Posts Tagged torture survivors

Kenya: The dangers facing human rights defenders amid decades of torture and ill treatment

It was the oppressive regime of former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi that led to the establishment of Mwatikho Torture Survivors’ Organization (MATESO) in 1995. As president, Moi was responsible for the torture, death and disappearance of thousands of people who were considered supporters of the opposition.

While many people were tortured in the notorious Nyayo House torture chambers in the heart of Nairobi, the president’s crackdown went far beyond the country’s capital. One of the places affected by the violence was the town of Bungoma near the Ugandan border.

“The international community realised there was a problem in Kenya and they came to the country through Amnesty International to look for victims of torture. They identified Bungoma as an area with many victims and that’s why MATESO was founded there,” explains Taiga Job Wanyanja, centre coordinator of MATESO.

The MATESO centre in Bungoma.

The MATESO centre in Bungoma. Photo: Natalia Jidovanu.

Taiga was one of the centre’s founders. He saw firsthand how people who had been subjected to unthinkable atrocities were in urgent need of help. At the time, torture victims in Kenya had nowhere to go to receive rehabilitation. There was a group of international doctors who came to the country to help rehabilitate the victims. This led to the foundation of MATESO.

“Back then we didn’t even know about rehabilitation so we started borrowing approaches from other countries on how to rehabilitate. Victims wanted medication, they wanted psychosocial support and counselling because of the kind of torture they had been through, which was horrific,” recalls Taiga.

According to those who survived, the regime used a repertoire of gruesome torture methods including electric wires, beatings, falanga and sexual abuse.

“People were victims of government perpetrators and other state agents who were trained by the police to carry out the crackdown. They used torture methods to suppress those not supporting Moi’s regime.”

Only a few years after Moi resigned in 2002, Bungoma saw the rise of a guerrilla militia group called Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF). The separatist group, which soon became very powerful, began to implement a parallel administration system and set up an unofficial taxation of local residents. The group was accused of killing more than 1,000 people, and of committing various atrocities including murder, torture and rape. In the course of 18 months, over 66,000 people were displaced because of SLDF.

Torture victim treated at MATESO. Photo: Natalia Jidovanu

Torture victim treated at MATESO. Photo: Natalia Jidovanu

“I think the government somehow relaxed and allowed this group to become a very serious force. It set up kangaroo courts, set up torture chambers, it initiated its own taxation system, carried out abductions and forced disappearances. In fact over 1,000 people were killed during that period,” says Taiga.

Along with other human rights defenders in the country, Taiga suddenly found himself as a target of the militia and as the situation deteriorated, the less safe he was. At this point, the government had finally deployed the military to crack down on SLDF, but it was using similar techniques as the group and began targeting citizens who were not part of SLDF. According to Taiga, the government was even using the same system of disappearances, torture and arrests as SLDF and when he and other human rights defenders voiced their concern about this, the military came after them as well.

It was clear that his life was at risk and he had no other choice than flee to Uganda, leaving behind his family.

“I had to leave my family behind in Kenya. I had five children and my wife who I left behind. They were also being threatened and had to move to another place.

“After a year I came back to find that the military had crushed the militia group and their illegal activities. The military had caused a lot of damage to the entire community of the western region of Kenya. More than one million people had been affected and the entire community of that region was suffering from PTSD.”

The everlasting scars from torture. Photo: Natalia Jidovanu

The everlasting scars from torture. Photo: Natalia Jidovanu

Today, MATESO continues to treat victims of the former governments and SLDF with entire communities suffering from the effects of torture. Each year, MATESO staff, consisting of 15 full-time or part-time counsellors, psychiatrists, medical doctors, nurses and lawyers, provide services to 1,000 torture survivors. But while many of them are victims of past violations, MATESO also support victims of ongoing police brutality.

Taiga tells us about a recent episode that took place in a small village. The police beat up a group of people and raped the women, but despite the public outcry that followed, the perpetrators were not brought to justice. In fact, when the victims tried to report the attacks, they found themselves reporting to the perpetrating police officers. A stark reminder that impunity is still widespread in Kenya.

