Archive for category Sub-Saharan Africa

Why International Day of Action for Women’s Health matters

Since 1987, 28 May has marked International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Today is an opportunity to remind governments and the general public alike that women’s health matters. Many female victims of torture struggle with lifelong physical and mental health problems as a result of their experiences and the type of torture inflicted on them because of their gender. We share the story of NB, a survivor of sexual torture from the Central African Republic, to show that the respect, protection, and fulfillment of the human rights of women and girls, including their sexual and reproductive rights is always worth fighting for.

In March 2013 the Central African Republic (CAR) was in turmoil. The Séléka, an alliance of rebel militia factions had overthrown the government and were starting to target the Christian population, murdering people and ransacking and destroying their houses.

CARCrisis_Flickr

At the time, NB was happily married with four children but after a run in with rebels that were renting a house from her husband, her family suddenly found themselves as targets. They fled their village but NB decided to return to their house to get their identification documents before they left the country for good.

She was captured by Séléka rebels looking for her husband. They beat and repeatedly raped her for several hours. Then they ransacked the house, before leaving her in a state of shock. She eventually made her way to her parents’ house and then joined her husband and children and they fled to Cameroon.

NB is one of the many female victims of sexual violence during the CAR conflict, a time when disorder reigned and rape was used as a weapon. In late 2013 Amnesty International researchers reported that they had spoken to many women in the capital Bangui, who reported having been raped by Seleka soldiers. Most of these women and girls did not want to be interviewed for fear of being identified or stigmatised.

In Cameroon NB tried to make a life for her family, despite receiving no medical or psychological care after her ordeal. Eventually other CAR refugees told her and her family about the Trauma Centre in Cameroon (TCC), a member of the International Rehabilitation Council for Victims of Torture. They were assessed and received psychological services, including individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy.

Even with the much-needed support they got from TCC, NB and her husband struggled to keep their relationship going. Things became even harder when she was diagnosed with HIV, contracted when she was raped. In many cases in countries, such as the CAR and DRC Congo, HIV-positive rape victims are dying because they cannot afford antiretroviral medication.

NB is one of the lucky ones, as she continues to get treatment from TCC. She and her husband are still together and the family is part of an income-generating scheme. As a result can pay their rent, take care of basic needs and their children can go to school. Without it they would struggle to survive.

NB’s story shows there are still many places in the world where basic health services are not available or inaccessible, often affecting women and children the most. The psychological effects of the trauma that sexual violence causes are ignored or gender inequalities make it more difficult for women to access medication for diseases like HIV. Sexual torture affects victims’ health and identity, as well as their relationships with family and friends.

International Day of Action on Women’s Health is a day to remember women like NB. Her story shows that survivors of sexual torture need support to rebuild their lives and that women’s mental and physical health should always be safeguarded.

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Centre visit: ACTV in Kampala

Situated in the hills of Kampala, Ugandan rehabilitation centre African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) provides a much-needed sanctuary for almost a hundred torture victims every week. A pioneering provider of rehabilitation services to torture survivors in Uganda, the centre is the only organisation in the country to offer such services. On a typically busy day in January, the staff spoke with us about their work and passion for human rights.

The clients coming through ACTV’s doors are as varied as the services provided by the centre. According to the centre’s leader/director, Samuel Nsubuga, 30 percent of the clients are refugees from neighbouring countries, while the remaining 70 percent are Ugandans who have been subjected to torture by security agencies, such as the army, police force, city council authorities or by rebel groups.

“With torture you never know if you could be next because of the instability in the region, says ACTV’s Programme Manager, Bamulangeyo Michael. “Now, because of the Ugandan elections, we are seeing an increase in violence,” he explains.

There are 25 full-time staff and approximately 15 volunteers who provide everything from medical to psychological to legal support to survivors of torture. There are lots of challenges in delivering services and not all those in need of services can make it to the centre. ACTV supports them through other channels that include community outreach and home visits. Staff also regularly go to prisons to see inmates, many of whom have been beaten by police before being thrown in prison.

