Archive for category Justice
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
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.
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.
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.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. You have probably already stumbled across this mouthful of a title or the somewhat shorter version UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in articles about torture and other human rights issues. But what do you actually know about this person? As the next Special Rapporteur will be appointed later this month, we thought it was time to find out more about the role and what it means to be a torture investigator working on behalf of the United Nations.
1. The role of the Special Rapporteur on Torture
The Special Rapporteur on Torture is often referred to as the UN’s anti-torture watch dog and in this function, the Special Rapporteur is the person responsible for informing and instigating political debates and decision-making processes at the UN.
The Special Rapporteur can undertake country visits to expose abuses, help the state being scrutinised improve its performance and report back to the Human Rights Council on the situation of torture in individual countries. Similarly, the Special Rapporteur receives allegations from people who are at risk and those who claim to have been tortured. He or she then submits these allegations to the country in question and begins a dialogue to resolve the situation.
The Special Rapporteur produces two thematic reports every year covering new ground in the fight against torture. These could be about developing the legal and practical understanding of themes relevant to the fight against torture, like the situation of torture and ill-treatment in a healthcare setting or the question of when solitary confinement is deemed torture.
Instead of being bound by a specific treaty, the Special Rapporteur is free to cover any thematic and country specific issue relevant to the fight against torture. This means that the mandate can be useful for civil society organisations working against torture in many different ways. For example, organisations can encourage the Special Rapporteur to visit their country to bring global attention to their domestic situation; or in the absence of functional judicial remedies, they can forward concrete cases to the Special Rapporteur, hoping to raise the case. They can also encourage and inform the drafting of thematic reports or invite the Special Rapporteur to speak at events, issue statements and take part in other public events.
2. Who is the current Rapporteur?
Argentinian human rights lawyer, professor and torture victim, Juan Méndez is the current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – a role he took on back in 2010.
Mr Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights and before joining the UN, he worked with organisations such as the Human Rights Watch, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica and the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame in the US.
Mr Méndez has also taught International Human Rights Law at Georgetown Law School and at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and he teaches regularly at Oxford University and the American University Washington College of Law.
3. 30+ years of reporting
Last year the mandate of Special Rapporteur celebrated 30 years of reporting on torture. The role was created by the UN in 1985 after the UN Commission on Human Rights decided to appoint an independent human rights expert who could examine questions relevant to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment worldwide.
Today, the mandate of Special Rapporteur is part of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures Mechanisms system.
4. How many Rapporteurs have we seen in 30 years?
If the mandate of Special Rapporteur on Torture was a club, it would be an extremely exclusive one. Juan Méndez is only the fifth person to be appointed Special Rapporteur.
Mr Mendéz took over from Austria’s Manfred Nowak who was the Special Rapporteur from 2004 to 2010 and like Mr Mendez himself, is a human rights lawyer.
Rewind to 1985. The first person to be appointed Special Rapporteur was the late Peter Kooijmans from the Netherlands who later became Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs and Judge on the International Court of Justice. In 1993, distinguished law professor Sir Nigel Rodley from the UK took over from Kooijmans before handing over the reins to Theo van Boven, a Dutch jurist and professor emeritus in international law, who was at the helm from 2001 to 2004.
5. Who appoints the Special Rapporteur and for how long?
The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for appointing the Special Rapporteur on Torture.
The Council has a list of criteria for the selection and appointment of the Special Rapporteur, which includes the nominee’s expertise, experience in the field of the mandate, independence, impartiality, personal integrity, and objectivity. The Council also considers gender balance, geographic representation, and representation of different legal systems when appointing a new Special Rapporteur.
Finally, conflicts of interest, such as holding a position in government, will disqualify an individual from consideration.
Anyone from governments, regional groups operating within the UN human rights system, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, other human rights bodies, and individuals can nominate a candidate.
For the actual selection process, a group of members of the Human Rights Council review all applications and propose a list of candidates to the President of the Council who then appoints the next Rapporteur.
When appointed, the Special Rapporteur usually serves at least one three-year term.
