Posts Tagged human rights

Commemorating International Human Rights Day by supporting our work to fight torture worldwide

On the 10th of December, the world commemorates the 69th birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was an acknowledgment that every person has equal rights everywhere in the world, including the right to be free from torture.

Unfortunately, human rights are continuously under attack. But we still believe that darkness falls and hope rises.
MAG pic for WWT

Photo: Health professionals in the Philippines being trained in how to identify, document and report cases of torture.

Just a few weeks ago, we were in the Philippines, where there are around 13,000 reported deaths resulting from the government’s bloody “War on Drugs” committed without due process.

Yet, together with our member centre the Medical Action Group, we trained brave Filipino health professionals on how to identify, document and report cases of torture. This effort was supported by the Department of Health, which also acknowledged the urgent need to develop hospital ER protocols for recognizing and supporting torture victims.

For over 30 years, our member the Medical Action Group has been taking this road less traveled – putting up a good fight to make the country torture-free. Born in 1982, at the height of the Marcos dictatorship, the Medical Action Group continuously commits itself as a health professional organization to collectively respond and speak out against any forms of gross human rights violation. Their work is becoming relevant now more than ever.

So what better way of celebrating this important day than to support our work – empowering the most vulnerable in society and supporting victims of torture – by donating to this cause.

While fighting for human rights seems futile sometimes, let’s remember:

Even in the darkest times and unfavorable circumstances, through the reign of dictatorships and oppressive regimes, there are those – like IRCT’s members – who keep the flame of hope burning.

As the saying goes, “If not now, when?. If not us, who would?”

If you want to support this important work please donate here.

 

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Four women in the fight against torture

Today marks 42 years since the UN began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March. To honour women’s achievements we have spoken with four inspirational women who were recently elected to the Executive Committee of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. They represent four different regions of the world, but they all share a strong commitment to the fight against torture. Here they tell us how they got to where they are now and what it is like to work with torture victims.

Sana Hamzeh, Clinical Advisor at Restart Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, Lebanon

WWT: How long have you worked with torture victims?

SH: I have been working in the field of rehabilitation since 1986. I was one of the three founding members of Restart, which was first established in 1996 in Tripoli and then later in Beirut in 2007. I have been able to gain international expertise in the documentation of torture according to the Istanbul Protocol and 23 of the cases that I have psychologically documented have been referred to the court, with the collaboration of lawyers. In December 2016, I was elected Vice President of the IRCT, which provides a valuable opportunity to spread our vision of the fight against torture through prevention, accountability and reparation.

WWT: How did you end up in this sector?

SH: My journey through rehabilitation, with an emphasis on torture survivors, was not clearly outlined in the initial stages of my professional career. However, as the turbulent political situation in Lebanon and its neighboring countries continued, the need to treat this group of victims became clear. The intensity of torture victims’ suffering and the urgency of responding to their situation, propelled me towards this decision of responding actively to their mental health needs, including many women who were silenced for years and had been too afraid to speak out.

WWT: How many clients does your center approximately treat/support each year?

SH: Restart Center has treated approximately 4,116 clients in the past year. However, those numbers are subject to variation from one year to the next. In Restart’s first 20 years of establishment, we helped approximately 17,650 people.

WWT: Who are the clients and where do they come from?

SH: Restart simultaneously works on several projects targeting various clients, including people from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq as well as other nationalities such as Egyptians, Sudanese, Bahraini and Ethiopians. Restart supports victims of torture, ill-treatment and war trauma; in particular, those in specific situations of vulnerability such as ex-detainees, secondary victims, refugees and asylum seekers, women victims of Gender-Based Violence etc.

In addition, we also provide community-based psychosocial support as well as animation and reconciliation activities to victims of war trauma including victims of torture, traumatised children, children of detained parents and young mothers.

WWT: What does your work mean to you?

SH: Responding to survivors’ unique needs may be distressing at times, but the end result is more rewarding than words can describe. Eliciting smiles in individuals who had forgotten what a smile even means, or re-establishing the bonds that were once destroyed in a family, is the main reason why I look forward to the next day. For instance, a client of ours from Iraq initially approached our centre with severe Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder symptoms. Not only have his symptoms now subsided, but he is also currently working as a filmmaker, with one of his films soon to be shown in Cannes. My work reminds me that I have a second home and this feeling is mutual. One of our clients expressed her feelings towards her second home through the following words: “Restart Center is the only place where I feel human, well respected and able to express myself without feeling afraid.” These words offer hope and propel me to continue doing what I do despite all of the challenges that may arise in between.

WWT: Why is torture rehabilitation important?

