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 fourth and final survivor story, we meet Catherine from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Catherine thought she could depend on the police to investigate the rape of her daughter in March 2014. Instead, Catherine was beaten, threatened and witnessed the arrest of her husband as punishment for her complaints. The rapist was, as it transpired, a policeman himself. Yet psychosocial support helped her overcome her initial dissuasion and she decided to seek justice.
However, Catherine’s experience with the police derailed her intentions to prosecute. The reprisals, which is commonly a dissuasive factor preventing torture victims pursuing justice, halted the case. As a result, the accused police officer was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
The security concerns Catherine faced were not the only factors dissuading her. Her husband spent two months in prison and lost his job as a result. These traumatic factors made it harder for Catherine to mount a case again. Coupled with the fears of re-traumatisation, Catherine no longer has faith in the police. Frustration with the justice system and fear of facing the perpetrator are reported as two common factors dissuading torture victims from seeking justice.
Catherine expected compensation from the perpetrator of her daughter’s rape and a criminal conviction for the rapist, common expectations motivating torture victims to pursue justice.
Due to the lack of security, neither of these outcomes were achieved. Yet the psychosocial support offered by SAVE CONGO, an IRCT member in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gave Catherine the strength to go through the trial in the first instance and to come to terms with the trauma she, her daughter and her husband face following their torture.
“I took comfort in the support of psychologists from SAVE CONGO,” says Catherine. “I’m not satisfied at the moment because I have not received any compensation from the perpetrator.
“As an impoverished torture survivor, the cost of private medical care and trial are prohibitive factors which could have stopped me seeking rehabilitation and justice,” Catherine explains, echoing that one of the main reasons torture survivors are dissuaded from going to court is the financial burden it places upon them.
“With SAVE CONGO I’ve been treated by medical doctors, psychologists have visited me and my family to help me overcome my experience and to prepare me for court, and I have been able to participate at a group therapy session at their rehabilitation centre,” Catherine explains.
“I’m grateful for their support, especially as they have limited resources to treat victims of torture.”
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.