ACTV_Uganda_Peaceful procession, Kampala

A peaceful procession through the streets of Kampala was the grand finale of ACTV’s 26 June celebration in 2015

Having seen the effects of torture first-hand, ACTV is a strong advocate for the prevention of torture and provision of services to survivors of torture. The centre is also working towards increasing awareness among security agencies and the public about torture and its consequences through trainings and workshops.

“We work closely with the Ugandan Government to stop torture and we also work in coalition with other NGOs, which strengthens our centre,” says Bamulangeyo Michael.

To understand that torture is very much still a problem in Uganda, one only needs to look at the long waiting lists that are an ongoing challenge the centre faces.

“We are the only place in Uganda that treats victims of torture and there is a great need for more centres,” says the centre’s Medical Doctor Dr. Lubega Ronarld.

He points to the fact that there are only 40 ACTV staff, and a demand for services and support that far outstrip the ability to provide them. The level of services available seems shockingly inadequate to most people. To do something about this, the centre is training hospital staff, but this comes with challenges of its own.

“We organise trainings for doctors working in hospitals. The hospitals are keen to learn, but they are often overwhelmed. It is a matter of funds and resources.”

Despite challenges like these, the staff can see how their work makes a huge difference in the lives of torture victims, and they agree that the work of ACTV is vital.

And just as importantly, it is changing the lives of the staff, as Bamulangeyo Michael puts it: “Torture was something in human rights that I became interested in. I didn’t know much about it, but now I’ve found my true calling.”

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Fighting Torture: Q&A with Guy Mulunda Kitwe

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In this series, we speak with different people from various sectors and backgrounds who all work with and support survivors of torture in one way or another. What does their work mean to them and what are the biggest challenges in the anti-torture and rehabilitation movement?

For the third entry in our Q&A series, we speak with Guy Mulunda Kitwe, about his work as a psychologist at the SAVE CONGO Rehabilitation Centre, the legacy of rape and torture in the DRC and the ongoing struggle for funding.

Cropped13Q: What is your profession and where do you work?

I am a psychologist at the SAVE CONGO rehabilitation centre in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Q: How long have you worked with torture survivors?

I have worked with torture victims since 2003. I was initially working with USAID as a psychologist on a programme for abandoned children.

Q: How did you end up in this sector? Was it something you specifically wanted to do or was it more of a coincidence?

It was during the armed conflict in 1997. Many women and children experienced torture and mass violence and I just thought how come so many people are suffering from torture. It was then that I decided to work for the anti-torture movement.

Q: Tell us about the situation for torture survivors where you are/or your home country?

Torture is widespread in the DRC. For many years the country was known as the centre of rape because of the violence against women. This continued for a long time and now we’re seeing the consequences. Women have had children as a result of the rape and for most victims the trauma continues. We have many clients who experienced torture a long time ago, but are only now seeking help at our centre. This is because the security in the country has improved thanks to the UN peacekeeping forces and a hardworking government.

In the DRC, there are still some rebel groups in the mountains and in the villages, but the number has gone down from 24 to just five to six groups. It is still a long process to treat victims of torture. We are the only centre in the DRC that is working specifically with victims of torture. Sometimes we receive clients referred to us by the UNHCR and UNICEF. We have a close working relationship with these and other UN agencies.

Q: What does your work mean to you?

For me, working with victims of torture means to respect human beings. My work has truly taught me to respect other people. It has also allowed me to progress/grow personally and professionally, especially in relation to increasing my knowledge and ability to working with people.

Q: Can you give us an example of how you have seen your work make a difference?

In 2000, many torture victims did not have access to rehabilitation. If, for example, they went to a hospital, they would not be given specific treatment. However, over the years, SAVE CONGO has built and developed a range of services. Now victims know where to go and other organisations, such as the hospitals know where to send victims. Another thing is training, which is something we are able to offer because of our work with organisations like the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). I am proud to say that we have supported more than 8,000 torture victims.

Q: How has your sector/industry changed since you started?

The change is that many organisations and hospitals are now involved in the fight against torture.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the sector/industry?

