Archive for category On the Forefront
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.
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.
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.
With its remote location – far away from war and conflict – New Zealand is rarely mentioned in discussions about refugee quotas and resettlement. But each year a small number of refugees arrive in the country, where they are welcomed by local rehabilitation centre Refugees as Survivors New Zealand (RASNZ) at the National Refugee Resettlement centre in Auckland.
We recently spoke with RASNZ CEO Ann Hood about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in New Zealand, many of whom have fled torture and ill treatment, and how RASNZ is helping them overcome their trauma and settle in a new country.
As the CEO of RASNZ, Ann oversees 45 staff and 60 volunteers, providing newly arrived refugees with psychosocial and mental health assessments, brief therapeutic interventions and orientation to life in New Zealand.
RASNZ’s job is to ensure that refugees receive the psychological support they need to adapt to a new country and get the best start for themselves and their families. Something that is vital for those who have experienced torture and other forms of trauma. In addition, RASNZ also supports former refugees who continue to struggle with their traumatic past, despite the passing of many years.
WWT: The National Refugee Centre provides a wide array of health services to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of your clients. How do these services help vulnerable people to settle in a new country?
AH: We firmly believe that if the aim is for people to participate in society they need to be mentally and physically well. Otherwise, they aren’t able to learn the language, cope with a job or simply manage everyday life. The health aspect has to be addressed in order for people to live productive lives.
WWT: How does this work in practice?
AH: We have two clinical teams. One team is based at the Resettlement Centre, providing assessment and brief therapy. The other is based in the community in Auckland, covering the whole city, and is able to treat people over a longer period of time. For many traumatised refugees it is often down the track that they need support and treatment. Some don’t need our services for 10 years because they need to meet their basic needs first.
There is also a non-clinical community team mainly made up of former refugees. This team provides services within the community such as psycho education, introductory health programmes, support with education and employment and lots of engagement in activities. For young people we have the youth team with sports and mentoring programmes. For adults we run support groups, such as sewing groups for women and training in road codes and computer use.
WWT: We tend to often talk about refugees, but you also treat asylum seekers. As clients, how do they differ from refugees?
AH: When it comes to asylum seekers we tend to work with them particularly during the determination process as this is when they’re really struggling. Their future and fate is in the hands of the government. And they lose a lot of hope and faith during this process.
WWT: You actually worked at RASNZ as a clinical psychologist before taking a job elsewhere for 10 years. You returned last year as the CEO. How do you think the sector has changed since you first started working?
AH: I’ve seen a change in who are coming as refugees. New Zealand doesn’t take many people from Africa now, but focuses mainly on people from Burma, as well as refugees from Afghanistan and Colombia and asylum seekers from Sri Lanka. The government has also changed its policy on specific issues over time. Like now, New Zealand no longer accepts unaccompanied minors.
WWT: Speaking of the government. New Zealand has such a strong history of protecting human rights and an equally good refugee settlement programme so we were a bit shocked to find out that the country only takes 750 refugees every year.
AH: In general, there is an overwhelming support for refugees in the country and when the government recently announced that it would increase the intake of refugees, there were great expectations about the number. It is fair to say there was an outcry when the government announced it would only increase the intake from 750 to 1000 refugees. New Zealand takes a very small number of refugees but I think that its resettlement programme is well regarded and we provide a very good service and system. From the moment refugees arrive in the country they get New Zealand residency and have access to the full range of health services.
WWT: It sounds like an efficient system with a strong focus on health and rehabilitation. Does this mean that you have the backing and support you need or do you still face challenges?
AH: We constantly need more money and run at a deficit. My number one priority is getting resources, and not just resources but sustainable resources. We can only employ people for the amount of time that we have money. Regarding our services, there is also a great need for clinical training and various aspects of working with trauma victims. Our team need to be up-skilled, such as being trained in the Istanbul Protocol. We work closely with lawyers and doctors, but at the moment we don’t have any doctors in New Zealand – as far as I know – who are trained in Istanbul Protocol, so it’s crucial.
