Posts Tagged Egypt

Freedom of oppression in Egypt: How a rehabilitation centre is facing closure

On 17 February the last remaining centre for the treatment and documentation of alleged torture victims in Egypt was ordered to close by the Egyptian authorities. The reason given was that the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture had ‘breached unspecified health ministry regulations’. But critics say that the order is part of a sweeping crackdown on human rights organisations and defenders in the country.

At a news conference, the Nadeem Center’s director Aida Seif el-Dawla called the decision to close the centre politically motivated.

“This is a political decision and it’s coming from the cabinet that represents all the actors that are keen on the survival of this regime, despite the oppression and the torture that the Egyptian people are living through on a daily basis.”

The regime that Aida Seif el-Dawla is referring to is that of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Since al-Sisi took office in June 2014, repression and shrinking of the public space has only increased, targeting the entire spectrum of human rights organisations, professional and labour associations, political activists, journalists and media.

(Courtesy of Alisdare Hickson used via Flickr creative commons license)

(Courtesy of Alisdare Hickson used via Flickr creative commons license)

In its 2016 World Report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that authorities have effectively banned protests and imprisoned tens of thousands—often after unfair trials. According to the report, National Security officers commit torture and enforced disappearances, while many detainees die in custody from mistreatment.

Despite the constitution forbidding torture and the abuse of detainees, the practice is widespread in Egyptian prisons. In 2014 British newspaper The Guardian revealed that since July 2013, at least 400 people had been tortured and held outside of judicial oversight in a secret military prison.

The Nadeem Center is a private, politically independent organisation that is known around the world for speaking out against torture and other human rights violations. It is the centre’s work to document torture in particular that the authorities see as a great threat to the survival of the regime. Just last December the centre and other civil society organisations announced they were able to document 625 torture cases in Egyptian prisons. Allegations that the authorities continue to deny.

Meanwhile, international rights organisations, including the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) have come out in support of the Nadeem Center and Aida Seif el-Dawla.

The IRCT, which has a membership of more than 150 torture rehabilitation centres across the world, including the Nadeem Center, released a statement calling for action and intervention.

“The Egyptian authorities have a duty to protect and promote the work of human rights defenders; any state hoping to be regarded as democratic must abide by the rule of law and respect for human rights. We will continue to be concerned with this situation until it is fully solved,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Secretary-General of the IRCT.

In the statement, the IRCT also emphasised the importance of the centre being able to provide treatment to victims of torture, warning that without it, torture victims would have nowhere to go.

Other organisations are pointing to the fact that the closure of El Nadeem Center would constitute an unprecedented violation of the right to freedoms of association and of expression, as well as a dramatic threat to civil liberties, with thousands of political prisoners behind bars, all virtually threatened with systematised acts of torture. Despite the pressure, the Egyptian authorities have showed no signs of budging.

Yet the Nadeem Center refuses to give up, saying that, “If both the clinic and the centre are closed, we shall continue to release our reports and we shall continue to help victims of violence and torture as long as we are doctors and as long as this state insists to use torture as a means of oppressing its citizens.”

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Forced virginity testing still a problem

Forced virginity testing is a serious human rights violation and at its worst it constitutes rape and torture. This is how a group of experts have described the highly controversial practice that is used to determine a woman’s virginity.

In the past few months, Indonesia has made headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons. Late last year, the country unwittingly found itself in the spotlight when it emerged that the national government subjected female applicants for Indonesia’s National Police to “discriminatory and degrading virginity tests.”

When a few months later a local Indonesian MP proposed that all girls should be subjected to virginity tests in order to graduate from school, it sparked an outcry. Shortly after, the deputy head of the district announced that the proposal had been scrapped.

Sadly, Indonesia is far from the only place where forced virginity testing is still happening despite the practice being illegal in many states.

Recent cases in Egypt and Afghanistan reaffirm that this gruesome practice is flourishing in many countries around the world.

