Archive for category 26 June

2016 – A year in review

Before we look at what’s ahead in 2017, we at World Without Torture want to look back at some of the stories we covered in 2016. Stories that caught the attention of readers around the world, stories that covered a mix of issues, from survivor testimonials, interviews with those on the frontline providing care to victims, to inspirational posts on different approaches to rehabilitation.

It has been a busy year and we couldn’t include everything, so if some of your favourites are missing, please mention them in the comments. Thank you for your continued support and engagement, we look forward to sharing more stories with you throughout 2017.

International Women’s Day: Four strong women in the fight against torture and ill-treatment
To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we highlighted the work and lives of four strong women who – in their own way – have fought human rights violations such as torture, sexual violence and other forms of ill treatment. Read the full blog here.

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The SURVIVORS rehabilitation centre in San Diego runs a healing club, which helps victims explore their new city and adjust. Image courtesy of SURVIVORS 

5 creative approaches to rehabilitation
No two torture survivors are the same, and across the globe rehabilitation centres explore what kind of rehabilitation method works best to help each individual survivor rebuild their life. In this blog we found out more about some of the most creative approaches used around the world.

Still no justice in the “Wheel of Torture” cases in the Philippines
The Philippines was in the news many times in 2016, as the number of those killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war on drugs continues to grow. Yet before things escalated we did a follow up story on a case that came out in February 2014, when the world was shocked to learn about the “Wheel of Torture”, a sadistic game being used at a secret detention compound in Biñan, Laguna Province, Philippines. Find out more here.

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The winner of the 26 June photo contest. Photo by Ferruccio Gibellini

Around the world: 26 June 2016 in pictures
26 June is always a huge highlight of the year, and 2016 was no different. Thousands of people across the globe joined the torture rehabilitation movement in showcasing both the resilience and creativity of survivors and caregivers alike. We shared a snapshot of the types of activities that took place. Check out the images here.

6 things you may not know about the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
This was one of our most popular blogs of the year, with 2016 marking the appointment of a new Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr. Nils Melzer. We shared some information on the role and what it means to be a torture investigator working on behalf of the United Nations. Read the blog here.

Fighting Torture: Q&A with Andrés Gautier
In our Fighting Torture series, we speak with people from a number of professions who work with and support survivors of torture. One of the most read was with Andrés Gautier, the co-founder of the Institute for Research and Therapy of Torture Sequels and State Violence (ITEI) in Bolivia. Check it out here.

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26 June Support Life After Torture – Photo Contest 2016

In connection with this year’s 26 June campaign the IRCT set up a photo competition, encouraging all participants to send in their best pictures from the day. The winning photos will be featured on the front and back covers of the 26 June Global Report 2016. It came down to the following photos, which were chosen among a high number of beautiful images from rehabilitation centres and organisations across the globe.

The Winning Photo

This image will be featured on the cover of the 26 June Global Report 2016

Photo by Ferruccio Gibellini

The winner of the 26 June Support Life After Torture – Photo Contest 2016 is from IRCT member centre in Italy, CIR Vi.To. – Hospitality and Care for Victims of Torture, Italian Council of Refugees. Taken by Ferruccio Gibellini, the photo is from the theatre performance Antigone in Exilium, which features refugees who have participated in the psycho-social rehabilitation theatre workshops that are part of CIR Vi.To.’s activities to support torture survivors. The performance and images raised awareness about 26 June and highlighted the need for support for rehabilitation programmes and for activities to support torture victims in general.

First runner-up

This photograph will be featured on the back of the 26 June Global Report 2016

Photo by Thilan Samarakoon

The first runner-up is from the centre HRO-Kandy Human Rights Office in Sri Lanka which, to commemorate 26 June, organised a petition calling on the government to prosecute cases under the 1994 Torture Act. As part of their campaign, HRO-Kandy hosted an exhibition that depicted real stories of torture, recent judgments, and posters on human rights, while exploring transitional justice, disappearances and the rights of prisoners. This image, taken by photographer Thilan Samarakoon, portrays law student Anusha Dissanayake speaking to members of the public about the event.

