Posts Tagged Convention Against Torture

Realizing the right to rehabilitation in Asia: perspective from India and the Philippines

The right to rehabilitation was adopted by the IRCT as its message for the 2013 International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June. IRCT member centres throughout the world, including Asia, have committed themselves to making this right a reality, to have the right realized on the ground. But what is the reality in Asia, and, in particular, what is the situation in India and how can we move forward?

These were some of the questions the regional meeting sought to address. The theme of this year’s IRCT Asian Regional Meeting held in Kolkata, India was the right to rehabilitation – the ground reality in Asia. Furthermore, the regional meeting was an opportunity for rehabilitation centres to share updates on the implementation of the right to rehabilitation in practical terms in their respective countries. It was co-hosted by the Centre for the Care of Torture Victims (CCTV) of India, which works in Kolkata and West Bengal.

From the nine countries[1] in Asia, in which there are almost 18 IRCT member centres, India is the only country that has not yet acceded to or ratified the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), although it was signatory to the convention almost 15 years ago. Indeed India is the only democracy of South Asia that not yet signed up to UNCAT.

General Comment No. 3, published by the Committee Against Torture at the end of 2012, clarified points of Article 14 of the UNCAT: rehabilitation should be holistic, States have a financial obligation regardless of resources available, rehabilitation must be accessible at the soonest possible point after torture, and that torture victims have a right to choose their provider, be it nongovernmental organisations or the State providing services.

Providing holistic rehabilitation to survivors of torture can help heal the effects of torture and also help towards re-establishing damaged communities. The aim of rehabilitation is to empower the torture survivor to resume as full a life as possible within their families and their communities. However, while international law grants all torture victims a right to rehabilitation, this is not a reality in many countries through the world, including those in Asia.

If India has not ratified the UNCAT, then how do advocates push for the realisation of the right to rehabilitation without this particularly back of an international treaty? Dr Laifungbam Roy, President of the Centre for Organisation Research & Education and Director of Human to Humane Transcultural Centre for Torture & Trauma working in Manipur, provided some analysis of his thoughts during the key-note address at the regional meeting. He started by sharing with the audience some interesting views he had read in a paper presented by Emily Reilly at the Ninth Conference of the European Network of Rehabilitation Centres for Survivors of Torture (2010) that considered how various international laws (other than UNCAT) may ensure that survivors of torture can access specialist rehabilitation services/support they might require.

For example, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was cited as a possibly more effective legal basis for ensuring the right to rehabilitation for torture survivors than UNCAT. The reason given was that CRPD recognises the right to rehabilitation as an independent human right, rather than a part of more general measures of reparation or an aspect of the right to health. In addition, the address went on to elucidate that the right to rehabilitation in CRPD applies to all survivors of torture who can be categorized as persons with certain kinds of disabilities, without exception, unlike the right to rehabilitation in the Convention against Torture, which can be enforced only against a State that caused, consented to or acquiesced in the survivors’s suffering.

Looking at and learning from other existing legal instruments and frameworks is important given, as Dr Roy pointed out, that for many different reasons it is only a very small number of torture survivors who can in reality achieve their right to rehabilitation by legal means today. In summary, the recommendation from the first half of the keynote address was that the right to rehabilitation should not be interpreted solely within the framework of victims of torture only, but rather within a broader perspective of rehabilitation rights for many types of suffering and damage inflicted on individual person (s) or groups that includes victims of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.

So what steps do advocates take in a different context – one where the UNCAT has been ratified, yet torture victims still do not have access to rehabilitation?

Though all of the other countries participated in the meeting have either signed up to or acceded to UNCAT, they also faced certain challenges. A representative from Indonesia stated that the government does not give them permission to conduct programmes in prison. Therefore, it’s very difficult to sensitize and raise awareness amongst police officers and others about the right to rehabilitation. Also the support needed from government officials is not forthcoming.

During the second day of the regional meeting, representatives from two member centres in the Philippines made a presentation on “Realizing the right to rehabilitation in the Philippines: ground realities”. In summary, they stated that in the Philippines what rehabilitation means is generally known, per se. But torture rehabilitation is a new idea for most. They went on to state that it’s difficult to convince the government that torture survivors need rehabilitation.

They also highlighted some dilemmas they encounter, such as the fact that torture survivors are both in the community and in the prison system, therefore requiring a different work approach from support organisations. Also given torture rehabilitation should be multidisciplinary and coordinated, they asked who would take the lead? Is it national or local rehabilitation?  In the final part of the presentation they proposed a new avenue for centres/countries to explore, which was to maximize the Convention on the Right to Persons with Disability as a pathway for torture survivors to claim their right to rehabilitation, as mentioned in the keynote address on the first day.

What the examples from the Asia regional meeting demonstrate is the need to deeply consider the country contexts in unearthing best approaches to ensuring victims have access to holistic and appropriate rehabilitation.


By Marion Staunton, Regional Coordinator for Asia


[1] Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, India


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Making torture prevention in the Philippines a reality

There are laws abolishing torture. Laws, both international and domestic, that dictate that torture is a crime, a human rights violation, with no extenuating circumstances; that states are obligating to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

This is true in many countries in the world, including the Philippines, where the Medical Action Group (MAG) , an IRCT member, is based. But how do you take a policy and make it good practice?

As seen in the video above, taking that step means targeting the prosecutors and investigators themselves.