The lack of funding for rehabilitation centres. We are receiving more and more victims of torture, but sadly we do not have sufficient funding to do our job. This means that we have limited resources such as staff.

Q: What do you think needs to be done to make the right to rehabilitation a reality?

In the DRC, the state needs to take responsibility for all the people in the country and do everything in its power to support torture victims. At the moment, there is no national programme on torture and this is something that we really need.

Q: What are your hopes for the future?

My hope is that torture rehabilitation will be available for all victims of torture.

 

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Restoring broken communities in the Great Lakes Region

The Genocide in Rwanda, civil war in Burundi and a series of brutal and protracted wars in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have scarred Africa’s Great Lakes Region and its people. Millions have been killed, subjected to human rights violations and displaced because of these events. However, over the last four years six rehabilitation centres across the three countries worked together to empower victims of torture to overcome the trauma of their past and become actively involved in their communities once more.

Rehabilitating victims of torture so they can rebuild their lives and their sense of community is not an easy task. Yet six centres in the Great Lakes Region have empowered thousands of torture victims by taking a holistic and community-based rehabilitation approach.

The centres were all part of a four-year project funded by the EU aiming to empower victims of torture through different rehabilitation approaches. Reigniting a sense of community was at the core of all of the centres’ activities, with a special focus on reaching out to rural areas and to the secondary victims of torture who are often forgotten – husbands, wives, children, friends and neighbours.

An important aspect of the project was social counselling. The six centres helped set up more than 100 community-based social counselling groups, which enabled up to 15 members to meet once a week and share their experiences with their friends and neighbours.

Social counselling groups facilitated the discussion of issues old and new within communities across the region (Photo IRCT).

Social counselling groups facilitated the discussion of issues old and new within communities across the region (Photo IRCT).

For one torture victim in the DRC, the counselling groups were a life changing experience. “My life has become normal again, little by little, as the social counselling sessions advanced. My mental problems which disturbed me so much have become fewer and fewer. With the social counselling group, I started to win my life back. I started to earn a little bit of money and can provide for my family again. I am again invited to community meetings and when I make suggestions they are considered.”

As well as improving the physical and mental health of participants, social counselling groups can also empower victims of torture financially. financial benefits. Of the 100 groups set up by the six centres, some of them had a specific focus onincome generating activity groups (IGAs).

Over 2,982 people participated or continue to participate in income generating activity groups; rearing goats, growing vegetables, manufacturing soap and much more. They can now provide for their families and escape the cycle of poverty and social exclusion which once defined them.

Many of the groups have also gone on to become co-operatives where the entire community gets involved. Some have taken up watermelon farming, which is an ideal cash crop for the region. Taking just three months to harvest, one watermelon has the same value as 3kg of maize and can be exported around the world.

The main working areas chosen by the participants were agriculture and animal husbandry, as many live in rural areas and wanted to improve their skills.

The main working areas chosen by the IGA groups were agriculture and animal husbandry (Photo: IRCT).

One victim in particular who started growing watermelon in 2014, harvested two million Rwandan Francs worth in his second season. He is now working full time, has bought his own motor cycle and his business continues to grow.

J.I. from Rwanda is part of one of the IGAs. “In my village there were 15 families like mine, where children were the head of household. We got together and started a bee-keeping project.

“With our profits, we bought a piece of land with trees. My brothers and sisters could all go to school and we had enough food every day.”

To read more about the activities undertaken in the region, download the Great Lakes Project Report here.

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Africa: Will torture survivors see justice after 25 years?

In Senegal, a truly historic trial is unfolding as Chad’s former dictator Hissene Habré stands accused of crimes against humanity and torture, 25 years after his eight-year brutal rule ended. The trial that is highly anticipated by Habré’s victims, their families and human rights organisations, is the first of an African leader on the African continent for human rights violations.

25 years is a long time to wait, especially when you are seeking justice for human rights violations committed against you. Nonetheless, this is how long former Chad dictator Hissene Habré’s alleged victims and their families have had to wait before they could see him brought to trial for crimes against humanity and torture.