School girls no longer need to worry about virginity testing. (Courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal , via Flickr Creative Commons)

Indonesian school girls. (Courtesy of Ikhlasul Amal, via Flickr Creative Commons)

For those unfamiliar with the practice it may seem like a simple intervention, but according to the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) – a group of more than 30 of the world’s leading forensic experts – forcibly conducted virginity testing is likely to cause severe and lasting psychological symptoms and disabilities that remain over time.

“The practice can cause women to feel intense humiliation, self-disgust, and worthlessness, especially since examinations are likely to involve other forms of abuse such as unconsented touching or groping, as well as threats, coercion or force,” the group said in a recent statement.

The IFEG also pointed that the practice has zero scientific value and at is worst it constitutes torture and rape.

“Health professionals have no medical foundation for conducting virginity examinations,” it said.

The IFEG is not the only group of experts condemning forced virginity testing. In December last year, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) joined the growing opposition against the tests, calling on states to end the ‘degrading, discriminatory, and unscientific “virginity testing” of women and girls.’

So why do states continue to carry out these tests?

Most experts agree that the larger issue at stake here is the perception of and the treatment of women in these countries. In some instances forced virginity testing has the effect or purpose of controlling women and denying them their rights.

“Prejudice and negative stereotypes against women and girls are passed off as medical science by many doctors who wrongly believe they can determine a woman’s virginity,” explained women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, Liesl Gerntholtz.

While there is a growing focus on what we know as sexual violence against women, forced virginity testing is still just one issue on a long list of overlooked violations against women and girls.

There is hope, however, that the highly publicised cases in Indonesia and Egypt will change this.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), Victor Madrigal-Borloz has reminded doctors of their responsibility to respect human rights.

“As a movement made of health professionals, we are in a key position to condemn forced virginity testing, often carried out by health professionals in a clear violation of professional ethics and international human rights.”

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400 days behind bars: Peter Greste and Egypt’s broken justice system

The release of Australian journalist Peter Greste, and a new report by Human Rights Watch has once again turned the world’s attention to Egypt’s poor human rights record. This time focus is on the country’s prisons and its inhumane treatment of political prisoners.

After 400 days in prison charged with supporting a “terrorist organisation”, a farcical trial and an international outcry, Peter Greste from Al-Jazeera was finally released from Egypt’s Tora prison this month. Despite the relief of being free again, Greste called for the release of his two colleagues, his producer Mohamed Fahmy, and cameraman Bahar Mohamed, both of whom remain behind bars.


Mural tribute to Peter Greste (Courtesy of JAM Project, used via Flickr creative commons licence).


Like Peter Greste, the two were given heavy sentences for disseminating “false news” and purportedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which won Egypt’s first democratic elections.

Sadly, their story is not at all unique. News outlets report of tens of thousands of political prisoners detained in Egyptian prisons. As most of these prisoners cannot claim dual citizenship, their future is one of much uncertainty and despair.

Torture and Abuse

The staggering number of political prisoners is just one side of Egypt’s problem. Despite the constitution banning torture and abuse of detainees, the practice is widespread in Egyptian prisons.

As the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) points out, history shows that the Egyptian military and police disregard the rule of law and have systematically used extreme violence and torture in their repressive tactics. IRCT’s human rights partners in the region have for years documented the systematic torture of those detained by military and police forces.

According to Amnesty International, torture is routinely practiced in police stations and unofficial places of detention, with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters particularly targeted.

Amnesty International also reports that there has been a surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions and harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody in the past couple of years.

Last year, British newspaper The Guardian revealed that since July 2013 at least 400 people had been tortured and held outside of judicial oversight in a secret military prison.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch criticising the Egyptian authorities, detailed scores of detainees suffering and even dying while in government custody, but human rights defenders all agree that the number of casualties is likely to be much higher than that.

Fighting impunity

Preventing torture in prisons and other places of detention is not an easy task with so few perpetrators brought to justice. Of all torture complaints in Egypt, only a very few reach the courts due to institutional barriers to justice.

