Posts Tagged human rights defenders

2016 – A year in review

Before we look at what’s ahead in 2017, we at World Without Torture want to look back at some of the stories we covered in 2016. Stories that caught the attention of readers around the world, stories that covered a mix of issues, from survivor testimonials, interviews with those on the frontline providing care to victims, to inspirational posts on different approaches to rehabilitation.

It has been a busy year and we couldn’t include everything, so if some of your favourites are missing, please mention them in the comments. Thank you for your continued support and engagement, we look forward to sharing more stories with you throughout 2017.

International Women’s Day: Four strong women in the fight against torture and ill-treatment
To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we highlighted the work and lives of four strong women who – in their own way – have fought human rights violations such as torture, sexual violence and other forms of ill treatment. Read the full blog here.

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The SURVIVORS rehabilitation centre in San Diego runs a healing club, which helps victims explore their new city and adjust. Image courtesy of SURVIVORS 

5 creative approaches to rehabilitation
No two torture survivors are the same, and across the globe rehabilitation centres explore what kind of rehabilitation method works best to help each individual survivor rebuild their life. In this blog we found out more about some of the most creative approaches used around the world.

Still no justice in the “Wheel of Torture” cases in the Philippines
The Philippines was in the news many times in 2016, as the number of those killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war on drugs continues to grow. Yet before things escalated we did a follow up story on a case that came out in February 2014, when the world was shocked to learn about the “Wheel of Torture”, a sadistic game being used at a secret detention compound in Biñan, Laguna Province, Philippines. Find out more here.

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The winner of the 26 June photo contest. Photo by Ferruccio Gibellini

Around the world: 26 June 2016 in pictures
26 June is always a huge highlight of the year, and 2016 was no different. Thousands of people across the globe joined the torture rehabilitation movement in showcasing both the resilience and creativity of survivors and caregivers alike. We shared a snapshot of the types of activities that took place. Check out the images here.

6 things you may not know about the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
This was one of our most popular blogs of the year, with 2016 marking the appointment of a new Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr. Nils Melzer. We shared some information on the role and what it means to be a torture investigator working on behalf of the United Nations. Read the blog here.

Fighting Torture: Q&A with Andrés Gautier
In our Fighting Torture series, we speak with people from a number of professions who work with and support survivors of torture. One of the most read was with Andrés Gautier, the co-founder of the Institute for Research and Therapy of Torture Sequels and State Violence (ITEI) in Bolivia. Check it out here.

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Fighting Torture: Q&A with Alba Mejia

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In our Fighting Torture series, we speak with people from around the world and from a number of professions who work with and support survivors of torture. What does their work mean to them and what are the biggest challenges they see in the anti-torture and rehabilitation movement?

Alba Mejia is the Assistant Director of the Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and their Families (CPTRT), in Honduras, a member of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. She tells us how securing funding for the sector continues to be a challenge and how the Honduran military, which runs the country’s prison service, is more focused on punishment and vigilance, rather than rehabilitation.

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Alba Mejia

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

I am a social worker, and hold a master’s degree. I am currently working at CPTRT where many of our clients are in detention, deprived of liberty.

Q: How long have you worked in torture rehabilitation and human rights?

I have worked with torture victims since 1995, which is the same year that CPTRT was founded.

Q: How did you end up doing this work?

This work is the culmination of activities I have been involved in throughout my life as a human rights defender. When I was young, I participated intensively in the fight for the rights of workers in the health and education sectors. I also worked in the defence of higher education students, where I observed how groups of young people were tortured when they were forcibly recruited into the military. That is why I got involved in the movement that fought to make military service voluntary rather than obligatory.

In addition, all my social engagement has been related to the prevention of violence against women and I actually founded the movement, “Women for peace/Visitación Padilla’, which I was involved in for 15 years. As part of my work with CPTRT, I have been in contact with people deprived of liberty and I have seen the consequences of torture on the bodies of victims. This is why I now feel committed to defending their rights.

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

Sometimes I run into people who have been deprived of liberty who I have interacted with during different workshops. When they see me they stop and greet me, they remind me of the experiences they have gone through and how the CPTRT’s support has positively affected their lives.

Q: How has this work changed you since you started?

This work has strengthened my convictions about the need to deeply engage in changing national and international structures, which are the cause of the exploitation, oppression and repression of those impoverished in the world.

Q: Tell us about the situation for torture survivors in Honduras?

