Archive for category Human Rights Day

Commemorating International Human Rights Day by supporting our work to fight torture worldwide

On the 10th of December, the world commemorates the 69th birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was an acknowledgment that every person has equal rights everywhere in the world, including the right to be free from torture.

Unfortunately, human rights are continuously under attack. But we still believe that darkness falls and hope rises.
MAG pic for WWT

Photo: Health professionals in the Philippines being trained in how to identify, document and report cases of torture.

Just a few weeks ago, we were in the Philippines, where there are around 13,000 reported deaths resulting from the government’s bloody “War on Drugs” committed without due process.

Yet, together with our member centre the Medical Action Group, we trained brave Filipino health professionals on how to identify, document and report cases of torture. This effort was supported by the Department of Health, which also acknowledged the urgent need to develop hospital ER protocols for recognizing and supporting torture victims.

For over 30 years, our member the Medical Action Group has been taking this road less traveled – putting up a good fight to make the country torture-free. Born in 1982, at the height of the Marcos dictatorship, the Medical Action Group continuously commits itself as a health professional organization to collectively respond and speak out against any forms of gross human rights violation. Their work is becoming relevant now more than ever.

So what better way of celebrating this important day than to support our work – empowering the most vulnerable in society and supporting victims of torture – by donating to this cause.

While fighting for human rights seems futile sometimes, let’s remember:

Even in the darkest times and unfavorable circumstances, through the reign of dictatorships and oppressive regimes, there are those – like IRCT’s members – who keep the flame of hope burning.

As the saying goes, “If not now, when?. If not us, who would?”

If you want to support this important work please donate here.

 

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7 Human Rights Days Significant to the Anti-Torture Movement

Are you a human rights activist at heart whose New Year’s resolution is to voice your support for the movement, but never know when to do so? We have put together a list of significant human rights days worth adding to your 2015 calendar.

Throughout the year there are several days promoting human rights, many of which pay tribute to torture victims and those who have sacrificed their life fighting for justice. We have picked seven days that are all important milestones in the anti-torture movement.

(courtesy of Zack Lee, used via Flickr creative commons licence)

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (courtesy of Zack Lee, used via Flickr creative commons licence).

24 March – International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims

In 2010 when the United Nations General Assembly chose 24 March as the day to honour the victims of gross and systematic human rights violations, the assembly had one particular person in mind. El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated on 24 March 1980 after speaking out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. Like so many others, he lost his life defending the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence.

On this day, the world pays tribute to those who have devoted their lives to, and lost their lives in, the struggle to promote and protect human rights for all.

7 April – Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwanda Genocide

On numbers and timescale alone, the 1994 Rwandan genocide remains the largest of modern times. In 100 days, over 800,000 people were killed for being part of a different ethnic community. Hundreds of thousands civilians were also tortured and raped as the largest ethnic group, the Hutus repeatedly and mercilessly attacked the Tutsi population.

The mass killings began on 7 April, which is also the day that has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the Day of Remembrance of the many victims.

The aim with this day is to honour the many victims and to ensure that the world will never let history repeat itself.

4 June – International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression

On 19 August 1982, at its emergency special session on the question of Palestine, the United Nations General Assembly, decided to commemorate 4 June of each year as the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.

The purpose of 4 June is to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.

20 June – World Refugee Day

For the first time since the Second World War, the global refugee figure has passed 50 million, the majority of whom live in developing countries.

Health professionals and researchers commonly estimate that between 4-35% of refugees worldwide have been subjected to torture.

For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own Refugee Days and even Weeks. One of the most widespread is Africa Refugee Day, which is celebrated on 20 June in several countries. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly decided that this day would also be celebrated as World Refugee Day.

26 – June International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Since the first 26 June celebrations in 1998, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture has undoubtedly become the most significant day for the anti-torture movement.

Torture is a crime under international law, but despite freedom from it holding the status as one of the few universally recognised human rights, torture is still widely practised. The consequences reach far beyond immediate pain, destroying the lives of many victims and their families. Yet, too often, the perpetrators are not brought to justice, resulting in more pain and suffering for the victims.

26 June helps us remind the world and ourselves that torture is serious crime and a human rights violation which must be investigated, prosecuted and punished. Every year, the IRCT marks 26 June with a host of events, making it the world’s largest anti-torture campaign.

25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Women’s activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981. This date came from the brutal assassination in 1960 of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

Globally, violence against women remains rampant, with up to 35 per cent of women having experienced some form of violence.

Women are often more vulnerable to violence and discrimination than men and sexual abuse such as rape becomes a weapon of war in armed conflicts. 25 November not only commemorates the Mirabal sisters, but also serves as a reminder to all of us that it is time to end this global pandemic of violence against women.

10 December – Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is celebrated by the international community every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

10 December is a key day for organisations like the IRCT that use the day to cast a light on important human rights issues, including torture, through various events such high-level political conferences and cultural events and exhibitions.

 

Have any day to add to the list? Write us a comment.

 

For a full list of official UN days click on this link.

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In pursuit of justice – Veli from Turkey

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

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Veli: “I looked through the hole, and I saw a bulldozer outside, breaking the wall. I shouted to him to stop the attack, to stop this treatment of prisoners. And then my right arm was just ripped off.” 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

In our second survivor story we meet torture victim, Veli Saçilik whose case progressed into a complex back-and-forth case eventually reaching the European Court of Human Rights.

Veli always hoped for a positive outcome in his case – after all, with his right arm missing, the physical scars are obvious.

It was July 2000 when Veli’s story began. One of 60 prisoners in Burdur Prison, south-west Turkey, Veli tried to defend himself against an onslaught of 415 Turkish state forces who, responding to calls from the Prison Governor, fired tear gas and destroyed the prison with bulldozers to prevent what was portrayed as an internal uprising.