The independent Egyptian human rights law firm United Group released a report in which it described how it had interviewed 465 alleged victims of police torture and that it had filed 163 complaints, of which only seven reached the courts.

Sadly, this hopeless and grim situation is unlikely to change any time soon.

Amid continuous reporting on Peter Greste’s release, an Egyptian court sentenced 183 people to death, 34 of whom were not even present for the trial. If this verdict is anything to go by, Egypt is not reforming its prison and justice system. Instead, it appears determined to continue down this dangerous path, ignoring international human rights law.

Peter Greste’s story offers some relief in an otherwise desperate time. After 400 days in captivity, he is back in Australia. Still behind bars, however, are the tens of thousands of political prisoners. They know about the unjust trials and what police brutality feels like. Now they face the prospect of remaining in prisons for years to come – in a country that took away their freedom and human rights.

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Creating a world without torture: February in review

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.

STTARS Survivors of Torture & Trauma Assistance & Rehabilitation Service, Australia

STTARS Survivors of Torture & Trauma Assistance & Rehabilitation Service, Australia

10 questions and answers about torture rehabilitation

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.

IRCT President awarded Council of Europe prize

IRCT President Suzanne Jabbour

IRCT President Suzanne Jabbour

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.

‘Wheel of Torture’ shows more must be done to stop torture in the Philippines

Detainees can be subjected to torture such as “20 seconds Manny Pacman”  which means 20 seconds of nonstop punches. (Courtesy of the Commission on Human Rights)

Detainees can be subjected to torture such as “20 seconds Manny Pacman” which means 20 seconds of nonstop punches. (Courtesy of the Commission on Human Rights)

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.

‘Act of Killing’ BAFTA victory is important for anti-torture movement

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.



The challenges facing torture rehabilitation in northern Iraq

The logo for the new centre

The logo for the new centre

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.

Tunisia passes new constitution


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.

Click here or the picture for more information.

Change in Bahrain is needed now, not in another three years

Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

Bahrain anniversary protests (picture courtesy of BCHR)

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.

For further information from World Without Torture, do not forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Click here to visit our Facebook page, and here to visit our Twitter feed.

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Looking back at 2013

With New Year approaching, we at World Without Torture reflect on a selection of the stories which we have covered over the past year.

The last year has seen many tragedies, obstacles and difficulties in the human rights field. But coupled with this has come tremendous success, concrete change, and real participation in the fight to ensure human rights are respected across the globe.

Click any picture in the gallery below for more information and links to some of the most memorable stories this year. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to add your additions in the comments. We look forward to seeing you in 2014 and wish you a very happy New Year.

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“A lot has changed”: A journalist’s view from Egypt

Tom Rollins (right) interviewing Abdullah al-Ashaal, former presidential candidate

Tom Rollins (right) interviewing Abdullah al-Ashaal, former presidential candidate

Working in the Middle East was always an ambition for 24-year-old journalist Tom Rollins. The region is a far cry from home in the north-east of England but that did not deter him from seizing an opportunity to live and work in Cairo.

He braced himself for a considerable change of life, coincidentally at a time when Egypt was on the cusp of even greater change with President Mohamed Morsi gradually becoming ousted after months of intense protests. But since arriving in Egypt, Tom has witnessed injustices, arrests and protests at a rate he could not anticipate.

“I arrived in Cairo around a fortnight before the June 30 protests,” says Tom. “The day before I flew to Cairo I was sat in Hyde Park, London, speaking to an Egyptian-Saudi couple about Egypt, about Tamarod [the grassroots movement founded in opposition to President Morsi] and what might happen.

“They said things would become messy again and I should be careful, but that was it, really. It seemed a long way off, I suppose.”

The Egyptian political and social landscape altered almost immediately after Tom’s arrival. July saw the military oust President Morsi and counter-protests from the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi demonstrators. Since the summer, Tom has witnessed protests from all sides and heavy-handed crackdowns on protestors, leading to thousands of deaths and arrests.