Second runner-up

Second runner-up: Committee for Prevention of Torture (CPT), Russia. Photo by Mikhail Solounin.

Photo by Mikhail Solounin

A special mention goes to second runner-up Mikhail Solounin for his series of portraits from IRCT member centre in Russia, Committee for Prevention of Torture (CPT). The centre, in collaboration with the independent news outlet “Mediazona”, published the stories of seven clients from Orenburg and Nizhny Novgorod. You can see the series of portraits and their stories here. In addition, members of CPT conducted a number of other activities to commemorate 26 June including a photo exhibition in Moscow and the screening of the film «286» made by lawyer from the centre.

Congratulations to the winners. Stay tuned for the launch of the 26 June Global Report 2016 featuring many more images from around the world and #SupportLifeAfterTorture.

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The world takes creative and inspirational action on 26 June 2016

Once again creativity played a big role in marking this year’s 26 June campaign, as organisations around the globe showcased the resilience of caregivers, survivors and their families and communities through a variety of creative events and activities.

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The Healing Club at SURVIVORS of Torture, International, USA ran a drum circle event

The UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June is a day to honour victims of torture. For many, it is also a chance to celebrate the achievements of the movement and raise awareness that torture continues to exist in many places around the world.

Members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) organised lots of different kinds of events, including activities for children, music and dance productions, theatre, conferences and vigils.

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Turkish rehabilitation centre SOHRAM-CASRA celebrated 26 June with events for children

In Turkey, the SOHRAM-CASRA rehabilitation centre celebrated 26 June with a range of events for children, including a sack race and face painting. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Vive Zene centre raised awareness through street art, while on the other side of the world in Australia, Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services brought their conference on “Sustainable Rehabilitation for Survivors and their Communities” to life with traditional music and dance performances.

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Vive Zene Centre for Therapy and Rehabilitation created a 3D street mural and ran an art workshop

26 June is the perfect occasion for torture survivors to showcase what they have learned by processing their trauma through theatre, movement and song; therapeutic approaches, which are becoming popular with more and more health professionals.

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The Kim Kuen-Tae Memorial Healing Centre ran an event featuring a musical performance in Japanese and Korean by survivors of torture

These are just a selection of some of the many creative events that took place this 26 June, as we were once again inspired by the originality and dedication of those involved in the anti-torture movement.

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Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services in Australia included a musical element in their conference this year

If you haven’t shared your photos and stories from 26 June with us yet, please do so on our World Without Torture Facebook page.

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Around the world: 26 June 2016 in pictures

Just as we have seen in previous years, creativity played a big role in marking this year’s 26 June campaign. Thousands of people across the globe joined the torture rehabilitation movement in showcasing both the resilience and creativity of survivors and caregivers alike.

 

TPO Cambodia – Transcultural Psychosocial Organization

• TPO Cambodia – Transcultural Psychosocial Organization

This year, TPO Cambodia organised an event together with torture survivors of the Khmer Rouge Regime at their headquarters in Phnom Penh. Survivors, TPO staff and other guests discussed the right to compensation and rehabilitation for the victims of torture. The event began with a guided meditation by one of the TPOs counsellors, Dr. Muny, and a TPOs technical advisor, who reminded the audience about the importance of the commemoration of this day and the development of rehabilitation rights for victims of torture.

In addition, in a symbolic act, TPO staff and survivors freed a dozen of caged birds on the TPO´s rooftop, follow by a speech of a survivor, Mr. Ith Udom, who shared some of his experiences and expressed how important the remembrance of this day is for him and other survivors.

 

DIGNITY – The Danish Institute Against Torture, Denmark

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To mark the UN International day in Support of Victims of Torture, on June 24, DIGNITY held an event in the Kongens Have park in Copenhagen. Approximately 18.000 people joined the event and enjoyed music, food, drinks and talked with DIGNITY staff. Chinah, L.I.G.A, Kesi, The Eclectic Monkier and the kid-friendly show Pippelipop were among the performers who entertained throughout the day.

