Posts Tagged sexual torture
“When I got out of jail, I stayed in my house for a year,” says Claudia. “I cried, and I suffered so much. I had had plans for the future with my partner, but when I got out of jail, he left me. I felt like the whole world had turned its back on me because I was a rape victim. During that time, I began to drink a lot, and I started to go to a lot of bars. I did many things I didn’t normally do. And then I realised that the government had tied me up for a moment. They laid the first stone of my destruction. But even with all of this, I said to myself, ‘I am still Claudia! I am still Claudia! I was raped, but this does not take away my dignity.”
These are the words of Claudia. She is one of the 45 women arrested by police in Mexico one morning in May 2006 at a market square where they sold flowers. Dozens were seriously injured, two people were killed and many of those arrested sexually assaulted. The women have never received justice for what they experienced and continue to fight the impunity of their perpetrators. They have become known around the world because of their fight for justice.
In September this year, a little over 10 years since the event, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in relation to their case. The Commission noticed the “existence of severe acts of physical and psychological violence, including diverse forms of sexual violence against the eleven women and rape in the case of seven women”.
This development is a milestone in the struggle of the Women of Atenco, as not a single person has been convicted of any crime related to the assaults. In 2013 the state partially admitted responsibility, but the Women of Atenco say it has failed to deliver justice as the federal forces involved in the assaults have never received sanctions.
In addition, after the events of 3 May the state initially prosecuted several of the women rather than the police officers involved. Five were imprisoned for a year or more, on charges such as blocking traffic. Achieving some sense of justice may go some way to helping the women overcome the trauma of their past. “I have not overcome it, not even a little. It is something that haunts me and you don’t survive. It stays with you,” says Maria Patricia Romero Hernández, one of the women, in a previous interview.
The IACHR had previously recommended that the state arrange full reparation for the victims, including providing them with medical and psychological treatment, continue its investigations effectively to “fully establish what happened, and to identify and punish the different grades of responsibility, from the material authors to other forms of responsibility”.
However, the Commission was not satisfied that the Mexican state followed its recommendations and has now stepped up its action by filing the application. A ruling made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights would be binding, unlike the recommendations, and could create a judicial precedent that could prevent further sexual abuses by federal security forces.
The fact that the case is finally receiving the attention it deserves has not stopped the Women of Atenco from continuing to spread their message and two of them, Italia Mendez and Norma Jimenez, will be keynote speakers at the upcoming IRCT 10th International Scientific Symposium in December in Mexico City. The women will speak in a session on survivor participation in research and treatment planning and will share their experiences.
“We are those who did not surrender to the misogyny of the state, and rejected the place that perpetrators assigned to us. They tried to take our identity, but we responded by shouting our name out loudly and reclaiming our right to be. We are breaking paradigms, taboos and raising awareness about the stigmatisation of survivors,” says Italia.
Eight months ago, the future was finally starting to look bright for Yecenia Armenta Graciano. After spending more than two years in prison in the state of Sinaloa, having been accused of ordering her husband’s murder, a judge had ruled that Yecenia’s confession had been obtained through torture and therefore could not be used as evidence in the case. Her supporters saw the ruling as a victory for justice and hoped it would lead to her release. Yet Yecenia remains in prison today.
The picture Yecenia paints of her experience in July 2012 is one of torture, rape and threats. She alleges that plainclothes police officers arrested her not long after the murder of her husband, and tortured her for 15 hours.
During that time she says she was raped, tortured and threatened before she confessed to ordering her husband’s murder. Blindfolded, she signed the confession form. No one questioned or checked her injuries and marks of torture and she was imprisoned. As time went on, her visible injuries faded and eventually disappeared.
Various human rights groups have criticised the local authorities for dismissing Yecenia’s allegations and for protecting the perpetrators.
The criticism only grew louder when the Office of the Mexican Attorney-General conducted a medical and psychological examination of Yecenia concluding that there was no evidence of physical torture or mistreatment related to her allegations, and her psychological symptoms were not related to the allegations.
Then in early 2015, after carrying out examinations in accordance with the international standards set out in the Istanbul Protocol, two experts from the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) supported Yecenia’s claim that she had been tortured.
