Archive for category Prevention
Following a recent trip to Budapest, Hungary, IRCT Communications Officer Ashley Scrace recounts his visit to the House of Terror – a part-museum, part-memorial recounting the torture in the city.
To tourists and locals, Andrássy út in Budapest is renowned as one of the grandest roads through the sprawling eastern Pest side of the city. But Budapest’s beautiful boulevard has a dark past, one punctuated by torture, terror, and death.
Based in the former headquarters for the secret police of both the Nazi and Communist governments, the House of Terror at number 60 Andrássy út is a museum-memorial reflecting on the terrifying decades of Nazi and Communist repression across Hungary.
Much of the museum features exhibits relating to the torture during the regimes, with particular focus on the extermination of the Jewish population across Budapest by the Nazis and the Communists.
Towards the end of World War II, Budapest was overpowered by the Nazi-affiliated Arrow Cross Movement – a movement which did its best to continue the will of the Nazis and exterminate all of Budapest’s Jewish population. From one-by-one shootings in the streets, to hangings and group executions into the freezing River Danube, they executed hundreds of Jews from across the city.
Another place for executions, extensive torture, and interrogation, was the basement of 60 Andrássy út, where the House of Terror stands today. When the communists moved into Hungary in the late-1940s’, they took over the same building used by the Arrow Cross movement as the headquarters of their secret police (the ÁVO, later renamed ÁVH).
By the time the transition to Stalinist rule was complete in 1949, the headquarters were already feared and known as a place of torture used to silence not only the Jewish population, but to silence any civilians whose views differed to those of the state.
It was in the basement where, until the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, ‘enemies of the state’ were tortured an imprisoned. In order to remember this today, the museum carefully recreates the torture chambers and prison cells used by the secret police, complete with some original torture devices.
It’s an eerie experience to walk around these chambers, knowing you are treading on a past hub of torture. The prisoners in these cells had no hope, and while not all of them were killed under interrogation, the torture ruined their lives and the lives of their families for years to come.
The historical context of both the Nazi and Communist regimes are summarised across a series of information boards, pictures and video clips which becoming increasingly chilling as the journey through the museum unravels. And the entrance hall, which features pictures of all victims of torture in the building, haunts you as you enter and exit the museum.
It is harrowing to think that some of the elderly locals who visit the museum perhaps have personal ties to some of the victims, and perpetrators, listed in the museum. The dark history of Hungary is, after all, not that far in the past.
Thankfully the life of 60 Andrássy út transformed following the 1956 revolution – it became a local Communist youth club. But the traumatic, horrifying atmosphere of the building remains, even with renovation. The walls of the building do contain stories, stories which are perhaps too dark or distressing to ever fully be told.
But the House of Terror does a good job of telling these stories. While criticisms exist regarding the narrow focus of the exhibits – which specifically omit some Hungarian sympathies which existed at the time towards the extermination of the Jews – the museum overall paints an insightful, disturbing picture of the past, reminding visitors just how incapacitating torture is and why it is torture, not communities, which should be eradicated.
Even following the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture in 1998, alarming estimates predict as many as 220,000 people are tortured in Bangladesh every year.
It seems implausible but, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission, it is something quite possible while torture in Bangladesh is not punishable as a crime, due to domestic laws which do not meet the definition of torture according to the Convention Against Torture.
The result is a society with little faith in the judicial system when it comes to reparation for the crimes of torture – a state-of-mind which has bred mass impunity due to widespread beliefs that claims of torture will simply not be taken seriously.
Tackling this impunity is the Bangladesh Centre for Human Rights and Development (BCHRD) which, since 1994, has stayed true to its one objective: to provide immediate assistance and rehabilitation for victims of trauma, particularly children and women.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, torture is routinely practiced across the 629 police stations of Bangladesh as investigators see torture as an acceptable and effective means of gathering evidence.
Countering this, the BCHRD works closely with victims of torture in detention to report their stories, to collect their data, and to reintegrate them into society. Approaches to rehabilitation are both administered after the torture and preventatively to stop the cycle of torture in the country.