Many victims have been calling for it since his overthrow and exile in Senegal in 1990. A Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré’s government of 40,000 political murders and systematic torture. According to the commission, most abuses were carried out by his political police, the Documentation and Security Directorate, whose directors reported directly to the dictator.

Yet, despite being accused of thousands of political murders and systematic torture during his eight-year rule, Habré managed to live in Senegal for 22 years without being arrested.

It was not until August 2012, that Senegal and the African Union (AU) signed an agreement to establish the Extraordinary African Chambers, a special court in the Senegalese justice system, for Habré’s trial, putting an end to more than decade of legal wrangling over his prosecution.

The agreement followed a landmark ruling by the International Court of Justice a month earlier, ordering Senegal to bring Habré to justice “without further delay” either by prosecuting him domestically or extraditing him for trial.” Habré was finally arrested in July 2013.

(Courtesy of Human Rights for All FIDH Worlwide Human Rights Movement used via Flickr creative commons license)

(Courtesy of Human Rights for All FIDH Worlwide Human Rights Movement used via Flickr creative commons license)

The start of the trial against Habré on 20 July 2015 is in itself a victory for the victims, who filed the charges against Habré initially in 2000 and relentlessly fought throughout the years for their right to justice. They never stopped raising their case with politicians, the public and the media to ensure that their voices were being heard and that efforts for investigation and prosecution did not cease.

The court’s procedures allow victims to directly engage as civil parties in the trial, and over 4000 have registered to do so. In the event that Habré will be found guilty of the allegations of crimes against humanity and torture, the court can also order that reparations are paid into a victims’ fund, which will benefit all victims who have from suffered Habre’s actions.

According to The Independent, around 100 witnesses are already in Senegal’s capital Dakar, waiting to give evidence to the hearings, which are likely to last three months. The newspaper also reported that many campaigners were in court, holding signs calling for justice for the victims.

In her opening statement to the court, Jacqueline Moudeina, the leading victims’ representative, said that the trial “is in the name of humanity, a humanity which Hissene Habre never allowed his victims“.

We are still to see if the trial will lead to justice for the victims, but the fact that there is even a trial is a great milestone in African justice.

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From Cameroon to Pakistan – Empowering female victims of torture and rape

Every day and across the globe, women and girls are tortured and ill-treated. For some, rape is part of their ordeal and their rehabilitation path is often solitary, while governments, communities and families struggle to respond to their needs. With the support of a generous donor, 16 IRCT rehabilitation centres in 14 countries are helping thousands of these women and girls to take control of their lives through a range of activities.

Can design and sewing workshops contribute to the rehabilitation and empowerment of female victims of torture and sexual violence? If you ask two torture rehabilitation centres in Cameroon and Pakistan, the answer is yes.

For the past year, the centres have organised self-help workshops and activities with focus on how to generate income aimed at women who have been subjected to various human rights violations. The idea is to empower them to become economically independent and take control of their lives – something that also has a positive effect on their self-esteem.

The training and support provided by the programmes in Cameroon and Pakistan have proven very popular. Last year, more than 1,600 women and girls participated in an array of activities that fit with the needs of their community, including IT training, music lessons, beautician courses and small-business management.

(Courtesy of David Stanley used via Flickr creative commons license)

Women and girls are still among the most vulnerable in society (Courtesy of David Stanley used via Flickr creative commons license)

The two centres are not the only IRCT members to run these types of events. Across the world, another 14 rehabilitation centres have implemented similar projects.

Centres in India, Iraq, Lebanon and South Africa have organised workshops led by doctors and social workers to discuss prevention and the consequences of sexual violence on women’s health, while a centre in Sierra Leone is practicing healing ceremonies to alleviate the traumatic memories of the victims and promote peace and reconciliation within the community.

As a survivor who is part of the program in Iraq, explained: “When I arrived at the centre I felt that my family and I were drowning in the sea. The centre has been like a ship that has led us to the beach where we could start a new life.”

At another centre, a woman described how she “was completely demoralised and overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts” when she came to the centre. “I thought my life was worthless after facing the stigma of having been raped twice. However, the workers at the centre helped me get my life back,” she told.