6. Does the Rapporteur make a difference?
While states as such are not obliged to follow the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations following a visit, these visits are an important part of the UN human rights fact-finding and investigatory mechanisms. The Special Rapporteur and his reports are instrumental in shedding light on serious and otherwise forgotten human rights violations.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
In February 2014, the world was shocked to learn about the “Wheel of Torture”, a sadistic game being used inside the Philippine National Police Provincial Intelligence Board (PIB), a secret detention compound in Biñan, Laguna Province, Philippines.
The “game” is played when a police officer spins the roulette-style wheel, which lists different methods of torture, to determine which punishment they should receive. These include “30 seconds of hanging” and ”20 seconds of beatings”. The PIB was shut down after a visit from the Commission on Human Rights Region IV Office and more than 40 detainees complained to the authorities that they had been subjected to the Wheel of Torture.
LC is one of the detainees who was tortured for months. Once he was taken to a small hut inside the PIB and forced to drink water contaminated with dog faeces. Another time, two of his toenails were almost taken out with pliers and officers poured alcohol and gasoline over him and threatened to set him on fire. LC says one of the guards was, “looking for a lighter but could not find one at the time.”
RA is another one of the victims. He was beaten with the handle of a dustpan, a piece of wood, a steel baseball bat, a plastic chair and their fists and feet. He was also electrocuted, blindfolded, and repeatedly gagged.
Despite the many complaints and the fact that 25 cases were filed, only four remain pending and no police officers have ever been convicted. IRCT member in the Philippines, the Medical Action Group (MAG) has provided rehabilitation services and legal referrals to many of the torture victims held at the PIB. MAG documented a total of 27 clients out of 41 who were initially interviewed. The others did not want to be documented.
MAG says that it is both sad and disappointing that out of 25 cases, the local human rights office in-charge of the case has filed, only four remain pending. “Some clients have died during the process and some withdrew their complaints and took the side of the alleged perpetrators as a result of threats and intimidation.”
LC is still one of MAG’s clients and continues to suffer from nightmares. He feels extremely angry and upset whenever he thinks about what happened at the PIB, but the scars from his beatings and burns make it hard to forget.
MAG was due to have a meeting with the local human rights office, along with the Central Human Rights Office about the cases in May. However, it was cancelled because of the presidential elections and no new date has been set. “It is all too common that cases like this are never heard and reported. With medical and psychological help and support, we can heal the wounds of the survivors but they may never get back to the place they were before they were tortured. This particular case reminds us that torture can never be justified in any circumstance,” says MAG.
The Philippine Government passed an Anti-Torture law in 2009 but human rights groups say things have been slow to change. However, there is some cause for hope, as on 29 March 2016, a Philippine court made a historic ruling in which a police officer was convicted of torturing a bus driver to confess to crimes he denies he committed. It was the first conviction under the 2009 Anti-Torture Act.
The Philippines is now in a period of transition with newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte having spoken openly about his hard stance on law and order. The future is unclear for the country but for the victims of the wheel of torture the past cannot be forgotten.
When AE was being held in a concentration camp, soldiers carved a cross on his forehead. The scar remains today; a constant reminder of the terror he experienced and survived during the three-year-long war in the Former Yugoslavia. Now 57-years-old, he is married with two children but has struggled to pick up the pieces of his life following the war.
It was at this time 24 years ago that AE was living peacefully with his family in Divič, a small town in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina, when the Serbian army entered the village. Soldiers took him and many others to a concentration camp, first in Zvornik and then in Čalopek and Batković. In total, AE spent almost 14 months continuously in camps.
During his imprisonment, AE was physically, psychologically and sexually tortured on a daily basis. He was forced to work for hours on end and was severely beaten. He was denied food and on most days, water. Guards in the concentration camp isolated him and several other men, made them undress and beat them. AE even witnessed some men being castrated. Through repeated beatings and death threats against the men and their families, they were forced to rape each other.
At the time, his family were trying to get to the free territory or a neighbouring country. In July 1993, AE was released as a part of a prisoner exchange scheme. He stayed in a small town in the northeast of Bosnia and Herzegovina until the war ended. Afterwards, he returned to his family in Divič, taking with him the memories of the torture inflicted upon him.