We are relatively small with just two services in New Zealand and New Zealand is pretty isolated. So sometimes it can feel like we are a long way from the action. I think it’s really important to get that international perspective and to understand not only what’s happening around the world in terms of refugee and asylum issues, but also how other organisations are working and how we can work more collaboratively and support each other. Basically to keep up to speed. I would like our organisation to be able to grow in terms of research and advocacy, but at the moment we just don’t have the resources.
RASNZ has helped resettle United Nations quota refugees since 1995 and is one of just two services in the country providing treatment to refugees. Under international humanitarian conventions, the centre’s clinical team additionally delivers specialist mental health services for convention refugees and asylum seekers either in detention or with cases before the Refugee Appeals Authority. The centre has to date provided support to thousands of people.
At IRCT member centre, Survivors of Torture International (SURVIVORS) it is the little things that matter. Something as small as a bus ticket can mean the difference between treatment and no treatment for torture victims.
Staff at SURVIVORS treat many refugees and asylum seekers who have limited or no financial resources and support network. Getting to the centre is a big challenge for those who do not live nearby, especially because public transportation in Southern California is restrictive and challenging to navigate, even for those who speak the language and are familiar with the city.
Then there are the exorbitant costs of public transportation. One thing is to work out how to get there, another thing is to pay for the tickets.
Until now, SURVIVORS has been able to offer bus tickets or other help with transportation to any client in need, but a reduction in funding has forced the centre to make some tough decisions.
Sadly, SURVIVORS’ story is far from unique. Across the world, rehabilitation centres have seen a decrease in funding from donors focusing on immediate results over holistic rehabilitation.
Despite these challenges, the San Diego centre will continue to treat the same number of clients as before, but now the centre staff can no longer offer some of its most desperate clients help with transportation.
“While our financial situation won’t affect the number of clients that we’re treating, it will however impact many of our clients who are asylum seekers with little or no financial support. These clients rely on public transport to get to the actual center, but with less funds, SURVIVORS won’t be able to help pay for their bus tickets, as we used to,” says Executive Director of SURVIVORS, Kathi Anderson.
Kathi Anderson explains how one of the centre’s clients is a woman who is 6 month pregnant. Alone in a new country and without any support network, this small token has made a huge difference to her. Kathi Anderson is worried that if they do not continue to help her pay her bus tickets, she is not able to turn up for her treatment.
Since it opened in 1997, SURVIVORS has helped thousands of survivors of torture to recover from their traumas by offering them a range of services, including medical, dental, psychiatric, psychological, and social care.
The staff has seen first-hand how the number of refugees and asylum seekers in need of treatment is increasing. The many armed conflicts and humanitarian crises worldwide means that for the first time since the Second World War, the number of refugees and asylum seekers on a global basis has exceeded 50 million. This development has put enormous pressure on rehabilitation centres like SURVIVORS.
Exacerbating the situation for SURVIVORS is the news that a nearby government-run detention centre for immigrants is moving to a new facility, doubling its size. Being the only rehabilitation centre in the area, the centre fears that it will be forced to turn away immigrants with nowhere else to go.
When asked if there are any alternatives nearby for those torture victims they will not be able to help, Kathi Anderson replies:
“The nearest rehabilitation centre is in Los Angeles which is a 3 hour and 76$ train ride each way. I can’t imagine that there are too many refugees who can afford this or have the mental strength to get on that train.”
To find out more about SURVIVORS, visit their website www.notorture.org.
Nobel Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once said: “Humanity needs organizations like DIGNITY that decade after decade carry out risky, uphill, and often unrecognized work towards a world free from torture.”
More than three decades since its foundation, the arduous journey has made DIGNITY a prominent force in the global fight against torture.
The history of DIGNITY and the IRCT are intimately related — in fact, the two organisations were one at the inception. It was only in 1997 that the two organisations went separate ways, responding to a growing need for global support in the rehabilitation of torture victims.
Today, DIGNITY is famed for its extensive research on torture and its effects. DIGNITY also holds the world’s largest collection of documents on torture and related subjects, with more than 30,000 items. These credentials make DIGNITY “the most famous torture rehabilitation center in the world”, according to former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak.
“In addition to providing hundreds of torture survivors from all world regions with medical, psychological, social and other forms of rehabilitation, DIGNITY is a leading research and documentation center on the methods of torture and its effects on human beings,” he said.