Women and girls’ empowerment is crucial to creating better and prosperous societies, but gender equality is far from a reality in many places. Women’s rights continue to be neglected with the United Nations estimating that as many as 35% of women worldwide have experienced some form of violence.

Empowerment is widely considered a very effective approach to treat and support victims of violence. Whether it is training activities and seminars to help women become economically independent or treatment and healing to help them recover from their trauma, there is a great need to support female victims of torture and ill-treatment. With so many women worldwide having experienced some form of violence, this response must equal the size of this global problem.

So far the 16 IRCT members have treated more than 3,000 women and 1,200 children subjected to torture and sexual violence. We are still to see how many small business owners or beauticians the events and seminars have fostered, but for many in Cameroon and Pakistan things are looking brighter.

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26 June Campaign: Supporting survivors in their fight for justice

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It is time to put a face to torture victims and reclaim their need for and right to rehabilitation – a right guaranteed under the UN Convention against Torture. As part of this year’s 26 June campaign, we are sharing the stories of survivors and care providers to show how providing rehabilitation services to torture survivors is a right and responsibility for all.

For many torture victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation and reparations for the trauma suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. Yet, seeking justice can often be a traumatic experience for a survivor, or been seen as a waste of time. The psychosocial support provided by IRCT members to those seeking justice and reparation plays a hugely important role in changing this perception.

The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU), a governance, health and human rights non-profit organisation based in Nairobi, Kenya is one such centre. IMLU supports torture survivors during sometimes lengthy legal cases by offering them group or individual therapy.

In 2014, IMLU provided psychosocial support to a group of nine ex-servicemen from the Kenyan Air Force, who were detained, imprisoned and tortured after a failed coup attempt in Kenya in 1982. Thanks to IMLU, the group overcame the strong feelings of shame and stigma they had experienced, and eventually felt so empowered that they decided to share their stories with the world.

 

The group had been imprisoned and tortured. Courtesy of kIM DARam.

The group had been imprisoned and tortured. Courtesy of kIM DARam.

When IMLU first met the group members, they were going through legal proceedings in the form of a civil case, suing the government over wrongful dismissal and ill-treatment. Most of the group members had never spoken about the torture they experienced after the coup attempt and were hesitant to engage in therapy.

IMLU counsellors provided the group with psychosocial support and education about the impact of torture, which helped them normalise their feelings and experiences. Because of this, the group was able to start building trust with each other and the counsellor, which meant they could start to process the trauma.

As a final component of the process, IMLU helped the men let go of any part of their story or feelings that they no longer wished to hold on to. The men chose to write letters to their perpetrators, which they then burned in a letting go ceremony.

IMLU’s group therapy empowered the men to move on and rebuild their lives. They have now formed a society, which they hope to use to help other torture survivors and assist them in rebuilding their lives.

IMLU continued to provide the men with peer counselling training in order to further empower the group to reach out to other torture survivors.

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Four famous supporters of the anti-torture movement and why we need more

In all corners of the world, there are people whose support for the anti-torture movement makes an enormous difference to torture survivors, their families and caregivers. Among them are some high profile individuals who are using their name and status to raise awareness about torture and to promote justice for torture victims. We highlight four of them and their actions, and look at why the movement needs more supporters like them.

It is not every day that a blog on torture includes a famous rapper, a retired bishop and a baptist minister, but that is nonetheless the case with our list of anti-torture supporters:

#1 Mos Def

The first on our list is American rapper and actor Mos Def, also known as Yasiin Bey. In addition to his music and acting career, Mos Def is a strong supporter of the anti-torture movement and he has taken unorthodox measures to raise awareness about torture and ill treatment. Most notably, he starred in a campaign video for human rights organisation Reprieve, in which he volunteered to be force-fed through the nose to bring attention to the force-feeding of 44 detainees on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.

The video was released in July 2013 via the Guardian, and quickly went viral. In fact, it became the eight most viewed video in the history of The Guardian. But not everyone was a fan of the project. The following year, Mos Def, who lives in South Africa, was forced to cancel his tour in the United States after immigration refused his entry to the country.