“When I arrived, there was a president in power that isn’t there now,” Tom says wryly. “A lot has changed.”

“With Morsi gone, Egypt became more violent, polarised and difficult to work out. There was that period of intense violence with around 2,000 dead – which reached its peak with the dispersals and then Ramses Square and the Fath mosque siege – but even though that’s dissipated more or less, the threat hasn’t gone.

“The protests and arrests have become routine now. I think 2011 [the year of the revolution and when protests in Egypt subsequently rallied against military rule] changed a lot of young people’s view of the world, particularly around what street politics could achieve – in Egypt and everywhere else,” he says.

Protest outside Journalists Syndicate by April 6 Movement and Revolutionary Socialists for Haitham Mohamadeen and Ahmed Abu Deraa

Protest outside Journalists Syndicate by April 6 Movement and Revolutionary Socialists for Haitham Mohamadeen and Ahmed Abu Deraa

“But now ‘the Egyptian revolution’ is being largely defined by those in power – army and police officers and government technocrats and ministers, some of them Mubarak-era officials at that. This is problematic.”

What concerns Tom is the level of repression exercised by the army, particularly against those who are critical of their actions, and the lack of transparency surrounding arrests. Without this clarity there can be no safeguards against unlawful detention or torture.

Just one example concerns the case of Haitham Mohamadeen, a labour lawyer and RevSoc activist who works with the IRCT member centre El Nadeem, who was arrested while travelling to Suez to represent clients there. Haitham was seized at an army checkpoint while travelling on a bus. His briefcase was taken and he was held for two days at a nearby police station, with little indication as to what he was being investigated for.

After much confusion, Haitham was released but charged with supposed crimes including “membership of a secret organisation” and carrying out activism “through terrorist means”, both of which have been rejected.

Tom explains: “One of the problems is transparency. We’re told day by day that so many people have been arrested for such and such crimes. But who are these people – Muslim Brotherhood members or Morsi supporters? Or are these just increasingly politicized arrests under the pretext of security and counter-terrorism?

Anti-Coup Alliance protest in Talaat Harb, downtown Cairo

Anti-Coup Alliance protest in Talaat Harb, downtown Cairo

“If someone is arrested at the moment, with that counter-terror narrative in effect, there’s a chance the system is just going to eat them up,” says Tom.

“Another problem is the system of military trials. Civilians (and journalists) are charged with annoying or insulting the army in some way, due process is ignored and justice is not served. We’re seeing that again this time round.”

But what is next for the political and social landscape of Egypt – will detention and violence cool, or will groups escalate?

“Islamists will continue to be marginalised as the government follows its roadmap to the elections next year. It is also particularly worrying that activists are being intimidated, because it suggests rule could become more repressive still.

“But there are excellent independent journalists in Egypt who are chronicling what is happening here. I think it will become more interesting now that Egypt is generally old news internationally. These journalists have a tough time, but they’ll be the ones testing the new regime and holding it to account.”

For more information on Tom Rollins and his work in Egypt follow him on Twitter (@TomWRollins) or his website:

All pictures used with permission from ©Tom Rollins

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2012 – A Year in Human Rights

Happy New Year! We have just returned from the year-end holiday. But before we look forward to 2013, let’s take a look back at 2012 and the events, successes, tragedies and changes in human rights around the world. This list is of course not exhaustive, so please feel free to add your own suggestions and story links in the comments section.

Click the first image to view in a slideshow.

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Two years after the death of Khaled Said

After his tragic death in June 2010, Khaled Said became the face of protest against Mubarak’s violent regime. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy, available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

In the two years since his death, he has been called the ‘Face of a Revolution’, his visage spray-painted across Egyptian city streets in the lead-up to Mubarak’s ouster.

