To mark this year’s UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October, UK-based torture rehabilitation charity Freedom From Torture hosted a special one-off online video debate with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Méndez, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona.
Anchored by Kolbassia Haoussou, Co-ordinator of the Survivors Speak OUT network, the debate is the first time the two UN global human rights leaders have ever come together to discuss the issues of poverty and torture.
The debate focused on three questions submitted via Twitter users but one message came out of all the answers – more can be done to break the cycle of torture and poverty.
“First and foremost it is everybody’s responsibility to ensure that rehabilitation services are provided,” says UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona.
“States need to realise their obligations under the convention against torture and various groups and NGOs currently assisting victims of torture need to be allowed by states to complete their work,” she adds.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Méndez, believes more needs to be done by governments and groups to facilitate the needs of torture victims. He says: “The fact is that all torture makes a person poorer. In this situation you are making an already poor person poorer. This should compel us to make even greater efforts to help them.
“Particular people in the poverty bracket are asylum seekers and refugees. Their social standing often means they cannot access the services they need, and this is wrong. Rehabilitation services should be the obligation of any state including those where a torture victim resides, regardless of immigration status.”
The debate saw much involvement from the public and even attracted participation from Jon Snow, news anchor at the UK’s Channel 4 news, who asked the question of whether states are aware of their obligations to ensure human rights and rehabilitation to torture victims.
“I think many states do, but what we’re having to be careful of at the moment is that states are not using financial crisis as excuse to cut support and protection for survivors,” says Ms Carmona.
“Rehabilitation services are not a drain on finances and there are plenty of ways to offer rehabilitation if those services are allowed to function. There are people who simply seem to have no access to these services. Living in poverty is not only about lack of income. It’s really a lack of human capabilities and lack of power.”
The fact remains – people in poverty are seen as easily exploitable and unable to defend seek justice for their treatment. It is a vicious cycle as often the impoverished position which leads a person to torture is also often the result of torture.
But the cycle can be broken says Ms Carmona: “What type of society we want to live in? It is everyone’s responsibility – governments, groups and the public – to ensure states comply with their international legal and ethical obligations.”
You can see World Without Torture’s coverage of the debate by going to our Twitter page: @withouttorture
For more information on poverty and torture you can read Freedom From Torture’s latest report, the ‘Poverty Barrier’, by clicking the link.