Marking this year’s Human Rights Day on 10 December, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.
For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.
In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.
We start with the testimony of Randy (not his real name) who was arrested, blindfolded, beaten and stabbed. Now twenty-seven years old he is still overcoming his torture for allegedly joining a communist militia in the Philippines. With guidance and support Randy overcame his anger and vengeance. Today, he still seeks legal punishment of the perpetrators.
“I want to get justice. Support through the legal process has helped me locate the people who tortured me. I hope they will one day be punished.”
Randy’s drive to ensure punishment of those who tortured him is not unique. In fact, research conducted across IRCT’s members indicates that seeing punishment for the perpetrator is the top expectation of torture victims, when taking their case to court.
Randy is still overcoming the torture he experienced in April 2010. A suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the military arrested Randy while he prayed at his home in the northern part of the Philippines.
Two soldiers escorted Randy outside and beat him. Then, in sight of Randy’s family, they stabbed him in the hip with a bayonet. Afterwards Randy was blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van. The journey in the van ended at a military camp. There Randy was detained, doused in water and electrocuted.
“I cannot explain the pain I felt,” says Randy. “It felt like my body would explode. I kept pleading for them to stop but they did not listen.
“Instead of being killed, I was tortured and then transferred to a police station. There I was forced to sign a confession that I was a member of the NPA,” says Randy.
It was during this time that IRCT’s member centres – BALAY and the Medical Action Group (MAG) – visited him to show how the State had infringed his rights. Initially Randy did not want to pursue justice. According to IRCT’s members in this report, a lack of knowledge of their rights and legal processes, and fear of reprisals, are some of the most frequent reasons why victims often do not pursue justice.
“Initially I wanted revenge,” says Randy. “I even considered actually joining the New People’s Army to find my torturers and to punish them for what they had done.”
With guidance from BALAY and MAG, Randy’s vengeance subsided and he was encouraged to mount a case, so long as he was in a secure location. Randy’s bail was paid and he was moved to a secure location in Manila.
“The experts who visited me in prison helped me understand how legal proceedings can have positive effects for me and for other torture survivors,” Randy explains. “Filing a case against the soldiers who tortured me was a vital step in my recovery process. I felt the need to file a case not only for me but also for other victims.”
Legal processes can entail trauma – not only must the torture survivor relive their experience in a different setting, but many torture victims find the court’s attitudes regarding care towards the victim is often negative. It is something Randy noticed throughout his court proceedings. “The events are still fresh in my mind. I cannot forget it and I can recall all of the details,” he says.
In 2011, the prosecutor found probable cause in the torture case filed by Randy and released warrants of arrest against the two soldiers. However, by the time the warrants of arrest were released, the two soldiers had been transferred to a different unit. There were several attempts to locate the soldiers to no avail.
Then in 2012 the criminal case filed against Randy came to a resolution. He was sentenced to be imprisoned for three and a half years. The court favoured the soldiers’ testimonies and considered that he had been arrested as part of a legitimate operation. Randy and his relatives’ testimonies were given less credibility and considered inconsistent.
Randy’s lawyer immediately filed a motion to appeal his criminal conviction with the Court of Appeal; the appeal is still pending.
However, the case filed by Randy against the military is currently at a standstill. Although the court sent out warrants of arrest against the two soldiers in 2011, they are still at large.
“There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished,” Randy explains. “I am not satisfied. Developments and updates about the case have been limited and the process is very slow. ”
On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.