Archive for category Sharing Knowledge – Project Work
In our latest blog we hear from Ida Harriet Rump, a photographer and student in Middle Eastern studies at Lund University, Sweden, who has regularly travelled through Syria since 2006.
Ida spent around one year in Damascus and, after the conflict began in 2011, Ida has twice visited north-western city Idlib with grassroots solidarity network Witness Syria – an initiative connecting activists inside and outside of the country.
Throughout her travels, Ida has seen the damage of the conflict, the pain it causes families and refugees, and has heard stories of torture along the way. In her first blog for World Without Torture, Ida uses a series of pictures to capture the fear, hope and everyday life in the city of Ma’arrat al-Numan.
Ma’arrat al-Numan is a city in the Idlib region, 200km south of the Turkish border. Before the Syrian revolution, the city was known for it’s historical mosque, the 10th century philosopher Abdul al-Ma’arri, and a small museum presenting parts of the long local history.
Immediately after Ma’arrat al-Numan was freed in the fall 2012, the heavy shelling of the city began. Today Ma’arrat al-Numan is infamous for having more than 60% of its houses and buildings destroyed by a campaign of continuous heavy shelling. More than 90% of the inhabitants have fled the area.
Despite the deaths of more than 1,000 people from the city, economic hardship, trauma, and a lack of all basic necessities such as water, electricity and heating, the citizens of Ma’arrat al-Numan struggle to build a new and better life.
For many citizens in the liberated areas, they voluntarily engage in society and participate to improve and build projects for the common good. In particular, many women volunteer in primary schools to respond the problem that many children have lost several years of schooling due to the situation.
Basmat Amal, a local relief group, is one of city’s prime promoters of sustainable projects to address some of the difficulties that citizens encounter in their everyday life. They have built a soap factory to secure independence of foreign imports, a bread oven, and a non-profit shop that sells all the daily commodities 15-50% cheaper than the general regional prices. All self-sustainable projects aim to counter the fast growing inflation that triggers growing poverty among Syrians.
Not a day goes by in Ma’arrat al-Numan where you do not hear the threatening sounds of the regime airplanes or helicopters, or the exchange of fire from the frontline of Wadi al-Deif just at the eastern border of the city.
Each time the regime airplanes approach, distant bursts of the gunfire echo through the air. Before the planes deliver their bombs, they have to dive closer to their targets, and warning shots are fired from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades to warn the airplanes not to get anywhere near their fire range. Most Syrians are against foreign interventions but request that the FSA are equipped with rockets that can keep the airplanes away from the civilian areas.
Each time the planes are in the air, citizens look to the sky and run to their houses if the planes get too close. As one citizen sardonically noted while watching a regime helicopter in the sky: “The Syrian people have developed chronic neck problems from looking to the sky.”
The most common way Syrians describe their everyday handling of the conflict is that “it has become normal”.
But in the trustful setting of the home, women often expresses the problematic side effects of the shelling. The women may not be more affected by the shelling, just more honest towards their feelings when they put in words how they have to deal with trauma. Yet the fact remains they tackle chronic headaches, overwhelming fear, planes and bombings on a daily basis.
They talk about the side effects that are not related to the destruction of buildings or killings of people – they talk of how they are struggling with stress and anxiety, and how this causes involuntary abortions. One woman told how her daughter hides under tables in the house each time she hears the sounds of the planes, and how she and her children strongly wish to leave the country but at the same time are proud about their steadfastness. After all, leaving would cause other problems and worries for their family.
In her next blog, Ida shall recount the stories of torture she has heard while travelling through Syria.
To find out more about the Witness Syria programme email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Increasingly sophisticated methods and unusual practices join the fight against torture and impunity
Plainly speaking, odontologists investigate teeth. They are dentists who specialised in forensic dentistry, putting their expertise at the use of legal enforcement, and, in some cases, in the fight against torture and impunity.
Using x-rays, these special dentists document cases where perpetrators inflict direct damage to the teeth through punches or kicks, extract teeth with pliers or ground them with a file as a form of torture.
For nearly 20 years, odontologists at the University of Copenhagen have been called to action when an alleged torture victim reported that teeth were involved in the torture.
In a study of 33 cases of alleged torture recently published in TORTURE Journal, the odontologists were able to tell that, in all cases, the evidence found was to varying degrees consistent with the alleged claims of torture.