DIGNITY’s main client base are refugees in Denmark who have survived torture. Although potential patients need a residence permit in Denmark and a referral from a physician, the centre offers rehabilitation to people who have been exposed to torture, organised violence or other severely traumatising events such as war and political persecution.
These patients often suffer from flashbacks, sleep disorders and nightmares, isolation, concentration and memory difficulties, among others, making their integration into Danish society much harder.
But, since its foundation 32 years ago by Dr Inge Genefke, DIGNITY’s mission spread far beyond Denmark and the clinical services needed in Copenhagen. The centre works in places such as South Africa, India, Tunisia and Jordan aiming at reducing the effects of torture or preventing the use of torture and organised violence.
With its dedicated group of over 80 experts – and its roots deep in the movement – DIGNITY will go much further.
If you want to learn more about DIGNITY join them on 30 October in Copenhagen’s main square Rådhuspladsen. Outlandish and several other music bands will be performing on the ‘DIGNITY DAY’ to mark the organisation’s 32nd anniversary. DIGNITY will also present their yearly prize to a person who has made a remarkable contribution to the fight against torture.
Several floors under the busy Adlieh intersection in east Beirut, hundreds of people suffer harsh interrogation and torture in a makeshift detention centre.
It is a place unknown to many – thousands of commuters pass over the site every day. But it is a place very much present in the minds of refugees in the city, some of whom have spent time in this underground chamber.
It is this clandestine chamber that IRCT member centre Nassim for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture at the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) exposed and campaigned against on this year’s 26 June — the latest call of many to end torture and impunity in Lebanon.
Migrants and refugees remain the main targets of torture and arbitrary detention in Lebanon, and those are the main groups CLDH supports since their establishment in 2006.
CLDH was created by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily), which has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human rights violations.
CLDH monitors the human rights situation in Lebanon and through regular press conferences, workshops and advocacy activities, continually reminds the state of their international human rights obligations. The centre also documents cases of torture and human rights violations.
One of the overarching aims of the CLDH team on the ground is to determine exactly what happens to all arrested and missing persons in Lebanon, from the time of arrest to sometimes, unfortunately, their death. By working with the IRCT, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, these cases are actively monitored and reported.
CLDH’s torture rehabilitation centre opened in 2007, providing multi-disciplinary professional support and case management for victims of torture and their families.
Whether working in clandestine chambers under the ground in east Beirut or on the 7th floor of Bakhos Building, where their office is located, CLDH is an important institution in Beirut and an key element of the fight against torture and human rights abuses in Lebanon.
Based in Bogotá, Colombia, the Centre for Psychological Assistance (CAPS) treats around 300 clients per year and focuses primarily on the psychological treatment of torture victims – something much needed in a country where thousands of forced disappearances during decades of internal conflict impacted on families for generations.
Today the effects are still being felt, effects running parallel to continued claims of torture at the hands of the police. Currently over 5,000 political prisoners are detained across the country and torture is still widespread, despite Colombia signing the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT).
Alongside this is a culture of impunity as Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law fails to provide full justice and peace. Despite the dissolution of paramilitary groups, affecting 30,000 paramilitaries, initial ideas included granting benefits to paramilitaries who admitted their crimes, meaning they would escape punishment. Thankfully this was only proposed and never enacted, however many demobilised fighters were still eligible for, and granted, amnesty under the law.
Yet impunity thrives as victims of the paramilitary groups – and the torture they perpetrated over years of fighting – are scared of coming forward as they continue to live in areas where paramilitary groups have yet to be fully dissolved.
This fear also prevent many victims seeking rehabilitation. It is therefore a tough mission facing CAPS, one where fear has to be overcome to allow progress.
In an effort to tackle this, CAPS offer a range of tailored psychological programmes to help families and victims of torture overcome their past.
CAPS also uses creative expression as a means of rehabilitation, something reflected in their 26 June campaign this year. In Bogotá, theatre and musical performances involving centre staff, supporters and survivors of torture peppered the day, alongside musical performances, exhibitions and screening of films at the ‘Parque de los Periodistas de Bogotá’ on 26 June.