The high level of impunity is particularly evident to Taiga who continues to be a target for threats and acts of harassment. As a result, he has to take his precautions when addressing a human rights issue in public or simply try to avoid confronting the government over an issue to do with torture. Yet, he continues to treat torture victims, who, had it not been for him and MATESO, would not be able to access rehabilitation services.

“I am also a victim and I know that the healing process is a long process. Victims need a lot of help. They require a long-term process to heal in my experience. After some time and after intervention I have seen people recover and really appreciate the psychosocial support we have given them. We have many survivors who have told us we have made a difference in their life. Most people cannot afford the services they need so through our intervention they feel they are at ease with life now because they can get the care they need.”

MATESO is a member of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). To find out more, please visit the MATESO website.

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On the forefront: Helping refugees rebuild their lives in New Zealand

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With its remote location – far away from war and conflict – New Zealand is rarely mentioned in discussions about refugee quotas and resettlement. But each year a small number of refugees arrive in the country, where they are welcomed by local rehabilitation centre Refugees as Survivors New Zealand (RASNZ) at the National Refugee Resettlement centre in Auckland.

We recently spoke with RASNZ CEO Ann Hood about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in New Zealand, many of whom have fled torture and ill treatment, and how RASNZ is helping them overcome their trauma and settle in a new country.

As the CEO of RASNZ, Ann oversees 45 staff and 60 volunteers, providing newly arrived refugees with psychosocial and mental health assessments, brief therapeutic interventions and orientation to life in New Zealand.

RASNZ’s job is to ensure that refugees receive the psychological support they need to adapt to a new country and get the best start for themselves and their families. Something that is vital for those who have experienced torture and other forms of trauma. In addition, RASNZ also supports former refugees who continue to struggle with their traumatic past, despite the passing of many years.

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RASNZ CEO Ann Hood.

WWT: The National Refugee Centre provides a wide array of health services to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of your clients. How do these services help vulnerable people to settle in a new country?

AH: We firmly believe that if the aim is for people to participate in society they need to be mentally and physically well. Otherwise, they aren’t able to learn the language, cope with a job or simply manage everyday life. The health aspect has to be addressed in order for people to live productive lives.

WWT: How does this work in practice?

AH: We have two clinical teams. One team is based at the Resettlement Centre, providing assessment and brief therapy. The other is based in the community in Auckland, covering the whole city, and is able to treat people over a longer period of time. For many traumatised refugees it is often down the track that they need support and treatment. Some don’t need our services for 10 years because they need to meet their basic needs first.

There is also a non-clinical community team mainly made up of former refugees. This team provides services within the community such as psycho education, introductory health programmes, support with education and employment and lots of engagement in activities. For young people we have the youth team with sports and mentoring programmes. For adults we run support groups, such as sewing groups for women and training in road codes and computer use.

WWT: We tend to often talk about refugees, but you also treat asylum seekers. As clients, how do they differ from refugees?

AH: When it comes to asylum seekers we tend to work with them particularly during the determination process as this is when they’re really struggling. Their future and fate is in the hands of the government. And they lose a lot of hope and faith during this process.

WWT: You actually worked at RASNZ as a clinical psychologist before taking a job elsewhere for 10 years. You returned last year as the CEO. How do you think the sector has changed since you first started working?

AH: I’ve seen a change in who are coming as refugees. New Zealand doesn’t take many people from Africa now, but focuses mainly on people from Burma, as well as refugees from Afghanistan and Colombia and asylum seekers from Sri Lanka. The government has also changed its policy on specific issues over time. Like now, New Zealand no longer accepts unaccompanied minors.

WWT: Speaking of the government. New Zealand has such a strong history of protecting human rights and an equally good refugee settlement programme so we were a bit shocked to find out that the country only takes 750 refugees every year.