At CPTRT, we refer to the people we work with as being ‘deprived of liberty’. Their situation is critical and they do not enjoy the full right to rehabilitation. Lack of access to education, health care and employment are also serious problems. These issues are further exacerbated due to overcrowded living conditions in prisons and detention centres. All of this constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, which is very close to torture.

Q: What is a typical day in the office/field for you?

In my management position, I regularly meet with my colleagues to co-ordinate meetings with state operators so we can maintain institutional communication with other organisations to handle and define strategies for dealing with torture cases.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the torture rehabilitation sector in Honduras?

The biggest obstacle is that unfortunately the government has delegated the administration of the penitentiary system to the military. If the possibilities for rehabilitation before were minimal, now they have been reduced even more because the military focuses on punishment and vigilance, rather than rehabilitation.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the torture rehabilitation sector in general?

Globally, there is not enough funding for the rehabilitation of victims. This is then reinforced by the limited influence that can be exerted to ensure that states make funding available for the rehabilitation of torture survivors.

Q: According to various surveys, many people do not think torture is such a big problem; that it is a thing of the past; or some even think that it is necessary. What would you say to them?

Torture is an experience that stays with the survivors for their entire life. Regardless of how much therapy they receive, their brain will always remember the suffering and the horror of such a traumatic experience. Torture affects the behaviour of survivors and often does not allow them to be happy because they have to deal with many fears that stay with them for their entire lives.

Q: And finally, many of us do care about torture survivors and victims. How can we support the anti-torture/torture rehabilitation movement?

By example. We should try to be defenders of human rights, both in the office and outside the office. Wherever there is injustice, we need to fight it and turn it into a positive change.

 

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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.

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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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International Day Against Police Brutality: The story of ND in Serbia

International Day Against Police Brutality is marked every year on March 15, acknowledging those who have been killed, abused or neglected by the police or while in their care. To highlight the fact that police brutality remains a grim reality in many countries, we tell the story of ND from Serbia; beaten by the police, the perpetrators remain unpunished.

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Courtesy of Fibonacci Blue via Flickr Creative Commons

“I expect justice and that these police officers are stopped from doing this to anyone else. The legal proceedings are lasting too long; for four years and it is not even close to end. How much longer will I have to wait?”

ND first came to the International Aid Network (IAN) rehabilitation centre in Belgrade when he was 20-years-old. It was December 2010 and two weeks had passed since he had been brutally beaten by the police.

The day before he alleges the incident took place, ND and a friend were arrested on suspicion of theft. They were brought to the police station and interviewed, then released and told to come back the next day.

When he did not turn up, two police officers came to his house and arrested him. As soon as they arrived at the police station, one of the officers slapped him across the face twice. This was the beginning of an ordeal that lasted for hours. They started to ask him about different crimes, including the theft of car CD players that happened earlier that day. ND admitted he had committed two of the crimes, but not the rest. One of the officers told another to grab him and he was taken to another room and beaten.

They beat him for two hours; hitting him on the soles of his feet, the palms of his hands and in the stomach, breaking two of his ribs. All the time asking where the CD players were. ND eventually told them one was at his cousin’s house. One of the officers then went there and threatened his cousin, asking, “Do you want to piss blood, like your brother?”

When he was eventually released he managed to get himself onto the bus home. As soon as he arrived his mother saw his bloodied body and called an ambulance. But when the ambulance came and the doctor heard he was beaten by the police she refused to take him to the hospital, saying his injuries did not need urgent care. She told him he should go by himself and gave him a medical referral.

ND went to the hospital and they immediately operated on his broken ribs to stabilise his lung which was perforated. The following morning one of the police officers came to the hospital, most likely to see how badly injured he was, but did not speak to him. He was kept in hospital for 10 days.

When he came to the IAN centre, ND was shocked, revolted and extremely angry. His body was still covered in bruises as a result of the beating. Staff did a forensic examination and found that his injuries were life threatening. He asked for legal aid and in 2011 IAN filed a complaint against the police officers on his behalf.

Five years later and the case is still ongoing. In the meantime, both police officers are still on duty and ND continues to wait for justice to be served.

 

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Fighting Torture: Q&A with Flutra Gorana

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In our Fighting Torture series, we speak with people from a number of professions who work with and support survivors of torture. What does their work mean to them and what are the biggest challenges they see in the anti-torture and rehabilitation movement?