Two year’s ago today, Alexandria policemen attacked Khaled Said in a local internet cafe. He was brutalised, tortured and killed. Authorities tried to hide the murder with improper forensic documents and an autopsy that ruled his death as asphyxiation; however, the impossibly hard work of activists, forensic specialists, Egyptian human rights organisations and his courageous family meant that he didn’t become yet another tragic victim of the Mubarak regime.

As we did then, on this two-year anniversary of his death, we would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Khaled Said.

Below is video that explains more of the story of Khaled Said, and the importance of forensic documentation of torture in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

This film is also available with Spanish, French and Arabic subtitles.

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Tear gas: Is it a violation of human rights?

A recent European Court of Human Rights case finds that the excessive use of tear gas, especially when people are detained or deprived of their liberty, can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment

Police officers fire tear gas on Tahrir Square protesters in November 2011. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy, available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

The use of tear gas by law enforcement officials against demonstrators and detainees is widely documented as a method of crowd control.  However, examples of its excessive use are occurring with alarming frequency, for example recently in Bahrain, the West Bank, Turkey and Honduras where the use of tear gas has lead to civilian deaths.

A number of IRCT member centres have been campaigning against the use of tear gas in their countries and in particular its use against peaceful demonstrators and people deprived of liberty which many human rights organisations consider amounts to torture or ill treatment.

The Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT) in Honduras has also raised its concerns about the use of tear gas by security forces, particularly in places of detention and against those demonstrating, such as the demonstrations that took place against changes to education in March 2011. . The issue was raised by the CPTRT during the recent visit of the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to Honduras and the SPT confirmed that it would look into the issue.  The CPTRT also intends to ask the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for its view on the use of tear gas in prisons and against demonstrators.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has expressed its concerns over the use of such gases in law enforcement. The CPT considers that:

“… [P]epper spray [tear gas] is a potentially dangerous substance and should not be used in confined spaces. Even when used in open spaces the CPT has serious reservations; if exceptionally it needs to be used, there should be clearly defined safeguards in place. For example, persons exposed to pepper spray should be granted immediate access to a medical doctor and be offered an antidote. Pepper spray should never be deployed against a prisoner who has already been brought under control.” (CPT/Inf (2009) 25, paragraph 79)

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV/HRFT) has vast experience in treating people who have been exposed to tear gas in five of its treatment and rehabilitation centres for torture survivors in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Adana. The HRFT decided to conduct further scientific studies on the physical effects of tear gas as its wide use by security forces during demonstrations; it has caused severe injuries and in some cases deaths from exploding bomb canisters and the inhalation of toxic chemicals used in the gas.

The HRFT (Istanbul Centre) has studied 64 cases of people affected by tear gas and evaluated the early side-effects of these chemical agents in these cases based on age, gender, psychological findings as well as other injuries. The research shows that complaints and physical side effects caused as a result of exposure to the tear gas chemicals were highest during the first three days following exposure.

The HRFT considers that “tear gas is a weapon derived from chemical agents” and that “the use of these agents amounts to torture and ill-treatment when used against people whose liberty has been deprived.”

A tear gas canister and rubber bullets used in Egypt to quell protests in June 2011. Photo by Maggie Osama, available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Ali Güneş fully supports the HRFT’s position on this issue.

In the recent case of ALİ GÜNEŞ v. TURKEY (Application no. 9829/07), the ECtHR found for the first time that the use of tear gas against people whose liberty has been restricted can amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court stressed that there can be no justification for the use of tear gas against an individual who has already been taken under the control of the law enforcement authorities.  Ali Güneş, a high school teacher and member of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers (Eğitim-Sen), was in one of the thirteen allocated areas where demonstrations were allowed to take place during the 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul. He complained about having been sprayed with tear gas by police officers, even after being arrested. The incident was widely reported in the national press and Mr Güneş was able to produce as evidence a photograph published in the daily newspaper Sabah showing him between two police officers who were holding him by the arms, and one of whom was spraying his nose and mouth with gas at very close range.  He also relied on medical reports which showed that his eyes had been affected by the gas.