The main multidisciplinary approach of BCHRD is one known as the integrated rehabilitation approach (IRA) which involves professionals including physicians, physiotherapists, psychologists, counsellors, lawyers and social workers who met frequently to form a united workforce which can target and assist victims of torture in every field necessary.
The benefit of this approach is not only that torture survivors are assisted, but it promotes cross-training and sharing of information among Bangladesh’s most important groups in the protection of human rights.
Over the past week, we donated the World Without Torture Twitter account to two Syrian refugees who have been telling their story of escaping the conflict in Syria, as part of a campaign to raise awareness of Syrian refugees in Europe. We look at what we have learnt about their experience.
As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, there is no avoiding that the conflict has created one of the biggest humanitarian crises in history. According to recent statistics from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR), nine-million Syrians have been displaced by the conflict, over two-million of which have fled to neighbouring countries.
But to date, only 80,000 refugees have fled to Europe – a number which the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) believes is low due to tough restrictions on refugees entering the continent.
ECRE’s campaign – “Europe Act Now” – utilises social media to promote the stories of Syrian refugees who are in need of a safe passage to Europe, in an attempt to pressure European decision-makers to safeguard the rights of refugees.
Telling their story of the conflict through the World Without Torture Twitter were husband and wife Osama, 32, and Zaina, 26. From Aleppo, Osama and Zaina never anticipated the conflict would displace them and their two children. To escape, they aimed for Sweden, but instead found asylum in Greece.
Yet now, the couple are facing hardship still after being beaten and robbed in Greece.
Telling their story on Twitter, Osama and Zaina miss Syria but know they cannot return there now.
“Our daughter couldn’t sleep. She used to cover her ears to block out the sound of gunshots. Just leaving the house to buy bread was dangerous. We had to pass checkpoints to get to the bakery,” they said on Twitter.
“Getting my family from Turkey to safety in Scandinavia would cost €40,000. We didn’t have that money. European countries could take Syrian refugees who are in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq or in the camps.”
The reality of refugees is further complicated when we consider that health professionals and researchers commonly estimate that between 4-35% of refugees worldwide have been subjected to torture. These figures demonstrate that this is not a marginal problem of a marginal community, but a substantial problem that must be urgently addressed.
Join us in pushing for better policy and practice related to the identification and protection of refugee torture survivors and to safeguard the rights of refugees.
So far nearly 300,000 people on Twitter have been reached by the campaign, which continues until World Refugees Day on 20 June.
To read the full selection of tweets on our Twitter, please click this link.
And to find out more about the campaign, click here.
“He’s missing a piece of his chest and I can see his heart beating,” says one unidentified US Army Officer recalling a heavy firefight in Afghanistan. But for the victim, a 15-year-old Omar Khadr, the injuries were only the start of his pain.
Held in Guantanamo Bay for 10 years, and now detained in a Canadian jail, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is just one tragic example of human rights abuses under the watch of a country often deemed to champion human rights.
Following the bombardment on his compound in 2002, Omar was held prisoner and tortured in Bagram, Afghanistan, by the US military, suspected of killing Sergeant Christopher Speer in the battle. It is a charge human rights groups have contested ever since, particularly amidst reports the US military doctored their accounts of the battle to mask Speer’s death from friendly fire as murder by an Afghani insurgent.
And despite being a child soldier at the time of the alleged killing – by definition of the UN Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict – Omar was controversially charged as an adult for war crimes in 2012.
Fighting for his freedom ever since is Dennis Edney QC, who is assisting Omar in overturning his sentence from his prison cell in Canada.
To highlight the case, and to illuminate the human rights abuses, the London Guantanamo Campaign has arranged a series of talks with Mr Edney from 12 March.
Held at various locations across London, and one talk in York, Mr Edney’s tour culminates with an appearance at Amnesty International on 18 March.