In the latest installment, we speak with Flutra Gorana, the Executive Manager at Centre Nassim, a project of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), which offers rehabilitation to victims of torture through multi-disciplinary professional support and case management. She speaks about how she first volunteered for an agency for refugees in 1999 and has been involved in human rights work ever since, the situation for torture survivors in Lebanon and how every single person who stands in solidarity with survivors can make a difference.

FlutraQ: How long have you worked in torture rehabilitation and human rights?

In 1999 I started to volunteer for a refugee resettlement agency. Ever since I have been working with NGOs. Also with victims of human trafficking, 100% of whom are survivors of torture. Prior to starting to work at CLDH – Centre Nassim in November 2015, I worked with disadvantaged youth in New York. It was a programme for young people from low socio economic neighbourhoods who didn’t finish high school. The idea was for them to graduate from high school and get a good job, not just a minimum wage job but a profession.

Q: How did you end up doing this work?

In 1999 it was a time when Kosovan refugees were coming into the US. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended and the war in Kosovo was going on. Because I speak both languages I was translating in a camp in the US receiving refugees. It’s a job where you go home and feel fulfilled. You can’t save everyone but can see the impact you have on each and every person.

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

One time I remember is when a family from Kosovo came to New York. I was helping with everything the agency provided. The old man in the family got up and gave me a big hug and said, “I don’t know where we would be without you”.

Q: Tell us about the situation for torture survivors where you are/area you’re involved with or your home country?

In Lebanon there is very little support for torture victims. There are only three agencies in the whole country. Now there are 1.3 million Syrian refugees in the country and more coming. The need is great and the resources and capacity don’t match the demand. 70% of our clientele are Syrian.

Q: What is a typical day in the office/field for you?

We have a very dynamic office. The staff are great. We have two psychologists, one social worker, an assistant, a doctor, a lawyer and a co-ordinator. We also have five lawyers that work mostly outside the office in prisons and detention centres. On the days when the psychologists and doctor are in we all need to be available because we know we will have an influx of clients. Sometimes it can be as simple as giving them extra clothes or food kits. I also do a lot of negotiation with UNHCR and other organisations to try and get refugees resettled. Then also a lot of report writing, financial management and staff management. It’s a mix of everything.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the torture rehabilitation sector?

In Lebanon it is not recognised that torture exists or at least the government do not make any comments about it. This means there is no government support, so all the funding comes from outside organisations and foundations. This is the biggest challenge. The stigma around torture is also a challenge. Beneficiaries want to come to the centre when no one is around. We try to explain to them that it is not only torture victims who use our services and they don’t need to be ashamed. It’s also a challenge to ensure staff are safe.

Q: According to various surveys, many people do not think torture is such a big problem; that it is a thing of the past; or some even think that it is necessary. What would you say to them?

Torture is very much happening in many countries. What people need to understand, especially those who say it is needed, is that if a person is being tortured they will say anything to make it stop. It is not an effective way to interrogate someone. It humiliates the victims, destroys their life, their family’s life and society in general.

Q: And finally, many of us do care about torture survivors and victims. How can we support the anti-torture/torture rehabilitation movement?

By voicing their opinion, in any discussion, even just around the kitchen table. By educating their family and friends that torture is wrong. Starting small can lead to bigger things. If they have the power to write to government officials and legislators they can do so. They can also support organisations that do this work, not only financially, sometimes moral support can mean more.

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Finding the truth about Algeria’s disappeared

Today, much the same as 15 years ago, demonstrators in Algiers, Algeria, still campaign for the whereabouts of their loved ones.

A bloody civil war in the 1990s, culminating in a military coup in 1992 stopping Islamists from taking power, killed over 100,000 people.

 Ambarek Hamdani holds up a sign picturing his son, Djamel, who disappeared during Algeria’s civil war. © 2014 Eric Goldstein/Human Rights Watch


Ambarek Hamdani holds up a sign picturing his son, Djamel, who disappeared during Algeria’s civil war.
© 2014 Eric Goldstein/Human Rights Watch

Amidst this, families fell apart as relatives simply disappeared. Many were murdered. Others were captured.

As a recent Human Rights Watch report notes, since the end of the war there is still widespread impunity and trauma among many Algerians. Reporting in Human Rights Watch’s ‘Dispatches’ series, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division Eric Goldstein reports on his first entry to Algeria for almost a decade. He paints a bleak picture of a country refusing to approach its past.