AH: In general, there is an overwhelming support for refugees in the country and when the government recently announced that it would increase the intake of refugees, there were great expectations about the number. It is fair to say there was an outcry when the government announced it would only increase the intake from 750 to 1000 refugees. New Zealand takes a very small number of refugees but I think that its resettlement programme is well regarded and we provide a very good service and system. From the moment refugees arrive in the country they get New Zealand residency and have access to the full range of health services.

Refugees in Hungary (Courtesy of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies used via Flickr creative commons license)

Refugee crisis: New Zealand has agreed to increase its intake of refugees from 750 to 1000 (Courtesy of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies used via Flickr creative commons license)

WWT: It sounds like an efficient system with a strong focus on health and rehabilitation. Does this mean that you have the backing and support you need or do you still face challenges?

AH: We constantly need more money and run at a deficit. My number one priority is getting resources, and not just resources but sustainable resources. We can only employ people for the amount of time that we have money. Regarding our services, there is also a great need for clinical training and various aspects of working with trauma victims. Our team need to be up-skilled, such as being trained in the Istanbul Protocol. We work closely with lawyers and doctors, but at the moment we don’t have any doctors in New Zealand – as far as I know – who are trained in Istanbul Protocol, so it’s crucial.

We are relatively small with just two services in New Zealand and New Zealand is pretty isolated. So sometimes it can feel like we are a long way from the action. I think it’s really important to get that international perspective and to understand not only what’s happening around the world in terms of refugee and asylum issues, but also how other organisations are working and how we can work more collaboratively and support each other. Basically to keep up to speed. I would like our organisation to be able to grow in terms of research and advocacy, but at the moment we just don’t have the resources.

About RASNZ

RASNZ has helped resettle United Nations quota refugees since 1995 and is one of just two services in the country providing treatment to refugees. Under international humanitarian conventions, the centre’s clinical team additionally delivers specialist mental health services for convention refugees and asylum seekers either in detention or with cases before the Refugee Appeals Authority. The centre has to date provided support to thousands of people.

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Remembering the atrocities of the war in the Former Yugoslavia

When AE was being held in a concentration camp, soldiers carved a cross on his forehead. The scar remains today; a constant reminder of the terror he experienced and survived during the three-year-long war in the Former Yugoslavia. Now 57-years-old, he is married with two children but has struggled to pick up the pieces of his life following the war.

It was at this time 24 years ago that AE was living peacefully with his family in Divič, a small town in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina, when the Serbian army entered the village. Soldiers took him and many others to a concentration camp, first in Zvornik and then in Čalopek and Batković. In total, AE spent almost 14 months continuously in camps.

During his imprisonment, AE was physically, psychologically and sexually tortured on a daily basis. He was forced to work for hours on end and was severely beaten. He was denied food and on most days, water. Guards in the concentration camp isolated him and several other men, made them undress and beat them. AE even witnessed some men being castrated. Through repeated beatings and death threats against the men and their families, they were forced to rape each other.

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Courtesy of Toni Buzolic via Flickr Creative Commons

At the time, his family were trying to get to the free territory or a neighbouring country. In July 1993, AE was released as a part of a prisoner exchange scheme. He stayed in a small town in the northeast of Bosnia and Herzegovina until the war ended. Afterwards, he returned to his family in Divič, taking with him the memories of the torture inflicted upon him.

Since his return AE has struggled with feelings of guilt and shame. For him the terror of war did not stop when the war was officially over. It stayed with him and has made it incredibly hard for him to continue with his life and to rebuild relationships with his family and friends.

AE found IRCT member, the Centre for Torture Victims, Sarajevo (CTV) in 2012, when a CTV mobile team was in the area registering clients and providing much needed rehabilitation services. Centre staff discovered AE was suffering from a chronic form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

CTV provided him with individual and group counselling, together with other former camp detainees. The group counselling and, especially, group psychotherapy sessions were an instrumental element in the rehabilitation process as AE was more comfortable with talking about his experiences in a group setting.