SH: Torture rehabilitation is a right that should be granted by the state, although that is seldom the case. Survivors’ memories of their traumatic experiences are painful; they seem inexorable and real. Accepting the past is vital, but demanding that the victim regains his or her dignity is equally important. The key is to provide rehabilitation services through which, victims can learn how to deal with their traumas and grief, and to look at a future that was previously inconceivable. Victims’ lives can be dramatically altered so that they can stand up once again. Through a holistic approach that addresses the physical, psychological, social and legal service needs of the torture survivors, life can be perceived as “life” once again.

Kathi Anderson, Executive Director of Survivors of Torture, International (SURVIVORS), San Diego, US

WWT: How long have you worked with torture victims?

KA: I am the co-founder of SURVIVORS, which was established 20 years ago on February 27 this year. Prior to SURVIVORS, I resettled refugees for the International Rescue Committee, volunteered with Amnesty International and was in private practice caring for traumatised clients from many areas of the world.

WWT: How did you end up in this sector?

KA: I was encouraged by professional colleagues to start a torture treatment centre in San Diego where there was a growing need for specialised care for an increasing number of asylum seekers and refugees arriving from throughout the world.

WWT: How many clients does your centre approx. treat/support each year?

KA: Recently, we have expanded our projects so we are now working with more than 500 clients per year.

WWT: Who are the clients and where do they come from?

KA: The vast majority of our clients are asylum seekers and refugees. In the past five years, the top five countries of origin are Iraq, Somali, Mexico, Ethiopia and Iran. Over the past 20 years, the clients have come from more than 80 countries.

WWT: What does your work mean to you?

KA: The work is incredibly rewarding. To be able to counter what the torturers have done to our clients by providing a safe haven for them to heal is extremely gratifying. I enjoy bearing witness to our clients’ improvements and being part of something bigger than me.

WWT: Why is torture rehabilitation important?

KA: Torture survivors need to have access to specialised care so they can learn to trust again, rebuild their lives and have hope for their future and their children’s future.

Mariana Lagos, Psychiatrist and psychotherapist at Argentine Team of Psychosocial Work and Research (EATIP), Argentina

WWT: How long have you worked with torture victims?

ML: I have been working in this field for 25 years. Even during my years at university I used to participate in a broad movement of young people that supported Madres de Plaza de Mayo.

WWT: How did you end up in this sector (torture rehabilitation)?

ML: Severe trauma left by the military dictatorship in Argentina shaped my generation as well as large sectors of the society, creating an unwavering commitment to Memory, Truth and Justice.
When I chose my career I was motivated by the desire to contribute professionally to alleviating human suffering. My parents, with their strong political, social and professional activities, were role models for me and my siblings when we grew up. The three of us have taken on that family legacy and we use our knowledge and effort to practice our profession while taking into consideration the needs of our people.
WWT: How many clients does your centre approx. treat/support each year?

ML: Throughout the history of EATIP, we have supported and assisted thousands of victims. Currently, we are carrying out several clinical and psychosocial assistance units that reach more than 100 people.

WWT: Who are EATIP’s clients and where do they come from?

ML: EATIP provides assistance to individuals and groups affected by torture and several other traumatic situations of social origin, where the state is responsible. At the beginning we assisted the families of people who had disappeared or survived the military dictatorship. Today, many of them are plaintiffs and witnesses in trials for crimes against humanity. Lately, we have also started providing assistance to people affected by new situations, such as relatives of young people killed by the security forces and relatives of victims and survivors of tragedies caused by state negligence and corruption. We also provide assistance to people affected by the criminalisation of poverty and social protest and the violation of rights of native peoples’ leaders, migrants, refugees and women victims of human trafficking.

WWT: What does your work mean to you?

ML: It is a privilege, even if sometimes it is hard work. I feel that it is very rewarding to be able to provide support to people and their families during their extensive treatment processes. We become part of their story and share their accomplishments. At EATIP, we share with our clients and with groups of affected people the complex path to fighting impunity.

WWT: Why is torture rehabilitation important?

ML: Because it is the right of groups and individuals affected, so that they can overcome both the consequences and losses they have suffered, while improving their lives. In order to reach out to people affected by torture, clinical and psychosocial approaches require specialised professionals and systems that victims can trust. In addition to the right to rehabilitation, achieving justice is essential both for individual and collective reparation.

Lela Tsiskarishvili, Psychologist at Georgian Center for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (GCRT), Georgia

WWT: How long have you worked with torture victims?

LT: I have been working with torture victims since 2000.

WWT: How did you end up in this sector?