Based on these findings, the court ordered the State Attorney to further investigate the case and punish the perpetrators. To many, this was a sign that Yecenia would soon be free, but she is still behind bars, having spent more than three years away from her children.
In an Amnesty International Campaign demanding her immediate release, she wrote: “I’ve seen summers come and fade, people arrive at and then leave this place, and all the time my children are growing up, outside these walls. Three years of change and movement: but still I remain here. At times I must admit I’ve felt very tired, and defeated”.
Sadly, Yecenia’s story is not an isolated case. In May 2014, 11 female survivors of sexual torture launched the campaign “Breaking the Silence: together against sexual torture”, aiming to raise awareness of other cases of sexually tortured women. The women had been sexually tortured by a number of state forces, including the armed forces, the navy and the police, with many of them tortured into making false confessions for various crimes.
Human rights groups say that torture is rife in Mexico and is routinely used by the security forces to extract confessions or information. According to the “Breaking the Silence: together against sexual torture” campaign, Mexican women in particular are faced with a systematic pattern of sexual torture by state institutions that fail to provide the protection society expects of them.
Recently there have been some signs of action by the Mexican authorities to eradicate torture and combat impunity, but the number of convictions in cases of torture is low.
In the meantime, Yecenia is sitting in a prison cell in Northern Mexico, hoping that she will soon be reunited with her children. Her case is no longer with the State court of Sinaloa, but has been moved to the Supreme Court of Justice, where it is pending hearing.
After everything she has been through, human rights defenders remain hopeful that Mexico’s highest court will finally grant Yecenia her freedom.
In Yecenia’s own words: “Freedom is vital for any human being. Freedom helps us breathe, it helps us live fully. I also want to be free, free to be myself, just the way I am.”
To find out more or to sign Amnesty International’s petition to free Yecenia Armenta Graciano click here.
In our latest survivor story marking the 100 day period of the Rwandan Genocide – which took place 20 years ago – Ntakwasa Veneranda tells her story of escaping torture in her hometown and the struggles she faced when bringing perpetrators to justice.
You can read an extract of Ntakwasa’s story “Being patient provides peace” below. To read her full story, click this link. And to read the stories of the other brave women featured in our campaign, click this link.
When I was still young, my parents used to tell us how our family had been deported by the government from Ruhengeri to Nyamata in 1959, when massacres based on ethnic conflicts happened for the first time in Rwanda. My father also told us that the whole region of Bugesera had been a forest and that there were many animals there.
Most of my relatives who had been forced into the forest by the government at that time died due to a sleeping sickness caused by tsetse flies. In 1965, six years after my family had been displaced and forced to live in what is currently known as Bugesera District, I was born.
The hardships that Tutsis faced when they were first brought to Bugesera continued. When I was only eight years old I observed it with my own eyes. In 1973, as we were coming home from school, I saw people burning houses on the side of Gitarama.
I have good memories of the period before the genocide, being with my parents and siblings. My life changed during the 1994 genocide, during which I saw many people die. My parents and seven of my siblings were killed in that time. In the period following the genocide, I sometimes felt very lonely because I had no one to talk to. The genocide took my peers and neighbours. No one from my extended family escaped.
On April 6, on the night of the death of President Habyarimana, we observed some of our Hutu neighbours change their behaviour.
That same night, they started burning Tutsi houses. Our father, who was an old man, told us that our lives were finished. We did not
know what he meant by this. Over the next few days he ordered us to spend the nights in the bush and come back home in the morning. After only two days, young Interahamwe started slashing the cows of Tutsis with knives and machetes and eating them, and beating up Tutsis. On the other side of our sector, houses were burning.
On the morning of April 8, we saw crowds of Interahamwe led by an ADEPR pastor, approaching our neighbourhood. We ran away towards Ntarama, because there were many Tutsis living there compared to other parts of Bugesera. On the way to Ntarama, we jumped over dead bodies of people who had been killed. I separated from my siblings and parents on that day as I was trying to find a place to hide and save myself.