In its judgment, the Court referred to previous cases in which it had considered the use of tear gas for the purposes of law enforcement, and where it had recognised that its use can produce effects such as respiratory problems, nausea, vomiting, irritation of the respiratory tract, irritation of the tear ducts and eyes, spasms, chest pain, dermatitis and allergies.  Given the effects the gases cause and the potential health risks they entail, the Court considered that “the unwarranted spraying of [Mr Güneş’s] face in the circumstances described must have subjected him to intense physical and mental suffering and was such as to arouse in him feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him”. By spraying him in such circumstances the police officers subjected Mr Güneş to inhuman and degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention.

The IRCT welcomes the clear indication from the European Court of Human Rights that tear gas should not under any circumstance be used against persons whose liberty has been restricted and considers that this sends an important signal to countries in the region that the excessive use of tear gas by security forces should not be condoned.

The outcome of the Turkish case should be of vital interest to other regions, where the oppressive use of tear gas is being used with alarming frequency, such as in Bahrain and Honduras.  As the CPT has stated, clearly defined safeguards should be put in place where the use of tear gas is required.  In addition, further protection against the excessive use of tear gas should be supported by more scientific research on the long-term effects of exposure to it, in particular to build on previous studies, such as those carried out by the HRFT and the US-based organisation Physicians for Human Rights.

The decision of the European Court in the case against Turkey, supported by an increased understanding of the long-term health effects of tear gas exposure, will give civil society organisations the increased ammunition needed to campaign against the excessive use of tear gas by law enforcement authorities.

Lea aquí (.DOC) la versión española

Rachel is interning at the IRCT with the Advocacy and Legal Team after completing her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation; she is also a Qualified Solicitor.

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Women at the frontline in the fight against torture

Today, on International Women’s Day (8 March), we wish to join the worldwide movement to honour women as human rights defenders. Women from all over the world, including at our 140+ member centres in over 70 countries, work at the frontline in the fight against torture. These women lobby national governments, head human rights inter-governmental bodies, work in rehabilitating torture survivors, and are often survivors of torture themselves.

At World Without Torture, we would like to honour these women by providing a platform for their stories today. Please share these stories to honour not only their work, but the hundreds of thousand of women human rights defenders worldwide.

What do we do with what others have done to us?

Brazilian psychologist and human rights activist Vera Vital Brasil knows from experience what she is talking about when she tells about her years of work with torture victims.

As a student at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in the late ’60s, Vera participated actively in the student movement, a major focus of resistance to Brazil’s military dictatorship. Because of her activism, in 1969, she was arrested and tortured on the premises of the notorious DOI-CODI, the Destacamento de Operações de Informações – Centro de Operações de Defesa Interna in Rio de Janeiro. After three months in prison, Vera left Rio for exile in Chile. Her exile lasted six years and upon her return to Brazil, she was determined to try to turn the wrongs that others done to her into something good.

“What do we do with what others have done to us? Internalize this tormenting experience or fight to stop this happening again? I chose the latter,” she says about her involvement with victims of torture through clinical work.

In 1982, Vera joined other former political prisoners living in Rio de Janeiro against the appointment of people responsible for torture during the dictatorship. This initiative eventually led a group of former political prisoners, torture survivors and relatives of dead and missing people to found the Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais (GTNM/RJ, which in English stands for Never More Torture Group) in 1985, which, in 1991, started providing medical and psychological treatment and physical rehabilitation to victims of torture.

Throughout these years, her personal experience and dedication to other victims have convinced her that the trauma caused by torture can never be completely overcome but must be addressed through clinical treatment and proper redress.

“The damage caused by torture is accentuated if it is ignored, if there is no justice, or no redress. The fact that the state, which should guarantee and protect human life, is the agent of violence has a devastating effect on people’s psychological well-being. Our clinical practice is insufficient to cure this damage. But we can try to get people who have gone through this harrowing experience to feel better and give another meaning to this suffering, shifting it from a personal and private level to the collective and historical level, “she says.