“I find the families of those disappeared during the war still holding regular demonstrations, chanting ‘Give us back our sons’ on a sidewalk in downtown Algiers,” Eric says.

“The demonstrators have aged. Every several months since my last visit, an email arrives announcing that a parent of one of those disappeared has passed away, without having learned the fate of his or her child.”

In 2006, Algeria’s Law on Peace and National Reconciliation helped 7,000 families receive compensation for the trauma caused by the disappearances. However, the law also provided amnesty to the perpetrators of torture and forced disappearances.

Because of this, there is no justice for the victims. The truth has therefore never surfaced.

“There are those who reject compensation as long as the state does not disclose the fate of their children,” Eric says.

“For many, the truth means much more than learning if, and how, their children died, and at whose hands.”

Adapted from Dispatches: Algeria’s ‘Disappeared’ as published by Eric Goldstein of Human Rights Watch. To read the original report, click this link.

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The invisible crime of torture in Colombia

Despite great progress in the security over the past decades in Colombia, the use of torture is still systematic in the country.

In this blog, journalist and guest blogger Hannah Matthews, who lives in the Colombian capital Bogota, gives her view on the prevalence of torture and what attention needs to be given to the situation now to stop torture.

An almost invisible crime in the country, masked by the prevalence of extrajudicial killings and forced displacement, the issue of torture in Colombia deserves immediate international scrutiny.

It’s been one year since I moved to Bogota and, despite not witnessing torture first hand, I have encountered many human rights defenders who have spent time in prison under false charges of criminal or dissident activity.

A street in Bogota

A street in Bogota

Beyond the human rights field, social protest is criminalised at any available opportunity. Despite the peaceful nature of protests, tear gas canisters are frequently fired into the crowd and riot police adopt aggressive stances, igniting an otherwise peaceful demonstration.

Unfortunately my observations only support those made by the Colombian Coalition Against Torture, who outline how torture is used as a means of political persecution with the purpose of forcefully obtaining confessions or information, an discriminatory instrument of repression against social protest, or simply as a way to plant fear within Colombian society to prevent dissent against the authorities.

But the Colombian context is infinitely more complex than that. With so many different state and non-state actors in the mix, all torturing with different aims and purpose, complicated dynamics further convolute victims’ access to justice. The simple dichotomy between government and guerrilla groups, right and left, good and bad, that the international community continues to propagate is too simple and runs the risk of masking important issues and human rights violations that occur across the spectrum.

Due to the widespread fear and high risk associated with denouncing cases of torture, impunity reigns with very few cases ever being fully investigated or tried. Human rights defenders and other entities who speak out against the government are under constant threat of persecution and mistreatment, as are those who express their dissent through peaceful protest. The most recent and shocking examples of this could be seen in the police treatment of farmers and students marching in the agrarian strikes of this year and 2013. In 2013 at least 800 protesters were badly injured by the public security forces and 15 people were killed. Last year over 3,000 people were arrested during social protests.

2Despite the ratification of the various human rights treaties, including the Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, rights to freedom of expression and freedom from torture are not respected, protected or fulfilled in Colombia. Colombia has still not ratified or applied the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).

“Torture continues to be generalised and systematic in Colombia. It is perpetrated by the Public Force, by the paramilitaries and by the guerrillas, but the party principally responsible for these acts is the state,” said Isabelle Heyer, a member of the Colombian Jurists Commission.

This coalition has recorded instances of torture over the years in Colombia and has concluded that while the majority of cases continue to be committed by security forces, right wing militias and demobilized paramilitary groups are also at the heart of many incidences. Over 90% of the incidences of torture the coalition recorded between 2001 and 2009 were attributed to Colombian state forces, with less than 10% attributed to rebel guerrilla forces.

Current President Juan Manuel Santos has promised this year will see the signing of a historic peace agreement between the government and the most notorious guerrilla group, the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces). There is hope that this will establish a reconciliation process, but the country waits with baited breath. This process, if established, will be the tip of a huge iceberg in terms of restoring true justice and human rights principles, something very much needed for this war-torn country.

According to the Colombian Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science, 1,913 people presented signs of mistreatment between 2010 and 2014, 345 of which were women. Torture and inhuman and degrading treatment remain most common amongst the Colombian prison population.

Sexual violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive modes of torture, with Ms. Heyer from the Colombian Jurists Commission calling it “an habitual, systematic and invisible practice, which enjoys impunity in the majority of cases and whose principal perpetrators are soldiers and police.”