Despite the fact that AE was the perfect candidate to act as a witness in war crime trials because of his vivid memory of the torture incidents and perpetrators, he refused to testify. He refused because he feared retaliation and because of the shame associated with the sexual torture; he simply did not want more people to know about what had happened to him.

Today, AE is still a CTV client. Like many victims of torture in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he is confronted by the past every day when he sees the people who harmed him walking free on the same street. In some cases these people now work as police officers, once more in a position of power over those they have tortured and ill treated.

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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. We look at some of the most creative approaches used around the world.

1. Football Activity Group

Teamwork, exercise and fun. Three key elements of IRCT member in the UK Freedom from Torture’s Football Activity Group. The group is a joint project between the rehabilitation centre and English football club Arsenal, which uses football as a therapeutic tool.

Torture survivors take part in weekly football training sessions at the Hub – a training pitch right next to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. The group complements individual therapy and counseling and, since it began in 2012, has grown from six to 25 members.

“The group is supportive of one another – there are partnerships, friendships, team work and togetherness. Football helps in multiple ways, says Freedom from Torture’s group therapist Selcuk Berilgen says. “It’s great exercise and the confidence in the body, for torture survivors, positively affects the mind too.”

SURVIVORS

Members of the Healing Club exploring San Diego and its surroundings. Courtesy of SURVIVORS

2. Exploring and rebuilding through the Healing Club

At SURVIVORS, San Diego, the centre has been running a Healing Club for ten years, inspired by fellow IRCT member the Program for Torture Victims of Los Angeles. Many of SURVIVOR’S clients feel isolated, do not speak English and are new to the city. That is where the Healing Club comes in.

Niki Kalmus, SURVIVORS’ Community Relations Manager explains that, “The rationale behind the Healing Club is that many of our clients come from collective societies, so it’s a great fit culturally. People can learn from one another on so many levels. Those that have been at SURVIVORS for less time can see clients who have been there longer and feel hopeful that they too can continue to heal and rebuild their lives.”

Through the Healing Club, torture victims have gone on walking tours, visited a meditation garden, gone to the beach, had tea parties and seen musicals. “We take advantage of the weather and tend to do outdoor adventures as the healing power of nature is extremely powerful. The Healing Club is rather unconventional when it comes to typical mental health options in the United States,” says Niki.

“We’ve taken therapeutic concepts from other countries and cultures and brought them here to San Diego, and we’ve seen a huge success. It’s also a bridge to other services for some clients. They start out only going to the Healing Club and then when they see our availability, accessibility, and the values we put into action around trust building, confidentiality, interpreters, etc. they gradually become more open to exploring individual therapy or psychiatry.”

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Theatre performers from VITO-CIR. Photographer: Sergio Vasselli

3. Psychosocial rehabilitation at the theatre

The use of dance and music has long been recognised as a powerful way for people from all walks of life to express themselves. Italian IRCT member, Hospitality and Care for Victims of Torture harnesses this power in its psychosocial rehabilitation theatre workshops.

Together with the Italian Council for Refugees, the centre gives refugees the chance to work with theatre professionals to develop performances around topics such as birth, violence and torture in conflict zones. The group then perform for the public every 26 June, which is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, attracting audiences of up to 400 people.

These workshops and performances give torture survivors a platform to deal with their trauma in a more creative way. All while raising awareness among the public.

4. Involving the entire community through testimonial therapy

Supporting torture survivors in telling their stories has long been recognised as an important element of rehabilitation. In India, among other countries, rehabilitation providers have been working with Testimonial Therapy, a human rights-based psychosocial intervention, which can be used by non-professional counselors and focuses on involving the entire community.

The survivors tell their story, which is recorded and jointly edited by a counselor, a note taker and the survivors themselves. The story is then presented to the survivors in a testimony ceremony, where they are honoured in front of their community.