The talks, which are free admission, will no doubt provide a unique insight not only into the human rights abuses and torture in the case of Omar, but also the ill-treatment that exists worldwide, and the failings of governments often considered to uphold a decent standard of human rights.
For a full calendar of talks and for ticket information, please click this link.
Despite being the shortest month of our calendar, February has been packed with important news stories, statements and developments across the anti-torture movement.
We summarise some of our most popular blogs, social media content and news releases below. Simply click the relevant links and pictures to read the full stories.
Ever wondered what can be achieved through rehabilitation? Ever wanted to know exactly what can be done to help victims of torture overcome their past? Or have you simply questioned how many centres across the globe offer torture rehabilitation services?
This month we collected the top ten questions asked by our readers about anti-torture work and answered them with links to our work. Just click the picture or this link to read more.
Another popular story this month came from the IRCT whose President, Suzanne Jabbour, has been awarded the prestigious North-South Prize from the Council of Europe in recognition of her lifelong commitment to preventing torture.
The award, which will be presented this Spring in Lisbon, Portugal, has a long list of famous previous winners including Kofi Annan and Bob Geldof.
Suzanne is overjoyed with her victory and we want to thank everyone who joined us in congratulating Suzanne on this award. Read the full story here.
A prison guard takes a detainee from his or her cell, escorts them to a roulette-style wheel listing different methods of torture, and spins the wheel to determine just how much pain should be inflicted on the prisoner.
This ‘Wheel of Torture’, which uses torture as a game, came to light in the world media this month following an inspection of prisons in the Philippines and shocked human rights groups worldwide.
The practice not only showed us how torture is still being reinvented and adapted in sadistic ways, but also showed just how little is being done in the Philippines to stop torture. You can read our full blog on this, and the statement from human rights defenders in the country, by clicking this link.
A story we shared on Facebook this month garnered much attention – the vivid, hard-hitting documentary ‘The Act of Killing’ achieved must deserved recognition from the British Academy of Film, Television and Arts (BAFTA) this month, receiving the award for Best Documentary at the latest awards ceremony.
Click our status below to watch an interview with the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer following the award.
We caught up with IRCT member the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims in Iraq this month to see what they are doing to help survivors of torture in the region.
The newest member of the IRCT movement, the Kirkuk Centre have extensive links across the north of the country to aid victims of torture from all backgrounds, from those affected by the war in Iraq, to the recent influx of Syrian refugees in the region.
It comes as part of our ‘On the Forefront’ series, which you can see all the entries for by clicking this link.
Incredible news from Tunisia this month, who passed a new constitution promoting equal rights for women, freedom of religious expression, and freedom from torture – all ratified just three years after revolution.
We joined world leaders in congratulating Tunisia on this move which will hopefully push other contries to follow the lead.
However in Bahrain, which also experienced uprisings against the government three years ago, the situation of ill-treatment of protestors and limits to freedom of expression has not changed.
Protests continue on a daily basis, and the three-year anniversary since the beginning of the protests was tragically marked itself by further protests and excessive crackdowns from the authorities.
Bahrain needs to change now. It simply cannot wait any longer. Read the full story by clicking the picture or clicking this link.
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Despite a strong government crackdown on protestors, over 300,000 people took to the streets of Bahrain’s capital Manama on 14 February to mark the three-year anniversary of the Bahraini protests.
And despite three-years of torture, imprisonment, and even deaths of protestors, the demonstrations against the government do not seem to be slowing down.
But also what is not slowing down is the government’s resistance to relinquishing power to the people. On the anniversary march alone, over 50 people were injured by rubber pellets and tear gas fired by police.
The last three years have seen the Bahraini government, the House of Al Khalifa, use extreme force over protestors whom are campaigning for respect for human rights. In every protest, the government has repelled the protestors with the use of force. The result over three years is shocking: according to data from The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), 93 people have died; more than 2,200 political prisoners remain in detention; and torture and enforced disappearances remain widespread on a daily basis.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has tracked the uprising since day one and Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President of the BCHR following the arrest of President Nabeel Rajab, knows in detail the harm the government can cause.
