It is hardly news that for many torture survivors achieving justice is a crucial part of their rehabilitation process. Nor is it surprising that many victims never find justice because of impunity of their perpetrators. But what might come as a surprise is the fact that many survivors of torture choose not to seek justice for reasons other than impunity.
When it comes to overcoming their trauma and piecing their lives back together, many torture survivors place hope in the prospect of finding justice. Unfortunately, impunity often puts an end to this dream and instead of seeing justice done, the victims see their perpetrators walk away free.
But impunity is not the only factor preventing victims from seeking justice. Just like each victim’s situation may vary, so do the reasons for not taking their perpetrator to court.
Those working with survivors of torture highlight the fear of reprisals, including fear for safety as one of the most common factors for not participating in legal proceedings. Sadly, there are too many tales of victims and their families being threatened for filing a complaint that you easily lose count. Others are harassed and beaten while their families are arrested to punish victims for speaking up.
Perhaps it is not very surprising then that the lack of belief in the justice system is another reason for why torture survivors do not take the matter any further. How can you trust the system to look after you and your family when you have been abused by the authorities or the police?
Even for those who have not experienced any abuse or wrongful arrests, opting for legal proceedings is far from an easy or pleasant choice.
Taking their case to court means reliving some of the most painful and traumatic moments in their life. Naturally, they might ask themselves if the chance of achieving justice and redress is worth all this pain.
Exacerbating the trauma is often the length of the trial or legal process. For those victims whose everyday life is already a constant struggle, taking part in drawn-out and traumatic court proceedings will hardly give them the respite that they need.
It very quickly becomes clear that too often the justice system protects the perpetrator and not the torture victim — something that can have dire consequences when the victim lacks resources and support.
Like a David and Goliath battle, those who have been exposed to torture also tend to be the weakest and poorest in society. To go down the legal path they will need both financial support and help with the often complex court proceedings. The sad reality is that most likely these victims will be on their own unless they are lucky enough to receive help from a rehabilitation centre.
This leads to the question: what can we do to change this?
The road to justice is long and winding, and often full of obstacles for victims of torture, but without them and their testimonies, we are nowhere closer to bringing the perpetrators to justice and obtain reparation for the victims. Everyone involved needs to recognise this while acknowledging the many factors that dissuade torture survivors from seeking justice.
By looking at the process from the victim’s perspective, it becomes clearer to health professionals, lawyers, judges, court officials, police and all the other relevant actors why some torture victims choose never to take steps to seek justice and reparation for the torture inflected upon them.
Without the right support, a victim may never take the first step.