The ceremony in the community marks the turning point in the healing process, where the person makes the transition from the role of torture victim, to an empowered and recognised survivor of torture. If the survivors feel comfortable with it, their story will then be used as part of awareness-raising and advocacy activities.

“Before testimony [therapy] victims feel lonely and they do not tell their pain to anybody… But after testimony therapy I [put] outside my pain and share my story to encourage others. It is [a] very good process to give honour in front of [the] community and I feel that I have [got] my own dignity,” said one participant.

 5. Using the circus to reconnect with your body

“For me it was like being with my sisters again, there were women laughing, having fun, exercising. We shared lunch and talked about our countries and background.”

Jaw dropping stunts and eye-catching acts are what makes a circus great, but for torture survivor Katie, circus performance has also been a method of rehabilitation. The ‘Body Movement Reconnect’ programme is a joint initiative between Australian IRCT member Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services (STTARS) and the group Uniting Care Wesley Bowden.

Trainers from the South Australian Circus Company work with female survivors of torture body awareness to develop social connections, improve fitness and build self-esteem to reduce the impact of chronic pain.

The group participates in a range of circus activities accompanied by therapy and group counseling for six months. After her circus training Katie felt reinvented, “It always felt like a safe space and I knew the women there understood me and I understood them. I am a strong Afghani woman, and that makes me feel proud.”

 

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OMEGA: Celebrating 20 years of torture rehabilitation work in Austria amid Europe’s refugee crisis

“We see ourselves as a bridge between the current need for support and the sustainable integration of refugees and migrants into our society. Our main responsibility is to improve the mental and physical health of migrants and refugees, as well as their social and economic integration into the host society.”

This is how CEO Dr. Emir Kuljuh describes Austrian rehabilitation centre Omega – Transcultural Centre for mental and physical Health and Integration. Based in the city of Graz, Omega has been treating victims of torture for the past 20 years. Its focus is on health and follows the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition that, ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.

“Torture is one of the most distressing and psychologically annihilating expressions of human conduct. Torture is a phenomenon, which dehumanises its victims, leaving them with serious and lasting psychological and physical wounds. It poses a serious obstacle to the advancement of human rights, including civil and socioeconomic rights,” says Emir Kuljuh.

Covering all these aspects, the centre offers a range of services including medical treatment, psychological, psychiatric, psychosocial and psychotherapeutic counselling, social work, integration assistance, outreach and mobile care in refugee and emergency shelters.

Staff from Omega

Staff from Omega

Since treating 144 clients in its first year, the demand for Omega’s services has drastically increased and the centre now provides treatment to more than 1,600 people a year.

“Our target group is people with different residence permit status, such as asylum seekers, persons with subsidiary protection and immigrants with a permanent resident permit. We dedicate particular attention to women, young people, victims of torture and to unaccompanied minor asylum seekers,” explains Emir Kuljuh.

Austria has seen a rapid increase in refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the past year. The country received 85,500 applications for asylum in 2015. This is the third highest number of applications per capita in Europe after Hungary and Sweden and has resulted in the authorities adopting a new and tougher approach to border control.

The influx of refugees and asylum seekers, however, has not led to more treatment options for traumatised refugees. Austria is facing challenges of providing care and support to this group with Omega being one of just a few torture rehabilitation centres in the country. Emir Kuljuh points to the fact that there are guidelines for the reception of asylum seekers including recommendations concerning persons who are torture survivors, but that European member states, including Austria, are failing to implement them.

“Existing structures and organisations need to be strengthened to be able to provide quality care to more victims of torture and their families. We hope that sufficient care and support will be provided to survivors of torture, even though the situation in Austria and other partner countries is challenging.”

He says that despite international law prohibiting the use of torture, it continues to be widespread. This makes Omega’s work even more important. If it can assist clients in overcoming their trauma, which will allow them to function on a daily basis, that is a job well done.

“The lower socio-economic status of many of our clients coupled with unsatisfactory housing conditions, restrictions on access to employment and training opportunities have a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. Our goal is to promote self-reliance so that they can access the Austrian health, education, labour market and social assistance independently.”