Since his return AE has struggled with feelings of guilt and shame. For him the terror of war did not stop when the war was officially over. It stayed with him and has made it incredibly hard for him to continue with his life and to rebuild relationships with his family and friends.
AE found IRCT member, the Centre for Torture Victims, Sarajevo (CTV) in 2012, when a CTV mobile team was in the area registering clients and providing much needed rehabilitation services. Centre staff discovered AE was suffering from a chronic form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
CTV provided him with individual and group counselling, together with other former camp detainees. The group counselling and, especially, group psychotherapy sessions were an instrumental element in the rehabilitation process as AE was more comfortable with talking about his experiences in a group setting.
Despite the fact that AE was the perfect candidate to act as a witness in war crime trials because of his vivid memory of the torture incidents and perpetrators, he refused to testify. He refused because he feared retaliation and because of the shame associated with the sexual torture; he simply did not want more people to know about what had happened to him.
Today, AE is still a CTV client. Like many victims of torture in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he is confronted by the past every day when he sees the people who harmed him walking free on the same street. In some cases these people now work as police officers, once more in a position of power over those they have tortured and ill treated.
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?
Svetlana Popa is a psychologist at IRCT member, the Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims “Memoria” in the Republic of Moldova. She explains the challenges facing the rehabilitation sector in Moldova and how many donors want to measure the impact of torture and the profile of perpetrators, forgetting that survivors cannot wait until a policy will be written and made available.
Q: What is your profession and where do you work?
I am a psychologist and I work as a project assistant at the Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims “Memoria” (RCTV Memoria) in Republic of Moldova.
Q: How long have you worked on torture rehabilitation and human rights?
I have been a part of the anti-torture movement since 2014.
Q: How did you end up doing this work? Was it something you specifically wanted to do or was it more of a coincidence?
I was working as a psychologist and also teaching English at a local school when I heard about a job opening at RCTV Memoria, interpreting for a supervisor psychotherapist. I thought it was an amazing opportunity to combine my two passions – English and psychology. The work the staff members were doing fascinated me, so I decided to stay even after the supervisor psychotherapist had left.
Q: Tell us about the situation for torture survivors where you are/or your home country
There is no justice. No rehabilitation services are provided by the state. Torture victims have no future.
Q: Can you describe a typical day in the office/field for you?
My typical day consists of lots of communication with stakeholders, writing reports, planning events, checking with other staff members on what they do and how can I support them, constantly looking for funds and collecting data and filling in the Data in the Fight Against Impunity (DFI) database. We are one of 32 rehabilitation centres that are part of the DFI project; collecting clinical data and integrating the documentation of torture at all stages of the rehabilitation process.
Q: Can you give us an example of how you have seen your work make a difference?
When, after four sessions, my first client came in smiling for the first time I knew I was doing the right thing.
Q: How has this work changed since you started?
In the last two years the overall situation has stayed the same. Regarding the work we do we started focusing on more creative ways of doing communication and advocacy and I hope it will make the situation better.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the torture rehabilitation sector?
A lack of funding; rehabilitation is not supported by state authorities and the majority of donors keep measuring the impact of torture, its methods, and the profile of perpetrators and forget about the survivors who cannot wait until a policy will be written and made available.
Q: What are your hopes for the future?
My personal dream is that rehabilitation will not be necessary because we won’t have any victims of torture to support. Unfortunately this is only a dream, but I hope that someday states will take responsibility for acts of torture that have been committed and will start to provide torture survivors with the rehabilitation they need.
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?
Torture is a horrible act. It defines the most inhuman act that a person can do and by denying it we won’t make it stop happening. It is only by bearing witness to victims’ sufferings that we can end torture.
Q: And finally, many of us do care about torture survivors and victims. How can we support the anti-torture/torture rehabilitation movement?
Start by getting more information about the rehabilitation movement in your home country, you will find plenty of information online. There are lots of things you can do – visit the rehabilitation centre in your area, volunteer, donate, speak up for victims’ rights, simply care!
International Day Against Police Brutality is marked every year on March 15, acknowledging those who have been killed, abused or neglected by the police or while in their care. To highlight the fact that police brutality remains a grim reality in many countries, we tell the story of ND from Serbia; beaten by the police, the perpetrators remain unpunished.