 

EATIP – Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial, Argentina

 • EATIP - Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial, Argentina

To commemorate 26 June, EATIP ran a clinical athenaeum and hosted a film screening of ‘The Look of Silence’, an Oscar-nominated documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer that examines the perspective of victims of torture, disappearances and Extrajudicial Killings in Indonesia. Afterwards, the centre organised a post-film debate among the participants.

As part of their 26 June activities, EATIPs staff also organised a photo contest ‘Miradas sobre la memoria y la resistencia’ – ‘Views on memories and resistance’, which is currently running for two months and will finish with a photo exhibition open for the public. The objective of this contest is to further commemorate 26 June and the 40th anniversary of the military civic coup in Argentina.

 

Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights, Iraq

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In Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, Jiyan Foundation invited survivors to share their stories with politicians, human rights workers, therapists, lawyers and journalists, at a dinner event. After the dinner, there was a panel discussion, where the participants discussed how survivors could be helped more effectively. A press release in Kurdish, Arabic and English was also published, calling attention to the many people who were tortured by the Saddam regime and need our support.

In Kirkuk, Jiyan Foundation met with the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Provincial Council to discuss the relevance of the work of the centre, and how civil society as well as the government can support survivors of torture more effectively and cooperate on these issues.

 

SURVIVORS of Torture, International, USA

• SURVIVORS of Torture, International – USA

A photo exhibition featuring SURVIVORS’ clients and the journeys that may take to rebuild their lives, ran throughout all the month of June at La Mesa Library in San Diego, California. SURVIVORS also held a client Healing Club with a drum circle provided by Resounding Joy and its annual Ice Cream Social. This event was an opportunity for the community to come together in solidarity with torture survivors, meet staff, volunteers, and partners, and write letters of hope to the clients detained at the detention centres.

 

STTARTS – Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assitance and Rehabilitation Service Inc, Australia

STTARTS – Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assitance and Rehabilitation Service Inc, Australia

This year, Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services (STTARS) invited Paris Aristotle AM, who is the CEO of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, Chair of the Settlement Services Advisory Council and advisor to the Australian Government on refugee and asylum seeker policy, to speak at the “Sustainable Rehabilitation for Survivors and their Communities” event at the University of Australia. At the event, Mr Aristotle spoke about how Australia can respond to the growing humanitarian crisis, which to date has led to the displacement of an estimated 18 million people in Syria alone.

He also reviewed current settlement issues within Australia. In his keynote address, Paris focused upon the most effective ways to “Support Life after Torture”, not only for the intake of 12,000 Syrian/Iraqi refugees displaced as a direct cause of the terrifying war and ongoing conflict within that region, but to highlight concerns for refugees living in Australia.

 

Advocacy Centre for Human Rights, Kenya

Youth in a show of unity to Support Life after Torture during the event to mark 26 June at Kahawa Sukari grounds

In Kenya, to mark 26 June, the Advocacy Centre for Human Rights teamed up with members of a local youth group, police officers from Kahawa Sukari police station, members of the local county commission and the administration police. The event culminated with a social forum, where the local youth group interacted freely with the police and participated in a football match. This was a very positive event as the local police has been accused of a number abuses against members of the community.

During the event dubbed ‘Support Life After Torture’, over 140 youths and 21 police officers gathered at Kahawa Sukari Estate to celebrate Life after Torture in remembrance of victims and survivors of torture, sexual violence, inhumane and degrading  treatment and other related abuse under the police and helped create a common understanding to hold perpetrators accountable through community based advocacy.

 

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5 reasons why 26 June matters

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As the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June is a day when the world commemorates and honour torture victims, express solidarity and take action to support them with rebuilding their lives.

As this year’s 26 June approaches, we look at why this day is so important to victims, their families and communities and those who work every day to support life after torture and towards a world without torture. Here are five reasons why 26 June is important.

1. The world listens to victims of torture

It is a day where we can speak openly about torture and its devastating consequences without shame and without being met with suspicion. Many torture victims express that one of their main obstacles to rebuilding a life after torture is the lack of official recognition that torture takes place. This makes it difficult and often dangerous for victims to speak openly about what they have been through and the physical and psychological trauma they experience. The world actually listens to victims on 26 June.