These odontological reports never standalone but are integrated into a full forensic report. When deemed necessary, other examinations are requested as well. These may include dermatologists, urologists, rheumatologists, physiotherapists, ophthalmologists, radiologists, neurologists, etc.
A thorough examination by an experienced psychiatrist acquainted with torture will often be able to diagnose psychological scars even long after the torture has taken place. However, such claims are not easy to discover.
As described by the authors of the odontological study mentioned:
“An oral cavity free of major pathological conditions other than what is reported to be due to torture assaults is easier to evaluate than an oral cavity with signs of severe periodontal and/or cariogenic lesions. It is however crucial to remember that an oral cavity with pathological conditions does not exclude that torture has taken place, but it does make it more difficult to objectively make a judgment as to the origin of the injuries.”
In addition, torture methods are typically selected for maximum psychological and physical impact without leaving marks, and the authorities often detain victims until the majority of the injuries have healed.
Other less obvious challenges pertain to common methods and tools of a dentist. For instance, victims who have been subjected to “submarino” – a method of torture whereby the victim’s head is held under water to just before the point of drowning – may react strongly to the water used in the oral cavity during dental treatment.
Documenting to fight impunity
One of the obstacles in the struggle against torture is insufficient evidence in cases against alleged perpetrators. Most cases do not lead to justice for the torture survivor because the scars on his/her body and mind have not been appropriately documented by doctors or used by lawyers in legal proceedings. Effective investigation and documentation of alleged torture is decisive in proving that torture has taken place, bringing perpetrators to court and ensuring reparation and redress for survivors and their families. Official recognition that torture has taken place serves to restore individual lives and public morale and sends a strong signal to torturers and those authorising the use of torture that this is never acceptable.
Join us in recognising all the medical doctors who everyday join the ranks of torture fighters and help prevent torture worldwide.
Listening to music is often aligned with positivity, healing and relaxation. But what if the music plays to ears who do not want to listen? What if the repetition, the volume, or the content of the music is too much for the listener? Can music be used as a method of control or coercion?
Music is said to be understood across borders and cultures. However, in reality, even the same combination of sounds can have different effects on different listeners.
Using music as torture is not a new phenomenon. While the use of repetitive music has been oft-cited as a method of causing suffering during the ‘War on Terror’ – Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time was used to torment prisoners at Guantanamo Bay according to some former inmates – the trend to use sounds for torture was explored in Nazi concentration camps and in Soviet gulags, and even hundreds of years earlier during the Middle Ages.
The latest issue of Torture Journal from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) [available here in a digital format] brings together reports from six leading academics which analyse the history of using music as a means of psychological torture, the effects it has on the victims, and how music can penetrate the resolve of even the most hardened individual to cause suffering.
When used against people’s will, music can be transformed into a damaging method of punishment and re-education – a method of torture which arguably is not fully understood or prevented by state officials. This collection of material highlights not only the prevalence of music usage in torture, but also discusses what can be done to stop music as a form of harm and instead being aligned as a method of rehabilitation.
Every day thousands of Syrian refugees pour over the borders of Syria and into nearby countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. For many the journey is tough – in fleeing their anxieties in war-torn Syria they often encounter poverty, torture and death.
But for one family, the support they received from IRCT member Centre for Torture Victims (CVT) allowed them to tell their story. Here CVT recount their journey through rehabilitation.
The family, who wish to remain anonymous, left behind a comfortable life in Syria because they were afraid for their lives in the Syrian conflict. Their anxieties came from events they all experienced. The children were terrified by almost everything – the noise from planes, fireworks, and even people. They never went outside to play with other children for fear of being hurt. The parents too were scared – scared for their safety, the safety of their home and the safety of their family.
While the parents remained strong, both had depression and sleeping difficulties. Both were witness to some of the most harrowing scenes in Syria, including violent home searches.
Their small home was destroyed and, to save themselves, the family sought refuge in Jordan. It was to be a move leaving them with no money or shelter. One meal a day between the family of four was all they had.
When the family came to the CVT office, the parents only asked for help for their children. However it was evident that the entire family needed help.
After counselling both the parents and children, their anxieties began to disappear. But it was not until later on in this therapy when the father shared a frightening story he had never told anyone before. He shared an event where he almost lost his life. This experience caused all his physical and emotional symptoms.
In the family home in Syria, government soldiers entered one day and began searching the house. The family were threatened and terrorised before the father was ordered to leave the home. Outside with the soldiers, the father was threatened with death.
Different methods were discussed in front of him and, ultimately, his life was spared. When he returned inside the house the father stayed silent about his experience, and has suffered from nightmares and guilt ever since.