“I expect justice and that these police officers are stopped from doing this to anyone else. The legal proceedings are lasting too long; for four years and it is not even close to end. How much longer will I have to wait?”
ND first came to the International Aid Network (IAN) rehabilitation centre in Belgrade when he was 20-years-old. It was December 2010 and two weeks had passed since he had been brutally beaten by the police.
The day before he alleges the incident took place, ND and a friend were arrested on suspicion of theft. They were brought to the police station and interviewed, then released and told to come back the next day.
When he did not turn up, two police officers came to his house and arrested him. As soon as they arrived at the police station, one of the officers slapped him across the face twice. This was the beginning of an ordeal that lasted for hours. They started to ask him about different crimes, including the theft of car CD players that happened earlier that day. ND admitted he had committed two of the crimes, but not the rest. One of the officers told another to grab him and he was taken to another room and beaten.
They beat him for two hours; hitting him on the soles of his feet, the palms of his hands and in the stomach, breaking two of his ribs. All the time asking where the CD players were. ND eventually told them one was at his cousin’s house. One of the officers then went there and threatened his cousin, asking, “Do you want to piss blood, like your brother?”
When he was eventually released he managed to get himself onto the bus home. As soon as he arrived his mother saw his bloodied body and called an ambulance. But when the ambulance came and the doctor heard he was beaten by the police she refused to take him to the hospital, saying his injuries did not need urgent care. She told him he should go by himself and gave him a medical referral.
ND went to the hospital and they immediately operated on his broken ribs to stabilise his lung which was perforated. The following morning one of the police officers came to the hospital, most likely to see how badly injured he was, but did not speak to him. He was kept in hospital for 10 days.
When he came to the IAN centre, ND was shocked, revolted and extremely angry. His body was still covered in bruises as a result of the beating. Staff did a forensic examination and found that his injuries were life threatening. He asked for legal aid and in 2011 IAN filed a complaint against the police officers on his behalf.
Five years later and the case is still ongoing. In the meantime, both police officers are still on duty and ND continues to wait for justice to be served.
Eight months ago, the future was finally starting to look bright for Yecenia Armenta Graciano. After spending more than two years in prison in the state of Sinaloa, having been accused of ordering her husband’s murder, a judge had ruled that Yecenia’s confession had been obtained through torture and therefore could not be used as evidence in the case. Her supporters saw the ruling as a victory for justice and hoped it would lead to her release. Yet Yecenia remains in prison today.
The picture Yecenia paints of her experience in July 2012 is one of torture, rape and threats. She alleges that plainclothes police officers arrested her not long after the murder of her husband, and tortured her for 15 hours.
During that time she says she was raped, tortured and threatened before she confessed to ordering her husband’s murder. Blindfolded, she signed the confession form. No one questioned or checked her injuries and marks of torture and she was imprisoned. As time went on, her visible injuries faded and eventually disappeared.
Various human rights groups have criticised the local authorities for dismissing Yecenia’s allegations and for protecting the perpetrators.
The criticism only grew louder when the Office of the Mexican Attorney-General conducted a medical and psychological examination of Yecenia concluding that there was no evidence of physical torture or mistreatment related to her allegations, and her psychological symptoms were not related to the allegations.
Then in early 2015, after carrying out examinations in accordance with the international standards set out in the Istanbul Protocol, two experts from the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) supported Yecenia’s claim that she had been tortured.
Based on these findings, the court ordered the State Attorney to further investigate the case and punish the perpetrators. To many, this was a sign that Yecenia would soon be free, but she is still behind bars, having spent more than three years away from her children.
In an Amnesty International Campaign demanding her immediate release, she wrote: “I’ve seen summers come and fade, people arrive at and then leave this place, and all the time my children are growing up, outside these walls. Three years of change and movement: but still I remain here. At times I must admit I’ve felt very tired, and defeated”.
Sadly, Yecenia’s story is not an isolated case. In May 2014, 11 female survivors of sexual torture launched the campaign “Breaking the Silence: together against sexual torture”, aiming to raise awareness of other cases of sexually tortured women. The women had been sexually tortured by a number of state forces, including the armed forces, the navy and the police, with many of them tortured into making false confessions for various crimes.