As Veli tried to defend himself, a bulldozer crushed the wall behind him.

“I looked through the hole, and I saw a bulldozer outside, breaking the wall. I shouted to him to stop the attack, to stop this treatment of prisoners. And then my right arm was just ripped off,” says Veli.

Veli was then held by the security forces where he was beaten and forced to remain without food and water. Hours after the incident, he was transferred to hospital where he received treatment, but his arm was missing and could not be saved.

Veli accessed the services provided by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) where the expert team explained what rights Veli had and the processes he would need to go through.

Undeterred by the lengthy legal process ahead, Veli and the other prisoners lodged a criminal case against the members of the security forces. Veli also lodged a claim for compensation against the government for the loss of his arm.

None of the Turkish authorities were ever charged for causing injury in the attack. However, Veli and the other prisoners’ fight for justice continued and they lodged a case before the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that the actions of the security forces amounted to ill-treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention and that the Turkish authorities had failed to adequately examine their allegations.

Then in March 2005, in relation to Veli’s claim for compensation, a Turkish court ruled that the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior should award Veli 140,000 Euros in compensation.

Receiving monetary compensation is one of the expectations of torture victims when going to court. For Veli, receiving compensation was particularly important to prove the state’s culpability.

“But then the Ministries launched a campaign against the ruling,” Veli explains. Although the compensation awarded by the lower court was paid to Veli, the Ministries lodged an appeal eventually leading to a decision of the higher court in 2008 to quash the compensation payment, thereby condemning Veli to pay back the compensation.

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights gave its ruling in July 2011 in relation to the case brought against the Turkish authorities, noting that Turkish authorities used “systematic, disproportionate and unjustified violence” towards the inmates – in a prison which had seen “no problems or uprisings” – and had therefore violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Support from HRFT has been paramount through this legal wrangling. Veli says: “It has taken a lot of work since the attack to feel right again. This case is still ongoing and reminds me of the events.”

“With the help of the centre, I am being given a space to talk. I expect access to rehabilitation and I am being given that too,” says Veli, recounting two expectations which are incredibly important to victims seeking justice.

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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In pursuit of justice — Randy from the Philippines

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day on 10 December, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

Randy: “There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished." 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

Randy: “There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished.” 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

We start with the testimony of Randy (not his real name) who was arrested, blindfolded, beaten and stabbed. Now twenty-seven years old he is still overcoming his torture for allegedly joining a communist militia in the Philippines. With guidance and support Randy overcame his anger and vengeance. Today, he still seeks legal punishment of the perpetrators.

“I want to get justice. Support through the legal process has helped me locate the people who tortured me. I hope they will one day be punished.”

Randy’s drive to ensure punishment of those who tortured him is not unique. In fact, research conducted across IRCT’s members indicates that seeing punishment for the perpetrator is the top expectation of torture victims, when taking their case to court.

Randy is still overcoming the torture he experienced in April 2010. A suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the military arrested Randy while he prayed at his home in the northern part of the Philippines.

Two soldiers escorted Randy outside and beat him. Then, in sight of Randy’s family, they stabbed him in the hip with a bayonet. Afterwards Randy was blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van. The journey in the van ended at a military camp. There Randy was detained, doused in water and electrocuted.

“I cannot explain the pain I felt,” says Randy. “It felt like my body would explode. I kept pleading for them to stop but they did not listen.

“Instead of being killed, I was tortured and then transferred to a police station. There I was forced to sign a confession that I was a member of the NPA,” says Randy.

It was during this time that IRCT’s member centres – BALAY and the Medical Action Group (MAG) – visited him to show how the State had infringed his rights. Initially Randy did not want to pursue justice. According to IRCT’s members in this report, a lack of knowledge of their rights and legal processes, and fear of reprisals, are some of the most frequent reasons why victims often do not pursue justice.

“Initially I wanted revenge,” says Randy. “I even considered actually joining the New People’s Army to find my torturers and to punish them for what they had done.”

With guidance from BALAY and MAG, Randy’s vengeance subsided and he was encouraged to mount a case, so long as he was in a secure location. Randy’s bail was paid and he was moved to a secure location in Manila.

“The experts who visited me in prison helped me understand how legal proceedings can have positive effects for me and for other torture survivors,” Randy explains. “Filing a case against the soldiers who tortured me was a vital step in my recovery process. I felt the need to file a case not only for me but also for other victims.”

Legal processes can entail trauma – not only must the torture survivor relive their experience in a different setting, but many torture victims find the court’s attitudes regarding care towards the victim is often negative. It is something Randy noticed throughout his court proceedings. “The events are still fresh in my mind. I cannot forget it and I can recall all of the details,” he says.

In 2011, the prosecutor found probable cause in the torture case filed by Randy and released warrants of arrest against the two soldiers. However, by the time the warrants of arrest were released, the two soldiers had been transferred to a different unit. There were several attempts to locate the soldiers to no avail.

Then in 2012 the criminal case filed against Randy came to a resolution. He was sentenced to be imprisoned for three and a half years. The court favoured the soldiers’ testimonies and considered that he had been arrested as part of a legitimate operation. Randy and his relatives’ testimonies were given less credibility and considered inconsistent.

Randy’s lawyer immediately filed a motion to appeal his criminal conviction with the Court of Appeal; the appeal is still pending.

However, the case filed by Randy against the military is currently at a standstill. Although the court sent out warrants of arrest against the two soldiers in 2011, they are still at large.

“There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished,” Randy explains. “I am not satisfied. Developments and updates about the case have been limited and the process is very slow. ”

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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