But the support from CVT helped these feelings subside. While these experiences may never be forgotten, the father said that the family felt valued and worthy – something they had not felt for a long time.
Soon the children began to laugh again. They began to play again and this, in turn, eased the anxieties the parents felt.
CVT continues to provide support for the family with counselling. Wounds take time to heal but, thanks to CVT support, this family is able to begin regaining control of their lives.
Rehabilitation, even in a few sessions, can lift the shadow of depression that torture brings.
Story edited by Ashley Scrace, Communications Officer with the IRCT. The original story was written by Laura Takacs and Adrienne Carter, psychotherapist/trainers with CVT Jordan – part of a team of psychotherapists, psychosocial counselors, physiotherapists, social workers and outreach staff and volunteers who travel to refugees unable to access the CVT centre.
To enact our vision of a world without torture, the torture rehabilitation movement is led by the human rights defenders on the front lines – figures who may hail from the medical field, the legal field, and right through to activists and anti-torture advocates.
But the core voice from all this work comes from the survivors of torture and the families of the victims. Guided by their experiences – and by providing a space for their experiences — the IRCT methodology of holistic rehabilitation can flourish.
So today we are launching a new space to share their stories and amplify their voices. A new Testimonies Wall will serve as a platform for survivors of torture, their families, and the global torture fighters to speak out against torture with the ultimate aim of ending torture across the globe.
Fourteen stories launch the wall, including two new in-depth features with two survivors of torture from very different locations.
The first is Veli Sacilik whose harrowing story of a prison siege in Turkey is still very much in the European spotlight today. After losing an arm in the siege and subsequent torture, Veli and his fellow inmates have gone on to campaign to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for compensation and justice in their disturbing, shocking case. Sadly, now over a decade later, the case for compensation and justice is still being deliberated, but Veli’s continual campaigning is not only yielding results but is demonstrating the violence that exists in the Turkish prison network.
The second story comes from Carmen Kcomt, a former judge in Peru who was met with violent harassment and intimidation when trying to rightly expose the paternity of a young girl revealed to be the secret daughter of the future president of Peru. Carmen boldly applied the law and listened to her legal training at all times, despite sustained intimidation and torture both physically and mentally from a variety of sources. It is a story of exposing the truth, escaping fear and rebuilding a life in a new country.
The testimonies page will be updated with new stories over time so check back for these unique and insightful insights into torture, rehabilitation and justice.
Editor’s Note: The following blog post comes from José Utrera, Regional Coordinator for Latin America. As a holistic approach to rehabilitation of torture survivors must take into consideration the various cultural contexts and methods of collecting data and reporting as well as healing and treatment, Jose addresses the issue of intercultural approaches in the Latin American context. This is the first of two blog posts from IRCT’s annual Latin America meeting of torture rehabilitation centres.
The 16th meeting of the Latin American network of health institutions working against torture and other violations of human rights took place in the last week of September, in the Andean city of Quito, Ecuador. Twenty-seven representatives of 16 organizations, almost all them IRCT members, from 13 Latin American countries met to exchange experiences and discuss strategic issues related to their work.
One of the issues discussed in the meeting was the intercultural approaches to prevention, rehabilitation and access to justice related to victims of torture. This is an important matter because in several countries indigenous people and others as Afro-descendants are significant proportion of the population. Latin American centres are using different methodologies and strategies to face this issue.
A rehabilitation centre in Colombia presented on their experiences of immersion and continuous adaptation of their methodologies and ways of intervention with indigenous communities of Cauca. Before starting the process of collecting and assessing information on the traumatic experiences the communities suffered, staff agree with the population on the purposes and uses the information. Thereafter, the staff live within the communities for some weeks, taking part in their social and religious activities to gain the confidence of people, especially the women, to share their experiences and to understand it as much as possible those experiences and the ways they cope with it. As the team’s comprehension of the resources that communities have to cope with the traumatic experiences— such as, religious rituals, medicinal plants, etc. — and the expectations of the victims and the concrete political context increase, the methodologies for data collection and assessment of individual and collective damage and the approach to rehabilitation are adapted.
The representative of an allied organisation in Guatemala presented their experience on data collection and reporting about the traumatic experiences of indigenous people victims of genocide. They emphasised not only the need to accurately know the language, but also the ways indigenous people express the personal significance and feelings during and after torture, which frequently is difficult to translate in Spanish as it reflects an own worldview (cosmovisión). She also pointed out the need to accompany the victims, especially the women, not only to prepare their testimonies, but also during and after they attest.