LT: I was studying psychology, when, in 1998 one of my professors told me there was a part-time job opening at an NGO foundation. The salary was very low and they needed a Georgian- English interpreter, so it seemed like an ideal opportunity for a student like me. The organisation provided psychosocial rehabilitation services to Internally Displaced Persons in Georgia – those who were displaced as a result of the two wars in Georgia in the early 90s. In 2000, representatives of the IRCT came on a fact finding mission to Georgia as part of the IRCT’s regional strengthening programme with the idea to establish a torture rehabilitation centre in Georgia. My colleagues and representatives of the IRCT had several meetings, which led to the establishment of the GCRT. By then I was already a Masters student and was very happy when my colleagues offered me to move to GCRT together with them. I started as a documentarist and interpreter. From 2002 to 2004 I worked as a psychologist before I became the executive director of the organisation in 2005.

WWT: How many clients does your centre approx. treat/support each year?

LT: GCRT has regional offices in four regions of Georgia. GCRT provides rehabilitation services to people such as torture survivors, victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, war affected people, refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. It serves up to 600 individuals per year. In case of sufficient funding for the work with torture survivors, GCRT provides assistance to 400 torture survivors and their family members per year.

WWT: Who are the clients and where do they come from?

LT: Our clients who are torture survivors are refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, persons tortured by the law enforcement agencies (mainly the penitentiary system and the police) and asylum seekers.

WWT: What does your work mean to you?

LT: I have been working at GCRT for most of my adult life. From a small family type organisation, GCRT has grown into the largest trauma service in Georgia and is one of the key actors in fighting inhumane and degrading treatment, policy reform and bringing the voices of affected persons to the general public and decision makers. I have been part of this journey all along. My work is an integral and one of the most central parts of my life and I take pride in the amazing work of my colleagues at GCRT.

WWT: Why is torture rehabilitation important?

LT: In our line of work we are not rescuers, we merely try to be there for people who have gone through the worse forms of interpersonal violence and who have been subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment. We often spend sleepless nights thinking about how to help our clients transform their nightmares into dreams, how to replace the dominant experience of horror with love for their families and hope for the future. We ourselves are lost in this line of work. Working with those who have been affected by torture is a matter of passion and compassion – also about maintaining the delicate balance of being a therapist and a human rights activist. That is why, rather often, the process of rehabilitation of torture survivors is invisible among the human rights community. We work to touch upon the depths of human existence, yet most of the times, in order to protect our clients we cannot voice our opinion. However, the line of our work is ‘extremely loud and incredibly close’.

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Triumphing over adversity to deliver rehabilitation to those in need in Iraq

“When we succeeded, funders asked us to open other centres, as they saw the impact of what we were doing. It was the first time people were speaking about torture. The word torture had been forbidden, the previous government forbid people to talk about it.”

When Salah Ahmad founded a rehabilitation centre in the city of Kirkuk in the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq in 2005, it was the beginning of a journey that would lead to the establishment of a network of nine branches throughout Kurdistan-Iraq.

Since 2005, these centres have provided services to more than 20,000 men, women and children. It is a remarkable success, but has not been an easy journey for the organisation, which is now called the Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights.

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Salah Ahmad With Kids in Chamchamal (Courtesy of Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights via Flickr creative commons licence)

Salah recalls that when the Kirkuk centre was founded in 2005, after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, people were still living in fear. “I had a patient who came to me and told me he needed my help, but said I had to promise not to write down anything. I asked why and he said, ‘Because I am afraid if they come back they will know everything about me.’”

Yet the Kirkuk centre went from strength to strength and funders like the German Government, EU and the UN recognised the need for more centres like it. All the centres have the same system in place and provide psychological, medical, legal and social support. Some have specific programmes to respond to the needs of torture victims in the area. One of these programmes is an inpatient clinic for women victims of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

The programme came about through the work the Jiyan Foundation is doing in the Khanke refugee camp near Dohuk in Northern Iraq, which is home to over 18,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many of the women living in the camp have been liberated from ISIS and have had horrific experiences.

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(Courtesy of Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights via Flickr creative commons licence)

“They are in a very bad state. They lost everything, their life, their city, their health. These women have been sold, raped, every awful thing you can imagine. ISIS destroyed them as human beings,” Salah says. He realised they needed specialist help, having seen how many of the women were committing suicide, and that one two-hour session each week was not enough to help them.

The Jiyan Foundation started a centre 300 km away from the camp where the women could go for different periods of time and could bring their children with them. The recommended length of a visit is eight weeks and Salah says the intensive therapy has made a big difference in their lives.

“It is important to get them out of the camp, because there they only speak about their problems. We take them in small groups, because the cases are so complicated and difficult. Then they can get follow up treatment when they go back to the camp. This clinic is now more than a year old and we have helped more than 100 women this way.”

