Intercultural relations and torture rehabilitation in Latin America

Editor’s Note: The following blog post comes from José Utrera, Regional Coordinator for Latin America. As a holistic approach to rehabilitation of torture survivors must take into consideration the various cultural contexts and methods of collecting data and reporting as well as healing and treatment, Jose addresses the issue of intercultural approaches in the Latin American context. This is the first of two blog posts from IRCT’s annual Latin America meeting of torture rehabilitation centres.

The 16th meeting of the Latin American network of health institutions working against torture and other violations of human rights took place in the last week of September, in the Andean city of Quito, Ecuador. Twenty-seven representatives of 16 organizations, almost all them IRCT members, from 13 Latin American countries met to exchange experiences and discuss strategic issues related to their work.

One of the issues discussed in the meeting was the intercultural approaches to prevention, rehabilitation and access to justice related to victims of torture. This is an important matter because in several countries indigenous people and others as Afro-descendants are significant proportion of the population. Latin American centres are using different methodologies and strategies to face this issue.

A rehabilitation centre in Colombia presented on their experiences of immersion and continuous adaptation of their methodologies and ways of intervention with indigenous communities of Cauca. Before starting the process of collecting and assessing information on the traumatic experiences the communities suffered, staff agree with the population on the purposes and uses the information. Thereafter, the staff live within the communities for some weeks, taking part in their social and religious activities to gain the confidence of people, especially the women, to share their experiences and to understand it as much as possible those experiences and the ways they cope with it. As the team’s comprehension of the resources that communities have to cope with the traumatic experiences— such as, religious rituals, medicinal plants, etc. — and the expectations of the victims and the concrete political context increase, the methodologies for data collection and assessment of individual and collective damage and the approach to rehabilitation are adapted.

The representative of an allied organisation in Guatemala presented their experience on data collection and reporting about the traumatic experiences of indigenous people victims of genocide. They emphasised not only the need to accurately know the language, but also the ways indigenous people express the personal significance and feelings during and after torture, which frequently is difficult to translate in Spanish as it reflects an own worldview (cosmovisión). She also pointed out the need to accompany the victims, especially the women, not only to prepare their testimonies, but also during and after they attest.

The lessons from the regional seminar show the importance of adapting treatment methods to the particular cultural context of victims, one of the fundamentals of holistic rehabilitation.

Different centres presented their experiences, sharing the following issues:

  • the methodologies for immersion to gain confidence of indigenous people to share their traumatic experiences and understanding of those experiences;
  • aspects related to language, particularly the ways indigenous people express the significance and feelings during and after torture;
  • regular adaptation of intervention strategies according to emerging insights of the traumatic experiences and the way persons and communities want to deal with it;
  • methodologies to assess the individual and collective damage, including the adaptation and validation of instruments for investigation and reporting;
  • adaptation of rehabilitation approaches according to their own resources (traditional medicine, social mechanisms, rituals), their values and the political contexts in which these take place;
  • training of professionals to recognise these cultural factors in the processes of assessment and rehabilitation of torture cases.

During the discussion of those experiences, the participants stated that the assessment and reporting of torture cases in the multicultural societies of Latin America aims to a) administer justice, and b) to recognize each person citizen’s rights no matter what his/her culture.

By José Utrera , Regional Coordinator for Latin America and Caribbean

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