Omega celebrated its 20th anniversary on 9 December last year. To find out more about Omega you can visit their website: http://www.omega-graz.at/ 

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Centre visit: ACTV in Kampala

Situated in the hills of Kampala, Ugandan rehabilitation centre African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) provides a much-needed sanctuary for almost a hundred torture victims every week. A pioneering provider of rehabilitation services to torture survivors in Uganda, the centre is the only organisation in the country to offer such services. On a typically busy day in January, the staff spoke with us about their work and passion for human rights.

The clients coming through ACTV’s doors are as varied as the services provided by the centre. According to the centre’s leader/director, Samuel Nsubuga, 30 percent of the clients are refugees from neighbouring countries, while the remaining 70 percent are Ugandans who have been subjected to torture by security agencies, such as the army, police force, city council authorities or by rebel groups.

“With torture you never know if you could be next because of the instability in the region, says ACTV’s Programme Manager, Bamulangeyo Michael. “Now, because of the Ugandan elections, we are seeing an increase in violence,” he explains.

There are 25 full-time staff and approximately 15 volunteers who provide everything from medical to psychological to legal support to survivors of torture. There are lots of challenges in delivering services and not all those in need of services can make it to the centre. ACTV supports them through other channels that include community outreach and home visits. Staff also regularly go to prisons to see inmates, many of whom have been beaten by police before being thrown in prison.

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A peaceful procession through the streets of Kampala was the grand finale of ACTV’s 26 June celebration in 2015

Having seen the effects of torture first-hand, ACTV is a strong advocate for the prevention of torture and provision of services to survivors of torture. The centre is also working towards increasing awareness among security agencies and the public about torture and its consequences through trainings and workshops.

“We work closely with the Ugandan Government to stop torture and we also work in coalition with other NGOs, which strengthens our centre,” says Bamulangeyo Michael.

To understand that torture is very much still a problem in Uganda, one only needs to look at the long waiting lists that are an ongoing challenge the centre faces.

“We are the only place in Uganda that treats victims of torture and there is a great need for more centres,” says the centre’s Medical Doctor Dr. Lubega Ronarld.

He points to the fact that there are only 40 ACTV staff, and a demand for services and support that far outstrip the ability to provide them. The level of services available seems shockingly inadequate to most people. To do something about this, the centre is training hospital staff, but this comes with challenges of its own.

“We organise trainings for doctors working in hospitals. The hospitals are keen to learn, but they are often overwhelmed. It is a matter of funds and resources.”

Despite challenges like these, the staff can see how their work makes a huge difference in the lives of torture victims, and they agree that the work of ACTV is vital.

And just as importantly, it is changing the lives of the staff, as Bamulangeyo Michael puts it: “Torture was something in human rights that I became interested in. I didn’t know much about it, but now I’ve found my true calling.”

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Fighting Torture: Q&A with Andrés Gautier

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

Up next in the series is Andrés Gautier, the co-founder of the Institute for Research and Therapy of Torture Sequels and State Violence (ITEI) in Bolivia. Andrés speaks about making the transition from working in a private practice to a rehabilitation centre and how torture not only affects the victim but also their family and the entire community.

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Andrés Gautier

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

I am a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst at the Institute for Research and Therapy of Torture Sequels and State Violence in Bolivia (ITEI).

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

Since 2001, so for 15 years.

Q: How did you end up doing this work?

I was working as a psychotherapist in a private practice in Switzerland and met and married a Bolivian refugee who is a psychologist. We had planned to go to Bolivia and happened to go to a seminar where there was a psychotherapist from the Service for Social Rehabilitation (SERSOC) in Uruguay, who spoke about the work they were doing with torture victims. We thought it made sense to run a similar project in Bolivia so looked into if a centre already existed. It didn’t, so we went back and founded one in 2001.