The lessons from the regional seminar show the importance of adapting treatment methods to the particular cultural context of victims, one of the fundamentals of holistic rehabilitation.
Different centres presented their experiences, sharing the following issues:
- the methodologies for immersion to gain confidence of indigenous people to share their traumatic experiences and understanding of those experiences;
- aspects related to language, particularly the ways indigenous people express the significance and feelings during and after torture;
- regular adaptation of intervention strategies according to emerging insights of the traumatic experiences and the way persons and communities want to deal with it;
- methodologies to assess the individual and collective damage, including the adaptation and validation of instruments for investigation and reporting;
- adaptation of rehabilitation approaches according to their own resources (traditional medicine, social mechanisms, rituals), their values and the political contexts in which these take place;
- training of professionals to recognise these cultural factors in the processes of assessment and rehabilitation of torture cases.
During the discussion of those experiences, the participants stated that the assessment and reporting of torture cases in the multicultural societies of Latin America aims to a) administer justice, and b) to recognize each person citizen’s rights no matter what his/her culture.
By José Utrera , Regional Coordinator for Latin America and Caribbean
‘Sorry’ is such a short word but has so many long and deep meanings attached to it. You can apologise for an argument, a disagreement, an accident perhaps. But when it comes to torture, sorry is not enough – and never should it be accepted as enough.
Only a couple of weeks ago the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, apologised for the decades of unbridled abuse and torture towards black suspects under the watch of Police Commander Jon Burge.
The torture and racism, which was rife for a period of almost 20 years, began in 1972 when celebrated Vietnam veteran Burge was elected as the new tough police commander for the Chicago Police Department.
Almost immediately after his appointment, allegations of torture began to emerge, with many focusing on being tortured to secure confessions. Through the 70s’ and 80s’ further allegations arose, most notably following the killing of a police officer in Chicago in February 1982, where black suspects were rounded up and handcuffed to stationary objects for long periods of time, pets were killed in front of their owners and children were held at gunpoint while questioned.
Allegations of torture under Burge’s rule continued to grow. Today, there have been over 200 registered complaints of torture, many of which are still being compensated. So far $85 million has been paid in compensation but many cases are still awaiting outcome.
Burge was dismissed from the police in 1993 and faced no charges for his allegations. However, in 2011, he was sentenced to four years in prison for lying under questioning when the allegations were brought against him.
In this respect, justice has been served in this case to some extent – the main head of this torturous movement has been made to face the facts. But other than a single change at the top and an apology, changes in this case – and many others – are rarely meaningful and longstanding.
In any case of torture there needs to be processes in place to ensure that the perpetrators face full and open legal inquiries – not just the figurehead of torture, but those who actually delivered the torture in person.
In this vein there need to be routes in place for victims to seek justice in the first instance. Victims and perpetrators need to know that, whatever their story, torture is wrong in every instance. Torture is used to extract information, to prevent the flow of information, to torment, to persuade, to shock, to damage someone’s livelihood, or simply to establish a message. It can happen to anyone in any country regardless of political, religious or social sympathies. Torture is wrong and every victim of torture needs to be granted simple, effective routes to pursue justice, truth and rehabilitation.
Torture victims also need rehabilitation – they need to be notified that services exist to help them develop their lives and they need to be allowed to use these services to ensure they can move forward. No one should suffer at all for any length of time, let alone throughout their life.
Simply apologising for wrongs is not enough. Words only mean so much.
Strong words must be followed up with strong actions. While an expression of sorrow may well be a legitimate feeling, this does not mean the torture is ‘solved’ or forgotten. There are still underlying issues which need addressing which can only be addressed fully through the pursuit of justice and reform.
If you define Britain by its oft lauded stereotypes, one may assume a peaceful, upstanding nation which obeys rules, regulations and notions of fair play. Yet for 30 years Ian Cobain has dedicated his life to exposing the secrets, the lies, the inconvenient truths often buried deep beneath a British façade.
An investigative journalist with the Guardian newspaper, his reports into the UK’s counter-terrorism practices since 9/11 have won a number of major awards including the Martha Gellhorn Prize and the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism, as well as a range of Amnesty International awards.
In 2012 Ian published his first book, Cruel Britannia, which analysed how the British government has repeatedly and systematically resorted to torture, through years of British colonial rule, to World War Two and to the War on Terror.
