In our Fighting Torture series, we speak with people from a number of professions who work with and support survivors of torture. What does their work mean to them and what are the biggest challenges they see in the anti-torture and rehabilitation movement?
Up next in the series is Andrés Gautier, the co-founder of the Institute for Research and Therapy of Torture Sequels and State Violence (ITEI) in Bolivia. Andrés speaks about making the transition from working in a private practice to a rehabilitation centre and how torture not only affects the victim but also their family and the entire community.
Q: What is your profession and where do you work?
I am a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst at the Institute for Research and Therapy of Torture Sequels and State Violence in Bolivia (ITEI).
Q: How long have you worked in torture rehabilitation and human rights?
Since 2001, so for 15 years.
Q: How did you end up doing this work?
I was working as a psychotherapist in a private practice in Switzerland and met and married a Bolivian refugee who is a psychologist. We had planned to go to Bolivia and happened to go to a seminar where there was a psychotherapist from the Service for Social Rehabilitation (SERSOC) in Uruguay, who spoke about the work they were doing with torture victims. We thought it made sense to run a similar project in Bolivia so looked into if a centre already existed. It didn’t, so we went back and founded one in 2001.
Torture is related to society. When I was a psychotherapist in Switzerland I was focused on individual harm, but working with torture victims is about social harm. When working with torture victims you are involved in society in a way you are never involved when you are working in a private setting. This can make some colleagues afraid. For me it is a fascinating situation. You have to go out from your private practice. You have to make denunciations and announcements and speak out against injustice.
Q: Tell us about the situation for torture survivors where you are/area you are involved with or your home country?
When we founded the centre, most of our friends said torture is from the past, we’re a democracy now. But the reality is different. We had to treat victims of the dictatorship which ended in 1982. On the other side, the tradition of torture and ill treatment by the police and army has remained. The mentality remained. Nowadays torture is increasing.
It is recognised that there are flaws in the Justice system, but no action is taken and torture is routinely used to get a confession. There’s seldom use of scientific investigation methods, merely force. The presumption of innocence is seldom respected, so as soon as someone is detained they are exposed to ill treatment. It is also becoming more frequent for the police to demand a bribe, saying they will torture you if you don’t pay.
Q: What is a typical day in the office/field for you?
Life is unpredictable in Bolivia but my appointments with clients help to set some kind of routine that I try to keep, even though it is difficult. When I am in the office I have three to four appointments with clients each day. I also visit several prisons regularly. Every Monday I go to the prison for men and every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon I visit the women’s prison and see three to five clients.
Q: According to various surveys, many people do not think torture is such a big problem; that it is a thing of the past; or some even think that it is necessary. What would you say to them?
It is an illusion to think that torture is something that can be forgotten. When there is one incident you can be sure that it is not isolated. The tendency to torture is there, it is contagious, like gangrene.
The torture victims are affected and their families are affected. Also the perpetrator, they become ill and develop sadistic tendencies. So the state becomes the first producer of delinquency.
Q: And finally, many of us do care about torture survivors and victims. How can we support the anti-torture/torture rehabilitation movement?
These people are very important because they have the courage not to look away. These people are conscious of society. As one concentration camp survivor said, “It is not I that is ill, it is society that is ill”. When people support organisations like Amnesty International and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) financially or by being ready to hear and share what is happening this is important because the perpetrators or state want silence.
To break and sustain this broken silence is very important. We are very grateful to these people who feel solidarity with us.