2. The world unites to support victims of torture

While victims often feel isolated and that they must live alone with their experience and suffering, on 26 June, we all stand together in solidarity and support life after torture. Families, communities and supporters all join with victims to mark the 26 June. It is a crucial for victims to be reminded that while most states have ignored their obligation to torture victims, there are people and organisations all over the world who continue to try to succeed where the state fails.

3. The world demands that rehabilitation be funded

26 June is an opportunity to tell the decision-makers of the world that torture victims do need support and that they have an obligation to deliver. Torture happens in more than 140 countries all over the world according to Amnesty International. Torture victims often feel powerless, guilty and ashamed, triggered by the humiliation they have endured. The effects of torture reach far beyond the victims. They spread to their children and family who suffer similar symptoms with devastating impact on their lives. The global resources available to support victims to rebuild their lives are completely inadequate and do not meet the needs of millions of victims globally. On 26 June we can express this demand for change loudly and clearly.

4. The world demands that rehabilitation be put on the political agenda

The world needs to know about the efforts that do take place to support life after torture. We know that rehabilitation helps victims recover from their physical and psychological trauma, we know that documenting torture helps victims seeking justice and recognition for the wrongs against them, we know that identifying and supporting torture victims among asylum seekers helps them get integrate in their host countries and we know that strong anti-torture legislation helps protect against and redress torture. We also know how to do all these things, but unless they are backed politically, their effect will be limited. 26 June is an excellent day to put political decisions-makers on the spot and demand the political action that is sorely needed in many countries.

 

IMLU´s 26 June Campaign 2015 focus on advocating for the enactment of the National Anti-Torture Law, and the National Coroners Service Bill.

IMLU´s 26 June Campaign 2015 focused on advocating for the enactment of the National Anti-Torture Law, and the National Coroners Service Bill.

 

5. The world takes action in emotional, creative and inspirational ways

Finally, 26 June is a day where we can all do something. Victims and their families can speak out, rehabilitation centres and others working to support victims can hold events and take political action to mark the day. We can do this on and off line, at events and gatherings, through cultural activities and by raising awareness in our communities. In previous years, organisations have run a diverse range of events, including conferences, picnics, seminars vigils, dance and music events, as well as theatre. Poster competitions, face painting, kite-making and musical performances involving children have showcased the creativity and diversity of the organisations involved.

 

26 June Campaign Kit

To support all these activities and more, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) has developed a new campaign kit. The kit contains material designed to support life after torture. To show your solidarity and support for victims of torture on 26 June, check out our campaign kit for inspiration.

Use the hashtags #SupportLifeAfterTorture and #26June on social media and use the logo to turn your profile picture into a message of solidarity. You can also read factsheets on lots of different topics and use them to raise awareness, read the global reading on the day or host a screening of Oscar winning film maker Joshua Oppenheimer’s latest movie, The Look of Silence. For more information click here.

Main poster_final web example

 

 

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What 2016 has in store for the torture rehabilitation movement

There is no doubt that 2016 will be another significant year for the global torture rehabilitation movement, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the sector. In this blog, we look at what 2016 has in store for us, listing some of the key highlights and challenges coming up.

Violence in connection with upcoming elections

From Samoa to Bolivia, millions of people around the world will be participating in elections this year. While most elections are expected to be peaceful, countries like Uganda and Haiti have both seen an increase in violence and human rights violations in connection with their upcoming elections. In Haiti the violence intensified after widespread allegations of fraud, and the country’s presidential runoff was eventually cancelled. In Uganda, the country’s former prime minister and current presidential candidate, Amama Mbabazi, recently accused President Yoweri Museveni of using murder, torture and violence to curtail growing support for the opposition.

Looking elsewhere, Gambia, which has a long record of torture and other human rights violations, is also due for an election in 2016, and in the DRC and Somalia there are concerns that upcoming elections could trigger violence and unrest.

The pre-election violence is a clear reminder of the need to take precautionary measures and to be ready to respond with investigation and rehabilitation.

