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 the third story we meet Christopher from Moldova.
In 2009, Christopher was arrested (together with his friend) while at college. He was taken to the police station by two policemen dressed in civilian clothes, who did not produce any identification.
At the police station, the two were separated. Christopher heard his colleague screaming. After some time, Christopher was taken into the yard, where he was beaten.
Christopher then spent 20 days in two different police detention settings, being violently beaten with rigid objects, fists and feet, over the whole body and over the head including blows to the ears.
He was strangulated for about 2 minutes, was forced to stay in the same position for several hours (at the wall with his hands up and forced not to move; any movement was punished with beatings). He was forced to hold a police shield in his hands while the perpetrators kicked the shield with their feet, causing him pain and humiliation.
Toilet facilities were restricted; with no water for more than 24 hours and food for three days. He was repeatedly transferred (on at least seven occasions) to different police stations in the city centre and surrounding districts, without any explanation. As a result of this ill-treatment, his health significantly worsened and he was eventually hospitalised.
Christopher’s case was referred to RCTV Memoria for medical assistance, documentation of the physical and psychological injuries from the torture and legal review by the centre’s legal advisor.
RCTV offered legal and psychological support to Christopher during the criminal procedure. Throughout the investigation Christopher and his lawyer collaborated with RCTV Memoria’s legal advisor. After the first court hearing, and because of pressure and aggressive behaviour shown by the defendants and their lawyers, the prosecutor investigating the case requested that representatives from RCTV Memoria be present during the trial.
Thanks to RCTV Memoria’s intervention, the trial was monitored by NGOs (RCTV Memoria and the Moldovan Institute for Human Rights) and by journalists. Taking into account the complexity of the case and the inappropriate behaviour shown by the defendants and their lawyers, the case was examined by a panel of three judges. RCTV Memoria’s legal advisor attended three hearings, while RCTV Memoria’s psychotherapist attended four court sessions. The psychotherapist was called as an expert and also monitored Christopher’s health and mental state during the proceedings.
The defence team tried to delay the proceedings and hearings were frequently postponed. Unfortunately, since 2012 this case is still waiting to be heard by the Appeal Court in Chisinau, where only thirteen cases have been heard in the past two years. Meanwhile, the perpetrators are free and still working in the police force.
Christopher’s disappointment at the delays to the Court hearings and lack of justice affect his health, which continues to worsen. He and his family also feel intimidated by the perpetrators. During the last two years, Christopher has continued to receive psychological assistance, because of depression and other trauma consequences.
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.