Posts Tagged Special Rapporteur on Torture

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.


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.


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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What 2016 has in store for the torture rehabilitation movement

There is no doubt that 2016 will be another significant year for the global torture rehabilitation movement, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the sector. In this blog, we look at what 2016 has in store for us, listing some of the key highlights and challenges coming up.

Violence in connection with upcoming elections

From Samoa to Bolivia, millions of people around the world will be participating in elections this year. While most elections are expected to be peaceful, countries like Uganda and Haiti have both seen an increase in violence and human rights violations in connection with their upcoming elections. In Haiti the violence intensified after widespread allegations of fraud, and the country’s presidential runoff was eventually cancelled. In Uganda, the country’s former prime minister and current presidential candidate, Amama Mbabazi, recently accused President Yoweri Museveni of using murder, torture and violence to curtail growing support for the opposition.

Looking elsewhere, Gambia, which has a long record of torture and other human rights violations, is also due for an election in 2016, and in the DRC and Somalia there are concerns that upcoming elections could trigger violence and unrest.

The pre-election violence is a clear reminder of the need to take precautionary measures and to be ready to respond with investigation and rehabilitation.


Torture – The International Outlaw exhibition, which will go on the road in 2016

An exhibition: Torture – The International Outlaw

Marking last year’s Human Rights Day, a group of anti-torture organisations launched an exhibition called ‘Torture – The International Outlaw’ at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The exhibition showcases the history and the hope found in the fight against torture and gives visitors a chance to learn about torture survivors’ stories. Later this year, Europeans will also get a chance to visit the exhibition when it opens in Brussels and then goes on the road to be displayed at several key events in 2016.

10 years of OPCAT

In June this year it will be 10 years since the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – also known as OPCAT – entered into force.

The OPCAT is one of the most important international legal instruments in the protection and prevention of torture around the world. Under the OPCAT, the United Nations’ Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) obtains unrestricted access to places around the world where persons may be deprived of their liberty, their installations and facilities and to all relevant information.

26 June

26 June is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this date, anti-torture organisations and human rights activists around the world organise campaigns, activities and other events in support of torture survivors and in commemoration of victims.

Every year, there are a wide array of events, and this year is no exception. For example, the IRCT and its members will be organising lots of activities as part of their global 26 June campaign. The best way to stay up to date with upcoming events is to follow the IRCT on Facebook and Twitter.

Olympics: Torture and ill treatment of detainees in Brazil

With only six months to go until the opening ceremony in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil has bigger things to worry about than getting ready for the 2016 Olympics. As Human Rights watch noted in its latest World Report, “chronic human rights problems plague Brazil, including unlawful police killings, prison overcrowding, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees.”

Following a visit in October 2015 by the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), the head of the delegation and Secretary-General of the IRCT Víctor Madrigal-Borloz noted that while Brazil had made efforts to tackle the problems, many of the issues the SPT highlighted during its visit in 2011 had still not been addressed.

The preparations for the Olympics have also been linked to widespread human rights abuses. Unfortunately, it is not the first time that Brazil’s human rights record has been criticised in connection with a global sports event. According to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, the country’s state security forces injured or detained 178 journalists who covered demonstrations in various parts of the country in the year leading up to the 2014 Football World Cup.

Electing a new Special Rapporteur on Torture

Also in 2016, the UN Human Rights Council will be electing a new Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SRT). As only the sixth person to take on this important role, the new SRT will replace Argentinian human rights lawyer and professor, Juan Méndez who has been the SRT since 2010. The election will take place in September as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s September session.

The new SRT will be taking office at a time when the anti-torture movement is increasingly focused on putting victims at the centre of its work.


Delivering on the Right to Rehabilitation through science

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and Mexican rehabilitation centre Colectivo Contra la Tortura (CCTI) are hosting a global interdisciplinary scientific symposium from 5 to 7 December in Mexico City.

The Symposium, which is the tenth of its kind, is expected to be a unique and exciting opportunity for the global torture rehabilitation sector to come together to exchange experiences and research on developments in the rehabilitation of survivors of torture. The event will bring together medical professionals, researchers and experts from within the torture rehabilitation sector, as well as those working in closely related sectors, such as public mental health, violence against women and protecting persons with disabilities.

