We are constantly being presented with stories about people being tortured across the world. But there have also been a number of victories for the anti-torture movement that show the fight against torture is one that is always worth fighting. We bring together five of the most powerful stories of success.
1. Yecenia Armenta Graciano
Mother of two Yecenia Armenta Graciano spent four long years in prison in northern Mexico, accused of murdering her husband and then tortured into signing a confession. For around 15 hours she was beaten, near-asphyxiated and raped until she signed the confession, while blind folded. No one questioned or checked her injuries and marks of torture and as time went on, her visible injuries faded and eventually disappeared.
After ongoing campaigning and pressure from several human rights organisations, the court allowed for two experts from the Independent Forensic Expert Group to examine Yecenia. The findings contradicted those of the Office of the Mexican Attorney-General, which said there was no evidence of torture. As a result, the court ordered the State Attorney to further investigate the case and Yecenia was finally released on 7 June 2016.
She has previously said: “Freedom is vital for any human being. Freedom helps us breathe, it helps us live fully. I also want to be free, free to be myself, just the way I am.” She can now finally embrace her freedom, and her children.
2. Jerryme Corre
29 March 2016 is now an historic date in the human rights history of the Philippines. It marks the date when a Philippines court made its first conviction under the country’s 2009 Anti-Torture Act. Bus driver Jerryme Corre spent more than four years in prison while on trial for crimes he has long denied committing.
While in custody Jerryme was brutally tortured by the police. He was electrocuted, punched and his life was constantly threatened. He finally received justice when the police officer involved was convicted and sentenced to a maximum of two years and one month imprisonment. The officer must also pay Jerryme damages amounting to 100,000 pesos. Another police officer faces the same charges but remains at large. The case gave the many human rights defenders working in the Philippines hope that things may be finally changing.
3. Omar Khadr
Omar Khadr spent almost all of his teenage years at Guantánamo Bay. In 2002, the 15-year-old Canadian, was captured by US forces during a firefight in Afghanistan. He was taken to Guantánamo, where he pleaded guilty to throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier, but later said he had only done so because he saw no other means of making it out of the notorious detention camp.
He was transferred to a Canadian jail in 2012 and 12 years and nine months after he was captured, was released on bail in May 2015. While in Guantánamo, Omar alleges he was frequently tortured, forced to stand in stress positions and prevented from sleeping for more than three hours at a time for 21 days. He remains the only child soldier to be prosecuted in a military commission for war crimes. Omar is currently studying to become an emergency medical responder and continuing the process to appeal his US war crimes convictions.
4. Rasmieh Odeh
Palestinian torture victim Rasmieh Odeh is accused of providing false statements on her immigration and naturalisation forms when applying for entry into the US. She checked “no” when asked whether she had ever been convicted but had been found guilty by an Israeli court of the bombing of an Israeli supermarket that killed two civilians in 1969. However, she denies she was involved in the bombings, saying she was tortured while in Israeli custody and forced to confess.
Having been originally convicted for immigration fraud in November 2014, Rasmieh’s conviction was overturned in February 2016 following an intervention from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and five other organisations, who argued that evidence of Rasmieh’s torture traumatisation should be admissible in the court’s determination of her ability to engage with the immigration process.
Her case now returns to the District Judge for a possible retrial in what could be a hugely positive step forward in how PTSD is understood and evaluated in torture related cases. In commenting on the case, IRCT Secretary General, Victor Madrigal-Borloz said, “Victims of torture can find it extremely difficult to speak about their experiences. Around the world, courts and administrative bodies are finally starting to recognise this fact and give consequence to it by ensuring that their processes reflect the specific psychological situation and needs of victims.”
5. African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights’ resolution on the Right to Rehabilitation
The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights’ resolution on the Right to Rehabilitation was a landmark development for the anti-torture movement. The resolution calls on state parties to the African Charter to implement domestic laws prohibiting torture and to include clear provisions on torture victims’ right to rehabilitation. It is the first resolution adopted by the African Commission focusing specifically on the importance of the rehabilitation of torture victims.
Importantly, it specifies that states should ensure that all victims of torture and their dependents are offered appropriate medical care, have access to appropriate social rehabilitation and are provided with compensation. The IRCT, in collaboration with a group of international, regional and national NGOs, was involved in the development of the resolution, which the Commission adopted in Banjul, The Gambia in May 2015.