Yet just finding the money for transport to get the women to and from the camp is an ongoing challenge for the Jiyan Foundation team. The lack of infrastructure in general makes getting things done, and done quickly, difficult. Salah says, “You have to start from zero all the time. This makes the costs higher. The government cannot help because we have such a big financial problem. We have a large number of IDPs and refugees. We don’t have the capacity, it is too much for us.

“When we started the Kirkuk Centre there was no infrastructure. To build up the foundation in a country like Iraq is not easy. Sometimes you can need up to two months to get to speak with the authorities to get an agreement to get something done.”

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Delivering aid to IDPs who escaped the Sinjar region. (Courtesy of Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights via Flickr creative commons licence)

Despite all of this Salah says the Jiyan Foundation is going in the right direction, “In these 11 years we have succeeded in doing a good job in many ways and we support thousands of people.”

The Foundation is named after Jiyan, the Kurdish word for life and it is clear that the work that Salah and the 170 staff members working in the centres are doing, is bringing life and healing to Kurdistan.

 

Jiyan Foundation is a member of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. For more information visit their website www.jiyan-foundation.org or follow them on Facebook.

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CPTRT: Delivering rehabilitation to those in need in Honduras

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and ongoing human rights violations have forced thousands of people to flee the country. Based in the capital, Tegucigalpa, IRCT member CPTRT offers relief and support to those affected by violence and torture.

For a country of less than 10 million, Honduras faces some big challenges. High rates of poverty and unemployment, as well as a poor human rights record have led to thousands of Hondurans fleeing their country. For those who stay, organised violence, rape and torture are real threats.

This is the harsh context, in which organisations like the Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT) operate.

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Hondurans protest against corruption on the streets of Tegucigalpa in June 2015. (Courtesy of rbreve via Flickr creative commons licence)

Founded in 1995 by doctor, politician and human rights activist Juan Almendarez, CPTRT has become a leader within its field and a strong voice in the fight against torture. The centre employs a team of doctors, psychologists and social workers, as well as a group of volunteers.

Over the years, this team has successfully treated thousands of victims of torture and violence, but it is often a case of too much demand and not enough supply. CPTRT is one of just a few torture rehabilitation centres in Honduras, and as the national health system does not recognise torture as a health problem, there is little specialised treatment or rehabilitation available.

A paradox perhaps, given the many accounts of torture that CPTRT encounters. Gustavo N. Peña, Psychologist and Project Coordinator at CPTRT says the centre deals with many different types of victims, “from those who speak out against human rights abuses to the families of those in prison, students and those deprived of liberty”.

Since the army ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, the country has struggled with violence and unrest. The majority of victims of violence are women, children and the young people as well as activists and political leaders. Women and children in particular are often vulnerable and easy targets for the perpetrators who are usually never punished.

To change this, holding perpetrators responsible is a key issue for the CPTRT. The centre is committed to fighting impunity and by providing technical and legal assistance, it does everything it can to help its clients get access to justice but this is not easy as many victims do not want to speak out.

“Fundamentally, torture contributes to the development of a widespread sense of insecurity and fear that paralyses citizens and stops them from demanding justice. The population prefers to keep silent about the abuses that it is subjected to,” says Gustavo N. Peña.

In addition to its legal and technical assistance, CPTRT looks at the physical, cognitive and emotional health of its clients, using medical, alternative and psychological treatment to individuals and their relatives. It also runs capacity building programmes with various community group

Looking at a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) on health worker-to-population ratio in Honduras, it is easy to see why CPTRT’s services are in demand.

According to the WHO, there is an extreme shortage of physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists in the country with as little as 20.8 physicians per 10,000 population. And to make matters worse for the many Hondurans exposed to torture, most of the physicians do not have the knowledge to recognise torture or carry out rehabilitation of torture victims.

Juan Almendarez, Director of CPTRT has previously spoken about how, “The number of human rights violations by the military is rising, and the threat is greater and growing because military police operate with their faces covered and without visible identification, which fans impunity.” Gustavo N. Peña agrees that this culture of impunity is a challenge to eradicating torture in Honduras saying he believes that, “Torture is seen as a mechanism of investigation, as well as punishment”.

Today, CPTRT is a key player within the Honduran human rights movement and despite the daily challenges they face, centre staff continue to dedicate their lives to making a difference; as Alba Mejia, Assistant Director at CPTRT says, “Wherever there is injustice, we need to fight it and turn it into a positive change”.

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The Alternative Nobel Prize: Rewarding human rights defenders for 36 years

We’ve spoken with Ole von Uexküll who is the Executive Director of Swedish organisation the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, which each year supports a number of individuals and organisations through its award.

Established in 1980 by journalist and professional philatelist Jakob von Uexkull, the Right Livelihood Award aims to promote scientific research, education, public understanding and practical activities, which contribute to eliminating poverty and ensuring lasting peace and justice in the world.