Torture is related to society. When I was a psychotherapist in Switzerland I was focused on individual harm, but working with torture victims is about social harm. When working with torture victims you are involved in society in a way you are never involved when you are working in a private setting. This can make some colleagues afraid. For me it is a fascinating situation. You have to go out from your private practice. You have to make denunciations and announcements and speak out against injustice.

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

When we founded the centre, most of our friends said torture is from the past, we’re a democracy now. But the reality is different. We had to treat victims of the dictatorship which ended in 1982. On the other side, the tradition of torture and ill treatment by the police and army has remained. The mentality remained. Nowadays torture is increasing.

It is recognised that there are flaws in the Justice system, but no action is taken and torture is routinely used to get a confession. There’s seldom use of scientific investigation methods, merely force. The presumption of innocence is seldom respected, so as soon as someone is detained they are exposed to ill treatment. It is also becoming more frequent for the police to demand a bribe, saying they will torture you if you don’t pay.

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

Life is unpredictable in Bolivia but my appointments with clients help to set some kind of routine that I try to keep, even though it is difficult. When I am in the office I have three to four appointments with clients each day. I also visit several prisons regularly. Every Monday I go to the prison for men and every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon I visit the women’s prison and see three to five clients.

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

It is an illusion to think that torture is something that can be forgotten. When there is one incident you can be sure that it is not isolated. The tendency to torture is there, it is contagious, like gangrene.

The torture victims are affected and their families are affected. Also the perpetrator, they become ill and develop sadistic tendencies. So the state becomes the first producer of delinquency.

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

These people are very important because they have the courage not to look away. These people are conscious of society. As one concentration camp survivor said, “It is not I that is ill, it is society that is ill”. When people support organisations like Amnesty International and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) financially or by being ready to hear and share what is happening this is important because the perpetrators or state want silence.

To break and sustain this broken silence is very important. We are very grateful to these people who feel solidarity with us.

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Fighting Torture: Q&A with Flutra Gorana

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

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

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

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

Q: How did you end up doing this work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fighting Torture: Q&A with Guy Mulunda Kitwe

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In this series, we speak with different people from various sectors and backgrounds who all work with and support survivors of torture in one way or another. What does their work mean to them and what are the biggest challenges in the anti-torture and rehabilitation movement?

For the third entry in our Q&A series, we speak with Guy Mulunda Kitwe, about his work as a psychologist at the SAVE CONGO Rehabilitation Centre, the legacy of rape and torture in the DRC and the ongoing struggle for funding.

Cropped13Q: What is your profession and where do you work?

I am a psychologist at the SAVE CONGO rehabilitation centre in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Q: How long have you worked with torture survivors?

I have worked with torture victims since 2003. I was initially working with USAID as a psychologist on a programme for abandoned children.

Q: How did you end up in this sector? Was it something you specifically wanted to do or was it more of a coincidence?

It was during the armed conflict in 1997. Many women and children experienced torture and mass violence and I just thought how come so many people are suffering from torture. It was then that I decided to work for the anti-torture movement.

Q: Tell us about the situation for torture survivors where you are/or your home country?

Torture is widespread in the DRC. For many years the country was known as the centre of rape because of the violence against women. This continued for a long time and now we’re seeing the consequences. Women have had children as a result of the rape and for most victims the trauma continues. We have many clients who experienced torture a long time ago, but are only now seeking help at our centre. This is because the security in the country has improved thanks to the UN peacekeeping forces and a hardworking government.

In the DRC, there are still some rebel groups in the mountains and in the villages, but the number has gone down from 24 to just five to six groups. It is still a long process to treat victims of torture. We are the only centre in the DRC that is working specifically with victims of torture. Sometimes we receive clients referred to us by the UNHCR and UNICEF. We have a close working relationship with these and other UN agencies.

Q: What does your work mean to you?

For me, working with victims of torture means to respect human beings. My work has truly taught me to respect other people. It has also allowed me to progress/grow personally and professionally, especially in relation to increasing my knowledge and ability to working with people.