To find out more go to:



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Leaps forward: a wrap up of the UN Human Rights Council’s annual session

For four weeks every March, Geneva turns into a buzzing hub of global human rights dialogue and deliberations. Human rights defenders, national human rights institutions, diplomats and other stakeholders descend on the city for the main annual session of the UN Human Right Council. This is where international human rights standards are negotiated, States monitor and discuss thematic and country specific human rights situations and human rights defenders go to bring attention to the most recent developments on enjoyment of human rights across the globe.

With such a stage it is naturally difficult to single out specific events to highlight, so this snapshot is deliberately viewed from the perspective of the IRCT and our main priority areas around torture rehabilitation and prevention. From this perspective, four very different events stood out at the recent session that may have a great positive impact on the global anti-torture work:

The Council addressed the issue of redress and rehabilitation for torture victims in a consensus resolution, negotiated by the Danish government. The resolution stands out with its very strong language on access to rehabilitation services, and, among other things, encourages States to make appropriate rehabilitation services promptly available without discrimination, to support rehabilitation centres and to do this through a victims-oriented approach, thus putting victims’ needs at the centre of the process.

This should be seen in the context of the more detailed and comprehensive General Comment 3, adopted by the UN Committee against Torture in November 2012, which address the broader issue of redress. Taken together, these two documents provide advocates of rehabilitation for torture victims with the political support by the global State community (the resolution) and the technical elaboration of the obligation (the General Comment) to demand the realization of the right to rehabilitation from their respective governments.

In another important consensus resolution, the Council addressed the issue of protection of human rights defenders. This resolution featured significant improvements from previous resolutions. For torture rehabilitation organisations operating in difficult environments, where they fear  for their safety as human rights defenders, this resolution may provide some additional arguments in their daily advocacy on this issue.

The March session is also the time where the Special Rapporteur on Torture presents his annual thematic report to the Human Rights Council. This year’s report focused on torture in the health care setting and exposed practices of torture and ill-treatment in various contexts, such as against LGBTI persons, in drug rehabilitation centres, in mental health facilities, in access to reproductive rights and general provision of pain relief treatment.

Like many other sub-themes of torture and ill-treatment, this one also proved to be highly controversial, especially with many States that tend to take a very restrictive view of the torture definition. Furthermore, there seemed to be some confusion about the specific meaning of some sections of the report, which suffered from the restriction of addressing a problem of such magnitude within 20 pages.  Hopefully, the Special Rapporteur’s report will manage to open the world’s eyes to the torture and ill-treatment inflicted on these vulnerable groups and kick start a debate on how best to prevent and respond to such violations in a fashion where health professionals are made part of the solution instead of viewed as the problem.

Last but not least, the March session was the venue of the second act of an initiative started by UK-based IRCT member Freedom From Torture (FFT) with the support of the IRCT. Here, FFT produced analytical reports on the torture situation in countries of origin of their main client groups at their UK centres. These reports, which are based on forensic documentation of the clients in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol, are used for the dual purpose of building background information for asylum cases and promoting changes on the ground in the country of origin to the benefit of future generations and as an important element of reparations (guarantee of non-repetition) for their clients.

In the first act was a very well received report on Sri Lanka to the UN Committee Against Torture in 2011, which greatly contributed to a very strong examination of the Sri Lankan government. The second act was a report on the situation in Iran, which made a significant contribution to the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran and which was officially launched during an event at the Human Rights Council in March. It is truly remarkable to see the impact that these reports, based on medical evidence, have in a context at the UN where most reports and assertions are, at best, based on interviews and anecdotal information. It is very easy for States to claim that victims of torture and ill-treatment are lying to an interviewer because they want to hurt the government, but when faced with overwhelming forensic medical evidence produced by independent health professionals in a third country they tend to get more quiet and shy away. I, for one, can’t wait for FFT to launch their third act — a feeling perhaps not shared by governments that torture.

I can safely say that this is the most exciting and promising Council session that I have experienced since the very first session in 2006. And I am looking very much forward to the next Council session in June where the IRCT in collaboration with Penal Reform International will host an event where torture rehabilitation specialists will evaluate and discuss how to best implement the right to rehabilitation and what role UN human rights mechanisms can play to support these efforts.

Asger By Asger, Head of IRCT’s Geneva Liaison Office

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