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Torture – The International Outlaw exhibition, which will go on the road in 2016

An exhibition: Torture – The International Outlaw

Marking last year’s Human Rights Day, a group of anti-torture organisations launched an exhibition called ‘Torture – The International Outlaw’ at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The exhibition showcases the history and the hope found in the fight against torture and gives visitors a chance to learn about torture survivors’ stories. Later this year, Europeans will also get a chance to visit the exhibition when it opens in Brussels and then goes on the road to be displayed at several key events in 2016.

10 years of OPCAT

In June this year it will be 10 years since the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – also known as OPCAT – entered into force.

The OPCAT is one of the most important international legal instruments in the protection and prevention of torture around the world. Under the OPCAT, the United Nations’ Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) obtains unrestricted access to places around the world where persons may be deprived of their liberty, their installations and facilities and to all relevant information.

26 June

26 June is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this date, anti-torture organisations and human rights activists around the world organise campaigns, activities and other events in support of torture survivors and in commemoration of victims.

Every year, there are a wide array of events, and this year is no exception. For example, the IRCT and its members will be organising lots of activities as part of their global 26 June campaign. The best way to stay up to date with upcoming events is to follow the IRCT on Facebook and Twitter.

Olympics: Torture and ill treatment of detainees in Brazil

With only six months to go until the opening ceremony in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil has bigger things to worry about than getting ready for the 2016 Olympics. As Human Rights watch noted in its latest World Report, “chronic human rights problems plague Brazil, including unlawful police killings, prison overcrowding, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees.”

Following a visit in October 2015 by the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), the head of the delegation and Secretary-General of the IRCT Víctor Madrigal-Borloz noted that while Brazil had made efforts to tackle the problems, many of the issues the SPT highlighted during its visit in 2011 had still not been addressed.

The preparations for the Olympics have also been linked to widespread human rights abuses. Unfortunately, it is not the first time that Brazil’s human rights record has been criticised in connection with a global sports event. According to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, the country’s state security forces injured or detained 178 journalists who covered demonstrations in various parts of the country in the year leading up to the 2014 Football World Cup.

Electing a new Special Rapporteur on Torture

Also in 2016, the UN Human Rights Council will be electing a new Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SRT). As only the sixth person to take on this important role, the new SRT will replace Argentinian human rights lawyer and professor, Juan Méndez who has been the SRT since 2010. The election will take place in September as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s September session.

The new SRT will be taking office at a time when the anti-torture movement is increasingly focused on putting victims at the centre of its work.

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Delivering on the Right to Rehabilitation through science

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and Mexican rehabilitation centre Colectivo Contra la Tortura (CCTI) are hosting a global interdisciplinary scientific symposium from 5 to 7 December in Mexico City.

The Symposium, which is the tenth of its kind, is expected to be a unique and exciting opportunity for the global torture rehabilitation sector to come together to exchange experiences and research on developments in the rehabilitation of survivors of torture. The event will bring together medical professionals, researchers and experts from within the torture rehabilitation sector, as well as those working in closely related sectors, such as public mental health, violence against women and protecting persons with disabilities.

To find out more go to: www.irctsymposium2016.irct.org

 

 

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Around the world: 26 June in pictures

Nearly three weeks since the 26 June campaign swept the world, we continue to receive photos from the big day. As always, various torture rehabilitation centres across the globe came out in force to celebrate and honour victims and survivors of torture, and their photos offer a unique insight into some of the many activities and events that took place.

 Albania

Under the theme ‘Right to Rehabilitation’ the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims’ member Albanian Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma and Torture dedicated a special exhibition to the sufferings of victims of the communist regime. The exhibition included photographs, names and faces of people who were initially persecuted for political reasons and then imprisoned and executed without trial.

Courtesy of Albanian Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma and Torture

Courtesy of Albanian Rehabilitation Centre for Trauma and Torture

Australia

At the University of South Australia, nearly 300 people attended an event co-organised by the university and local rehabilitation centre Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service (STTARS). Regional Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Thomas Albrecht delivered the keynote speech, discussing the global challenge of refugee protection, with specific focus on providing sustained support to survivors of violence and torture.