Among the prison population, organisations have expressed their concern about the high levels of psychological torture within prisons, with some inmates experiencing a serious lack of access to fresh running water, sufficient hygiene facilities and medical attention, as well as being subjected to verbal abuse and mistreatment from the prison guards.

All of this torture and ill-treatment though is no recent phenomena. Forty years of internal conflict, coupled with the state’s misuse of power and crackdowns on social and political opposition, means torture in Colombia remains a pertinent issue indeed. Improvements are scarce and unprogressive and any real access to justice or rehabilitation has not been assured.

Yet much of the world goes on regardless. Perhaps Colombia is too far removed from the lives of others, or simply too unknown. But it cannot go on like this forever. More needs to be done to end torture in the country. Today.

To find out more about what the IRCT is doing in Colombia through member CAPS, click this link.

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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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Detention, imprisonment and torture: The new life of the Al-Khawajas

When Maryam Al-Khawaja announced her trip to visit Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain last week, following the recommencement of his hunger strike, all seemed well. The trip was to simply see how her father was faring.

Yet her assessment of his condition never came. In the morning of 30 August, Maryam posted a series of tweets on Twitter outlining how she was immediately detained on arrival with security forces claiming she is “not a Bahraini citizen”:

“I’m denied entry. I’m starting a water-only hunger strike. I won’t voluntarily leave. My only demand is to be let into my country.”

Human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja spoke to us about the often unseen torture in Bahrain: http://wp.me/p1FGNE-rJ

Human rights defender Maryam al-Khawaja spoke to us about the often unseen torture in Bahrain: http://wp.me/p1FGNE-rJ

Since then Maryam has been posting regular updates on her situation, from her declaration of beginning a water-only hunger strike and the snippets of conversations she hears from guards who wish to deport her.

Now, five days after her detention, her Twitter account has changed. A third-party is writing the tweets for her; news is sparse; and the condition of her father, Abdulhadi, must be deteriorating.

Ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and torture are no distant themes to Maryam, her family and her friends. Maryam and her colleagues – and those associated to those colleagues – have been continual targets for their role in supporting human rights in Bahrain through the criminalised Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

A long friend of the IRCT, Maryam has spoken in the past about the appalling human rights record of Bahrain, what the international community needs to do to recognise the abuses and the situation facing her family and friends on a daily basis.

The year 2011 marked the beginning of the now well-documented struggle for the Al-Khawajas. Following several years of banning from the Bahrain state, head of the BCHR Nabeel Rajab (himself only recently released from prison for his role in the centre) and Maryam began travelling the world to speak out about the situation in Bahrain, the vicious crackdowns on protestors and the torture which exists in the Bahrain prison network. It is a story Maryam knows all too well – her father, on hunger strike now, was arrested in April 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Maryam’s sister Zainab was then targeted and has been subjected to repeated arrest, long-term detention, harassment, and physical abuse, including facing ongoing charges in relation to calling for her father’s freedom. Zainab was released on bail in February 2014, after almost a year’s detention on the oft-cited charges of “insulting the King”, a charge which can lead to seven years imprisonment. Now seven months pregnant, Zainab faces trial again in October. If sentenced she could ultimately give birth inside prison.

Next on the arrest list was Maryam’s long-term friend and colleague Nabeel Rajab. In April 2012, amidst protests to cancel the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, Nabeel was arrested and sentenced to prison for having “insulted” Bahraini authorities via Twitter – a landmark ruling at the time as social media dissent had not been punished quite so harshly.

Thankfully Nabeel was released in May 2014, but his experience inside was harrowing. He was beaten, interrogated, left in solitary confinement with a dead animal and stripped naked on many occasions.

It is this prevalent treatment which worries human rights organisations now. Maryam’s father has already undergone major surgery in the past to treat the torture he received in Bahraini jail. And as Maryam told World Without Torture last year, her sister has been a victim of continued harassment, threats and beatings during her time in jail also.

Right now, according to BCHR, Maryam is facing “charges of assault and battery against on-duty public employees during their performance of official duty,” alleging Maryam attacked a lieutenant and another policewoman and injured them when they asked her to hand over her mobile phone at the airport.

Her lawyer has been denied access to her, as have her family. She has been moved to the Isa Town women prison and placed with two convicted criminals.