In a country deeply affected by conflict and where torture is still a systematic practice, CAPS offers a service in high demand — holistic treatment to countless victims of torture and their families. And by doing so, is making an undeniably positive contribution to the fight against torture in Colombia.
In May 2009, Sri Lankan government forces seized the last Tamil Tiger controlled area of the country, signalling an end to 25 years of violent conflict. Despite this, bitterness still remains in the country today and while the civil war has been declared over, Sri Lanka still contains a vast number of war veterans and victims who seek rehabilitation from their trauma.
Adding to this is poverty – poverty not only caused by the conflict, but also due to the high frequency of natural disasters which seem to doom Sri Lanka, the latest incident being the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed the lives of 40,000 people.
To relieve the mental stress of those who have been reduced to poverty because of the conflict and natural disasters, IRCT member Survivors Associated (SA) was established in 1996 alleviate the distress felt by thousands across the country.
Initially Survivors Associated sought to conduct psychosocial development activities at grass roots level in conflict areas. By attending to their economic, social and health needs, self-confidence could be instilled and a route for victims of war to attain their social aspirations could be highlighted.
The work of Survivors Associated now extends across the majority of the country and has broadened its focus once more, now aiming to cure the poverty – and the vulnerabilities to torture which poverty brings – caused by natural disasters.
In particular, Survivors Associated emphasises the importance of treating marginalised groups, such as female torture survivors, disabled war veterans, and children. Through community based holistic care, rehabilitation, education, economic empowerment and peace building, it is hoped victims of trauma in Sri Lanka can overcome their past.
The close ties Survivors Associated has built with the communities it works with has formed a solid foundation for building ethnic harmony in the country. Some recent positive developments include establishing creative therapy groups for women and children, group therapy programmes including a range of participants, and educational courses essential to many for living including cooking, woodwork, and weaving.
Through their work, Survivors Associated hopes Sri Lanka can continue to unite, move past their past and, ultimately, evolve as a nation.
In her second blog for World Without Torture, photographer Ida Harriet Rump details the destruction in the Syrian town of Ma’arrat al-Numan, which has a target of heavy shelling and conflict since 2011.
In this blog, Ida – a student in Middle Eastern studies at Lund University, Sweden – recounts the fear of shelling from the Syrian regime, how people escape the danger, and stories of torture encountered throughout her trips to the country.
It is striking that almost no houses in Ma’arrat al-Numan have glass in their windows – it has all been smashed by the shockwaves of the fallen bombs.
Around 60 per-cent of the houses and infrastructure in the city is destroyed and very little has been rebuilt over the three-years of the conflict. All the time it seems as if the citizens are evaluating what seems worthwhile to reconstruct. As one activist I met noted: “You never know when it will be torn down again”.
The abandoned destruction stands not only as a very visual testimony of the recent history of extreme systematic violence, but also as a symbol of the town-dwellers’ approach towards their city, to their general life possibilities and mental state of mind, as they seek to resume a life as full as possible amidst the mess.
The city is shelled on an everyday basis and the Syrian regime has a military base in the eastern outskirt of the city from where they attack Ma’arrat al-Numan with rockets. Certain areas of the city near to the frontline are covered with wreckage and are deserted of people. The streets in the city that are being actively used are continuously cleared from rubble and the remainders of fallen houses.
In some of the busy streets the tempo is high, cars, motorbikes and pedestrians fly across the roads to avoid being sniped or shut at, which is an ever-remaining danger from the nearby front, and to a certain extent an internalised habit.
Where to go?
Though most families have spent long periods in the surrounding villages, and in some cases Turkey, the everyday movement is severely restricted to the extent that many citizens nearly never leave their houses.
The movement between the different cities is limited. It is dangerous to driver on the bigger roads and every day cars are hit by the regime, whether from shooting or in a car accident. It takes much local knowledge to navigate the roads and since many roads are blocked, it is of life saving necessity to avoid the regime-controlled areas. Besides the risk of getting hit from the air, the fear of getting kidnapped or robbed prevent many people from traveling.