Her father, prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, has been imprisoned since April 2011 for allegedly plotting a coup during the pro-democracy protests. Maryam’s sister Zainab – who was recently released from detention – still faces a string of ‘anti-government’ charges. They are just two cases out of thousands who have been silenced by the government.
“People seem to assume that somehow the Bahrain revolution failed but I do not think it is fair to assess the revolution as ‘failed’,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja in a piece to World Without Torture. “It is just an inconvenient revolution – a revolution which is happening in a country which is solidly linked to the interests of the West in terms of oil, trading and so on that it would prove problematic to recognise as an active, powerful movement.”
Three years on, her assessment certainly still seems accurate. Aside from the occasional news report online, the world seems oblivious to Bahrain: the country is still portrayed as a safe haven for foreign investment and tourism; and large-scale international events, such as the Formula One Grand Prix, still continue to uphold the myth that Bahrain is free from unrest.
Yet the sheer numbers of protestors marking the importance of the ‘revolution’ tell a different story about the realities of Bahrain: its people want a democratic change from the 230-year-old Al Khalifa rule.
With human rights coming into question on a daily basis, it is a change that is needed – now, not in another three years.
Many questions come to mind when thinking about torture. What methods are used? Where does it happen? Who does it? Who are the victims? We have answered many of those questions in this blog.
But how do victims overcome the trauma from torture? Or the physical sequelae left by brutal methods of torture? There are probably as many questions and doubts surrounding rehabilitation as there are about torture itself. Here are some of the answers.
1. What is rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation is simply ridding of the effects of torture – it is to empower the torture victim to resume as full a life as possible. Torture rehabilitation can take a variety of forms. In approaching it through a holistic approach, rehabilitation can include medical treatment for physical or psychological ailments resulting from torture; psychosocial counselling or trauma therapy; legal aid to pursue justice for the crimes; or programmes and activities to encourage economic viability, among others.
2. Why do torture victims need special treatment?
In many contexts, torture survivors seeking rehabilitation can only receive regular care and many physicians will not realise they are in the presence of a torture survivor. The risks associated with that are many and much has been written about that particular issue. In brief, not all therapeutic approaches have been described as useful in the treatment of victims of torture. Also, therapeutic procedures can easily recreate the torture experience, putting the torture survivors at risk of re-traumatisation.
The questioning, the testing instruments used, the physical space, the power relationship between the clinician and patient, etc., all have the potential to recreate the torture conditions, thus undermining the positive benefits of therapy. In some of situations, the treatment administered by non-specialized clinicians can even lead to harmful effects to the survivor.
3. What is the right to rehabilitation and is it an enshrined right by law?
In the first instance, the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel or Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment outlines the rights of an individual, outlaws torture, and promotes respect for the human rights of an individual.
Article 14 defines precisely that rehabilitation of a victim is a state responsibility which should be enforced in every complaint of torture. It reads:
“Each State Party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.”
However, while there is a right to rehabilitation defined on paper by the UN, the right is not necessarily granted – even among the 154 state signatories. Also some countries have not ratified the convention into their national legal systems, and other countries have not signed the convention altogether.
4. What are some of the main forms of rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation programmes vary depending on the context in which the support is implemented, the resources available to the organisation issuing the programmes, and the nature of rehabilitation needed by the torture survivor. However some main forms of psychological and physiological support include: counselling; therapy, individually or group; psychotherapy; social reintegration programmes; medical assistance; artistic classes; exercise programmes; yoga; and much more.
5. Do the rehabilitation programmes work?
Yes. Targeted, tailored programmes of rehabilitation do not only allow the torture survivor to overcome their ordeal, but it can also allow their family, friends, or community to rebuild.
You only have to look at some of the stories from survivors of torture to realise that rehabilitation is fundamental is ensuring a victim of torture can live their life as fully as possible. You can read some stories of survivors by clicking this link.