#2 Desmond Tutu

Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop and human rights activist – Desmond Tutu’s many roles and achievements make others pale in comparison. A leading figure in the justice and racial reconciliation movement in South Africa, Desmond Tutu is also a strong advocate for a world free from torture.

Desmond Tutu (Courtesy of Joshua Wanyama, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Desmond Tutu (Courtesy of Joshua Wanyama, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Before retiring, he voiced criticism of serious violations of human rights, including Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and the Israeli government’s mistreatment of Palestinians.

Desmond Tutu may be retired, but he is still involved in the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre, which he founded together with his wife in 1998. He is also protector of IRCT member centre in Denmark DIGNITY, and continues to speak out against torture.

#3 Rev. Jesse Jackson

In addition to being a Baptist minister and former politician, Jesse Jackson is one of America’s most renowned civil rights activists. While many know him for his work with the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson has also been very vocal in ensuring justice for victims of torture. He has for years been a supporter of the many men who were tortured by Chicago police, led by former Commander Jon Burge, during the 1970s and 1980s. When the Mayor of Chicago recently issued an apology and proposed a $5.5 million reparations fund for dozens of torture victims, Jesse Jackson called for a “truth and reconciliation commission”, saying if it was good enough for South Africa it is good enough for Chicago.

Jesse Jackson (Courtesy of United States Mission Geneva, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Jesse Jackson (Courtesy of United States Mission Geneva, via Flickr Creative Commons)

“Because Jon Burge was in charge, he was the commander,” Jackson said. “He did not do this alone. Other police witnessed Jon Burge torturing these men.”

#4 Rage Against the Machine, REM, Nine Inch Nails and others

The last one on our list is not just one person, but a group of musicians whose efforts we thought should be mentioned.

Upon discovering that their music had been used in interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, high profile musicians such as REM, Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor joined the Close Gitmo Now campaign.

Tom Morello (Courtesy of Thomas Hawk, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Tom Morello (Courtesy of Thomas Hawk, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Launched in 2009, Close Gitmo Now is a coalition of activists, artists and retired generals aiming to put pressure on US politicians to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

Speaking out against Guantanamo Bay and the use of music as no-touch torture there, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine said:

“Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured – from water boarding, to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts – playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums. Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me – we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now.”

The need for more high profile supporters

While the support of well-known musicians or other high profile individuals alone is not enough, it can raise public awareness and influence the general debate. Guantanamo Bay is the prime example of this. Although the world’s most notorious detention camp still remains in operation, what goes on there never fully escapes public scrutiny.

Sadly, in other parts of the world, there are numerous cases of torture that will never receive even a fraction of the attention that Guantanamo Bay gets. Not enough people care. If torture victims had the support of a well-known name, they might be able to get the attention they need to bring the perpetrators to justice. The same goes for most torture rehabilitation centres that often struggle financially. Without this form of support, it can be difficult to attract potential donors or raise additional funds. One of the biggest challenges in the fight against torture is apathy. The support of famous people can make a difference.

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Countries in desperate need of ratifying the UN Convention against Torture

Despite ongoing international efforts to eliminate the practice of torture, it is not a question of whether torture still takes place, but rather where in the world it is still practised and how prevalent it is. Currently, more than 40 states across the globe have failed to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and in many of these countries, human rights defenders are raising the alarm, alerting to the constant flow of cases involving torture and ill treatment.

If anything, the recent report on CIA’s use of torture shows that this crime is more prevalent than most of us probably thought. The US is a signatory to the Convention against Torture, yet its own intelligence agency relied on the practice of torture as an integral part of its interrogation technique.

If a country that has committed to respect the UN Convention still allows for the practice of torture, then what is the status in the 40 something countries that are still to adopt it?

We have looked at three of these countries. Despite facing very different problems, they all have one thing in common: none of them has managed to tackle the problem of torture.