Read Vera Brasil’s full story here.

Giving a voice to the victims

“You try to channel revenge through peaceful channels, you know, campaigning, publishing, providing legal consultation, providing legal aid, taking the person to court, accompanying the person throughout this process,” says Dr. Aida Seif El Dawla.

Dr. Seif El Dawla, founding member, psychiatrist, and human rights defender at Egyptian centre El Nadeem, was awarded the 2011 Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders.

For nearly two decades at the El-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, she has worked with countless victims of torture. When the Egyptian clinic began in 1993, Seif El Dawla and the other founders wanted to provide psychological services to the survivors of torture and their families. They sought other like-minded organisations – medically-based NGOs that served the psycho-social needs of victims of violence – to model their new clinic. Soon they realised that focusing simply on the psychological rehabilitation neglected the social and political aspects that allowed the crimes to continue – the victims’ access to justice and seeking the prevention of torture.

“Many of the people who come don’t really want to have a psychological assessment,” she says. “I realised that those people aren’t really patients in the classic sense of patients. They have responded very normally to an extremely abnormal situation.”

El-Nadim not only had to treat the psychological consequences of torture, but provide their clients with access to medical doctors to treat the physical wounds. In addition, many survivors came to the clinic with a need to channel their anger, humiliation, and helplessness into bringing their perpetrators to justice, bringing the crimes to light.

When the image of Khaled Said’s face appeared in the newspapers, bruised and beaten, Seif El Dawla had seen it all before. Said’s image ignited change. The people of Egypt have become fed up with a broken system and a police force that tortures, carries out arbitrary arrests, and falsifies forensic reports, she says.

“Already before the 25th of January people had enough of this kind of violence. They had enough. And it’s not a coincidence that the first targets of the people when they revolted were the police stations, all over, because there isn’t a governor, there isn’t a city, where there isn’t a family who has lost somebody to a police station or who has a relative who was abused or humiliated in a police station. So, it was already boiling. Now, people are not willing to take it anymore.”

Read Dr. Seif El Dawla’s full story here. And, see the short film on the Khaled Said case, which features her in an interview.

A voice for the torture victims in Ecuador

During her medicine studies in the late eighties, Yadira Narvaez was unexpectedly transferred from a neurological clinic, where she worked as an intern, to the medical department of a male prison.

The unwanted transfer was a punishment for her habit of wearing trousers. “My superior said that if what I wanted was to look like a male, I should be as close as possible to men”, she remembers. The experience became one of the most transformative events in Forensic Doctor Yadira Narvaez’s life. “It was a striking experience: there I learned the difference between being alive and dead”.

While working at the medical department of that prison, where approximately 1,500 men served their sentences, she discovered the real meaning of the word torture. “By then, I really didn’t know what torture meant and what it could do to people”. Dr Narvaez‘s placement at the prison ended after 18 months but has led to decades of dedication to the treatment and protection of torture survivors and prisoners.

Two years after the end of the “punishment”, Dr Narvaez decided to go back to work in the same prison, this time, of her own free will. She went on to also work in the treatment of female detainees at another penal institution. Being a witness of the suffering caused by a lack of respect for human rights made Dr Narvaez realise that she needed to do something to try to protect prisoners and to assist torture survivors.

To address the problem on a national level, Dr Narvaez helped found the Foundation for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (in short PRIVA) in 1997. In addition to denouncing torture in Ecuador, PRIVA focuses on the prevention and eradication of torture and the care of torture victims and their families.

“Like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream: that one day in my country all individuals who, for any reason come into contact with the penal system have their rights respected, have the right to be heard and the right to justice,” says the 52-year old doctor. “And torture victims need access to rehabilitation services to recover at least part of the health lost due to arbitrary practices by state agents. In addition, torture survivors need to be assured that these violations will not continue so that they can go on to live without fear”.

Read Dr. Narvaez’s full story here.

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