And while we may not like to think of it, torture is something which Ian believes is still practiced by the UK and other Western countries often perceived to be upholding human rights.
“I’m still shocked by some of the matters I discover. But I’m no longer surprised,” says Ian.
“After 9/11, I knew by January 2002 that the US was mistreating its prisoners. Photographs showing shackled men, in gloves, ear defenders and blacked-out goggles, being dragged across the ground at Guantanamo, were published by the US military. That was a pretty good clue [that torture of prisoners was happening].
“The same month, while I was in Kabul, Red Cross officials told me that prisoners were being tortured at Kandahar. I was terribly shocked. The British government and its intelligence agencies claim they didn’t discover this for years. What nonsense.”
A report on the condition of detainees in 2012, ten years after Ian learned of torture in Kandahar, still lists the southern city in Afghanistan as one of the areas where detained individuals are routinely mistreated by officials.
“At the time it was difficult to comprehend that the British government would draw up policies that resulted in the torture, but that’s what happened,” Ian explains.
“It took me a while longer to understand the level of UK support and participation in the rendition programme. More time made me realise that the UK was complicit in kidnappings and torture during operations in which the US barely played any part.”
For Ian, the ill-treatment by the UK of those in detention, particularly in situations of conflict, is nothing new.
“British military processed and mistreated their prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1971 in precisely the same way that another generation of the British military was doing it in Basra in 2003,” says Ian.
“Authorities use it to intimidate, to coerce, to humiliate, to extract information, or to obtain so-called confessions. But it also creates reservoirs of hatred that don’t run dry for generations. And nobody can quite predict what will flow from those reservoirs.”
Hostility though is something that Ian has felt from authoritative figures, many of whom try to deter his work and the work of human rights defenders across the globe.
“Some people are hostile, but I don’t really care. I’ve been threatened once or twice, by people in ‘authority’, but I’m not in any danger,” he says.
Documenting and exposing torture is a sensitive issue for everyone involved. While the journalist or human rights activist exposing a case of torture might be in danger of reprisals, the survivor risks that and risks re-traumatisation by retelling the experience. However, documentation enables victims to prove the veracity of their allegations and thus increases the pressure on perpetrators to fulfill their obligations under international law. Torture is hardly a positive representation of a group or a country, particularly one like the UK.
Rehabilitating victims of torture, helping them recover from the trauma and become advocates for justice and truth, is one pivotal way to change views on torture in everyone’s minds.
“A few prosecutions of people in powerful positions might concentrate the minds of the next generation,” Ian adds.
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our earlier blog here). See other previous posts in this series here, here, here, here, here and here.
Shortly before the start of our participation in the PEER SUPPORT Project, Hemayat moved to new premises because our old office had become too small. Since the old centre did not have enough therapy rooms, many of our therapists had to work in their own offices. This solution enabled us to still treat more patients. On the other hand, this system led to few opportunities to share experiences and lend mutual support between the therapists. The PEER SUPPORT Project showed us that there is still a lot of work to do to enhance the wellbeing of our staff. In our new space we now do have possibilities to do so.
Since our last blog, some things have changed for the better, as our new organisational structure is now partially in place. The therapists and the translators elected members of their groups to represent their needs and wishes within the organisation. Regular meetings between the managing staff and the representatives of these groups are held to discuss topics concerning the running of the organisation as well as the wellbeing of the staff.
We also started to evaluate our written staff policies: what is in place? What is missing? What needs enhancing? The information we received during the PEER SUPPORT project training in Barcelona helped us to find some of our blind spots concerning the support of our staff and its wellbeing. The therapists decided it would be good for them to have the opportunity to meet outside the office in an informal way. So they now installed a jour-fix and meet in a restaurant. The new intervision system is also about to be installed. Since a lot of the staff will take holiday leaves during the summer, we decided to start in September with regular intervision groups. The response of the staff toward the intervision meetings was favourable – many therapists feel it could help them and their work by sharing their experiences with each other.
In our last blog post, we had mentioned that money is always a big issue. We have very long waiting lists, which puts a lot of pressure on our shoulders. We want to provide the much needed help as quickly as possible. The downside to our new premises is that they are more costly than the old ones. We did not want this to affect the extent of therapy sessions we offer.
We therefore hosted a charity event on 21st of June. A lot of artists and well-known persons offered their support and we received so many donations that we can even increase our therapy hours!
By Nora Ramirez Castillo, psychologist & assistant manager Hemayat.