The IRCT became a laureate in 1988, when it received the award for helping torture victims restore their lives and regain their health.

As the Executive Director of the organisation, Ole von Uexküll’s job is to lead and coordinate the work of the Foundation, which is headquartered in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, with an office in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ole von Uexkull

Ole von Uexkull

WWT: Can you tell us a bit about the Foundation and what its purpose is?

OvU: The Right Livelihood Award Foundation is a charity registered in Sweden. The Foundation’s principal purpose is to bestow the Right Livelihood Awards. Today, there are 162 Laureates from 67 countries. Yet, the support from the Foundation goes far beyond the prize. The Foundation invests a lot in press work and communication on behalf of its recipients – former and current Laureates. It also seeks to help protect and support Award Recipients who are at risk. In 2014, for instance, it organised a solidarity mission to Gaza to protest against the restrictions that 2013 Laureate Raji Sourani and his colleagues at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights face in exercising their fundamental freedoms and human rights in the Gaza Strip.

The Foundation tries to directly strengthen the network of its Laureates, whenever possible, through events, joint statements and petitions. Anniversary meetings, regional conferences and seminars, as well as cooperative events with other institutions, where Laureates are invited to their events, have become an important aspect of the Foundation’s network building and outreach work.

With the inauguration of the Right Livelihood College in 2009, the Foundation also furthered its work in capacity building and in making its Laureates’ knowledge more accessible.

WWT: What exactly does your role as Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation consist of?

OvU: My main tasks are strategy development, representation, financial management and research. I have evaluated candidates for the Right Livelihood Award in more than 35 countries around the globe.

WWT: The IRCT received the award in 1988. Do you think the fight against torture is as relevant today as back then?

OvU: Absolutely. Torture continues to be a global scourge across many parts of the world, particularly in the context of the “war on terror” and other international and national conflicts. There remains a need for institutions dedicated to outlawing torture, monitoring state commitments to renounce torture, and working with torture victims to provide them with legal, medical and psychosocial support.

WWT: You recently organised a seminar/debate at the Swedish political forum Almedalen on ‘Life After Torture’. Why did you chose this issue?

OvU: We felt that it was important for Swedish policy-makers to be informed about the unfortunate reality that torture remains a global problem, and together with our Laureate, the IRCT, we wanted to highlight the importance of working with torture victims to rebuild their lives. We wanted to use this forum to make the case that the important and innovative work that the IRCT and its partners are doing should be supported by governments as part of their efforts to promote human rights, development and the rule of law.

WWT: What has been the response so far?

OvU: We had a high number of participants in the seminar and some very good discussions during and after the seminar. In this regard, we are pleased to have put the issue of rehabilitation of torture victims in the realm of public debate in Sweden and will continue to work with the IRCT to inform people about their work.

WWT: What do you look for when finding new laureates?

OvU: We look closely at not only the overall impact of the individual or organisation, but also whether the approach they use is pioneering. It is also important for us to see that the candidate’s life and work is a good example of ‘Right Livelihood’, i.e. living responsibly with a high degree of integrity. The typical Laureate is a courageous individual or organisation who has changed the “rules of the game” in a particular field, and has also demonstrated a practical solution to a global problem. Typical Laureates are role models; their work is transformational and they contribute to securing a just and sustainable world for future generations.

WWT: In addition to the monetary aspect of the prize, the Foundation also seeks to help protect and support those Award Recipients who are at risk. Why do you think this element of the prize is important?

OvU: For us, presenting the Award is the beginning of a life-long relationship we seek to have with Laureates, and we strive to continue to support their work as best as we can. We have estimated that one fifth of all our Laureates have been threatened because their work challenges powerful government and corporate interests. Since 2012, our protection programme, through solidarity visits, UN advocacy and strategic initiatives, has provided a degree of additional protection to our Laureates and strengthened their position in their country.

Additionally, we support our Laureates by giving them opportunities to meet each other at regional conferences, by sharing their achievements through our press and communications work, and by linking them to academic institutions through the Right Livelihood College – our university network with eight campuses on five continents. Several Laureates have observed that the solidarity provided by the Foundation and network of Laureates gives them the strength and confidence to continue persevering with their important work.

 

You can find out more about the Right Livelihood Award Foundation and its laureates by visiting its website.

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6 things you may not know about the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. You have probably already stumbled across this mouthful of a title or the somewhat shorter version UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in articles about torture and other human rights issues. But what do you actually know about this person? As the next Special Rapporteur will be appointed later this month, we thought it was time to find out more about the role and what it means to be a torture investigator working on behalf of the United Nations.

