order to prevent further deterioration of the health of the victim. It seems like a logical deduction that torture has a severely damaging impact on the health of a person. However, while it is a principle of human rights that they are interdependent and interrelated, torture is often not clearly conceptualized as a violation of the right to health.
Our goal with our submission to CESCR was to highlight the responsibility of states in ensuring access to proper rehabilitation services for survivors of torture and to stress that this obligation is contained not only in CAT but also in CESCR.
We argued that torture is a direct infliction of ill-health by a state agent and that through this, torture must be categorised as a violation of the obligation to respect the right to health.
Importantly, CESCR has recognized the access to rehabilitative health services as being included in Article 12.2 (d) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and therefore as an integral element of the right to health. Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture also contains a right to rehabilitation (PDF). Nevertheless, in most countries, torture survivors do not have access to rehabilitation services through the state, and both CESCR and CAT have yet to develop their work further in this respect.
In the fall of 2010, I spent two months with CAPS in Peru studying the socio-economic effects of torture, and the importance of the availability of and accessibility to proper rehabilitation services in order to minimise the socio-economic effects of torture. This research gave us the opportunity to explore precisely the link between the effects of torture and the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, especially the right to health.
In Peru there are currently 120,000 registered victims, not counting an unknown number of unregistered victims, of political violence from the internal armed conflict in the country that lasted from 1980-2000. At the same time, access to and availability of health care services, in particular mental health care, is very poor. In the rural areas of Peru, the level of health care services is alarmingly low. This has the consequence that people living in these areas need to travel to Lima to get medical assistance. Many of them cannot afford the travel, or are not able to, due to their medical condition. Amongst these, victims of torture and political violence constitute a particularly vulnerable group; not least because of the mental and physical damages they may suffer from, but also because of the stigma that they are being exposed to through their status as victims.
Apart from the fact that torture causes permanent damages to the mental and physical health of a person, these damages may also impact the enjoyment of a range of other economic, social and cultural rights — particularly if access to proper and holistic rehabilitation services is not in place.
In Peru, I saw how mental and physical consequences of torture impair a victim’s ability to study and obtain an education. If the torture took place during imprisonment, valuable years of enhancing job-opportunities and education will often have been lost. Victims with physical and mental impairments will have difficulty in getting a job as well as in performing an array of job functions. By loosing the ability to work, victims of torture easily end up in (further) poverty.
The link between poverty and torture is also spelled out in IRCT’s London Declaration. Further, by causing trauma and mental suffering, torture breaks down social networks and relations, and disrupts family ties; it undermines the moral fibre of a society.
While it is obvious that torture has a highly destructive impact on the health of a person, it is important to note that this in turn impacts negatively on their whole life, including the ability to work and secure basic needs. The socio-economic effects of torture are nevertheless harder to measure, and many aspects of the interdependence of torture and economic, social and cultural rights have yet to be explored and documented.
Reporting on torture and torture rehabilitation as a matter for economic, social and cultural rights is an important step in order to facilitate and further the interrelatedness and interdependence that are core principles of human rights.
This report on Peru was a first step of many.
Line is a Programme Officer. She has worked at the IRCT on projects regarding Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, children and torture and with centres in Asia and Latin America.
The NSA project is supported by the European Commission.