To read Ntakwasa’s full story, click this link (opens as PDF)
“The government needs to stop rape as a form of torture in the Congo”: IRCT member Freedom from Torture speaks out
In our latest blog we hear from Kolbassia Houssaou, coordinator of Freedom from Torture’s Survivors Speak OUT! Network – a group of torture survivors who draw on their experience of torture to influence decision-makers and raise public awareness of the challenges facing survivors.
Kolbassia talks about the challenges survivors face, and their role in the publication of Freedom from Torture’s latest report into rape and torture in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Torture is intended to silence its victims so it is therefore vital that people like me and the rest of the Survivors Speak OUT! Network at Freedom from Torture, have their voices heard. It is this that will ensure we are no longer seen as stigmatised victims but are instead recognised as having a vital role in finding durable solutions to end this practice.
The Survivor’s Speak OUT network is proud to add its voice in the international call for change in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over twenty years armed conflict has fuelled sexual violence against women and a widespread culture of impunity for the perpetrators.
Although there is war in the eastern part of the country, it would be wrong to say that sexual violence in the DRC is limited to the war zone. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are happening even where there is “peace” and those suffering have, until now, been unjustly overlooked.
In fact most of the women featured in the report were based in Kinshasa, far away from the conflict zones, where sexual violence was used predominately as a form of torture in detention centres, not the battlefield.
By publishing this report, we hope to dispel the myth that rape is solely a by-product of war zones but instead to show that in fact there are increasing levels of persecutory rape among women who challenge the government in the DRC. Many of the women who feature in this report were arrested as a result of their political involvement or support for government opposition or their affiliation with women’s rights groups.
But regardless of where it is committed, the impact of rape and other forms of sexual violence are the same. Women across the DRC continue to suffer. The absence of facilities means they have nowhere to turn for advice, counselling or any kind of support.
Right now the infrastructure in place is failing to help these women and a distinct lack of implementation and insufficient resources mean that well-meaning initiatives are not bringing about practical change. The DRC’s adoption of the 2006 law against sexual violence and the promulgation of the law criminalising torture in 2011, while welcome, are simply not enough. The government needs to do much more to tackle these crimes.
The sexual violence documented in the report is based on doctor’s examinations of women raped and violated in the DRC. These acts constitute torture and must be considered as such.
If these crimes are to be prevented the perpetrators must be brought to justice, the judiciary must be strengthened, survivors must be fully supported, and the population must be educated about sexual violence.
We cannot just raise awareness of the victim’s rights: there must also be legal enforcement to support this.
All the members of the Survivors Speak OUT! Network hope this report will shine a light on the suffering of women in the DRC and bring about change.
We hope the DRC government will take measures to support and protect women throughout the country. We hope the government will improve the conditions of detention centres and allow regular visits by international monitoring bodies. We hope the UN will help end the conflict in the east of the country which gives the DRC government an excuse to hide behind.
We welcome the UK’s leadership of the initiative to stop sexual violence in conflict and hope this report proves how vital it is that in the DRC this effort is expanded beyond the conflict zone and throughout the whole country.
There is no quick fix to the issues women face in the DRC but this report shows the alternative – a country where women continue to suffer sexual torture in silence, without access to rehabilitation, legal recourse, and where abusers continue to act without consequence.
To read more about the DRC report from Freedom from Torture, click this link.
“…The soldiers took turns to hold her or rape her. When she tried to resist they beat her and forced her harder … They tried to tie her legs with anything they could lay hands on to separate her legs…”
– Excerpt from medico-legal report by Freedom from Torture doctor.
It is a shocking description, but sadly one all too common to many women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to a report from IRCT member Freedom from Torture, rape is routinely used as a weapon of torture to prevent women from supporting human rights, politics, or even their high-ranking positions in society.
The report – Rape as torture in the DRC: Sexual violence beyond the conflict zone – uses extracts from 34 medical assessments from women aged 21 to 60 to show the world what is happening today in the DRC – a country which is hypocritically one of the first signatories to the new International Protocol on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is launched by the UK Government next week.