6. Is rehabilitation ensured across the globe?
No. Even among the 154 state parties (across 80 different countries) to the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel or Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment, rehabilitation is not assured – at least not by the state. Across the world, some statistics point to torture being practiced in around 90% of the countries. Many of these do not provide adequate services for redress and rehabilitation through the state, so the responsibility falls onto anti-torture organisations – such as the IRCT members – who must move survivors past their experiences of torture, often with limited resources and under the watch of authoritarian regimes.
7. What is the IRCT, and what is its role in torture rehabilitation?
The IRCT is the largest membership-based civil society organisation to work in the field of torture rehabilitation and prevention. It is their mission to ensure there is access to rehabilitation services and justice for victims, and to contribute to torture prevention. Currently, the IRCT consists of 144 members across 74 countries.
8. How many people have been treated by the IRCT?
With members spread across more than 70 countries and the risks associated with the safety of torture survivors, accurate data collection is a significant challenge for the IRCT. However, figures gathered in the past suggested that more than 100,000 torture victims have been helped by IRCT member organisations across the globe on a single year.
9. Who can rehabilitation benefit?
The physical and mental after-effects of torture are far reaching but so are the benefits of rehabilitation. The victims but also their families, friends and sometimes their entire communities. There may be different approaches necessary in the rehabilitation programmes, and there may be different obstacles to rehabilitation, but the benefits can be felt by any victim of torture. To be as inclusive as possible, members of the IRCT network therefore tailor their programmes to best suit the contexts in which they operate.
10. Through rehabilitation, prevention and justice, can there be a world without torture?
Yes. The world can be rid of torture just like it was rid of slavery. Undoubtedly, the journey is long and full of obstacles, but with the right mix of rehabilitation, justice and prevention, the vision of a world without torture can be realised.
In the blog this week we profile the newest member of the IRCT network, the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims, offering torture rehabilitation in northern Iraq.
Founded in 2005, the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims is an important multi-branched organisation offering rehabilitative services to victims of torture in the region. It is the second IRCT member in Iraq, and was founded with support from the Berlin Center for Torture Victims, a leading European institution caring for survivors of torture, persecution and genocide.
The Kirkuk centre offers services tailored to a wide variety of social groups including female and young victims of torture, victims of genocide, refugees who are survivors of torture, and many more.
Quite simply, thanks to extensive support programmes, there is no one the centre cannot help. This openness has been highlighted once more with their recent treatment of an influx of Syrian refugees at the centre whom, despite fleeing their homeland in large numbers, have had the same excellent treatment from the Kirkuk centre.
The deep understanding of the challenges refugees particularly face is perhaps ingrained in the centre’s beliefs thanks to the experience of Salah Ahmed, founder and chairman of the centre.
Himself being of Kurdish-Iraqi origin, Salah Ahmad fled his home country in 1981 and sought refuge in Germany, where he studied pedagogics and later on became a psychotherapist. At the Berlin Center for Torture Victims he has treated hundreds of survivors of torture from all over the world.
After the fall of the Saddam regime, Mr. Ahmed returned to his hometown Kirkuk where in 2005 he established the first rehabilitation centre for survivors of torture in Iraq.
Until today, he still recalls one of his first patients, a young woman who had been imprisoned, tortured and held a sex slave for more than 10 years by Saddam’s security forces.
“She had had multiple abortions and given birth to three children in prison. It took more than one year of intensive therapy until I saw this woman smile for the first time”, recalls Salah Ahmad. “She was my first patient in Kirkuk and the biggest challenge of my professional career.”
Since these first days, the Kirkuk Center has come a long way. “Many things have changed since the first patient walked through our door,” Salah says. “The political and the security situation in Kirkuk and in Central Iraq is really worrying. But we have been able to help more than 11,000 patients in six cities in north Iraq.
“When I travel through my country and visit the big cities in the north, I think that hope always dies last. What we have built in this country during the past 10 years is incredible.”