Bringing forth the voices of torture survivors

Editor’s Note: The IRCT is welcoming a new staff member to their Communications Team, who will be regularly blogging for World Without Torture. In this article Ashley Scrace explains his role in the team, how his experience has led him here and the challenges he faces in the role of Communications Officer.

Other than small holidays trips abroad, I had never left the UK for any extended period of time beyond a few weeks. Suddenly moving from a stable life in my home country to my home in Sweden – where I reside and commute to Copenhagen every day, across the famous Øresund Bridge – came as a bit of a shock to the system. I had a job in Denmark with the IRCT set up, a home in Sweden guaranteed, but satisfaction is one thing which is rarely certain.

But despite only working with the IRCT for a couple of weeks now, I am certain I will be very satisfied here and, I hope, those interested in the IRCT and its work with rehabilitation, justice and prevention of torture will be equally satisfied with my work.

I have been involved with journalism, particularly newspaper and radio journalism, since my mid-teens. From work experience placements on local newspapers and radio I soon developed an active interest in the media and communications. It was during my time at the University of Sheffield that I learned one valuable element which, until this point, had never really been emphasised: focus on the human interest.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has feelings, opinions, views and emotions to contribute to those stories. But bringing that out can be tough, and that is where my skills lie – develop information, bringing out the truth, and conveying it in concise, colourful, coherent stories.

Joining the IRCT

Joining the IRCT after years of news journalism therefore seemed natural. Quite often in journalism you forget about the people behind the stories. You focus on angles, values, ethics and so on, and it becomes rather distant from your subjects.

The IRCT changes that. It is my role to discover the stories of survivors of torture, to listen to them with empathy, to recognise their messages and feelings, and to digest the stories so a global audience can recognise the realities of torture, the effects of torture on a person, and just what can be done to rehabilitate survivors.

The work of the IRCT is like no other I have experienced. Not only do the numbers of rehabilitated torture survivors show success, but their stories do too. Some of these people have been tortured for having a voice in the past. They have so much to say, but nowhere to say it. Perhaps they have no impetus to say anything more. But with careful rehabilitation, survivors of torture are coming forward with their stories – they are being shown they are entitled to a voice.

It is therefore an honour to be able to work alongside such incredible survivors, and such passionate colleagues.

It has been made apparent to me even in these early days that torture is a reality which is often swept under the carpet. Right now I am reading through some of the most harrowing accounts of human rights abuse I have ever seen. The stories come from a brave group of torture survivors in Rwanda whom – after years of physical, mental, and sexual torture – have decided to speak out about their experiences.

Perhaps rather ignorantly, I did not realise this level of torture still exists, particularly in these sheer numbers. That is perhaps what has shocked me most so far – the numbers of torture cases worldwide are staggering. Truly staggering. Torture is a very real problem and it is only with organisations like the IRCT that the realities of torture can be brought to light.

The biggest challenge I will face is comprehending just what a real problem torture is. At times it may seem preventing it is impossible, but I hope my work with the IRCT can contribute to their fight against torture, and can help survivors seek rehabilitation and justice.

And of course, all of this comes amidst the background of Syria – another area where refugees face conflict and war on a daily basis. At the IRCT we will be working with colleagues across the region to follow the situation in Syria to see how the conflict develops, how neighbouring countries cope with the conflict, and how international governments react.

So do stay tuned for my posts on the World Without Torture blog (which I shall be updating from time to time) to find out exactly what I am doing with the team in this unique, humbling position. It is a pleasure to be here.

AshleyAshley will be working in the Copenhagen office of the IRCT and can be reached on email at asc@irct.org. You can also follow him on Twitter by going to @Ashleyscrace

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