India

As a country with a population of more than a billion, it is not hard to see what an overpowering task it is to eliminate torture. Set on making the country an industrial superpower and creating more jobs, overcoming the enormity of its human rights problems is not an immediate priority – economic reform is.

Nonetheless, it is very worrying that a large number of torture cases in India happen at the hand of the police, and often while the victim is in custody. From 2001 to 2010, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recorded 14,231 deaths in police and judicial custody in India. The vast majority of these deaths can be ascribed to torture.

Only in recent weeks, newspapers have reported on the city of Chennai, where three police officers are currently being investigated for sexual torture of a 19-year old at the local police station. There is also the police commissioner in Delhi who has had to deny claims that the police has used torture to extract confessions. And in Calcutta, the West Bengal Government faces heat over alleged police torture of a woman.

According to various rights organisations, these stories are just the tip of the iceberg in a country that still has a long way to go despite its commitments to tackle the most prevalent human rights abuses. While the country has taken positive steps by strengthening laws protecting women and children, its reluctance to hold state officials to account for torture and other abuses continues to foster a culture of corruption and impunity.

Fiji

To many, Fiji is the perfect holiday destination. With its white sandy beaches and exotic palm trees, this tropical archipelago in the South Pacific could easily be mistaken as paradise on earth. But even paradise has a dark side and in the case of Fiji this dark side involves a poor human rights record.

In recent years, there have been numerous allegations of the use of torture by state officials.
In March 2013, a video was posted on the internet showing two prisoners being badly beaten and humiliated by state security officials. Failure by the Fijian authorities to investigate the case has raised red flags about a culture of impunity for police and security forces.

Following last year’s elections, Fiji had its second review by the UN Human Rights Council which, among other things, urged the state to amend repressive decrees that put severe restrictions on freedom of expression, promote women’s rights and ratify the UNCAT.

Despite these recommendations and similar calls from various human rights organisations, the government is still to take action.

In the meantime, cases of police violence and torture involving state officials continue to emerge.

Central African Republic

For more than two years, a violent, sectarian civil war has left Central African Republic (CAR) paralysed, prompting rights organisations to warn of a human rights crisis spiralling out of control.

In the past 12 months alone, at least 5,000 people have been killed and there are reports of torture, including sexual violence, and other human rights abuses.

In January 2015, UN’s International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, reported that crimes against humanity have been widely committed by all parties to the ongoing conflict. The Commission strongly recommended that accountability mechanisms be put in place to tackle the ‘cycle of impunity’ in the CAR.

However, recognising that the CAR Government simply does not have the resources nor the political incentive to bring the perpetrators to justice, the Commission has urged the international community to step up and fund a tribunal to prosecute those who have committed crimes against humanity.

These recommendations illustrate how vital it is for CAR to ratify the UNCAT. Until this happens, violence and torture continue to be rampant in the war-torn country.

Source: The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)

Source: The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)

What difference can the UN Convention against Torture make?

In the first instance, the UNCAT is one of the most important international human rights
instruments in the work against torture which outlines the rights of an individual, outlaws torture, and promotes respect for the human rights of an individual.

When a UN member state has become a party to the Convention, the government of that
country is accountable under international law to take action to prevent torture and to support the victims when torture takes place.

According to the Association for the Prevention of Torture, “the Convention against Torture requires that all States, and each of us, remain vigilant to the risks of torture. This is what makes it so relevant in 2014, thirty years after its adoption.”

You can read more about the countries that have ratified the UNCAT by clicking on this link. For comprehensive profiles on each UN member state, the United Nations website provides a full country list.

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Story from a Nigerian survivor of torture only reaffirms claims in Amnesty’s new torture report

Whether targeting a Boko Haram suspect, an alleged criminal, a sex worker, or simply part of a minority group, a new Amnesty International report highlights how torture is endemic in Nigeria as the police and military routinely use it to extract confessions, extort money and to break the will of detainees.

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Nigerian police sitting atop a police van. Picture courtesy of the Open Society Institute (OSI) ”Criminal Force Torture, Abuse, and Extrajudicial Killings by the Nigeria Police Force” report, May 2010.

