Voices from Latin America – strategies for safety

Editor’s Note: In her first piece Line explained some of the challenges facing the torture rehabilitation movement in Latin America that she heard about at the IRCT Regional Seminar.  Here she explains how the regional gathering helped those staff address the issues.

So how can a meeting help ameliorate the growing security concerns for human rights defenders in Latin America?

Through presentations, workshops and discussions, the professionals at the IRCT Regional Seminar in Mexico City were able to share their knowledge, experiences and challenges. Through this, they — the doctors, psychosocial counsellors, and lawyers in the fight against torture — learned from each other, discussed the challenges to their work and, thus, developed new strategies to avoid risk.

As such, a specific goal of one workshop was to develop security plans at national and regional levels.

One strategy discussed was to improve the communication amongst the rehabilitation centres in the region to quickly enable mobilisation and reaction in response to urgent security developments.

Plans were also set forth for day-to-day measures to be taken when working in fragile security situations. These included security measures at work, in the home, when travelling, and in the event of detention by state authorities. Among examples of these daily precautions were: changing the hours of arriving and leaving work; not providing sensitive information over the phone; trying to position desktops away from windows and never participating in public demonstrations alone. And, in the event of a threat or attack: making sure to have extra clothes, keys and money in another place; memorising telephone numbers to ask for help from trusted persons; knowing of possible safe spaces to go, such as a church, a public place or a hostel.

Many of the participants have lived through internal armed conflicts and dictatorships; some are torture survivors themselves.  They are not strangers to risk.

In addition to developing security plans, the meeting provided a space for sharing ideas on self-care for trauma and anti-torture professionals, sharing best practices on documenting and treating the effects of torture. Above all, the meeting provided a forum in which support and solidarity were exchanged.

After three intense days, the seminar ended with a final discussion and evaluation; there was much more to talk about and many challenges ahead, but the spirit, the humour and a firm decision to continue the crucial work in the fight against torture seemed intact and strengthened.

Line is a Project Coordinator, focusing on the Latin American partners and the NSA projectThe regional seminar was funded by the European Commission.

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