1. The role of the Special Rapporteur on Torture

The Special Rapporteur on Torture is often referred to as the UN’s anti-torture watch dog and in this function, the Special Rapporteur is the person responsible for informing and instigating political debates and decision-making processes at the UN.

The Special Rapporteur can undertake country visits to expose abuses, help the state being scrutinised improve its performance and report back to the Human Rights Council on the situation of torture in individual countries. Similarly, the Special Rapporteur receives allegations from people who are at risk and those who claim to have been tortured. He or she then submits these allegations to the country in question and begins a dialogue to resolve the situation.

The Special Rapporteur produces two thematic reports every year covering new ground in the fight against torture. These could be about developing the legal and practical understanding of themes relevant to the fight against torture, like the situation of torture and ill-treatment in a healthcare setting or the question of when solitary confinement is deemed torture.

Instead of being bound by a specific treaty, the Special Rapporteur is free to cover any thematic and country specific issue relevant to the fight against torture. This means that the mandate can be useful for civil society organisations working against torture in many different ways. For example, organisations can encourage the Special Rapporteur to visit their country to bring global attention to their domestic situation; or in the absence of functional judicial remedies, they can forward concrete cases to the Special Rapporteur, hoping to raise the case. They can also encourage and inform the drafting of thematic reports or invite the Special Rapporteur to speak at events, issue statements and take part in other public events.

2. Who is the current Rapporteur?

Argentinian human rights lawyer, professor and torture victim, Juan Méndez is the current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – a role he took on back in 2010.

Mr Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights and before joining the UN, he worked with organisations such as the Human Rights Watch, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica and the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame in the US.

Mr Méndez has also taught International Human Rights Law at Georgetown Law School and at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and he teaches regularly at Oxford University and the American University Washington College of Law.

Current Special Rapporteur on Torture, Mr Juan Mendez. (Courtesy of UN Geneva used via Flickr creative commons license)

Current Special Rapporteur on Torture, Mr Juan Mendez. (Courtesy of UN Geneva used via Flickr creative commons license)

3. 30+ years of reporting

Last year the mandate of Special Rapporteur celebrated 30 years of reporting on torture. The role was created by the UN in 1985 after the UN Commission on Human Rights decided to appoint an independent human rights expert who could examine questions relevant to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment worldwide.

Today, the mandate of Special Rapporteur is part of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures Mechanisms system.

4. How many Rapporteurs have we seen in 30 years?

If the mandate of Special Rapporteur on Torture was a club, it would be an extremely exclusive one. Juan Méndez is only the fifth person to be appointed Special Rapporteur.

Mr Mendéz took over from Austria’s Manfred Nowak who was the Special Rapporteur from 2004 to 2010 and like Mr Mendez himself, is a human rights lawyer.

Rewind to 1985. The first person to be appointed Special Rapporteur was the late Peter Kooijmans from the Netherlands who later became Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs and Judge on the International Court of Justice. In 1993, distinguished law professor Sir Nigel Rodley from the UK took over from Kooijmans before handing over the reins to Theo van Boven, a Dutch jurist and professor emeritus in international law, who was at the helm from 2001 to 2004.

Former Special Rapporteur on torture, Mr Manfred Nowak. (Courtesy of UN Geneva used via Flickr creative commons license)

Former Special Rapporteur on torture, Mr Manfred Nowak. (Courtesy of UN Geneva used via Flickr creative commons license)

5. Who appoints the Special Rapporteur and for how long?

The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for appointing the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The Council has a list of criteria for the selection and appointment of the Special Rapporteur, which includes the nominee’s expertise, experience in the field of the mandate, independence, impartiality, personal integrity, and objectivity. The Council also considers gender balance, geographic representation, and representation of different legal systems when appointing a new Special Rapporteur.

Finally, conflicts of interest, such as holding a position in government, will disqualify an individual from consideration.

Anyone from governments, regional groups operating within the UN human rights system, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, other human rights bodies, and individuals can nominate a candidate.

For the actual selection process, a group of members of the Human Rights Council review all applications and propose a list of candidates to the President of the Council who then appoints the next Rapporteur.

When appointed, the Special Rapporteur usually serves at least one three-year term.

6. Does the Rapporteur make a difference?

While states as such are not obliged to follow the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations following a visit, these visits are an important part of the UN human rights fact-finding and investigatory mechanisms. The Special Rapporteur and his reports are instrumental in shedding light on serious and otherwise forgotten human rights violations.

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The world takes creative and inspirational action on 26 June 2016

Once again creativity played a big role in marking this year’s 26 June campaign, as organisations around the globe showcased the resilience of caregivers, survivors and their families and communities through a variety of creative events and activities.

SURVIVORS

The Healing Club at SURVIVORS of Torture, International, USA ran a drum circle event

The UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June is a day to honour victims of torture. For many, it is also a chance to celebrate the achievements of the movement and raise awareness that torture continues to exist in many places around the world.