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

In 2000, many torture victims did not have access to rehabilitation. If, for example, they went to a hospital, they would not be given specific treatment. However, over the years, SAVE CONGO has built and developed a range of services. Now victims know where to go and other organisations, such as the hospitals know where to send victims. Another thing is training, which is something we are able to offer because of our work with organisations like the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). I am proud to say that we have supported more than 8,000 torture victims.

Q: How has your sector/industry changed since you started?

The change is that many organisations and hospitals are now involved in the fight against torture.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the sector/industry?

The lack of funding for rehabilitation centres. We are receiving more and more victims of torture, but sadly we do not have sufficient funding to do our job. This means that we have limited resources such as staff.

Q: What do you think needs to be done to make the right to rehabilitation a reality?

In the DRC, the state needs to take responsibility for all the people in the country and do everything in its power to support torture victims. At the moment, there is no national programme on torture and this is something that we really need.

Q: What are your hopes for the future?

My hope is that torture rehabilitation will be available for all victims of torture.

 

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26 June Campaign: How two survivors of Rwandan Genocide overcame the scars of the past

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It is time to put a face to torture victims and reclaim their need for and right to rehabilitation – a right guaranteed under the UN Convention against Torture. As part of this year’s 26 June campaign, we are sharing the stories of survivors and care providers to show how providing rehabilitation services to torture survivors is a right and responsibility for all.   

In 2014 the IRCT published the stories of ten women who experienced sexual violence and torture during the 100 days of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Today we are sharing the stories of two men who have worked with rehabilitation centres, Association for Research and Assistance for Africa Mission (ARAMA) and Uyisenga Ni Imanzi to rebuild their lives following the torture and trauma they endured during the genocide.

Bernard

“I was eight years old when the genocide happened. When my entire family was killed, a neighbor took care of me. I was wounded on my leg, and the scars did not heal. Throughout my school years, the wound would open all the time and suffered from infections. I could barely walk and although I am schooled in car-mechanics, I could not find a job. I did not feel like talking to anyone, and I was an outsider in my community. I had no friends and felt so lonely. I started to suffer from depression.

Bernard (courtesy of the IRCT)

Bernard (courtesy of the IRCT)

“A few years ago, I met ARAMA. ARAMA decided to help me and send me to the military hospital of Kanombe where my leg was operated on. They continued to be there for me and gave me medicines and therapeutic shoes. I can’t describe how it felt to walk without pain. They also gave me psychological and psychosocial support.

“Before I met ARAMA, I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid of the bad memories that always come at night when I sleep. Since last week, I started to sleep again and the nightmares are gone! Thanks to ARAMA, I don’t feel alone anymore, and I have started to talk to other people again. I feel so much better now.”

Emanuel Raduka
“The genocide made me an orphan. I was 18 years old and all of a sudden I became the head of the household, with three little brothers to take care of. I was not ready to become a parent. You need a lot of strength to become your brothers’ father. When the perpetrators took my father’s land, we were left with nothing. For a long time I was sad, hopeless and very angry about what happened.

Emanuel Raduka (courtesy of the IRCT)

Emanuel Raduka (courtesy of the IRCT)

“When Uyisenga Ni Imanzi came, they were the first to tell us that there was still hope for us. They gave us and other orphans counselling and taught us how to farm and grow maniocs and pineapples. Together with the other orphans we created a cooperation called ‘Duhozanye’. Being a member of the cooperation feels good, we have enough to eat and we can even save some money for the future. In ‘Duhozanye’ we talk a lot and can understand each other’s problems.

“We are not alone anymore. Uyisenge Ni Imanzi helped me and my brothers get our land back and they helped my brothers go back to school. My brothers now go to university. For us, Uyisenga Ni Imanzi got us out of the darkness and gave us hope for the future. They helped me chase away the sadness and the hatred. Sometimes, I lose my strength and then everything turns bad. But the staff at Uyisenga are like parents for me, and when these bad feelings come up, they are always there to give me hope again.”

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