The report, entitled ‘Welcome to Hell Fire’, claims torture has become widespread in the police and military hunt for members of Boko Haram – a militant Islamic group, branded as a terrorist organisation by the US, responsible for a string of attacks and death since 2009 including the Chibok Kidnapping on 276 schoolgirls in April 2014.

The report shows that the pursuit of Boko Haram has led to the torture of many suspects who have no ties to the group at all. Because of this campaign, torture has become routine. The report claims that, as a minimum, 5,000 people have been detained since 2009 when military operations began against Boko Haram. While the level of torture victims from this group cannot be fully determined, Amnesty spoke to 500 detainees, their relatives and human rights defenders, all confirming either they had been tortured or they know a detainee who has.

Consequently detainees and ordinary criminal suspects experience torture “as the main interrogation tactic… despite assurances from the Nigerian government to prevent the use of torture.” Torture practices include beatings, rape and other sexual violence, shooting to legs and arms and periods of time laid on beds of nails.

Torture in Nigeria has long been known by the IRCT, the effects of which continue to be addressed by Nigerian IRCT member Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).

To illustrate the prevalence of torture, the effects of torture and the journey through rehabilitation necessary in just one case, we turn to the story of Leo – a 27-year-old concert-goer who, after happening to stumble across the scene of an earlier robbery in the city of Nsukka, experienced four-months of suffering as the police tortured him repeatedly for a crime which he was not even part of.

Leo’s story: “I do not know now why I was tortured”

Leo, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was travelling to the city of Nsukka, in south-eastern Nigeria, hoping for a relaxing evening with friends at a music event.

Nigerian police training in 2013. Photo: INUSMA/Marco Dormino, used courtesy under Flickr creative commons licence.

Nigerian police training in 2013. Photo: INUSMA/Marco Dormino, used courtesy under Flickr creative commons licence.

On his way to the venue, Leo was approached by four security officials who claimed to recognise him from a robbery that occurred just prior to Leo’s arrival.

“The security forces were looking for a group of hoodlums who had just fled the scene next to the concert venue, and I was accused of being part of the gang,” says Leo. “I tried to explain that I had only just arrived in town, but the explanations fell on deaf ears.

“It was then that the four security guards turned on me and began to beat me,” explains Leo, who still has painful memories of his torture.

Leo’s beating escalated from punches and kicks to being hit with sticks, a shovel and even an iron. The torture continued over a period of a few hours.

“They beat me with whatever they could find nearby,” says Leo. “I had injuries all over my body. I was cut, bleeding and bruised. The pain was unbearable. I could not walk for days afterwards.”

After the beating, an unconscious Leo was taken to the local police station where he was detained, charged with robbery offences and transferred to nearby Nsukka prison, where he spent four months awaiting trial.

Leo does not recall torture while in detention and was released in May 2012 after police could not establish enough evidence against him.

“I do not know now why I was tortured,” says Leo. “I was not part of the crime scene at all and still feel shocked about the attack now, even though it was so brief.”

While in custody, Leo was approached by the team from IRCT member PRAWA, who offered counselling as a way for Leo to talk about the attack.

“The people from PRAWA helped me talk about my experience while I was in prison,” says Leo. “They understood what had happened and encouraged me to talk. They also helped to treat me for my injuries while I was in prison and offered me counselling during my time in prison and when I was released.

“My attackers are wicked people, but counselling has helped come to terms with the attack. I still see the PRAWA psychologist today to talk about any issues I have related to the attack. The attack left me feeling confused, hurt and scared. PRAWA have helped to restore my pride, and my trust in others.”

Now a labourer on a building site, Leo is thankful for his rehabilitation.

“I still feel some pains in my legs due to my injuries and my sexual life has not been the same since due to the injuries I received in the beating,” says Leo.

“But I would say that I am much better than before I met the team at PRAWA. It is good that centres like this exist, and that some people care about helping those who have been tortured regain their lives. I only hope more groups exist to fight torture in society and to provide treatments for victims like me.”

To read the stories of survivors from a range of countries on the IRCT website, click this link.

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