There is a high degree of urgency in assuring the safety of Ms Al-Khawaja, particularly considering the abuse which her family has suffered in the past.

Maryam’s release must come now. The world is watching.

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Creating a world without torture: August in review

We round-up our blogs from August and don’t forget to keep checking the blog in the coming weeks for more. Click here to visit our Facebook page, and here to visit our Twitter feed.

The US and torture: Ignorance, arrogance and denial

Over the past month many blogs have focused on the continuing involvement, direct or indirect, of the US in torture across the world.

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of  Isabel Esterman)

A waterboarding demonstration by US Navy veteran Joe Tougas. Waterboarding was one of the torture methods doctors helped develop with the CIA (picture used under Flickr creative commons licence courtesy of Isabel Esterman)

As continued pressure grows on the US to release in full the CIA torture report, which highlights the extent of torture perpetrated by the CIA against terror suspects post-9/11, we reminded critics of the CIA to also remember that the torture methods and devices were designed by doctors – doctors who have a duty to heal, not harm. While the CIA role cannot be understated, the role of medical personnel in designing torture must be accounted for also.

Overseas, we joined hundreds of human rights organisations in calling for the US military to be held accountable for the deaths and torture of Afghani civilians and for better practices to ensure that families of the dead are made aware of the circumstances of death immediately. Currently many families simply do not know the true fate of their loved ones. This blindness prevent them not only knowing the truth, but also accessing justice and rehabilitation. This has to end.

 

New rehabilitation modes taking torture and culture seriously

Still in the US, but a more positive note, we looked at one program from the Harvard Program in Refugee Torture which is helping Cambodian survivors of torture overcome the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.

torture journalToday Cambodians still come to terms with the Khmer Rouge regime, one which is still being brought to justice, most recently with the life sentences of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, two figureheads of the regime.

For the survivors, justice only does so much. For many their families are destroyed and those who tortured them have already escaped punishment throughout the majority of their lives.

The article, which you can read here, is set to feature in the new edition of Torture Journal also.

 

Underground torture in Lebanon

Several floors under the busy Adlieh intersection in east Beirut, hundreds of people suffer harsh interrogation and torture in a makeshift detention centre.

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

Demonstration calling to close down the General Security Detention Center (used courtesy of Farfahinne under Flickr creative commons licence)

It is a place unknown to many – thousands of commuters pass over the site every day. But it is a place very much present in the minds of refugees in the city, some of whom have spent time in this underground chamber.

It is this clandestine chamber that IRCT member centre Nassim for the rehabilitation of the victims of torture at the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) exposed and campaigned against on this year’s 26 June — the latest call of many to end torture and impunity in Lebanon.

You can read more on CLDH’s campaign to end the detention centre by clicking this link.

 

Australia can no longer deny that its treatment of asylum seekers does not constitute torture

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Dr Peter Young, former medical director for mental health at IHMS, gives evidence at the inquiry into children in immigration detention last week. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP (used courtesy of Guardian online)

Criticism of the Australian policy on detaining and deporting asylum seekers with little consideration for their wellbeing quietened over August. That was until Dr Peter Young, former director of IHMS mental health services, the company responsible for healthcare in all of Australia’s detention centres, boldly confronted what many have suspected for a long time: treatment in Australia’s asylum seeker detention centres is akin to torture.

We congratulated Dr Young for his honesty. Read more about it here.

 

Two different but effective rehabilitation programmes from two IRCT members

The 143 IRCT members across the world are working tirelessly every day to ensure survivors of torture are rehabilitated, given access to reparations and justice and that torture is prevented within their contexts.

This month we focused on two centres in particular who are using art forms to rehabilitate torture survivors.

The first was the Accoglenza e Cura Vittime di Tortura (Vi.To.) project, funded via the European Union’s EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) for IRCT member the Consiglio Italiano per I Rifugiati (CIR) (Italian Council for Refugees). Staff at the centre use theatre to help refugees and torture survivors overcome their experiences, build their self-esteem and teach them valuable new skills.

You can read more about the project and see all the pictures here.

Secondly we focused on Freedom from Torture in the UK and their “Write to Life” project. A creative writing group the “Write to Life” project is one of the most powerful therapy programmes on offer. It has been meeting continuously every two-weeks for 12 years, has produced a formidable body of writing, and the participating torture survivors have reported that the group has aidedtheir rehabilitation – not bad for an initiative initially dismissed by some medical experts. You can read more about it here.

 

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