Human rights groups say that torture is rife in Mexico and is routinely used by the security forces to extract confessions or information. According to the “Breaking the Silence: together against sexual torture” campaign, Mexican women in particular are faced with a systematic pattern of sexual torture by state institutions that fail to provide the protection society expects of them.
Recently there have been some signs of action by the Mexican authorities to eradicate torture and combat impunity, but the number of convictions in cases of torture is low.
In the meantime, Yecenia is sitting in a prison cell in Northern Mexico, hoping that she will soon be reunited with her children. Her case is no longer with the State court of Sinaloa, but has been moved to the Supreme Court of Justice, where it is pending hearing.
After everything she has been through, human rights defenders remain hopeful that Mexico’s highest court will finally grant Yecenia her freedom.
In Yecenia’s own words: “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.”
To find out more or to sign Amnesty International’s petition to free Yecenia Armenta Graciano click here.
The Russian government has once again been criticised after introducing a new law that allows any foreign or international NGO to be declared “undesirable” and to be shut down. The law is the latest attempt to limit the impact of human rights organisations that are deemed anti-government. Adding to this, local and international NGOs continue to be targets of intimidation and discrimination.
Three staff from the Danish rehabilitation centre, Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY) were fined and expelled from Russia while on a recent mission to provide technical assistance on trauma rehabilitation and prevention of torture. Their work with a Russian human rights organisation, the Committee Against Torture (NGO CAT) had been publicly announced, and despite having secured visas they were found to be in violation of Russian visa regulations.
DIGNITY and NGO CAT are both members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and their aim is to support and treat survivors of torture. A mission that many governments value. Yet, in Russia, NGO CAT is one of many civil society organisations facing increasing hostility.
The Russian government recently introduced a new law that makes it possible to ban foreign NGOs and prosecute their employees, who risk up to six years in prison or being barred from the country. The law is the latest step in a series of restrictions on civil society, NGOs and human rights defenders.
In 2012, the Russian parliament adopted a new law that required NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if they engaged in “political activity” and received foreign funding. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in Russia “foreign agent” can be interpreted only as “spy” or “traitor,” and there is little doubt that the law aims to demonise and marginalise independent advocacy groups.
NGO CAT are among the organisations labelled a foreign agent, and the centre fears that it could be forced to close down unless a court removes the tag. But as the Russian president Vladimir Putin seems set on imposing more restrictions on independent organisations and civil society, a removal of the tag is highly unlikely.
For NGO CAT, anti-NGO laws are not the only means of intimidation that the organisation is worried about. In December last year, the office of NGO CAT initiative, Joint Mobile Group (JMG), based in the Chechen capital Grozny was set on fire in what appears to be an act of intimidation by local authorities. The following day the police visited the provisional premises of NGO CAT and, for no apparent reason, seized the centre’s mobile phones, computers and CCTV cameras and held two staff members for several hours. Prior to the fire, NGO CAT staff had been receiving threatening phone calls and text messages.
Sadly, the story of NGO CAT is far from unique. Human rights groups and defenders are continuously subjected to acts of intimidation and threats. Offices have been raided, activists have been arrested and organisations fined. In some cases, prominent human rights defenders have even been killed, with no one charged with their murders.
Back in Denmark, the three DIGNITY employees remain puzzled as to why they were expelled, but the whole process leading up to their expulsion has revealed a flawed justice system allowing for false witness statements and documents.
Most of the international community have expressed their concern about the treatment of human rights defenders in Russia, and rightly so. For NGO CAT, the stakes are high. As the anti-NGO laws increase the pressure on the organisation, its future is uncertain. The only thing that seems certain at this point is Russia’s determination to repress NGOs.
On 3 June, a group of people broke into NGO CAT’s regional office and apartment in Grozny. According to NGO CAT’s regional coordinator Oleg Khabibrakhmanov, the group arrived late in the morning as part of a protest rally. Khabibrakhmanov said his colleagues in Grozny called police immediately but none arrived.
The men were seen to be smashing furniture, computers and destroying paper files and folders. Some of them brought an angle grinder and eventually broke through to the adjacent apartment where temporary staff of NGO CAT were working.