The women in the report, all of whom remain anonymous, come from a variety of backgrounds, from mothers to university graduates, from doctors to cooks. But the women have one thing in common: they were targeted because of their political involvement as members or supporters of opposition groups, or women’s rights organisations
The activities that led to their arrests included storing and distributing leaflets, banners and tee-shirts and attending meetings and demonstrations. In one story, Jomaphie (not her real name) was arrested by uniformed soldiers while attending a political event in the capital, Kinshasa. She was detained with many others for four days in a small room before being transferred to detention elsewhere.
Men and women were held together for the first night, during which they were given no food or water. Women were removed repeatedly from the room and raped by different soldiers and were beaten when they attempted to resist. The men were separated after the first night but the women remained in the same room for three more nights, during which time they were given biscuits and water and continued to be raped and beaten repeatedly. After this they were transferred from the airport to prison.
Conditions of detention
The women were all arrested by state actors – soldiers, police or members of the security services – and mostly they were detained in state security facilities. They were frequently mistreated during arrest and en route to detention. They described being beaten, hit with rifle butts, rubber truncheons and belts, being restrained face down in the back of a truck and being kicked and stamped on, slapped and punched.
There was no proper judicial process following any arrest and the women had no access to any legal advice or representation. The vast majority were allowed no communication with friends or family.
The conditions in which they were held were foul and unhygienic; with little light or air, no sanitation and without adequate food and water. Women held in solitary confinement described being detained alone in cells as small as one metre square in which they were either unable, or barely able, to lie down. Others were crowded into small cells with up to 20 other people.
The report lists horrors unimaginable to many, but ones which are unfortunately very real indeed. But perhaps the most shocking fact is that the DRC is a signatory of both the UNCAT (United Nations Convention Against Torture) and the OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture) – both legally binding protocols which are meant to ensure that torture is forbidden, and that survivors of torture can seek adequate redress for torture as well as support and assistance to end impunity.
Freedom from Torture has been providing support to people tortured in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 1985, and in 2013, 111 survivors of torture from the DRC used our services. The findings of Freedom from Torture suggest that as a matter of urgency the DRC and the international community should be pursuing a more joined-up approach to tackling sexual violence by recognising the links between rape, sexual violence and torture.
To read the full report and for more information, click this link.
An estimated 11,000 Syrians are fleeing each day, joining the more than 700,000 that have left since the conflict began almost two years ago. In the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, IRCT’s member centres are actively responding to the growing and urgent need for torture rehabilitation services.
Those needing assistance are the women and girls who have been tortured, raped or faced other forms of sexual violence – human rights violations that the International Rescue Committee calls a “disturbing and significant feature” of this on-going conflict.
In order to highlight their plight and the broader global issue of sexual violence and torture, today the IRCT will join other organisations and a wide range of supporters in Copenhagen to mark V-Day, a global event to end all forms of violence against women. Join us either in Copenhagen or at a local event to bring attention to the needs of the thousands of women and girls who have survived torture.
“One billion women on the planet will be raped or beaten in their lifetime,” it says on the V-Day website. But the organisers of this global event intend for one billion to rise up on 14 February to demand an end to violence against women.
And two of those will be Piv la Cour and Noura Bittar Søborg. And, they hope, hundreds more at the event they’re organising in Copenhagen. Held at the World Culture Center, Piv and Noura have also invited four women to speak about their different areas of expertise on gender-based violence, including one from the IRCT to speak about women, sexual violence and torture.
It was Eve Ensler’s call this year to have ”One Billion Rising” that inspired Piv and Noura to organise the event. Ensler, a playwrite and activist most famously known for writing “The Vagina Monologues”, has in the last decade dedicated herself to eradicating violence against women through public demonstrations, art, and dance and the V-Day annual event. Held every year on 14 Feburary — more well-known in her native U.S. as Valentine’s Day — V-Day is intended to bring about awareness of the problem of violence against women, which includes sexual violence and torture during wartime, domestic violence, date rape, or human trafficking.
The two organisers met at the Trampoline House, a cultural house for asylum seekers and Danes that focuses on issues of asylum in Denmark. When Piv saw a video of Ensler’s TEDTalk and read the One Billion Rising website, she immediately wanted to bring the event to Copenhagen.
“I emailed it to Noura, who I knew was pretty motivated for everything,” says Piv.