“This is to emphasize the close collaboration between the legal and police professions,” says Edeliza P. Hernandez, Executive Director of MAG. “However, investigators and prosecutors most often have limited knowledge and understanding of and insight into each other’s work and may even view each other with skepticism. This training of investigators and prosecutors on investigation and documentation of torture cases is crucial process in providing them common ground and framework to work on the application of international standards for effective investigation and successful prosecution of torture cases in the country.”

Investigations into crimes of torture are challenging, admits PCSupt. Nestor M. Fajura, Head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Human Rights Affairs Office, in the video. There are difficulties in the officers’ abilities and skills to investigate such crimes and difficulties in linking the crimes to a specific perpetrator.

But as this project shows, skills and knowledge of effective investigation can be improved.

Investigators from the PNP and other criminal justice organisations learned about improved medical evidence and documentation of torture, the legal framework for which torture is criminalized in the domestic law and confronting the challenges that arise when police officers must investigate their peers.

But using forensic documentation of torture and fully investigating these crimes, says forensic expert Dr Benito Molino, is a step toward reducing impunity, toward reducing torture and one day to eradicating it fully.

Watch the video here from MAG to see this project in action.

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Say no to torture – in Portuguese

While working on the 26 June Global Report, in particular on the list of States which have and have not ratified the UN Convention against Torture, I noticed something peculiar.

From the short list of States which have not ratified the Convention — of which many are microstates — three of them are members of the Portuguese-speaking community of countries, namely Angola, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe.

I am Portuguese and I am from a generation of young people who want to completely break away from the hostilities that marked this group of countries in the 60s and 70s.

This generation dreams of a true community of Lusophone countries that uses the shared heritage as a tool to advance human development and cultural enrichment.

Disregard for basic human rights does not and cannot be part of this new Lusophone community, the home of nearly 250 million people, where more than a million people already exchanged their country for another in the community.

That is why I decided to write an open letter to the leaders of the CPLP (in Portuguese only), the Lusophone equivalent to the Commonwealth or the Francophonie, calling for concerted efforts towards the ratification of the Convention by the three remaining countries, so that the whole community can adhere together to the cause for a world without torture.

Join the call. Sign the petition.


Fabio is a Communications Officer and Assistant Editor of Torture Journal at IRCT.

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Dangerous delays in Denmark

Today Danish lawyer Christian Harlang filed a further two cases in which Danish troops are accused of complicity in torture during the ill-fated invasion and occupation of Iraq by western forces. The torture was documented by members of the IRCT’s Independent Forensic Expert Group.

While further details of the case – involving Iraqis who were tortured after being handed to Iraqi authorities by Danish troops – are in the news release from the IRCT, among its most disturbing aspects are the reasons for its delay.

Two new cases have been filed involving Danish troops’ complicity in torture during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Photo by isafmedia.

Denmark has a huge responsibility as a result of these allegations. Indeed, as per its international legal obligations via instruments like the UN Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights, any allegations of torture must be taken very seriously and thoroughly investigated. Moreover, access to justice and reparation must be provided for the victims.

However, it seems that two arguments: that the case is too old, and, that the torture victims must pay costs of over €5,000 without access to legal aid, are acting as stumbling blocks.

Arguments are being made that such claims for damages cases must be brought within three years, as per Danish law. However, even within this Danish law there are exemptions to this rule that can be granted due to exceptional circumstances. And these surely are exceptional circumstances. Often it takes years for torture survivors to come to terms with what happened to them before they can begin to speak about it, let alone bring a court case over it. Moreover, it is not reasonable to expect people living in a strife-ridden country thousands of kilometres away to know the intricacies of the Danish legal system.

That such delays are happening in Denmark is particularly concerning. Denmark is generally known and respected for its efforts against torture globally. That torture has not only been linked to Danish troops, but that the Danish justice system appears to be throwing obstructions in the path of justice for these actions sends out a new and different message.

Scott McAusland is Head of Communications at the IRCT

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Use of evidence obtained through torture perpetuates the problem

Canada’s national police directives clearly violate international law, which dictates that countries must not use information or evidence obtained through torture

Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

We have said it before; and we shall say it again.

Countries must not use evidence or information obtained through torture. In any circumstances. Doing so is a clear violation of international law, especially those countries who have signed onto the obligations within the UN Convention Against Torture. The Convention, which Canada ratified in 1985, states:

Article 15

Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.

Yet, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has issued directives to both the Canadian Border Services Agency and the national police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), saying that they have the authority to use and share data and evidence that was likely obtained through torture.

Toews apparently has a short memory. Just six years ago, a federal commission recommended that Canada never share information with other countries if it is likely that it will cause or contribute to torture. This recommendation followed an investigation into the case of Canadian engineer Maher Arar, who was detained in the U.S. after RCMP provided faulty information to the US authorities. Arar was rendered to his native Syria, where he was tortured and detained for about a year.

Arar’s case was among those mentioned in the hefty criticisms leveled against the Canadian government during this year’s review by the UN Committee against Torture. The Committee condemned Canadian ‘complicity’ in torture.

Canada joins others such as Denmark in the shameful club of countries that justify their use of information obtained through torture by clinging to the long-dismissed arguments of ‘ticking-time bombs’ and public safety.

So, let’s again make this clear. The ticking-time bomb scenario doesn’t happen [PDF]. It’s clearly been proven false. Torture does not work [PDF].

And using information obtained through torture simply allows it to continue unabated.

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