STTARS

Courtesy of Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service

Canada

IRCT member The Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture hosted 26 June events that saw around 140 participants, including survivors, experts and community members come together to discuss and learn about the consequences of traumatic experiences as well as the successes and challenges associated with helping torture survivors overcome their past. The day included a photo exhibition, a set of discussions, and theatrical and musical performances.

Courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture

Courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture

Russia

IRCT member in Russia, The Committee Against Torture organised a series of peaceful organisations in Nizhny Novgorod, Orenburg and Yoshkar-Ola dedicated to 26 June – complete with red balloons. In Moscow a similar event was organised together with Amnesty International.

Courtesy of the Committee Against Torture.

Courtesy of the Committee Against Torture.

 Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, HRO Kandy held a poster exhibition themed “Justice & Dignity for all” in the days leading up to 26 June. The exhibition, which attracted more than 3,500 visitors in the course of two days, depicted the rights of individuals through posters drawn by school children. The message that HRO Kandy wanted to share with the visitors was: “Say No to Torture”.

Courtesy of HRO Kandy

Courtesy of HRO Kandy

 

We encourage you to share your photos and stories with us either as a comment here or on our World Without Torture Facebook page.

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Taking a creative approach to 26 June

Just as we have seen in previous years, creativity played a big role in marking this year’s 26 June campaign. Thousands of people across the globe joined the torture rehabilitation movement in showcasing both the resilience and creativity of survivors and caregivers alike.

The UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June is the day in which people and organisations from around the world commemorate and honour victims of torture. For many, it is also a chance to celebrate the achievements of the movement.

Across the globe, members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) organised a diverse range of events that included picnics for torture survivors, vigils, dance and music events, as well as theatre.

26 June is also a time for entire communities and families to come together, and for children to sing dance and play. Some centres had poster competitions, face painting, kite-making and musical performances, especially for and by children.

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Turkish rehabilitation centre SOHRAM-CASRA celebrated 26 June with events for children.

Dance, song and theatre in particular have become popular ways of celebrating 26 June. Last year, when over 100 organisations took part in the campaign, many chose to mark the day with cultural performances. These events can generate a huge amount of interest, as the public and media can learn about the experiences of survivors first hand, in an original and artistic way.

But more importantly, dance and theatre are great ways of engaging torture survivors and allowing them to process their trauma, which is why many health professionals include movement as a type of therapy for clients.

In Tibet, one centre put on a play about the struggles of political prisoners, while another centre in South Korea organised a colourful and musical day in honour of victims and survivors of torture.

Tibet

About 250 people watched the play by the Tibetan Torture Survivors’ rehabilitation program.

There are endless ways of showing support for the anti-torture movement, and each year on 26 June we are blown away by the creativity that individuals and organisations across the globe demonstrate when they organise their events.

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At Gwangju Trauma Center in South Korea, a chorus shared the message of hope for torture survivors around the world.

We hope to share more photos from this year’s 26 June events, and in the meantime we encourage you to share your photos and stories with us either as a comment here or on our World Without Torture Facebook page.

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26 June Campaign: The legacy of torture – “We were marked and exposed”

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In the autumn of 1991 and six months before the three-year long war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, 16-year-old E.B. was living in a city in Croatia, with her Serbian father and Croatian mother. During this time, Serbs in the area were routinely persecuted by the Croatian police, soldiers and paramilitary because of their ethnicity. E.B.’s family were among those singled out by the authorities.

On several occasions, E.B’s family were targeted by the police and military. Armed officers entered their home and made death threats in front of E.B. and her sister. “They told me that they were looking for arms. They threatened me and my children. They did not show me the search warrant. At that time small crosses were put on apartments in which Serbs lived and we were marked and exposed,” recalls E.B.’s mother.

In October 1991, the police came to the house and took E.B.’s father away. Thirteen days later his body was recovered. The pathologist’s report found that he had been tortured and thrown into a river while he was still alive. E.B. was involved in the search and identification of her father. As a result, she lived in a constant state of fear. “I told my mother to stop asking the authorities about my father, they could kill us too,” she says.