Members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) organised lots of different kinds of events, including activities for children, music and dance productions, theatre, conferences and vigils.

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Turkish rehabilitation centre SOHRAM-CASRA celebrated 26 June with events for children

In Turkey, the SOHRAM-CASRA rehabilitation centre celebrated 26 June with a range of events for children, including a sack race and face painting. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Vive Zene centre raised awareness through street art, while on the other side of the world in Australia, Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services brought their conference on “Sustainable Rehabilitation for Survivors and their Communities” to life with traditional music and dance performances.

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Vive Zene Centre for Therapy and Rehabilitation created a 3D street mural and ran an art workshop

26 June is the perfect occasion for torture survivors to showcase what they have learned by processing their trauma through theatre, movement and song; therapeutic approaches, which are becoming popular with more and more health professionals.

KMHC

The Kim Kuen-Tae Memorial Healing Centre ran an event featuring a musical performance in Japanese and Korean by survivors of torture

These are just a selection of some of the many creative events that took place this 26 June, as we were once again inspired by the originality and dedication of those involved in the anti-torture movement.

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Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services in Australia included a musical element in their conference this year

If you haven’t shared your photos and stories from 26 June with us yet, please do so on our World Without Torture Facebook page.

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Around the world: 26 June 2016 in pictures

Just as we have seen in previous years, creativity played a big role in marking this year’s 26 June campaign. Thousands of people across the globe joined the torture rehabilitation movement in showcasing both the resilience and creativity of survivors and caregivers alike.

 

TPO Cambodia – Transcultural Psychosocial Organization

• TPO Cambodia – Transcultural Psychosocial Organization

This year, TPO Cambodia organised an event together with torture survivors of the Khmer Rouge Regime at their headquarters in Phnom Penh. Survivors, TPO staff and other guests discussed the right to compensation and rehabilitation for the victims of torture. The event began with a guided meditation by one of the TPOs counsellors, Dr. Muny, and a TPOs technical advisor, who reminded the audience about the importance of the commemoration of this day and the development of rehabilitation rights for victims of torture.

In addition, in a symbolic act, TPO staff and survivors freed a dozen of caged birds on the TPO´s rooftop, follow by a speech of a survivor, Mr. Ith Udom, who shared some of his experiences and expressed how important the remembrance of this day is for him and other survivors.

 

DIGNITY – The Danish Institute Against Torture, Denmark

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To mark the UN International day in Support of Victims of Torture, on June 24, DIGNITY held an event in the Kongens Have park in Copenhagen. Approximately 18.000 people joined the event and enjoyed music, food, drinks and talked with DIGNITY staff. Chinah, L.I.G.A, Kesi, The Eclectic Monkier and the kid-friendly show Pippelipop were among the performers who entertained throughout the day.

 

EATIP – Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial, Argentina

 • EATIP - Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial, Argentina

To commemorate 26 June, EATIP ran a clinical athenaeum and hosted a film screening of ‘The Look of Silence’, an Oscar-nominated documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer that examines the perspective of victims of torture, disappearances and Extrajudicial Killings in Indonesia. Afterwards, the centre organised a post-film debate among the participants.

As part of their 26 June activities, EATIPs staff also organised a photo contest ‘Miradas sobre la memoria y la resistencia’ – ‘Views on memories and resistance’, which is currently running for two months and will finish with a photo exhibition open for the public. The objective of this contest is to further commemorate 26 June and the 40th anniversary of the military civic coup in Argentina.

 

Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights, Iraq

Iraq_Jiyan Foundation

In Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, Jiyan Foundation invited survivors to share their stories with politicians, human rights workers, therapists, lawyers and journalists, at a dinner event. After the dinner, there was a panel discussion, where the participants discussed how survivors could be helped more effectively. A press release in Kurdish, Arabic and English was also published, calling attention to the many people who were tortured by the Saddam regime and need our support.

In Kirkuk, Jiyan Foundation met with the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Provincial Council to discuss the relevance of the work of the centre, and how civil society as well as the government can support survivors of torture more effectively and cooperate on these issues.

 

SURVIVORS of Torture, International, USA

• SURVIVORS of Torture, International – USA

A photo exhibition featuring SURVIVORS’ clients and the journeys that may take to rebuild their lives, ran throughout all the month of June at La Mesa Library in San Diego, California. SURVIVORS also held a client Healing Club with a drum circle provided by Resounding Joy and its annual Ice Cream Social. This event was an opportunity for the community to come together in solidarity with torture survivors, meet staff, volunteers, and partners, and write letters of hope to the clients detained at the detention centres.