It’s too true. Noura is the kind of activist that runs out of breath as she speaks — either from excitement of the news or from rushing up the stairs to tell you. By the time Piv returned to the Trampoline House some weeks after that email, Noura had already gotten some plans in order.
“I was like, ‘Wow, we are really doing this now!’” Piv says.
But her reason for doing so, for speaking out on this issue and encouraging others in Denmark to do so, is simply, “Because we can.”
“Violence against women is not something all people can talk about. In Denmark, we are lucky that we live in this democracy where we can speak out about these issues. It’s our responsibility then to do something with this freedom. We have a good safe base to start these discussions.”
This is not the case in Noura’s home country. After two years of ongoing fighting, rape has become a “significant and disturbing” feature of the armed conflict in Syria. There are ongoing reports of women and girls attacked by armed men at checkpoints; women being sexually assaulted in front of their families; others being kidnapped, held in detention centres and subject to rape and other forms of sexual torture.
Rape is undoubtedly being used as a weapon of war and torture in Syria. It’s been cited as a primary factor for those deciding to flee Syria and seek refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the neighbouring countries that are taking in the majority of the more than 700,000 that have fled since the start of the conflict.
Noura came to Denmark just 16 months ago, not directly because of the conflict, but because of her recent marriage to a Dane. She had finished her bachelor’s degree in Syria, in political science, and has since started taking Danish classes, working at IRCT member centre Dignity in Copenhagen, and starting the search for a master’s programme to continue her education.
When she was at university in Syria, before the crisis began, Noura says she was attacked on the campus, but thankfully rescued by a friend. Surprisingly, her mother, who she describes as “a communist, an atheist”, blamed her for the attack.
“Women can’t report these things, because then they will be blamed,” she explains. “You live in a society that tells you that it’s your fault. You don’t believe that you can go to the police for help.” Noura attributes the inability to collect robust data on the number of rape victims from the Syrian conflict on this — the fear of being blamed, the shame and stigma with being a rape victim.
But in other countries, Noura says, women can speak. “We can say, ‘This is wrong. I have rights!’” she says. “I have more of a voice and more rights here in one year than I had for 22 years in Syria. That is sad.”
Both women say they feel that it’s their moral obligation to speak out — and to instil perhaps small moments of education and inspiration for greater change.
“We need to speak out for those who can’t,” says Piv. “And fight for what we have,” Noura adds.
Nørre Alle 7
DK 2200 København N
When: 14 February, 19:00 – 21:00
• Tessa Moll from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
• Human-trafficking experts Selina Mård and Line Larsen from (upcoming website Talk Trafficking)
• Expert from LOKK (Landsorganisation af Kvindekrisecentre)
Music and Art:
• Helen Kholin will be showing her exhibition Love&Art
• DJ Norm D will be spinning records
• Elou Elan will be singing
While gender violence is a near universal problem, there are regional challenges to addressing it. Over the 16 Days, we shall share the stories of women across all regions of the world who have been victims of torture and sexual violence.
However, while they have been victims, the experience of torture does not define who they are. These women are survivors and more. Here we share the story of Dilma Rousseff, the current president of Brazil, who was tortured in her youth for being a member of the resistance movement during the dictatorship.
Nearly two years ago, on 1 January 2011, Ms Dilma Rousseff opened her first official speech as Brazil’s first female president by saying that she would not use the opportunity to boast about her own life story.
However, most people would agree that her story, from enduring torture and prison during the country’s 21-year military dictatorship to taking the helm of Latin America’s largest nation, is remarkable.
More than 40 years ago, in January 1970, Dilma Rousseff was arrested in São Paulo due to her participation in the resistance movement against the dictatorship. She was taken to a prison kept by the Bandeirantes Operation (OBAN), an organisation created by the Brazilian Army to investigate members of the resistance. There, Dilma Rousseff, age 22, survived 22 days of intense torture. One of the few occasions on which she spoke about what she went through during her time in prison was in an interview with the Brazilian journalist Luiz Maklouf Carvalho two years ago.