Following her father’s death, the police continued to threaten the family, going as far as to subject her mother to interrogation. Growing up in an environment of constant intimidation, combined with the loss of her father and the circumstances under which he died, E.B. developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. She received treatment from a child psychiatrist in Zagreb and finished her secondary school education, but dropped out of university because she was unable to cope with the events of her past.

(Courtesy of simpleinsomnia, used via Flickr creative commons license).

(Courtesy of simpleinsomnia, used via Flickr creative commons license)

It was 15 years later in 2006, when E.B. and her mother, along with E.B.’s then eight-year-old son, came into contact with the Rehabilitation Center for Stress and Trauma (RCT) in Zagreb.

RCT was contacting people who could potentially serve as witnesses in war criminal trials. After meeting E.B., the care providers quickly realised that she was struggling to cope, dealing with symptoms including restlessness, low levels of confidence and an inability to make decisions. They also diagnosed E.B.’s mother with severe post traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

To ensure E.B. and her family received the support they needed, RCT Zagreb took a group approach. A social worker and psychologist visited the family twice a month and occasionally they were supported financially. The RCT also organised a support network for E.B.’s son and for her mother, and the family began to cope better with daily life.

The centre continues to support the family through a follow-up treatment programme for torture victims that agree to be witnesses in war crime trials. RCT Zagreb also supported the family in seeking compensation for the death of E.B.’s father. Unfortunately, they lost the case and were ordered to pay the trial costs. It is a sad reality that these verdicts are often given to discourage victims to seek justice for crimes committed against them.

The war in the former Yugoslavia turned hundreds of thousands of people into victims of displacement, disappearances, torture and rape. Yet, there is a large number of families like E.B.’s that have not received rehabilitation and compensation for their suffering.

RCT Zagreb works with the populations at risk, emphasising the effects of social reconstruction in post-conflict communities and reducing social exclusion, so that people like E.B. can rebuild the pieces of their lives and begin again.

 

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26 June Campaign: Supporting survivors in their fight for justice

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It is time to put a face to torture victims and reclaim their need for and right to rehabilitation – a right guaranteed under the UN Convention against Torture. As part of this year’s 26 June campaign, we are sharing the stories of survivors and care providers to show how providing rehabilitation services to torture survivors is a right and responsibility for all.

For many torture victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation and reparations for the trauma suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. Yet, seeking justice can often be a traumatic experience for a survivor, or been seen as a waste of time. The psychosocial support provided by IRCT members to those seeking justice and reparation plays a hugely important role in changing this perception.

The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), a governance, health and human rights non-profit organisation based in Nairobi, Kenya is one such centre. IMLU supports torture survivors during sometimes lengthy legal cases by offering them group or individual therapy.

In 2014, IMLU provided psychosocial support to a group of nine ex-servicemen from the Kenyan Air Force, who were detained, imprisoned and tortured after a failed coup attempt in Kenya in 1982. Thanks to IMLU, the group overcame the strong feelings of shame and stigma they had experienced, and eventually felt so empowered that they decided to share their stories with the world.

 

The group had been imprisoned and tortured. Courtesy of kIM DARam.

The group had been imprisoned and tortured. Courtesy of kIM DARam.

When IMLU first met the group members, they were going through legal proceedings in the form of a civil case, suing the government over wrongful dismissal and ill-treatment. Most of the group members had never spoken about the torture they experienced after the coup attempt and were hesitant to engage in therapy.

IMLU counsellors provided the group with psychosocial support and education about the impact of torture, which helped them normalise their feelings and experiences. Because of this, the group was able to start building trust with each other and the counsellor, which meant they could start to process the trauma.

As a final component of the process, IMLU helped the men let go of any part of their story or feelings that they no longer wished to hold on to. The men chose to write letters to their perpetrators, which they then burned in a letting go ceremony.

IMLU’s group therapy empowered the men to move on and rebuild their lives. They have now formed a society, which they hope to use to help other torture survivors and assist them in rebuilding their lives.

IMLU continued to provide the men with peer counselling training in order to further empower the group to reach out to other torture survivors.

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