Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, 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.
In our second survivor story we meet torture victim, Veli Saçilik whose case progressed into a complex back-and-forth case eventually reaching the European Court of Human Rights.
Veli always hoped for a positive outcome in his case – after all, with his right arm missing, the physical scars are obvious.
It was July 2000 when Veli’s story began. One of 60 prisoners in Burdur Prison, south-west Turkey, Veli tried to defend himself against an onslaught of 415 Turkish state forces who, responding to calls from the Prison Governor, fired tear gas and destroyed the prison with bulldozers to prevent what was portrayed as an internal uprising.
As Veli tried to defend himself, a bulldozer crushed the wall behind him.
“I looked through the hole, and I saw a bulldozer outside, breaking the wall. I shouted to him to stop the attack, to stop this treatment of prisoners. And then my right arm was just ripped off,” says Veli.
Veli was then held by the security forces where he was beaten and forced to remain without food and water. Hours after the incident, he was transferred to hospital where he received treatment, but his arm was missing and could not be saved.
Veli accessed the services provided by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) where the expert team explained what rights Veli had and the processes he would need to go through.
Undeterred by the lengthy legal process ahead, Veli and the other prisoners lodged a criminal case against the members of the security forces. Veli also lodged a claim for compensation against the government for the loss of his arm.
None of the Turkish authorities were ever charged for causing injury in the attack. However, Veli and the other prisoners’ fight for justice continued and they lodged a case before the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that the actions of the security forces amounted to ill-treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention and that the Turkish authorities had failed to adequately examine their allegations.
Then in March 2005, in relation to Veli’s claim for compensation, a Turkish court ruled that the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior should award Veli 140,000 Euros in compensation.
Receiving monetary compensation is one of the expectations of torture victims when going to court. For Veli, receiving compensation was particularly important to prove the state’s culpability.
“But then the Ministries launched a campaign against the ruling,” Veli explains. Although the compensation awarded by the lower court was paid to Veli, the Ministries lodged an appeal eventually leading to a decision of the higher court in 2008 to quash the compensation payment, thereby condemning Veli to pay back the compensation.
Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights gave its ruling in July 2011 in relation to the case brought against the Turkish authorities, noting that Turkish authorities used “systematic, disproportionate and unjustified violence” towards the inmates – in a prison which had seen “no problems or uprisings” – and had therefore violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Support from HRFT has been paramount through this legal wrangling. Veli says: “It has taken a lot of work since the attack to feel right again. This case is still ongoing and reminds me of the events.”
“With the help of the centre, I am being given a space to talk. I expect access to rehabilitation and I am being given that too,” says Veli, recounting two expectations which are incredibly important to victims seeking justice.
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.