“I was beaten a lot, suspended in the ‘parrot perch’, received many, many electric-shocks”, she told. “One day, I started to bleed, had bleeding that looked like a menstrual period and was taken to the Central Army’s Hospital. There I met a very young girl from the National Liberation Action (ed.: a leftist Brazilian guerrilla that stood against the military dictatorship) who advised me: “Jump for a while in your room to continue the bleeding and they will not take you back to OBAN”.
A more recent report that came out earlier this year detailed more incidents of torture, including a two-month stretch at a detention facility in Minas Gerais, during which the torture caused haemorrhaging of her uterus.
Dilma Rousseff was sentenced by a military court to six years in prison but was released after almost three years. When she left prison, she was 25 years old and had lost 10 kg in weight. When asked by the Brazilian journalist Luiz Maklouf Carvalho about how she felt after the time she spent in prison, Rousseff’s was brief: “No one leaves there without marks”.
She is convinced that “torture is one of the greatest evils that exist” and believes that “the deepest meaning of democracy necessarily includes putting an end to torture”.
Despite the many years that have passed, Ms Rousseff still thinks about the torture victims of the past and of the present. “Those scenes of the men imprisoned in Guantamano and Abu Ghraib cannot be justified. That is barbaric”, she said. She invited 11 women with whom she shared cells during the years she was imprisoned to her inauguration. Those who did not survive the dictatorship were also remembered in her speech: “Many of my generation fell on the march, and they cannot share the happiness of this moment. With them I share this achievement, and I pay them tribute”.
She received approximately 7,500 EUR in compensation for the torture during the dictatorship, which she pledged to donate to an anti-torture charity. Furthermore, under her leadership as president, Brazil has moved forward with a two-year Truth Commission, which began this past May, to investigate and reveal the crimes of the past. Although a 1979 amnesty that shields perpetrators from persecution for their crimes remains on the books, there has been much optimism that the commission will bring the crimes to light for the first time in a proper nationwide forum.
Yesterday marked the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, a global campaign to bring attention to the crimes of violence against women. The campaign begins every year on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, through to 10 December, UN Human Rights Day.
The women you will meet are more than simply victims.
These women are on the forefront of the fight against torture; they are the human rights defenders challenging the state in public protests and national advocacy. They are the activists sharing petitions and taking up the struggle to defend others. They are sharing their stories, standing forth and testifying against powerful state apparatuses. And they are being rehabilitated, joining other women in healing themselves and healing each other.
There are many ways to describe the bravery of these acts.
So, in the coming two weeks, we shall allow the women to describe it themselves. On WorldWithoutTorture.org, the floor is theirs. Please join us in this global challenge against gender violence and share these stories throughout the 16 Days.
With elections in Zimbabwe expected later this year, human rights groups are preparing for the surges of violence and torture that have become a disturbingly common feature of Zimbabwean elections. Women, in particular, have been heavily targeted during these election periods, resulting in a chilling effect on women’s participation in the political process. This is especially troubling since participation in the political process is an important aspect of reducing inequality and securing basic human rights.
RAU has followed this issue closely, extensively monitoring and reporting on the phenomenon of politically motivated violence, particularly as it relates to women. In a 2009 documentary entitled “Hear Us”, RAU partnered with Witness to record the accounts of four women whose lives were tragically and permanently affected by the violence of the 2008 elections.
During the recordings, one of the women makes a compellingly simple request of aspiring politicians: “I want them to realise that a woman is also a human being just like them…we wish that they would understand that when they are campaigning, they should not beat people, chase people away from their communities, burn people’s houses; all that should not happen in life”
The IRCT has recently partnered with RAU to support a new initiative entitled “An innovative approach to monitoring political violence against women in Zimbabwe.” Under this project, RAU will develop and test a hub for enhanced monitoring of violence and torture against women in the lead-up to the 2012 elections. This will include a real time reporting systems with a warning system in place for human rights defenders and communities at risk, the collection of data that would support legal actions, and the production of advocacy reports on violence and intimidation against women. The goal is to provide women with practical support tools with the aim of reducing incidents of violence, ending impunity for perpetrators and providing research to better understand and monitor the problem of political violence against women. If successful, a similar model may be developed in other countries in the region.
As the election draw closer, the IRCT will keep you updated on the progress of this project.