 

STTARTS – Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assitance and Rehabilitation Service Inc, Australia

STTARTS – Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assitance and Rehabilitation Service Inc, Australia

This year, Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services (STTARS) invited Paris Aristotle AM, who is the CEO of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, Chair of the Settlement Services Advisory Council and advisor to the Australian Government on refugee and asylum seeker policy, to speak at the “Sustainable Rehabilitation for Survivors and their Communities” event at the University of Australia. At the event, Mr Aristotle spoke about how Australia can respond to the growing humanitarian crisis, which to date has led to the displacement of an estimated 18 million people in Syria alone.

He also reviewed current settlement issues within Australia. In his keynote address, Paris focused upon the most effective ways to “Support Life after Torture”, not only for the intake of 12,000 Syrian/Iraqi refugees displaced as a direct cause of the terrifying war and ongoing conflict within that region, but to highlight concerns for refugees living in Australia.

 

Advocacy Centre for Human Rights, Kenya

Youth in a show of unity to Support Life after Torture during the event to mark 26 June at Kahawa Sukari grounds

In Kenya, to mark 26 June, the Advocacy Centre for Human Rights teamed up with members of a local youth group, police officers from Kahawa Sukari police station, members of the local county commission and the administration police. The event culminated with a social forum, where the local youth group interacted freely with the police and participated in a football match. This was a very positive event as the local police has been accused of a number abuses against members of the community.

During the event dubbed ‘Support Life After Torture’, over 140 youths and 21 police officers gathered at Kahawa Sukari Estate to celebrate Life after Torture in remembrance of victims and survivors of torture, sexual violence, inhumane and degrading  treatment and other related abuse under the police and helped create a common understanding to hold perpetrators accountable through community based advocacy.

 

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Still no justice in the “Wheel of Torture” cases in the Philippines

In February 2014, the world was shocked to learn about the “Wheel of Torture”, a sadistic game being used inside the Philippine National Police Provincial Intelligence Board (PIB), a secret detention compound in Biñan, Laguna Province, Philippines.

The “game” is played when a police officer spins the roulette-style wheel, which lists different methods of torture, to determine which punishment they should receive. These include “30 seconds of hanging” and ”20 seconds of beatings”. The PIB was shut down after a visit from the Commission on Human Rights Region IV Office and more than 40 detainees complained to the authorities that they had been subjected to the Wheel of Torture.

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MAG and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines using the symbol of the Torture Wheel to raise awareness during an EU project called End Torture in the Philippines. (Courtesy of MAG)

LC is one of the detainees who was tortured for months. Once he was taken to a small hut inside the PIB and forced to drink water contaminated with dog faeces. Another time, two of his toenails were almost taken out with pliers and officers poured alcohol and gasoline over him and threatened to set him on fire. LC says one of the guards was, “looking for a lighter but could not find one at the time.”

RA is another one of the victims. He was beaten with the handle of a dustpan, a piece of wood, a steel baseball bat, a plastic chair and their fists and feet. He was also electrocuted, blindfolded, and repeatedly gagged.

Despite the many complaints and the fact that 25 cases were filed, only four remain pending and no police officers have ever been convicted. IRCT member in the Philippines, the Medical Action Group (MAG) has provided rehabilitation services and legal referrals to many of the torture victims held at the PIB. MAG documented a total of 27 clients out of 41 who were initially interviewed. The others did not want to be documented.

MAG says that it is both sad and disappointing that out of 25 cases, the local human rights office in-charge of the case has filed, only four remain pending. “Some clients have died during the process and some withdrew their complaints and took the side of the alleged perpetrators as a result of threats and intimidation.”

LC is still one of MAG’s clients and continues to suffer from nightmares. He feels extremely angry and upset whenever he thinks about what happened at the PIB, but the scars from his beatings and burns make it hard to forget.

MAG was due to have a meeting with the local human rights office, along with the Central Human Rights Office about the cases in May. However, it was cancelled because of the presidential elections and no new date has been set. “It is all too common that cases like this are never heard and reported. With medical and psychological help and support, we can heal the wounds of the survivors but they may never get back to the place they were before they were tortured. This particular case reminds us that torture can never be justified in any circumstance,” says MAG.

The Philippine Government passed an Anti-Torture law in 2009 but human rights groups say things have been slow to change. However, there is some cause for hope, as on 29 March 2016, a Philippine court made a historic ruling in which a police officer was convicted of torturing a bus driver to confess to crimes he denies he committed. It was the first conviction under the 2009 Anti-Torture Act.

The Philippines is now in a period of transition with newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte having spoken openly about his hard stance on law and order. The future is unclear for the country but for the victims of the wheel of torture the past cannot be forgotten.

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Why International Day of Action for Women’s Health matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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