Right to rehabilitation still not a reality for most victims of torture

Around the world, conflicts and humanitarian crises result in migratory flows of millions of asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons every year. According to health professionals and researchers, as many as 35% of refugees worldwide could be victims of torture.

It used to be that those lucky enough to be near a torture rehabilitation centre were able to seek treatment, but in many places the number of victims of torture has now reached a point where the need for rehabilitation exceeds the services available.

To support victims of torture, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) last year adopted and promoted a policy on the Right to Rehabilitation in accordance with the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) Comment 3.

The policy highlights the obligation of states to ensure that victims of torture have free and prompt access to rehabilitation services. Sadly, as the rehabilitation sector is facing a funding crisis, this commitment is more important than ever.

The Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan. (Courtesy of UNHCR/Brian Sokol, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. (Courtesy of UNHCR/Brian Sokol, via Flickr Creative Commons)

For many rehabilitation centres, the future is not looking bright. They operate in situations where their fate is continuously uncertain and because of a reduction in funding, some of them are even at risk of closing.

Yet, getting states to fully commit to the rehabilitation of victims of torture is not an easy task. This is something that becomes particularly apparent in countries where torture is carried out by the state, and where health professionals and rehabilitation service providers are constantly under threat.

Whether it is doctors being arrested and tortured simply for trying to save lives in Syria or rehabilitation centres in Latin America being exposed to threats and other intimidation tactics, it is clear that access to health and in particular, the right to rehabilitation is far from a reality in many parts of the world.

So how do we face these challenges?

An important step is to change the way that everyone from states and governments to the people they govern perceive torture and rehabilitation for torture victims. Those who believe that the practice of torture can be justified must be reminded that it is a serious human rights violation that can never be tolerated.

In addition, decision makers need to understand that rehabilitation should not be a service provided mostly by civil society organisations if and when international agencies and philanthropists decide to fund it. In fact, each and every state has a responsibility to ensure that torture victims everywhere have free and prompt access to rehabilitation services.

Without this change in attitude, political will and appropriate funding, we cannot guarantee that victims of torture receive the rehabilitation services they need.

And without offering rehabilitation to victims of torture, we are denying hundreds of thousands of people worldwide their last and only hope to reclaim their life and dignity, lost at the hands of perpetrators.

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