Kidnapped by the regime
During my trip, there were relatively calm periods in Ma’arra which opened the possibility for relatives to visit the remaining citizens. Many visitors pass from one house to the other to drink coffee and exchange news from the regions of Hama, Aleppo and Idlib.
One of the visitors was a young doctor from Aleppo. Recently released from one of the regime prisons, he would pace the yard without the ability to relax. It transpired his story was a painful one, but one which is not rare. Arrested for unknown reasons, as he has never interfered with politics of the military, he was released on thanks to a bribe and suffered no ill-treatment at the hands of his captors.
But while he would recount his story without torture, he could remember the other prisoners being tortured. When he spoke, his face was twisted and he became visibly uncomfortable talking about what he witnessed.
Tortured by the regime
Another time, I met Jamila – a Syrian-Palestinian woman who came to visit dring the period of calm. As soon as she entered the rooms she began to cry.
Her brother – who lived in the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk in the outskirts of Damascus but worked in a bakery in the central part of the city – was arrested alongside his cousin during their daily commute, despite being in possession of a special paper documenting the purpose for travel.
Why were they arrested? Again, that was unknown. But only three days before I met Jamila, her cousin was released from prison. In his possession was the ID of Jamila’s brother – sent out of the prison as a proof of death.
They did not say it but everybody knew he died of torture. Another person in the group – a lady named Im Tariq – consoled Jamila by explaining that it is better that he is dead than still under the instruments of the torturer
Im Tariq knows the pain herself. Two years previously her son was kidnapped by the regime and she has heard nothing of him since. She does not know if he is dead or alive.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Ida. For more information on the Witness Syria programme which aided Ida in her journey email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, the country of Eritrea lies in a geographic location where cross-border political, religious, economic and social problems have caused conflict, poverty, and extensive human rights abuses.
A former Italian colony, Eritrea is a place many want to escape – each year thousands of citizens attempt to flee persecution and ill-treatment enforced by the one-party state.
One way to flee is to reach the Libyan coast where travel to Europe is possible by sea. It is a practice that was unnoticed by many in Europe, one which only hit the headlines in October 2013 when a boat 20-metres in length, carrying 518 people, sank near the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Italy. Of the passengers in the Lampedusa tragedy, who each paid almost £1,000 to make the trip, 366 died.
It was clear in this tragedy, and many more which have followed, that there is a pressing problem in Eritrea, but also one largely unspoken of regarding the difficulty in seeking refuge overseas.
To allow refugees a safer passage into Europe, IRCT member Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati (CIR, Italian Council for Refugees) has launched a new campaign focusing on the concept of ‘refuge’.
The campaign examines what is meant by the term refuge and how the definition differs depending on your circumstances. To some, seeking refuge means a quiet break in the countryside, or perhaps a holiday away from daily stresses. But to the victims in the Lampedusa tragedy, refuge ultimately meant their lives.
At the core of the campaign is a 30 second video with a slideshow of the images in quick succession, ending with the photograph of the coffins from Lampedusa and the question: “Italian Refuge?”
The campaign aims to inform Italians about how overwhelmingly difficult it is for refugees to come to Europe without risking their lives, and the Italian Council for Refugees hopes it can also raise funds for their ongoing work with asylum seekers and refugees.
Founded in 1990 with support of UNHCR, CIR is one of the most important humanitarian organisations in Italy. CIR’s mission is to defend the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, to establish an integrated and efficient system to manage the phases of resettlement, and to highlight the human rights obligations enshrined by the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and by more recently enforced through a range of European regulations.
Since their inception, CIR has helped 100,000 persons with the challenges of resettlement, and with treatment for a range of pre-existing conditions and traumatic experiences exhibited by asylum seekers.
Part of their work is to ensure victims of torture and ill-treatment, who have often fled conflict in their homeland, are treated equally in their new society. For this to become a reality, it is of paramount importance that these asylum seekers – who are also victims of torture in some cases – are rehabilitated.
Politically independent, CIR’s activities focus on restoring dignity, regardless of the background of the individual. The only occasion where CIR’s work is politically aimed is through campaigns like this – campaigns which seek to improve the conditions for those forced to flee their home.
Watch the Youtube video promoting the campaign below and let us know what you think.